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While Trump tried to reassure America about the coronavirus, another case was reported
President Trump and senior officials held a press conference on US preparedness to the coronavirus outbreak, on February 26, 2020. | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images The novel coronavirus may now be spreading in California. No one at the White House press conference seemed to know about it. At 6:30 pm on Wednesday, President Donald Trump and a team of senior officials involved in coronavirus preparedness held a press conference to reassure the public that, well, everything is going fine. Trump talked about how there’d been only 15 cases in the US so far, adding, “The threat to America is low.” “Our containment strategy has been working,” Alex Azar, Health and Human Services secretary and chairman of the coronavirus task force, said. But as they spoke, the Washington Post reported a scary new milestone in the novel coronavirus outbreak: A new person has been diagnosed with the virus in Northern California — and they had not travelled to any of the affected regions of the world, nor had known contact with anyone else who did. Officials don’t yet know how the person was exposed, and have begun tracing the person’s contacts in order to determine how they got sick. The new case marks the first instance of a novel coronavirus infection in the US that seemingly isn’t tied to cases overseas. It suggests the coronavirus may now be spreading in the country, person-to-person — with this person just the first to be symptomatic, seek medical care, and test positive. Some public health experts involved in the national response to coronavirus knew this milestone was likely coming. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said yesterday, “We expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.” That claim reportedly infuriated Trump. I’m told the president’s anger about the CDC briefing yesterday is focused on Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who said it’s not whether, it’s when the virus will hit the US. “She never should have said that,” a senior administration official told me. “it’s bad.”— Eamon Javers (@EamonJavers) February 26, 2020 Less than 24 hours later, the claim has been vindicated with the report that potential community transmission within the US has now been detected. The timing of that announcement — during a press conference during which the president and his advisers were assuring the American public that the situation is under control, that containment is working, and that the threat is low — is, on one level, just an unfortunate coincidence. But in another sense, it reflects an ongoing problem in the government’s pandemic response. As my colleague Matt Yglesias wrote yesterday, “The Covid-19 outbreak ... is a reminder that it remains a scary world and that the American government deals with a lot of important, complicated challenges that aren’t particularly ideological in nature. And we have no reason to believe the current president is up to the job.” So far, the administration’s coronavirus response has been disorganized, with no single official having authority over the US response. Different departments have clashed over whether to take sick Americans back to the US from Japan on the same plane as healthy ones. Trump reportedly wasn’t even told about that decision. There have also been problems with faulty tests for the virus. No one on the White House response team at the press conference seemed to know about the new Northern California coronavirus case. Now that community transmission of the novel coronavirus within the United States has begun, we can’t afford such disorganization.
4 h
vox.com
The case against smart baby tech
Some smart baby monitors have crucial security flaws. | AP Maybe our babies don’t need to be included in the Internet of Things just yet. As any new parent will tell you, baby monitors are important. They let you keep a close eye on your most precious cargo as it rolls around in the crib and they even let you talk to the little tyke. But you might not be your baby’s only audience. Some smart baby monitors have crucial security flaws that allow hackers to take over, sometimes watching and even interacting with your child. The popular iBaby family of internet-connected cameras recently joined this club when a cybersecurity company found vulnerabilities in its M6S model. As of the time of this post, almost a year after being contacted about the bug, iBaby Labs still hadn’t fixed the issue. This might make you wonder: Is the sense of security these monitors provide parents worth dealing with the actual security vulnerabilities many of them have? There are also questions about AI-outfitted baby monitors designed to offer “life-saving” features that might actually create more anxiety for parents than they relieve. Maybe, in the face of all this new tech, it’s time to cut the 21st-century umbilical cord. iBaby apparently doesn’t care about security warnings Bitdefender, the aforementioned security company, just released the results of its research on the iBaby device as part of its partnership with PCMag. The report details several ways potential hackers can remotely access iBaby’s monitors. They include giving hackers the ability to download recordings, to find the camera’s device ID, to pull users’ personal information using that ID, and even to control the camera. Alex Jay Balan, chief security researcher for Bitdefender, told Recode that iBaby “should have a relatively easy time fixing these” problems. However, when Bitdefender notified iBaby that its M6S smart baby monitor contained potential vulnerabilities that give hackers access to baby videos, its response was a whole lot of nothing. Starting in May 2019, Bitdefender made multiple attempts to contact iBaby and inform the company of the vulnerabilities so the company could fix them before they became public. Bitdefender told Recode that it was never able to get in touch with iBaby, and so those issues remain unsolved. Recode had similar difficulty reaching iBaby; its press email bounced back and a call to the support line went to voicemail that, more than 24 hours later, still was not returned. iBaby did reply to an email sent to its support email address, but the response appeared to be a form letter with assurances that the safety and comfort of “your family and precious baby” was iBaby Labs’ No. 1 priority. It then linked to a statement from September 2015 that, in addition to a promise of encryption, reads, “Our monitors are hosted by Amazon Servers, therefore, the security is very high equivalent to military security.” The letter was signed by Elnaz Sarraf, who is identified as iBaby’s co-founder and president. She left the company in 2017. This response is especially surprising considering iBaby’s prominent place in the baby monitor market. The iBaby Monitor M6S camera, the model with the reported vulnerabilities, was once a top Wirecutter recommendation, and CNN recently proclaimed its M7 model to be the best wifi baby monitor. It’s also currently marked as “Amazon’s Choice.” “Companies with high accountability (most recently Ring/Amazon) reply instantly, and they’re very cooperative,” Balan said. “Most others, however, don’t have a security contact.” Smart baby monitors are increasingly popular targets for hackers Like Ring cameras, baby monitor hacks tend to expose some of our most sensitive information. The cameras are often internet-connected, and they’re in our homes, recording our daily activities, giving voyeurs the chance to watch and even communicate with our children. This potential for abuse is perhaps what makes smart baby monitors such attractive targets to bad actors, and it’s also why repeated instances of lax security features on baby monitors are so unsettling. In recent years, smart baby monitor vulnerabilities and the hacks they make possible have made quite a few headlines. A Seattle couple reported last November that their Fredi brand baby monitor got hacked, causing the camera to scan their home. An unidentified voice even said “I love you” to their 3-year-old child. In December 2018, a Nest camera shouted sexual expletives and threatened to kidnap the baby. And a Minnesota couple was horrified to find photos of their baby from their hacked monitor on another website in 2015. “It’s not easy to say why some of the cameras don’t do a better job of protecting user’s data,” David Choffnes, an associate professor in computer science at Northeastern University who has studied smart camera security, told Recode. “Often it manifests from a gap between knowing what are best practices and correctly implementing them on devices.” As is often the case with technology, you get what you pay for. “In the end, many consumers purchase devices based on price, not security,” Choffnes added. “Until that changes, the incentives are not in place to have more security by default.” That said, the vast majority of smart baby monitors don’t get hacked at all, so the odds are pretty good that your baby will make it through toddlerhood without being spied on by someone other than you. As with any internet-connected device, the chances of a hack are never nil. There are non-connected baby monitor alternatives, however, that mitigate that risk. More on that in a second. Do AI-equipped baby monitors and “smart socks” save lives or make them worse? While it seems reassuring not only to hear your slumbering baby but also to watch them breathe, there’s evidence that some of the newest and highest-tech devices may create more anxiety than they alleviate — and that monitor manufacturers are using that anxiety to cash in. Take, for example, the new AI-enabled surveillance software that monitors your baby’s face for signs of distress, then alerts parents if it detects any trouble. Or take the AI baby monitor called Cubi. This gadget claims to be “the world’s smartest baby monitor” and will send you push notifications with updates when your child cries or rolls over onto their face. Cubi aggressively markets its device as a system that “saves babies’ lives.” Then there’s the Nanit Sleep System, which claims not only to monitor your sleeping baby but also to detect the quality and time of their sleep. A company called Owlet makes something called a “smart sock” that wraps around your baby’s foot and supposedly measures your baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep. There’s also the Sproutling smart anklet, which offers all of those measurements as well as baby temperature, ambient noise level, and data on your baby’s movements. While this data can be an attractive selling point for new parents, some experts doubt that super-smart baby devices are necessary, and there’s not currently any scientific evidence that suggests otherwise. “We have the technology to do this kind of constant surveillance and hyper-monitoring, and maybe some of these technologies will help or save one kid,” Kim Brooks, the author of Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, recently told the Washington Post. “But what we don’t talk about is the cost. It’s driving parents insane.” So, what’s best for you and your baby? Look, we’ve all got different priorities and concerns. If your primary issue is protecting your baby monitor from hacks, the solution is easy: Go analog. In the days of old, parents used radio-powered walkie-talkies to monitor their children from afar, which provided audio cues of potential trouble. These gadgets were not connected to the internet, and they didn’t have video. Before that, parents just used their own ears and hoped for the best. Were these better methods? That depends on what makes you more nervous: not being able to see your baby at all times or owning an internet-connected video camera that could malfunction or, in rare instances, give a random hacker access to your home. As with buying anything, finding the right device with the right amount of features — including connectivity and AI — involves careful research. Wirecutter offers in-depth reviews, though we should also remind you that the now hackable iBaby M6S once made its list. Wired has picks for several types of baby monitors, including audio-only and internet-free devices. Meanwhile, Lifehacker recommends staying away from wifi models entirely. But if after all of this, your heart is still set on a smart baby monitor or sock, try to find a device that lets you set your own password and offers two-factor authentication. Also, be sure to keep current with security updates, since they may include vulnerability patches. Choffnes, the security camera expert, doesn’t use an internet-connected baby monitor for his toddler. “Given the potential risks of devices being hacked — and the numerous news stories about it happening — and the lack of any benefits I perceive from having an internet connection, I can’t justify purchasing such devices,” Choffnes said. “Except for testing in my lab.” Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
7 h
vox.com
Scotland could soon end “period poverty”
Tampax tampons on a drugstore shelf in New York on February 10, 2016. | Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images Scotland’s Parliament has passed a bill to provide free menstrual products to everyone who needs them. Scotland has taken a big step toward becoming the first country in the world to end “period poverty”— the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products like pads and tampons due to financial hardship. The Scottish Parliament on Tuesday approved legislation that would make pads and tampons freely available to all who need them at designated public places such as community centers, youth clubs, and pharmacies, according to Reuters. The bill passed with 112 votes in favor and one abstainer, and will now enter the second phase during which legislators can propose amendments to the bill. This follows Scotland’s 2018 decision to make sanitary products free to all students in schools, colleges, and universities in the country, according to the Guardian. It was the first nation to do that, too. The bill was first put forward by Scottish Labour Party politician Monica Lennon in 2017. Speaking during the debate in Parliament this week, Lennon said passing the bill would be a “milestone moment for normalizing menstruation in Scotland and sending out that real signal to people in this country about how seriously parliament takes gender equality.” The program would cost an estimated $31.2 million annually, according to Reuters. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, where sanitary products are currently taxed at 5 percent, Reuters reports, in accordance with European Union tax rates. Period poverty and menstruation stigma in the United Kingdom means that 10 percent of girls are unable to afford sanitary products, according to a study by Plan International, an independent development and humanitarian organization. According to UN Dispatch, 800 million people menstruate every day. Menstrual hygiene is seen by many as a basic human right, but sanitary products catering to people who menstruate are often treated as luxury items. Period poverty subjects many to physical health risks such as reproductive and urinary tract infections. Besides the health risks, period poverty means that those who menstruate cannot reach their full potential as the lack of sanitary products hinders them from living their day-to-day lives. This can include tasks as basic as going to school. Period poverty isn’t just reserved for developing countries. In some countries, it’s a matter of the taboo that surrounds menstrual hygiene. In other countries, it’s a matter of unaffordability. Details of how the Scottish government plans on implementing this bill are yet to be determined, but even this first step is a positive sign for people in Scotland who suffer from period poverty.
8 h
vox.com
Who is Tom Steyer without his red plaid tie?
Tom Steyer’s red tartan tie is part of his personal and political brand. | Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images Steyer’s plaid tie is the most memorable thing about his candidacy. There’s a rumor on the internet that Tom Steyer, the California billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate, only owns one tie. Since he made his debut on the crowded October debate stage, viewers have fixated more on his red tartan tie than his policies and answers, pointing out that Steyer is consistent — perhaps too consistent — in its wear. A Steyer spokesperson described the tie as Scottish, making its print tartan instead of plaid. For the 10th Democratic debate in South Carolina (Steyer’s sixth showing), the at-home Twitter audience pointed out that Steyer was still wearing that tie and, well, they had thoughts about it. Why can't Tom Steyer get another tie. It's not billionaire chic to repeat every single time.— Elise Jordan (@Elise_Jordan) February 26, 2020 “Why can’t Tom Steyer get another tie,” one Twitter user asked. “It’s not billionaire chic to repeat every single time.” “Someone please buy Tom Steyer a second tie,” another begged. The tie has become so ubiquitous, it now has multiple Twitter accounts. Well yeah but I helped https://t.co/ydlYGtKEFM— Tom Steyer’s Tie (@TieToms) February 26, 2020 What politicians wear, and their appearance more broadly, has always played a role in politics. Clothes can help a candidate stand out on a packed stage and even define aspects of their candidacy, in the case of Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. For male politicians, who are usually consigned to neutral-hued suits, ties are the accessory they can get creative with. For example, former Democratic candidate Jay Inslee liked to wear a green tie on the debate stage to signal he was the “green candidate,” given his bold climate-first agenda. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang skipped wearing a tie entirely for the debates, a progressive choice of attire for a tech-focused candidate. Compared to the other four men onstage Tuesday night (Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders), Steyer’s red-and-black tartan tie appeared strikingly out of place, and his online critics have disparaged the pattern as Christmas-like and gimmicky. As New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote, “Tartan, with all its connotations of Christmas, school uniforms, and marching across the moor to bagpipes, may speak to a certain tradition, but it’s not a stereotypical American one, which makes it uncomfortably close to the novelty tie for many viewers.” Alex Wong/Getty Images Without the tartan tie, who really is Tom Steyer? Dig a little into Steyer’s billionaire environmentalist past and you’ll find that he’s entirely devoted to wearing tartan ties, a pattern associated with Scotland. A Washington Post profile of Steyer in 2013 quoted him saying, “You gotta dress up for a fight,” in reference to how he wears Scottish ties every day. He’s selective with his tartan, however, avoiding the dark green, blue, and red pattern of his Scottish clan Murray because “it’s too ugly.” So why a tartan tie at all? The most likely conclusion is that he simply likes red tartan! Steyer’s campaign did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from Vox, so we may never know why Steyer prefers this specific print or how many ties of this color he has. Sure, it’s an unusual pattern for a presidential candidate, but don’t we all have our fashion quirks? Notably, Steyer has made tartan his personal brand, even selling a Tom 2020 tartan bandana and a tartan koozie. Without the tartan tie, who really is Tom Steyer? Do viewers even know who Tom Steyer is, or do they only see a billionaire (and he’s not even the only billionaire onstage anymore) in a red tie? At this point in the race, when he’s nationally polling at 2 percent, Steyer’s need to “dress up for a fight” doesn’t hold much water. A tartan tie, then, seems to be the main thing that’s helping him stand out — an accessory that makes his candidacy briefly memorable, salient, and the butt of several hundred Twitter jokes. Sign up for The Goods’ newsletter. Twice a week, we’ll send you the best Goods stories exploring what we buy, why we buy it, and why it matters.
vox.com
Why we can’t always be “nudged” into changing our behavior
Text message reminders and mailed information packets don’t change student behavior much, it turns out. | Getty Images/EyeEm Recent studies looked at “nudging” interventions and mostly found disappointing results. Are we more likely to click on the first result on Google than the second? Are we more likely to eat a big meal if we use a big bowl? Are we more likely to apply to a top college if we get a personalized admissions packet? All of these questions have been explored in the research literature on behavioral “nudges,” or methods for slightly changing the environment to change people’s behavior. The term was popularized in a 2008 book by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Weight, and Happiness. Nudges became particularly popular in nutrition — experts are eager to find easy ways to change people’s eating habits — and in education, where researchers are casting a wide net for cheap ways to improve outcomes for students. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to change things in those two areas — at least that’s my takeaway from a bunch of disappointing “nudging” results in the past few years. Early research in nutrition and education suggested that humans are very suggestible. Packaging sizes, plate sizes, location on a buffet table, and other small things affect what we eat; sending a $6-per-student information packet to high-achieving low-income students substantially increased the number who wound up enrolling in top colleges. But last year, we learned that if things sound too good to be true, they probably are. Much of the “nudge” research on nutrition came from Brian Wansink, a former Cornell researcher who had 15 studies retracted after he was found to have engaged in academic misconduct (and after other researchers couldn’t get the same results). While there are no allegations of academic misconduct in studies evaluating the effectiveness of nudges for educational interventions, those efforts have ultimately been disappointing too. A larger-scale attempt at replicating the information packet intervention found that it had no effects on getting low-income students into top colleges. “Sometimes it takes more than a nudge,” the research group MDRC concluded. Another study sent text and email reminders to 700,000 high school seniors and incoming college students encouraging them to apply for financial aid. The hope was that the reminders would get more students to fill out aid applications. It didn’t work. The candid, if disappointing, summary of their results: “no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy.” “It didn’t seem to matter how we framed the message or how we sent the message; we weren’t finding differences between them,” one of the study’s authors said. A different study tried “nudging” students to study more by giving them accurate estimates of how much harder they’d need to work for their desired grades in the class. The effort didn’t make the students work harder; it just made them accurately expect lower grades. None of the interventions they studied produced any significant academic benefits — not for at-risk students or for the college population as a whole. As a recent college graduate with mediocre grades, that didn’t surprise me at all. Students might not have had access to the accurate estimates, but they already knew that studying more would mean they got better grades. No one at college is going to be surprised by this information. Similarly, it’s not surprising that information packets alone aren’t enough to get students to make a decision about a topic as fraught and complex as where to attend college, or that text message reminders aren’t enough to get them to apply for financial aid. But is the right takeaway that nudges don’t work at all? Probably not. The very first result I mentioned — that people are more likely to click on the first Google result than the second — is absolutely true. People also buy things at eye level in grocery stores more often than things that are harder to see. And maybe some of the education interventions that have shown promising results will replicate, even if most don’t. But we should expect modest effect sizes, and smaller effects on any goal that’s already highly valued and that people already have lots of reason to have thought about and worked on. Frustratingly, nudging might have the smallest effects on things we care about the most. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter and we’ll send you a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges — and how to get better at doing good. Future Perfect is funded in part by individual contributions, grants, and sponsorships. Learn more here.
vox.com
If the coronavirus hits America, who’s responsible for protecting you?
Young women wear masks as protection against the coronavirus during Chinese New Year celebrations in London on January 26, 2020. | Barry Lewis/In Pictures via Getty Images What the response to a Covid-19 outbreak in the US could look like. The outbreak of the coronavirus — and Covid-19, the disease it causes — in mainland China has provoked a response the likes of which the world has never seen. Hundreds of millions of people in the country have had their travel restricted; many have not even been allowed to leave their homes. All of this is aided by the vast Chinese surveillance state. Meanwhile, though the number of new cases in China dropped to 406 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 78,000, China is ramping up capacity to treat tens of thousands of sick people, with new hospitals going up nearly overnight. Many people still haven’t returned to work, though some of the restrictions are being eased. Draconian restrictions on movement and the intensive tracking of people potentially exposed to the virus are just some of the ways China — a centralized, authoritarian state — has responded to its outbreak. What would have happened if the outbreak had started in the US — or if it comes here next? Alex Wong/Getty Images Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses reporters at the State Department about the coronavirus outbreak on February 25, 2020. The number of confirmed cases in the US is small: just 14, and 12 are related to travel. An additional 45 people who were sickened with Covid-19 abroad have returned to the US for treatment. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted its message on the likelihood of the coronavirus spreading in the United States. “Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in this country,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a press call. She said it’s a matter of “when,” not “if,” and that “disruption to everyday life might be severe.” There’s still a lot we don’t about the virus. It’s a novel, fast-spreading disease to which people have no immunity. So far, no vaccines or drugs to treat it exist, though both are being developed. That said, many of the cases of Covid-19 are mild, as Vox’s Julia Belluz reports. The fatality rate — which remains an early estimate that could change — is hovering around 2 percent. A virus of these parameters could spread very quickly. While there’s much we don’t know about how this could play out with regard to how many people will get sick and how sick they’ll get, what we do know is the United States has dealt with outbreaks — polio, tuberculosis, and H1N1 flu, for starters — before, and many health officials have been anticipating a new one. There are lots of professionals on the federal and local levels who stand ready to try to stymie the spread of coronavirus in the United States. That’s not to say our system is perfect, or even necessarily prepared for this incoming novel virus. But it’s worth thinking through what responses are possible in the United States and how they might become politicized. There are a few really important things to know. The biggest one: Public health is a power that’s largely left up to the states, which introduces flexibility into our system. But it also introduces inconsistencies, local politics, and laws, with varying protections for civil liberties. The biggest question remains: Can our health care infrastructure handle an influx of thousands of new patients? Public health is largely up to the states The first question to ask about outbreak response in the United States: Who is in charge? You may think “the White House,” or some arm of the federal government. But per the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution, public health is not a power specifically given to the federal government, and so it rests mainly with the states, as well as large cities with strong public health departments, like New York City. “It’s important to remember that public health is actually a police power that is delegated to the states,” says Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown. This may be good news if you’re nervous about the Trump administration’s preparedness for a significant outbreak. The federal government does have some powers, including the right to quarantine travelers coming from abroad (the CDC recently issued its first mandated quarantine on travelers in 50 years due to Covid-19), and to impose travel restrictions. If things get really bad, the federal government “can basically federalize state response if there’s a failure of local control,” says Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC and former New York City health commissioner. But local control comes first. Mark Wilson/Getty Images National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci (center), director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addresses reporters about the coronavirus on February 25, 2020, while flanked by Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. The federal government maintains the CDC, the premier disease-tracking and prevention research agency in the world, whose guidance is essential during an outbreak. The agency also maintains a strategic stockpile of medical supplies like respirators to deploy in a wide-ranging pandemic. The administration could also appoint a person (like a Covid-19 “czar”) to oversee coordination between the many departments of the federal government (Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and others) to aid the response. It hasn’t yet, though Politico reports that President Trump is considering FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb for the job. “There used to be a White House office in charge of pandemic prevention and response,” says Ron Klain, who led the response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic und the Obama administration. “President Trump abolished the office in 2018.” How local governments could intervene in an outbreak Cities and states hold most of the power to act during an outbreak. What could they do? “There are pros and cons to the decentralized way we do public health in the US,” Frieden says. “There’s enough autonomy so that New York City doesn’t need permission from New York state or the CDC or the federal government to announce an outbreak and begin aggressive control measures.” How aggressive could it get? State governments, as well as some large cities, have the power to order quarantines for people who may have been exposed to an infection. (Quarantine refers to the practice of isolating people who may have been exposed to a virus from other people, to prevent them from spreading the illness before they have symptoms.) The power is not only to order quarantines, but to enforce them. “Public health is actually a police power that is delegated to the states,” Katz says. “You could end up with someone coming to your door, and saying ‘you’ve been exposed, and you’re either coming with me, or you have to stay in your house.’” Luca Bruno/AP An empty courtyard of the Statale University in Milan, Italy, on February 24, 2020. In Lombardy region schools and universities were ordered to stay closed and sporting events were canceled as authorities seek to contain cases of COVID-19 virus that have made Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe. They could force you to stay at home, or detain you in a facility. “There are still some places in the country where they may put someone with active TB [tuberculosis] in a jail cell,” she says, “because it might be the only place available for negative pressure containment [an air purification scheme].” To be clear: that’s an extreme scenario. Katz says these detainment powers are rarely, if ever, used. To start, a quarantine order would probably be voluntary, and possibly limited to people who know for sure they have had direct contact with someone who is sick. (Katz suggests, if it comes to it, to think of quarantine as like jury duty: an annoying civic duty you just have to endure.) Health policy experts also debate the effectiveness of using mass quarantines and shutting cities down to stop or prevent the spread of an outbreak. Generally, the focus is on isolating patients who are actually sick and quarantining contacts who may have been exposed to their disease. But that’s not to say a local government wouldn’t use turn toward quarantines or travel restrictions, despite public health experts advising against them. During an outbreak, local authorities would likely be taking their guidance from the CDC and the federal government. But it would be up to these local authorities to enact the “disruption to everyday life” that Messonnier mentioned in the press conference. Quarantine is not the only option for slowing an outbreak. Depending on how the virus spreads, it could be extremely hard to find the people who have been exposed, and to put them in quarantine. So other measures can be put into place. These include postponing or canceling mass gatherings like sports events, concerts, or religious gatherings. It could mean closing schools (any local school board could decide to do this independently), and encouraging telework. The CDC calls these measures “social distancing” and they’re designed to slow the spread of a contagious disease. (Other good practices during any outbreak: Stay home if you’re sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands!) Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images The San Carlo Church seen empty in Milan, Italy on February 26, 2020. The country is struggling to understand how it went from six coronavirus cases to 374 cases and 12 dead since last Friday, becoming Europe’s worst-affected country. The CDC’s Messonnier wants people to prepare for the possibility of these social distancing measures, and figure out how they might still live and work around them. “Think about what you’d do for childcare if schools or daycares are closed,” she said. “Is teleworking an option for you? Does your healthcare provider offer a telemedicine option? All of these questions can help you be better prepared for what might happen.” (The CDC maintains a guide for families to prepare for pandemic flu here. The recommendations should also apply to a respiratory illness like Covid-19.) What’s not going to happen in the US: the wholesale lockdown of a city, like what has occurred in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. “It would be impossible to shut down a major city in United States,” Klain says. “You couldn’t feed the people in the city without things coming in and out. You couldn’t remove the garbage. You couldn’t run the health care system. In the end, if you tried to shut down a major city in the United States, more people would die from the impact on the hospitals in that city ... then you would save by like slowing the spread of Coronavirus.” The cons of this system The pros of our decentralized public health system is that individual communities can be nimble, and decide what’s best for them in dealing with an outbreak. The con is that, we end up with a potential patchwork of responses. Viruses don’t care about state or city boundaries, and people routinely travel among them. That could make it harder to, overall, control the spread of an infection across state and city lines. Katz has conducted research into the variety of quarantine laws that exist across states. “Most of these laws are really old and haven’t been updated,” she says. “A lot of the state-level regulations have not been updated since the civil rights and individual rights laws of the ‘60s and ‘70s went into effect.” Some laws don’t provide protections like a right to legal counsel when being quarantined. Very few states — only 20 percent — have provisions to keep people from being fired from missing work during a quarantine. The upshot is this: Because many states haven’t bothered to revise these laws, they haven’t thought through what a modern-day quarantine should look like, and what rights need to be respected. Katz’s co-authored 2018 paper on this sums it up starkly: Fewer than half of state laws even include right to counsel during a quarantine, and many fewer have written protections for being able to choose a medical provider or receive compensation for damages that may occur. While half of the states have granted explicit police powers to enforce public health actions during a quarantine, half do not. And only 20% provide any employment protection for individuals forced to stay away from work for the betterment of society. More worrisome, less than half of the states have language in their laws and regulations related to providing safe and humane quarantines. “We believe the variation between states and the inclusion of curious rules creates an environment across the country that will result in unease, confusion, and possibly civil unrest if large-scale quarantines are ever required,” the paper concluded. Getty Images Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testifies before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee on February 25, 2020. HHS is asking Congress for a $2.5 billion emergency supplemental to prepare for the growing global threat of coronavirus. The patchwork also introduces politics into the mix. Governors, mayors, school boards, and other local officials are politicians. And we know politicians don’t always heed the best available advice of scientific experts. A few weeks ago, during a House hearing on the emerging coronavirus outbreak, Johns Hopkins University infectious disease expert Jennifer Nuzzo testified before a House Subcommittee, saying that international travel bans during outbreaks don’t really work, and are unproductive. Congressman Brian Mast (R-Fl.) responded that her testimony “does not pass the test of common sense.” Political responses to the outbreak may be wide-ranging. Some may fear acting will hurt their local economy. Others may overreact. In 2014, a teacher in Maine was placed on leave because he had traveled to Dallas, a city where an Ebola patient died in a hospital (the teacher had not visited the hospital). During the Ebola outbreak, then New Jersey Governor Chris Christie forced a nurse who had treated Ebola patients in Africa into quarantine. She never exhibited symptoms of the disease, and experts concluded she posed no risk. But the governor held her in isolation anyway. The nurse ended up suing the state, arguing her rights were infringed on. Already, we have seen some ways in which local politics can influence the US response to Covid-19. The city of Cosa Mesa, California has gone to court trying to block federally quarantined patients from going to a facility there. The Trump administration scrapped plans to send quarantined people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to a facility in Alabama after local outcry. Another fear: That Trump undermines the advice and messaging of the CDC, for political or personal reason. The “sharpiegate” incident where the Trump displayed an altered version of a NOAA hurricane forecast map for the press. Trump has previously erroneously tweeted that Alabama had been at risk for the storm. The altered map made Trump seem like he was correct all along. The White House is getting moving on a coronavirus response, requesting Congress for $1.25 billion in emergency funding to prepare (though they request the money be sourced from funds that go to work on the Ebola virus). Trump, so far, has been downplaying the risk of the coronavirus taking hold here, but is reportedly “furious” about how the news of the disease is impacting the US stock market. Are hospitals ready? The scariest what-if to think through is this: What if a disease like Covid-19 does start to spread widely here, sending thousands or more to hospitals across the country. One of the worries here is also that transmission would likely begin in a big, urban environment with international travel hubs. Could our institutions handle that? “No,” Klain says bluntly. “That’s one of the most dangerous things about this. It could overwhelm a local healthcare system.” “We don’t have extra hospitals just sitting around with doctors and nurses and beds with no patients in them,” he says. That’s not the way our healthcare system works, right? Underperforming hospitals are shut down. Generally hospitals run pretty full. What if all of a sudden 10,000 sick people needed hospitalization in a major city? There’s no 10,000 extra beds sitting around someplace.” (It bears mentioning another concern: this is the American health care system; where sick people are known to avoid care due to fears of high medical bills.) Carl Court/Getty Images American citizens leave the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, to be repatriated to the US, on February 17, 2020. We’d have to build tent hospitals to triage patients, and possibly cancel elective surgeries to free up beds in facilities. “You’ll find patients backed up in the emergency room, you will find patients on gurneys because there aren’t enough beds,” says William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt. He says all hospitals will have a pandemic preparedness plan, which is often rehearsed. But even the best plans have flaws. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, Schaffner says that caregivers in their pediatric emergency department were getting fatigued. But “we didn’t have kind of a team on the bench who were emergency pediatric emergency room certified to go in. So we got volunteers from the rest of the pediatric physician staff.” These staff members had to quickly be trained for the emergency room. Diseases are chaotic by nature. Outbreaks test the system, and will reveal its flaws. Just how unprepared is the US medical system for a big outbreak? Hopefully we won’t have to find out.
vox.com
Tesla needs to fix its deadly Autopilot problem
A Tesla electric car crashed into a barrier in Mountain View, California, on March 23, 2018. Tesla’s Autopilot has been implicated in at least three fatal car accidents in the United States. | KTVU via AP Tesla is facing heat from federal officials following another fatal accident involving its Autopilot. Tesla is facing heat from federal officials following another fatal accident involving Autopilot. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently found that Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving feature was partially to blame in a 2018 fatal car crash, adding yet another accident to the technology’s already worrisome record. What’s even more concerning is that Tesla doesn’t appear too interested in addressing these concerns. That Tesla’s Autopilot has been implicated in a crash isn’t new. In fact, after this investigation, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt pointed out that in 2017 his agency called on Tesla and five other carmakers to limit self-driving features and to build better technology to monitor drivers in semi-autonomous cars. Tesla is the only company that hasn’t formally responded to those recommendations, though it did start warning drivers more quickly when they take their hands off the wheel. But it seems the company is unwilling to address its self-driving technology’s shortcomings — or to ensure that its drivers properly understand what the Autopilot feature can and can’t do. The NTSB’s findings serve as a stark reminder that the federal government has a role to play in regulating these technologies, and furthermore, its light-touch approach doesn’t seem to be working. “We urge Tesla to continue to work on improving Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken when necessary,” Sumwalt told reporters. “It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars.” Here’s the background: Two years ago, a 2017 Model X that had its Autopilot feature engaged was driving along a highway in Mountain View, California, when it struck a concrete barrier at a speed over 70 miles an hour. The crash was ultimately fatal for the driver, who died of injuries related to blunt force trauma. After a months-long investigation, the agency identified seven safety issues related to the crash, including limitations to Tesla’s crash avoidance system and driver distraction. Among them, it appears that the driver was playing a game on an iPhone provided by his employer, Apple, and that he didn’t notice when the Autopilot steered the electric vehicle off-course. “The Tesla Autopilot system did not provide an effective means of monitoring the driver’s level of engagement with the driving task, and the timing of alerts and warnings was insufficient to elicit the driver’s response to prevent the crash or mitigate its severity,” reads the report. “Tesla needs to develop applications that more effectively sense the driver’s level of engagement and that alert drivers who are not engaged.” The board also found that Tesla needed a better system for avoiding collisions. Like many semi-autonomous driving systems, Tesla’s Autopilot can only detect and respond to situations that it is programmed and trained to deal with. In this case, the Tesla Model X software never detected a crash attenuator — a barrier intended to reduce impact damage that was damaged and not in use at the time of the crash — causing the car to accelerate. Tesla didn’t respond to Recode’s request for comment by the time of publication. So what happens now? Tesla has argued that its cars are safer than average vehicles, but these crashes keep happening, and fatal crashes involving Autopilot seem increasingly common. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports has continued to find issues with vehicles with these autonomous abilities. Last year, the organization reported that Autopilot’s Navigate feature could lag “far behind a human driver’s skills.” Security researchers have also said that it wouldn’t take too much to trick these vehicles. Researchers have shown how placing stickers on the road could coax a Tesla into dangerously switching lanes while the Autopilot system was engaged. And last week, the computer security company McAfee released findings that a Tesla using the intelligent cruise control feature could be tricked into speeding by placing a small strip of electric tape onto speed limit signs. Shortcomings like these are why it’s so important for drivers to pay attention. Nearly three years ago, the NTSB called for car companies implementing these autonomous systems like Autopilot to create better mechanisms for monitoring drivers while these tools are turned on, in part to alert them when they need to take control of the vehicle. Tesla is the only auto company of six that hasn’t formally responded to the federal agency. At the same time, Tesla is known for overstating its vehicles’ abilities. On and off in recent years, the company has described its cars as having “full self-driving capabilities” or has advertised that the vehicles have “full self-driving hardware,” despite the need for drivers to stay engaged while on the road. Whenever criticism over this sort of marketing language reaches a breaking point, however, Tesla has removed the language. The Tesla website currently paints a confusing picture of its cars capabilities: Screenshot from Tesla’s site. All that marketing copy aside, a Tesla using the Autopilot feature is nowhere near a fully autonomous car. The issues that have cropped up around Autopilot have raised concerns about the new safety issues that self-driving vehicles could introduce. More importantly, these issues have bolstered demands for regulators to test this technology more stringently — and hold carmakers accountable when they build dangerous tech. Whether or not that will actually happen is unclear. The Trump administration has, in fact, encouraged federal agencies not to “needlessly hamper” innovation in artificial intelligence-based technology, and, earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced new rules that are meant to standardize and propel the development of self-driving cars. Those rules won’t do much good if companies leading the charge toward this futuristic technology, like Tesla, refuse to follow or even acknowledge them. So it’s time for Tesla to do something different. At the very least, the company could answer government regulators’ calls to develop better ways to monitor drivers as it continues to improve its self-driving technology. Obviously, Autopilot doesn’t live up to its name quite yet, so either the company fixes it, or it can risk endangering the lives of its drivers. For now, please don’t text and drive. It’s dangerous. And if you own a Tesla, definitely don’t text and drive — or play a mobile game — when you’re using Autopilot. That’s potentially even more dangerous, since you might feel a false sense of security. Overestimating the abilities of technology like Autopilot puts your life and the lives of others at risk. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
vox.com
Trump is facing a coronavirus threat. Let’s look back at how he talked about Ebola.
Donald Trump at the US Open tennis tournament in August 2014. | Jean Catuffe/GC Images None of it is reassuring. What a difference five years and winning a presidential election makes. In the summer and fall of 2014 — less than a year before he officially launched his presidential bid — Donald Trump posted about 100 mostly panicked tweets about the Ebola virus. Many of them attacked then-President Obama for his handling of the outbreak, and some of them went as far as to accuse the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of lying about what was going on. America is now confronting the possibility — or even likelihood — of a coronavirus outbreak within its borders. The novel virus and Covid-19, the disease it causes, could quickly become President Trump’s problem, and it’s instructive to look back at what had to say about Ebola and Obama’s response to it. Spoiler alert: None of it is reassuring. Trump used Ebola to make a bunch of reckless attacks against Democrats in the lead up to the 2014 midterms, then promptly dropped the whole thing Trump’s first tweet about Ebola came on July 31, 2014 — the day before a State Department flying ambulance brought two American health workers back to Emory University, home of the CDC, from Monrovia, where they had contracted the virus. “Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days - now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!” Trump wrote. Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days - now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent. KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2014 The next day, Trump demanded that the health workers not be brought back to the US — “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!” he wrote — and followed that up by insisting that they “must suffer the consequences” for going to Africa in the first place. The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2014 In the days that followed, Trump said the US government “must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders,’” and started attacking the CDC, whose leadership at the time was calling for calm and arguing that closing the borders in the manner Trump suggested would only make things harder to manage. Same CDC which is bringing Ebola to US misplaced samples of anthrax earlier this year http://t.co/aX7ihXdcMz Be careful.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2014 In September and October, Trump turned his fire to President Obama, calling him “dumb,” saying his refusal to stop flights from Africa was “almost like saying F-you to U.S. public,” and claiming in an Instagram video that “he should be ashamed.” View this post on Instagram #TrumpVlog Obama should be ashamed! A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on Oct 24, 2014 at 8:30am PDT Trump even accused the CDC of intentionally spreading misinformation. Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting. Spreading all over Africa-and fast. Stop flights— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 2, 2014 In comments that previewed the nativism of his presidential campaign, Trump attacked a Liberian man named Thomas Eric Duncan who traveled to the US with Ebola but only became symptomatic once he arrived. Trump suggested Duncan had sinister motives and called him to be prosecuted just four days before he died in a hospital. This Ebola patient Thomas Duncan, who fraudulently entered the U.S. by signing false papers, is causing havoc. If he lives, prosecute!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 4, 2014 Beyond attacking Obama for not banning flights from Africa, Trump also blasted him for appointing Ron Klain to coordinate the government’s response to Ebola. ”It’s the wrong person,” Trump said during an October 2014 appearance in Iowa to stump for Rep. Steve King (R-IA). “Do we need more people? Do we need more bureaucracy?” In late October, Trump went as far as to call for Obama’s resignation after Craig Spencer, a doctor who had treated Ebola patients in Guinea, became symptomatic in New York City and was diagnosed with the disease. Spencer promptly isolated himself and made a full recovery — but Trump wouldn’t let that get in the way of his narrative. If this doctor, who so recklessly flew into New York from West Africa,has Ebola,then Obama should apologize to the American people & resign!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2014 By the end of the month, Trump had explicitly turned Ebola into a campaign issue. John Foust is a liberal who supports ObamaCare and opposes Ebola travel ban. Send Conservative @BarbaraComstock to Congress!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 28, 2014 Even though Trump was a private gadfly at the time, all of this had an impact. His unhinged tweets were covered both by right-wing and mainstream media, and Trump pushed the same talking points during Fox News appearances. As Dr. Steven Hatch detailed for Mother Jones back in 2017, Republicans running for office that year ended up taking cues from Trump’s talking points: Trump’s social-media outbursts were among the earliest shots fired in the political war over Ebola. The timing of the Ebola outbreak could not have been more propitious for Republicans, many of whom echoed Trump’s calls for a temporary travel ban. In the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections, the specter of a lethal African virus being spread through the United States by migrants stoked fears not only among the GOP base, but also among many voters who leaned Democratic. By October, two-thirds of respondents to a Washington Post/ABC News poll said they favored restricting travel from Ebola-affected countries. But after the midterms came and went on November 4 — elections in which Republicans gained nine Senate seats and 13 House seats — Trump lost interest in the issue. He only posted two tweets about Ebola after the midterms, with his last one coming on November 10. A single Ebola carrier infects 2 others at a minimum. STOP THE FLIGHTS! NO VISAS FROM EBOLA STRICKEN COUNTRIES!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2014 Trump’s hysteria about Ebola was overblown. The virus did not spread in the United States. There were only two deaths from the disease in the country, and both of them were people who contracted it in Africa. It’s hard to argue that the Obama administration’s response was anything but competent and effective. But, reality aside, fear-mongering about Ebola served as a useful political cudgel for Trump, who at the time was publicly mulling whether to run for president. What Trump’s Ebola tweets tell us about his management of the coronavirus situation Fast-forward several years, and the shoe is now on the other foot. Trump is the president overseeing the United States’ response to the coronavirus. It has infected 57 Americans as of Tuesday — the same day the CDC Nancy Messonnier’s issued a public warning that the virus’s impact on the country “may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe.” As the coronavirus has spread this week in places like Iran and Italy and worries about a global pandemic became more acute, the Dow took a huge hit, falling nearly 2,000 points over Monday and Tuesday. The Washington Post reported that Trump is worried not in particular about a Covid-19 outbreak at home, but instead about the market slide, and “believes extreme warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have spooked investors.” So, in a reversal from 2014, Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday morning in an attempt to downplay worries about the disease in a tweet where he tried to pin blame for the stock market slide on the media. “Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible,” Trump wrote. Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape! @CDCgov.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2020 Unlike Obama, Trump has not yet elected to appoint a czar of sorts to oversee the coronavirus response, though the idea is reportedly under “consideration.” The lack of coordination has likely contributed to the mixed messaging that came from government officials on Tuesday, when top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow claimed on CNBC that “we have contained this ... pretty close to airtight,” even as the CDC was warning Americans that a spread of coronavirus in the country is now an inevitability. Even Republicans who are normally staunch defenders of Trump seem to be getting fed up with what seems to be a lackadaisical government response. During a hearing on Tuesday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) grilled acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf as he provided vague and at times misinformed statements about a possible Covid-19 outbreak, admonishing him, “The American people deserve some straight answers.” "You're the secretary. I think you oughta know that answer" -- Even @SenJohnKennedy (R) is fed up with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf's ignorance about coronavirus pic.twitter.com/yx1anMAAFV— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 25, 2020 As my colleague Matthew Yglesias detailed, Trump has taken a number of steps to dismantle America’s pandemic response capabilities, including recent proposed cuts: — Trump’s first budget proposal contained proposed cuts to the CDC that former Director Tom Frieden warned were “unsafe at any level of enactment.” — Congress mercifully didn’t agree to any such cuts, but as recently as February 11 — in the midst of the outbreak — Trump proposed huge cuts to both the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. — Perhaps because his budget officials were in the middle of proposing cuts to disease response, it’s only over this past weekend that they pivoted and started getting ready to ask for the additional money that coping with Covid-19 is clearly going to cost. But experts say they’re still lowballing it. — In early 2018, my colleague Julia Belluz argued that Trump was “setting up the US to botch a pandemic response” by, for example, forcing US government agencies to retreat from 39 of the 49 low-income countries they were working in on tasks like training disease detectives and building emergency operations centers. — Instead of taking such warnings to heart, later that year, “the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure,” according to Laurie Garrett, a journalist and former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. For Trump, containing coronavirus panic is just about his reelection Trump, facing a tough reelection campaign, certainly has a vested interest in doing everything possible to quell panic and keep the stock market strong. The question is whether he’s willing to pursue his private interests even to the detriment of his public responsibilities. Fortunately, though the federal government can provide guidance, a lot of the responsibility of protecting American citizens from a pandemic actually falls to state and local governments. But what the president says matters. While it’s too early to pass judgment on the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, his Ebola tweets that nothing will take a back seat to owning the libs — especially when his political future is on the line. Hat tip to HuffPost senior politics editor Sam Stein for inspiring this post with this Twitter thread. The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.
vox.com
Clearview AI, the world’s scariest facial recognition company, can’t even keep its own data secure
With a database of over 3 billion images, Clearview AI works with law enforcement agencies to identify suspects. | Getty Images/iStockphoto Clearview AI has recently attracted criticism from Congress for its cavalier use of facial recognition technology. Clearview AI, the controversial and secretive facial recognition company, just experienced its first major data breach — a scary prospect considering the sheer amount and scope of personal information in its database, as well as the fact that access to it is supposed to be restricted to law enforcement agencies. According to a memo sent to its customers which was obtained by the Daily Beast, an intruder gained “unauthorized access” to the company’s client list, its number of user accounts, and a number of searches its customers have conducted. That client list might be particularly sensitive, as Clearview claims it works with hundreds of federal and state law enforcement agencies. (A BuzzFeed News report said those numbers are inflated.) The good news is that there is no evidence that Clearview’s database of three billion photos was hacked. But the fact that the company could be breached at all is worrisome enough. Clearview says it obtained these photos by scraping publicly available images from all over the internet. The company’s software uses proprietary facial recognition technology to help law enforcement agencies identify suspects by matching their images with those in the database. Clearview’s lawyer, Tor Ekeland, seemed blasé about the news in his response to the Daily Beast (he did not respond to a request for comment from Recode). “Security is Clearview’s top priority,” he said. “Unfortunately, data breaches are part of life in the 21st century. Our servers were never accessed. We patched the flaw, and continue to work to strengthen our security.” Sen. Edward J. Markey, who has been highly critical of the company, said in his own statement that Clearview’s comments would be “laughable” if its “failure to safeguard its information wasn’t so disturbing and threatening to the public’s privacy.” “This is a company whose entire business model relies on collecting incredibly sensitive and personal information, and this breach is yet another sign that the potential benefits of Clearview’s technology do not outweigh the grave privacy risks it poses,” Markey said. Though Clearview is playing the breach off as a minor and quickly solved problem, it brings up larger issues that have been bubbling under the surface since Clearview’s existence was made widely known last month in a New York Times report. Those include worries about what would happen should Clearview’s data fall into the wrong hands, and how much confidence we should really have in the cybersecurity practices of a private company we know little about and have no reason to trust. If security is indeed Clearview’s top priority, this data breach doesn’t bode well. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
vox.com
How to travel during the international coronavirus outbreak
People wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus infection in Rome. | Matteo Nardone/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images With Covid-19 cases surging in Italy, South Korea, and Iran, travel has become increasingly fraught. The map of Covid-19 spread around the world looks a lot different than it did just a week ago. While new infections are slowing down in China, they’re rapidly picking up pace around the globe. Countries as far and wide as Bahrain, Kuwait, Austria, Spain, Brazil, and Afghanistan are now reporting cases. Newly discovered outbreaks in Italy, Iran, and South Korea have surged virtually overnight, suggesting the virus was already spreading widely within their borders and that the world is on the brink of a pandemic — or already in one. (To be clear, a disease outbreak can become a pandemic without being especially severe or fatal.) Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering It’s impossible to predict with certainty where the virus will show up next or where it may die down, which makes planning vacation and business travel trickier than usual. Vacationers in Tenerife, Spain, certainly did not imagine their trip including a coronavirus hotel lockdown this week. People on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan could not have foreseen spending their holiday in quarantine. Austrians trying to get home from Italy by train last weekend probably didn’t anticipate their schedules getting disrupted because of the virus. That’s in addition to the border closures that have already happened around China and Iran, and the quarantines and travel restrictions in those and other countries that have often sprung up out of nowhere. These changes have had a significant impact on people’s lives and the global economy. And this may just be the start. With international travel becomes increasingly fraught, here are some basic questions about how to assess travel safety, answered. 1) Are there any places I shouldn’t go? The CDC has issued its highest-level travel alerts for South Korea and China, advising Americans to avoid traveling there for the moment. The two countries currently have the most coronavirus cases: more than 78,000 in mainland China, and 1,100 in South Korea. Diego Puletto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images Milan, in the Lombardy region, is just north of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak epicenter. As of this week, CDC is also warning travelers to Italy, Iran, and Japan to “practice enhanced precautions,” since these are the countries next on the list with the highest burden of illness. But just because a country you plan to visit isn’t on the list right now doesn’t mean it won’t be there tomorrow. The outbreak is evolving rapidly and these advisories are likely to change in the coming days, so keep checking in with CDC. This map and list of travel restrictions from the Council on Foreign Relations is another good resource. And keep in mind: The travel warnings are not entirely because of the risk of catching this new virus. Airlines have been canceling or scaling back flights, trains have been halted, and countries have been imposing sometimes arbitrary quarantines on travelers and citizens. As Jennifer Nuzzo, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Vox: “I’m more concerned about the unpredictability of the [outbreak] response at this point. It would not be fun to go to China and get stuck there somehow. And coming back, you’ll be subject to additional screening” or quarantines. 2) Is the city or country I’m going to at immediate risk of an outbreak? Some of the best research on that question comes from researchers at the University of Oxford, University of Toronto, and the London School of Medicine and Tropical Hygiene. They published studies a few weeks ago on the places most vulnerable to novel coronavirus infections. The big takeaway then was that cities in East Asia and Southeast Asia were most at immediate risk. Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP via Getty Images A woman, wearing a protective mask, walks in Kuwait City on February 26, 2020. Here are 15 of the top destinations where they predicted we’d see outbreaks next (also pay attention to the IDVI — the Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index — number. It’s a measure of a country’s ability to manage an infectious disease. Scores closer to zero mean they’re less prepared.) Note Japan, Singapore, and South Korea were among the places that topped the list — and as we’re seeing now, some of the biggest outbreaks outside of China are playing out in these countries. Oxford Journal of Travel Medicine Iran and Italy are also on the list, and over the last week, large outbreaks have emerged in these countries, too. With the scope of this outbreak rapidly changing, the researchers just updated their models in a yet-to-be-published study focused on how the coronavirus disease will likelyspread from Iran. They found Iran probably has thousands more cases within its borders than we currently know. And they predict that we can expect outbreaks with links back to Iran in Turkey, UAE, Iraq, Qatar and Georgia, among other countries. In Europe, they predict Germany, France, and Italy are also places at higher risk of imported cases from Iran. This is a long-winded way of saying these places may be at immediate risk in the coming days and weeks, according to some of the best guesses available. 3) How should I assess my risk of catching the virus while traveling? The situation is changing so fast it’s impossible to say precisely what a person’s risk is, even if they’re traveling to a place that hasn’t yet detected cases of Covid-19. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself when making a decision about whether to travel or not: What’s your risk of severe Covid-19 disease? It’s really tricky to gauge an individual’s risk of catching the virus. In Iran two weeks ago, there were zero cases — and now there’s more than a dozen dead and potentially thousands of cases. So while it’s difficult to predict risk, scientists say that around 81 percent of Covid-19 cases experience mild infection; 14 percent are severe cases, meaning they experience serious symptoms like shortness of breath and/or lung problems; and 5 percent are deemed critical, going into respiratory failure, septic shock, or multiple organ failure. Of the people infected with the virus, at least in China, around 2 percent die. Individuals over the age of 50 are overrepresented among the severe cases and deaths, as well as people with underlying health conditions. So, someone who is elderly or immunocompromised from a chronic disease should think differently about their risk of severe infection “compared to a healthy 18-year-old,” said St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto infectious disease physician Kamran Khan, an author on the modeling studies cited above. How is your country, the country you’re traveling to, or any places where you may have stopovers dealing with this virus? You’ll want to read up before you travel on what, if any, policies all the countries you’ll pass through have in place in terms of controlling the virus. You’ll also want to know your own country’s policy on people who have visited places with coronavirus outbreaks. Are there any travel restrictions or advisories? If you go to a particular country and there’s an outbreak or you catch the virus, can you get home? Is your country repatriating citizens? Would the country you’re visiting quarantine you if you happened to have been in another country where the virus is spreading? “Essentially people have to do their research and be up to date on several different streams of information because travel may be disrupted in this era of an emerging outbreak,” said Isaac Bogoch, a professor at the University of Toronto who also authored the modeling studies. “But it is also very challenging to predict any changes in policies that may happen while one is traveling.” Photo credit should read Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images A respiratory specialist in charge of about 30 critical Covid-19 patients writes encouraging words for a patient in a hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Feb. 25, 2020. How comfortable are you with uncertainty? Given the rapidly evolving situation, you need to be okay with some uncertainty when you travel now. Would you be okay with a two-week delay getting home if you get stuck in a quarantine situation? Do you trust that the countries you’re traveling to would quarantine you safely? Unfortunately, these are questions travelers need to think about for the moment. How would you feel being hospitalized in the place you’re traveling to? This is a worst-case scenario but worth considering, said Bogoch. If you’re going to a place with a higher risk of an outbreak, or already has cases within its borders, research the health system there and assess whether you’d feel comfortable staying in hospital should something go wrong. Relatedly, you’ll also want to check on whether your health insurance would cover the stay. 4) How does this coronavirus spread? We don’t yet know how exactly how SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 disease — spreads, but we do have a lot of data on how MERS, SARS, and other respiratory viruses move from person to person. And that’s mainly throughexposure to dropletsfrom coughing or sneezing. So when an infected person coughs or sneezes, they let out a spray, and if these droplets reach the nose, eyes, or mouth of another person, they can pass on the virus, said Nuzzo. In rarer cases, a person might catch a respiratory disease indirectly, “via touching droplets on surfaces — and then touching mucosal membranes” in the mouth, eyes, and nose, she added. This means that when you travel, you want to keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face. There’s also emerging evidence showing SARS-CoV-2 could spread through poop — known as the “fecal-oral” route of disease transmission. Researchers are on the lookout for potential airborne transmission, too. But these avenues of spread are less established. 5) Is there anything I should do to protect myself when traveling? Buy a face mask? Just about every health expert Vox has spoken to has said there’s little evidence to support the use of face masks for preventing disease in the general population. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images People wear medical masks as a precaution against coronavirus, walking around New York, on January 30, 2020. Masks are only useful if you have a respiratory infection already and want to minimize the risk of spread to others, or if you’re caring for someone who is sick or working in a hospital in direct contact with people who have respiratory illnesses. (Plus, there are reports of runs on masks and other supplies health workers need to stay safe.) That’s why the CDC advises against the use of masks for regular Americans. The best thing you can do to prevent all sorts of illnesses, Messonnier said, is “wash your hands, cover your cough, take care of yourself, and keep alert to the information that we’re providing.” You’ll also want to protect yourself from financial losses related to travel. If you’re thinking about a trip in the coming weeks or months, make sure you are comfortable with the cancellation policy on your tickets and look into travel insurance. Even if you’re feeling good about your individual risk right now, you might feel differently by the time your departure date rolls around. 6) If I decide to travel, what should I do if I’m seated near someone who is sick? Traveling next to someone who is coughing or sneezing isn’t very reassuring, but it’s not time to panic, either. “The risk of acquiring a respiratory infection through air travel is still extraordinarily low,” Bogoch said. The risk does go up if you happen to be seated within six feet of a person with a respiratory infection. But even there, simple proximity doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll catch anything. Instead, the more infectious the person is, and the longer you sit near them, the higher your risk. If you’re not near the person for very long or they’re not very infectious, the risk is lower. Just keep in mind: Considering all the new cases that have been found — and may soon be uncovered — in countries outside of China, it’s very possible this virus is more widespread than we know right now. “The underlying burden of illness in regions [with new coronavirus cases] is much larger than what is being reported,” said Bogoch. “What we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg.” At the same time, outbreaks and pandemics are the new normal, and they’re unlikely to end the era of global travel. So keep calm, carry on, and check those travel advisories.
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Pete Buttigieg’s attack on “revolution politics” seemed to denounce what made his candidacy possible
Pete Buttigieg speaks to reporters after the Democratic presidential primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2020. | Scott Olson/Getty Images His campaign said the comments were directed at Bernie Sanders’s “nostalgia for Cold War-era, authoritarian regimes.” Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is facing criticism for launching an attack on Sen. Bernie Sanders during Tuesday night’s 10th Democratic primary debate — his critics argue the attack was also a denouncement of the political struggle that has made Buttigieg’s candidacy possible. During the debate, Sanders was asked to clarify his stance on past comments he has made praising some aspects of left-wing dictatorships, such as their literacy and health care programs. After Sanders responded by calling for nuance in US views toward foreign leaders — and by tying his views on Cuba to former President Barack Obama’s stance on the country — Buttigieg argued against Sanders’s position, and claimed it demonstrates why the senator is unfit to be the Democratic presidential nominee: The only way you can [restore American credibility] is to actually win the presidency, and I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the ’50s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolution politics of the ’60s. This is not about what was happening in the ‘70s or ’80s, this is about the future. This is about 2020. The remark drew a mixed reaction from the crowd in Charleston, and the Buttigieg campaign tweeted the line. But on Twitter, the point was not met with overwhelming acclaim, especially among Sanders supporters. Sanders campaign spokesperson Briahna Joy Gray argued that the revolutionary politics of the 1960s were largely positive — particularly for communities of color in the US. Wait ... is it bad to have nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s Pete? I’m seem to recall Black people fighting for and securing some important rights during that revolutionary period. #DemDebate— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) February 26, 2020 The moment gave other Sanders supporters, such as senior adviser David Sirota, the opportunity to promote Sanders’s civil rights era activism, and others noted progressive political activism in the 1960s also involved the antiwar movement, the push for women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights activism. Amid mounting criticism, the Buttigieg campaign deleted the tweet. Why’d you delete this tweet, @PeteButtigieg ? pic.twitter.com/mx1ilDIbAN— zellie (@zellieimani) February 26, 2020 Buttigieg has increasingly worked to cast Sanders as too radical to be the Democratic nominee As Vox’s Alex Ward has explained, “Sanders has a long history of showing support for left-wing dictatorships around the world.” This history came to the fore Sunday during an interview with 60 Minutesin which Sanders said, “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba ... but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad.” Sanders went on to say, “When [Fidel] Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program.” Again — as Sanders pointed out Tuesday — Obama made a similar statement, saying in 2016 as the US tried to improve its relationship with Cuba, “The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.” But Sanders’s argument allowed Buttigieg to reiterate a point he has tried to make in recent debates: that Sanders is too radical to be the Democratic Party’s nominee, and that he is, as Buttigieg said in last week’s Nevada debate, a “candidate who wants to burn this party down.” The mayor’s dismissal of the “revolution politics of the ’60s” was meant to be of a kind with this criticism. Buttigieg campaign staffer Rodericka Applewhaite made this point on Twitter amid the pushback the mayor was facing online, writing that Buttigieg “was being critical of Sen. Sanders’ nostalgia for Cold War-era, authoritarian regimes. The Civil Rights movement wasn’t implied nor referenced.” However, that the civil rights movement wasn’t referenced was what had many Sanders supporters and other observers incensed — particularly given criticisms Buttigieg has faced about his outreach to minority communities in the past. The controversy over Buttigieg’s comments is a reminder of why he has struggled to connect with many marginalized voters Buttigieg has faced a number of questions about his support among marginalized communities thus far in the campaign cycle. He drew just 2 percent of the black vote in the Nevada caucuses, and the lack of support within the black community that signals doesn’t portend well for next Saturday’s South Carolina primary, where black voters make up 60 percent of the Democratic electorate. And his campaign has drawn extensive criticism from other LGBTQ people — critics have argued Buttigieg has failed to addressthe broader needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community. His desire to find a middle ground between the social traditions of the 1950s and the revolutionary 1960s shows why. The 1960s were a time of great political change for many marginalized communities in the US. The civil rights movement of the time gave birth to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination on the basis of race illegal under federal law and removed barriers to voting for black people. The feminist movement at the time created social change that opened the doors to new and longer careers for women. But although Buttigieg is a white man, his attack on the time’s politics especially betrays his lack of perspective on a personal level. The life he lives now — as a married gay veteran who is a viable candidate for president — would not have been possible without the revolutionary queer politics of the ’60s. The decade saw the birth of the LGBTQ rights movement through the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco in 1966 and, more famously, the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City. Without the queer agitation against state power at the time, there would be no marriage equality in the US in 2020, and “don’t ask, don’t tell” restrictions on openly LGBTQ people serving in the military might still be in place. Hearing the first gay presidential candidate condemn the "revolutionary politics of the 1960s" is uhhhhhhh something pic.twitter.com/YdouVzxq4M— Gillian Branstetter (@GBBranstetter) February 26, 2020 It is those politics that Buttigieg’s statement appeared to dismiss. He was correct, however, in stating that 2020 has a number of pressing issues — in particular, the hard-won gains of the 1960s LGBTQ revolutionary politics are in danger, with LGBTQ people are facing a renewed pushback against their rights. And the Trump administration has launched attack after attack on queer and trans rights. LGBTQ rights seemingly hang by a thread — just this week, the Supreme Court decided to hear a case that could allow adoption agencies receiving federal tax money to discriminate against LGBTQ prospective parents. Buttigieg said he wants to focus on 2020, but perhaps queer and other minority voters could use a little bit of ’60s revolutionary politics this year.
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How the Venus de Milo got so famous
Getty Images/Vox The Venus de Milo is iconic. Why? The Venus de Milo is iconic. Why? It turns out a missing piece might have something to do with it. In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards explores the secret history of the Venus de Milo, the famous armless statue from Greece. Found in 1820, the Venus de Milo was always considered notable, but a complicated political situation is what made the statue iconic. French art and the Louvre were struggling when Venus was discovered. A large cache of art, looted by Napoleon from around the world, had recently been returned to various home countries, and that left a huge gap in the Louvre’s classical art collection. Venus was the perfect solution — and the French went to extreme lengths to make sure nobody questioned her legitimacy. The result was a globally famous statue with a complicated and secretive history. Watch the above video to learn more. You can find this video and all of Vox’s Almanac series on YouTube. Further reading Disarmed by Gregory CurtisIncredibly detailed, this book immerses you in the life and times of one of the world’s most famous statues. “The Venus de Milo: Genesis of a Modern Myth” by Philippe JockeyThis paper provides the clearest synopsis of how and why the French concealed the truth about the Venus de Milo. “Creating the Past: The Vénus de Milo and the Hellenistic Reception of Classical Greece” by Rachel KousserKousser helpfully grounds the Venus in the Hellenistic era (and provides a good summary of her discovery and subsequent theories). You can also 3D-print your own Venus de Milo here.
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How coronavirus could force the work-from-home movement
A worker disinfects an office space in Shanghai. | Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images Amid fears of a global pandemic, working from home is gaining more acceptance. A strain of coronavirus could be reaching pandemic proportions, having killed 2,700 people and infected more than 81,000 people in more than 40 countries. The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, is sending ripple effects around the world, including a push for more people to work remotely, while health organizations work to contain and treat the outbreak. After a recent spike in cases outside of China, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to ask their schools and workplaces about contingency plans, like working from home, in case they have to shut down over coronavirus. Companies from Wuhan to Silicon Valley have altered how and where they do business as the virus rages on. In February so far, 77 public company transcripts mention “work from home” or “working from home,” according to financial data platform Sentieo. That’s up from just four mentions of the phrase in the same month a year ago. The vast majority of those documents also mention coronavirus. “The crisis is a very, very big challenge to the society,” Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang told investors on a recent earnings call, but it also gives people a “chance to try a new way of living and new way of work.” Remote workers make up anywhere from about 5 percent (those who typically work from home) to nearly two-thirds (who sometimes work remotely) of the workforce, depending on the measurement. What’s certain is that the trend has been ticking up and a pandemic like coronavirus has the potential to fast-track the move by making it more universally accepted and prominent. “What these temporary uses tend to do is show companies that a) it can be done, and b) having people already accustomed to working remotely makes the transition much easier,” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, told Recode. Steve King, partner at small business consulting firm Emergent Research, agrees. “When trends or shifts are already growing or gaining strength, shocks — like the coronavirus — tend to increase their growth or strength,” King said. “So we think the potential pandemic will have a positive impact on the growth of remote work [and] working from home (at an obviously very negative human cost).” Working from home is quietly remaking the lives of knowledge workers, people who complete their high-skill jobs online, but it’s also increasingly affecting people whose jobs haven’t historically been mediated by computers. Of course, there’s a lot less choice for people in jobs like food service or manufacturing. Foxconn, a giant electronics maker, is trying to tempt employees back into its factories in China with large bonuses. Whether the bump in remote work will last depends on how long and severe the pandemic is. “Assuming the pandemic passes fairly quickly, most workers will go back to working where and how they worked before,” King said. “However, if the pandemic happens and lasts for a while it could cause a stronger, longer-term shift to remote work.” In the meantime, the virus is wreaking havoc on the stock market. During any natural or manmade disaster, it’s typical for the stock market as a whole to tank while certain industries thrive. A spike in stock price for companies that specialize in “health care, bunker food, and gold is fairly typical when people are running to safety,” Nick Mazing, director of research at Sentieo, said. At this time, stocks for workplace software like Zoom and Slack, which aid in remote work, also seem to be doing well, though it’s always difficult to tell if that might be from other headwinds. Slack, for example, recently signed a big deal with Uber. Remote work is here to stay, pandemic or not, but coronavirus may force the transition more quickly than expected.
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The first US soldier has tested positive for coronavirus
US soldiers from 2nd Infantry Division take part in the Best Warrior Competition at the Rodriguez Range on April 16, 2019 in Pocheon, South Korea. | Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images Coronavirus spreading through US military ranks would be a disaster. The US military has been hit with coronavirus for the first time. In a statement released Tuesday night, the US military command in South Korea announced that a 23-year-old soldier has contracted the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The service member was stationed at Camp Carroll near Daegu, the epicenter of South Korea’s major outbreak. Since the soldier visited other locations before being diagnosed with coronavirus, US military officials in the country are checking to see if others have been exposed. In the meantime, the statement notes, the US military is “implementing all appropriate control measures” to curb further infections among the ranks since the risk level remains “high.” A USFK soldier stationed at Camp Carroll tested positive for COVID-19, marking the first time a U.S. service member has tested positive for the virus. We’re implementing all appropriate control measures to protect the force. https://t.co/kkfEIuW7Jb— U.S. Forces Korea (@USForcesKorea) February 26, 2020 This is a troubling development, not just for the soldier who has contracted the disease but for US troops stationed in South Korea. The roughly 25,000 service members deployed there work with their counterparts in the country to improve the military-to-military relationship, but mainly to deter a potential invasion from North Korea. A weakened force is less able to do both of those things. The news is also a scary moment for the hundreds of thousands of US service members around the world. America’s military might has little power against viruses, and in fact, the many hours spent in close quarters makes the US armed forces quite vulnerable to contagion. That’s worrying, especially since a military heavily impacted by an outbreak will struggle if called upon. “Historically, infectious diseases radically impact military forces and can result in suspension or cancellation of military operations,” four experts wrote in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseasesin 2007. That’s precisely why no one should want the US military to lead a pandemic response, Ron Klain, who took charge of America’s Ebola response in the Obama administration, told me last year. If they do, and many get infected dealing with sick people, then the number of active troops starts to drop quickly. What’s more, the armed services aren’t necessarily equipped or fully trained to deal with outbreaks. “Troops volunteer to take on great risks, but they don’t sign up to fight diseases,” Klain told me at the time. Importantly, this infected soldier is abroad in South Korea, and it appears appropriate measures have been taken to minimize risks — but the potential threat to the US homeland remains. If other service members in the area are contagious but don’t know it, they could bring coronavirus stateside to an American installation, or even to their homes as they visit family. At that point, the growing coronavirus crisis in the US might get worse. It’s a good thing the US military in South Korea not only identified an infected service member but also informed the public of the situation. The concern, though, is that it may be just the first notification of many to come.
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Bernie Sanders’s new favorite Medicare-for-all study, explained
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters after the Democratic presidential primary debate on February 25, 2020. | Scott Olson/Getty Images A new study shows Medicare-for-all would save lives and money. But some experts have big doubts. Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Medicare-for-all proposal were again the targets of attacks at Tuesday’s Democratic debate in South Carolina, but the senator had a retort for opponents who doubt his single-payer plan would work: a brand-new study published in The Lancet. The study, authored by a group of Yale researchers, came to two conclusions that Sanders touted during the debate. Under Medicare-for-all, the researchers found, the United States would spend $3 trillion on health care annually, or about $460 billion less than the country spent in 2017 under the current system, and universal coverage would save almost 69,000 lives in America every year. As his opponents painted his plan as too expensive and unrealistic, Sanders turned to the Lancet article to defend himself at Tuesday’s debate: I’m sure you’re familiar with the new study that just came out of Yale University, published in Lancet magazine, one of the prestigious medical journals in the world. You know what it said? Medicare-for-all will lower health care costs in this country by $450 billion a year, and save 68,000 lives of people who otherwise would have died. What we need to do is to do what every other major country on Earth does: guarantee health care to all people. Not have thousands of separate insurance plans, which are costing us some $500 billion a year to administer. It was the perfect evidence for Sanders’s message: Single-payer health care would save money and save lives. But if you dig into the numbers, it gets a little more complicated. The Yale study’s authors assume bigger savings and bigger health benefits than the other researchers who have looked at the same question. It’s certainly possible Medicare-for-all would result in lower spending and better health. But there are a ton of unknowns in how such a program would work in practice. That’s why we sometimes see wide differences in estimating what single-payer would cost. So while the Lancet study gives Sanders good talking points for the debate stage, it’s probably the rosiest projection of life under Medicare-for-all that you’re going to see. No one — not single-payer supporters or opponents — should take one study in isolation. Why Yale researchers think Medicare-for-all would save so much money In short, Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan would set up a new government insurance plan that would cover every single American. It would replace the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs, as well as the employer-sponsored insurance that 150 million Americans currently receive. The benefits under that new government plan would be very generous: Medical care would be free when you go to the doctor or hospital, with only small copays required for prescription drugs. The case for Medicare-for-all has always been this: You cover everybody, with better benefits, and you can bring down costs because the government would suddenly have a monopoly on paying for health care. Payment rates could be reduced for doctors and hospitals, while the government would have more leverage to negotiate lower prices from drugmakers. With all that in mind, the Yale researchers expect these big savings from Medicare-for-all: $219 billion from administrative savings, because the Medicare program currently spends 2.2 percent on overhead while private insurance spends 12.4 percent $188 billion from negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs, based on the rates the Veteran Affairs Department currently pays (which are about 40 percent lower than those paid by Medicare) $100 billion from reducing payments to health care providers, by setting rates at Medicare levels (which are about 20 percent lower than private insurance and 20 to 30 percent higher than Medicaid) $78 billion from avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency room visits by improving access to primary care That all sounds great. But there are reasons to be a little cautious. First, you should know the lead author on this study, Alison Galvani, disclosed in the paper that she’s been an unpaid adviser to Sanders’s Senate office. And then there are some of the assumptions the authors make to come up with their numbers. Payment rates — again, how much providers would be paid — are a big one. If you’ll recall, there was a wonky fight between Medicare-for-all advocates and the libertarian think tank Mercatus Center last year, and it was all about payment rates. The author of the Mercatus Center’s Medicare-for-all review, which also showed savings versus the current system, had assumed the single-payer plan would pay out at Medicare rates. Just like the Lancet study. But despite relying on that assumption, he also said in his analysis that he didn’t believe it would be possible to set rates that low because of political resistance and the anticipated effect on providers. And if the payment rate were set higher, then expected savings would start to evaporate. This is really a legislative question, something that would be worked out if the time ever came to negotiate a Medicare-for-all bill in Congress. But it just highlights how much elasticity there is in projecting a health care plan’s cost. Change one number and suddenly the costs look a lot different. The same is true for the assumptions about administrative savings. The Medicare program and other countries’ national health insurance plans do run with greater efficiency than US private insurance, but the federal government might not be able to keep overhead down at 2 percent if it is suddenly responsible for everybody’s health care. The Yale authors tacitly acknowledged this point, stating that even if administrative spending is more like 6 percent, Medicare-for-all would still save money (assuming their other assumptions stay true). But there was one other assumption in the Lancet study that caused some skepticism among health policy wonks. One big reason other health care experts are skeptical of the Lancet paper One of the other big unknowns about Medicare-for-all is what people do once they get health care for free at the doctor’s office or hospital. How does medical utilization change once cost sharing is eliminated? Because while we know that right now people will sometimes skip treatment because of the cost, we also expect they will seek out care if it’s affordable. The Yale researchers did assume some new spending because of Medicare-for-all’s coverage expansion, which would provide meaningfully better benefits to the 24 percent of Americans who are either uninsured or underinsured (meaning they have an insurance plan but it does not provide full financial protection). The study expects about $191 billion in additional spending for those services. But they do not appear to anticipate any increased utilization for the other 76 percent of Americans with better health insurance. That assumption draws skepticism from others who study health care economics. The thing that jumped out to me most glaringly was the stipulation that utilization will ONLY increase among the 24% of Americans who are currently uninsured or underinsured (the yellow box has the underinsurance criteria from the cited Commonwealth Fund) pic.twitter.com/Syi2mBi5jZ— Adrianna McIntyre (@onceuponA) February 25, 2020 The implication here is that going from modest cost-sharing to zero cost-sharing will have no impact on utilization. None. This is not a tenable assumption. The RAND HIE is dated, but it's not obsolete—it's backed up by a whole canon of health economics research now.— Adrianna McIntyre (@onceuponA) February 25, 2020 The RAND study that McIntyre (a former Vox contributor) is referencing was conducted back in the 1970s. Its most salient finding: “Participants who paid for a share of their health care used fewer health services than a comparison group given free care.” Right now, almost all Americans have some kind of cost sharing in their health insurance, some amount they must pay out of pocket when they receive treatment. The RAND study would lead us to believe that therefore, some number of health care services are currently not being used because of that cost sharing. If cost sharing were eliminated, as Sanders is proposing, we’d expect utilization to go up — even among people who already had a good health insurance plan. This is another important variable in estimating Medicare-for-all’s costs. If the Yale researchers are correct, and most people’s health care usage remains the same, then the program could indeed be a big saver. But that’s a big if, one arguably unsupported by the available evidence. Sanders’s campaign cited the Lancet study in coming up with their financing plan for Medicare-for-all. It would raise about $17 trillion (while assuming certain other things, like states continuing to pay about as much as they currently do on Medicaid), which is less than outside economists think they need. Part of the reason for cost differences is the different assumptions made, as this Lancet paper helps illustrate. But if Medicare-for-all plays out differently in reality, then the price tag starts to look much different. It’s also hard to be sure exactly how much health coverage affects mortality The other highlight of the Lancet research was on mortality: an estimated 68,500 lives saved every year through universal coverage under Medicare-for-all. Nobody would be uninsured or underinsured, nobody would struggle to afford medical care, and so fewer people would die because they couldn’t get treatment. Much like estimated spending on Medicare-for-all, projecting the health benefits of giving so many people insurance is hard to quantify. As McIntrye and others pointed out, the earlier study that the Yale researchers relied on to come up with their own estimate had the biggest measured effect of health insurance on mortality in the academic literature. Other research found smaller effects, though the trend was still positive. It does certainly seem like giving more people health insurance saves lives. A blockbuster paper from December, analyzing patterns among people who were sent letters by the IRS urging them to sign up for insurance, found one fewer death for every 1,648 people who were contacted about enrolling in a health plan. Another recent study examining mortality and Medicaid expansion found the same general outcome, as Vox’s Tara Golshan reported: The researchers found that states that expanded Medicaid saw higher rates of enrollment and lower rates of uninsurance. Among the 55- to 64-year-olds studied, researchers found, receiving Medicaid “reduced the probability of mortality over a 16 month period by about 1.6 percentage points, or a decline of 70 percent.” Based on their findings, they estimate that states’ refusal to expand the program led to 15,600 additional deaths. This is in line with a growing body of research that shows Medicaid expansion has not only vastly increased access to health insurance, but also improved health outcomes. So in broad strokes, Sanders’s defense at the debate was legitimate. Medicare-for-all could potentially save money, if provider payment rates are kept low and there isn’t an explosion in medical demand. It should save lives, based on what we know about what happens with mortality rates once people get insurance. But it would be wise not to take the numbers too literally. There is a lot of guesswork in projecting what Medicare-for-all would cost and the effect it would have —and this is just one more set of assumptions and estimates to add to the pile.
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The true story of the awakening of Norman Rockwell
The artist Norman Rockwell, longtime artist for the Saturday Evening Post poses in his studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1975. | Ed Eckstein/Getty Images For decades, the artist’s Saturday Evening Post covers championed a retrograde view of America. This is the story of the politically turbulent 1960s, a singular painting, and Rockwell’s unlikely change of heart. Sometime on Tuesday, November 8, 1960, a 66-year-old widower and self-described “moderate Republican” went to his polling place in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to vote for his state’s junior senator for president. Never the most forthcoming of men, Norman Rockwell hadn’t told his family he was backing John F. Kennedy. He’d painted portraits of both candidates for the Saturday Evening Post, and he just didn’t like Richard Nixon’s face. It was only a short walk down Main Street from the two-story Colonial house supposedly once occupied by Aaron Burr, whose derelict red barn Rockwell had converted into his fastidiously tidy studio. He’d called Stockbridge home since relocating from rural Vermont six years earlier, mainly for proximity to its renowned Austen Riggs psychiatric center. His second wife, Mary, who struggled with alcoholism and depression, had been a chronic patient there. In those newly cosmopolitan times — the Mad Men era, for shorthand’s sake — the Anytown, USA, that Rockwell had depicted on hundreds of Post covers was becoming a curio at best and an object of derision at worst. Nixon still espoused a mealy-mouthed fealty to those pseudo-Rockwellian virtues. By choosing Kennedy instead, Rockwell might as well have been casting a ballot to hasten his own obsolescence. But nobody could disagree that he’d had a good run. Born in 1894 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Rockwell had never shown interest in any other career besides commercial illustration. Before his 16th birthday, he had dropped out of high school to enroll at New York’s Art Students League. Untempted by the bohemia of Greenwich Village and seemingly indifferent to (or unnerved by) the concept of a love life, he had business cards printed for himself while he was still in his teens. Most midcentury Americans would have had trouble fathoming the idea that Norman Rockwell had ever been that young or unknown. In the four and a half decades since his Postdebut in 1916, his humorous vignettes of awkward situations and glowing ones of social and domestic rituals had defined the nation’s most idyllic self-image. From Andy Hardy movies to Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Hollywood’s version of homey American verities was by and large a facsimile of Rockwell’s. But by the time he cast that vote in 1960, his perspective was growing increasingly remote from the bulk of his fellow citizens’ lived experience in cities and postwar suburbs. The concept of kitsch had begun following Rockwell around in print like one of the lovelorn puppies he would include in a painting whenever he was at a loss for an effect (a habit that he would later mock). Worse, the Saturday Evening Post wasn’t the national arbiter it had been. A few months after JFK’s inaugural, the magazine would promise jittery advertisers a drastically modernized look under a new editor-in-chief who promptly recanted the Post’sendorsement of Nixon the previous fall. The demotion of Rockwell’s Main Street America to the Rat Pack’s Nowheresville wasn’t explicit, but everybody got the gist. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images Norman Rockwell and Mary Barstow, just before their marriage in 1930. It’s unlikely he even considered retiring. At ease only when at his easel, he took little interest in hobbies — or even in his family. Not the most well-rounded of men, Rockwell, when asked to describe his leisure activities by Edward R. Murrow on CBS’s Person to Person in 1959, responded that he couldn’t think of any, except the “countless hours” he spent tearing up diaper cloths for use as paint rags. In any case, he was obviously too sedate to change his spots, no matter how speedily the country around him was changing. That would have been most people’s guess, at least. It would have been spectacularly wrong. The tumultuous ’60s would convert Rockwell into an overt social liberal — and the era’s unlikeliest practitioner of polemical art. Even the Norman Rockwell Museum can’t make sense of his late-life political transformation. Amid the familiar Rockwelliana on display there is 1964’s The Problem We All Live With — which his biographer Deborah Solomon, in her 2013 book, American Mirror, calls “the most famous painting of the civil-rights movement”— as jarring as it must have been in the pages of Lookmagazine more than 50 years ago. But it was only the first of his 1960s paintings to upend everything “Norman Rockwell” stood for. Indeed, one of the minor marvels of the ’60s was that the period made Rockwell happier than he’d ever been. The hippies he came to dote on had a word for it: liberation. After Mary died unexpectedly of coronary heart disease in August 1959, her husband’s vestigial social life centered on a Stockbridge men’s club called the Marching and Chowder Society. Its members met once a week to chew over the news of the day, from the nuclear arms race to the South’s roiling battles over desegregation. Up until then, the average lamppost had taken a livelier interest in current events than Rockwell did. His only concessions to topical urgency had come between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. Besides proselytizing for democracy with his epic Four Freedoms series (a quartet of paintings depicting freedom of speech and worship as well as freedom from fear and want — the last of these featuring his celebrated image of a family’s Thanksgiving feast), he’d regaled Postreaders with covers featuring a regally posed Rosie the Riveter and a youthful soldier’s homecoming. But then he’d gone back to his familiar tableaux, seemingly unaffected by Elvis Presley, suburbia’s advent, or the Cold War — and certainly not by Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks, or Little Rock. Rockwell had every reason to feel personally un-implicated in the country’s burgeoning racial strife. There’s no record of him encountering black-white tensions during his youth in New York City and New Rochelle, nor, later on, in relatively isolated (and white) Vermont or Stockbridge. As for his Saturday Evening PostAmerica, it could have been what Ronald Reagan had in mind when he notoriously reminisced about the days “when we didn’t even know we had a racial problem” — a “we” as defining, if far more damning, than the one in The Problem We All Live With’s title. The Postbanned illustrations showing African Americans in anything other than menial roles. Rockwell had generally been docile about that. Very little in his Postwork had prepared his audience for how unambiguously and provocatively he declared himself on the subject of desegregation in his Lookmagazine debut. At the time, most white Americans still thought of racial injustice as a “problem” only Southerners wrestled with. The contest between Kennedy and Nixon ran its course without civil rights being much of an issue, with one dramatic exception. In October 1960, a month before the election, Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed after leading an Atlanta sit-in. In a surprise move, JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy publicly intervened to help secure his release. The Kennedy family’s actions — while Nixon cautiously kept mum — would abruptly change the equation. African American voters significantly bolstered JFK’s razor-thin margin of victory. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Norman Rockwell’s 1964 work The Problem We All Live With proved a turning point in the artist’s career and reflected his unexpected politicization in the 1960s. Rockwell’s only involvement in the 1960 election, aside from voting, had been his portraits of Kennedy and Nixon. His son Peter (one of the three he had with Mary) remembered Rockwell grousing that “the problem with doing Nixon is that if you make him look nice, he doesn’t look like Nixon anymore.” As the magazine’spreferred candidate, Nixon got the cover dated closer to Election Day, not that it did him any good. Never fond of television, Rockwell probably went to bed without watching the evening news on November 14, 1960, just under a week after Kennedy’s victory. If so, he wouldn’t only have missed the sight of a knackered Nixon shaking hands with the new president-elect in Key Biscayne, Florida. He’d also have missed a mob of white New Orleanians howling abuse as they witnessed the unthinkable: a quartet of US marshals escorting a 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges as she entered school to attend first grade. Bridges was one of just four African American first-graders who’d been chosen to integrate the city’s school system. But at least Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne got to enter McDonogh 19 school as a trio. Bridges, flanked by the marshals, went up the steps of William Frantz Elementary School on her own. Not that anybody knew her name. To readers and viewers of most news outlets, she was simply “the little Negro girl,” and so she remained until the 1990s, when the adult Bridges was reunited at a Black History Month event in New Orleans with one of her real-life escorts — and the painting. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images Ruby Bridges was among the first African American children to desegregate New Orleans schools in 1960, after federal intervention. Just 6, she had to be accompanied to school by marshals; the violent reaction was broadcast widely. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images It was Rockwell’s depiction of Bridges, pictured in 2013, that turned the girl into a civil rights icon. Today, she continues to make appearances to discuss her life. What drew Rockwell to the subject three years after the fact? His interest may have been sparked by the writings of psychiatrist Robert Coles, who’d met with and counseled Bridges and her family. The artist may have read John Steinbeck’s 1962 bestseller Travels With Charley, whose concluding chapter contains his eyewitness account of the havoc outside the school on a typical day in the autumn of 1960. One passage, in particular, vividly anticipates the central figure in Rockwell’s painting: a glimpse of “the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in shining starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white.” Yet Rockwell unmistakably had Ruby Bridges’s ordeal on his mind before either Coles or Steinbeck weighed in. His most ambitious painting of 1961 was The Golden Rule, which featured more than two dozen people of all races and faiths illustrating the caption “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Two of them are African American: a man in a pointedly middle-class white shirt and tie as well as a neatly dressed girl prominently placed in the foreground. In an early version of The Golden Rule, which is the one propped today in the artist’s studio at the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the girl’s hands are simply clasped in prayer. In the final painting, they’re clutching two schoolbooks. Not many Postsubscribers in 1961 were likely to miss the allusion to the child who’d gotten so much news coverage the previous autumn. Segregationists certainly didn’t; they sent Rockwell the only hate mail he’d received in his 45-year career. But his relationship with thePosthad been deteriorating in any case. Its editors had concluded that his brand of folksy humanism was passé. They also seemed uninterested, as The Golden Rule hinted, that their former mainstay had a burgeoning interest in more provocative social themes. That summer, the new regime unveiled its plans for a revamped Post, including “art work . . . considerably more abstract than anything that has appeared in the magazine.” Rockwell’s sardonic response was his very funny January 1962 cover, The Connoisseur, depicting a stocky gent in banker’s gray pondering a Jackson Pollock riot of splattered red, yellow, and blue. His imitation Pollock was expert enough to delight the artist Willem de Kooning. But The Connoisseur proved to be the last of his great Postcovers. Just five months after it was published, Rockwell got new marching orders, and they rankled. He was to be confined from then on to producing portraits of statesmen, plus the occasional celebrity. Terrified of ending his relationship with the Post, he tried to oblige his bosses. But in May 1963, he scrawled a remarkably agonized 3 am lament: “All of this debasement, depression, unsatisfaction. Isn’t this the answer — if necessary, die doing something worthwhile. A worthy end . . . not humiliating fear and groveling. Have I got the sustaining courage to cut it through? Cut the knot myself not die groveling.” Four months later, he wrote the Post’s latest art director that he’d “come to the conviction that the work I now want to do no longer fits into the Post scheme.” Oli Scarff/Getty Images Until the artist’s awakening to the issues of the day in the 1960s, “Rockwellian” style seemed to consist of quaint, playful — and entirely white — scenes, depicted on the covers of the Saturday Evening Postfor decades. Pictured: his covers on display in 2011 in London. His major emotional sustenance during this period came from his new wife. Fourteen months after Mary died, after a brief acquaintance, he married Molly Punderson, a 64-year-old schoolteacher who, as biographer Solomon puts it, was “not known to have had any male suitors” before they wed. But Rockwell’s marital needs had never been primarily sexual, and he knew what he could count on from her: “You will help, be with me, admire me,” he addressed Molly in that same insomniac cri de coeur. “I have the courage with you.” Rockwell’s final Postcover, for the memorial issue commemorating John F. Kennedy’s assassination, that November, was a reprint of the artist’s 1960 JFK portrait. But by then, he’d already signed up with Look. The rival to Henry Luce’s Life magazine, the more politically adventurous Look had no misgivings about the unlikely image Rockwell proposed as his debut, despite how it diverged from everything he was famous for — unless, of course, that was part of its appeal. On October 1, 1963, art director Allen Hurlburt wrote him, “As you know, Dan [Mich, Look’seditor] and I are very excited about your idea for a painting of the Negro girl and the marshals. . . . In checking our production schedules I find that we should have the art work by November 10 to make an early January issue.” Rockwell told Hurlburt he’d gotten a head start on the painting, having identified a willing model: “I already have the 7 yr old little girl and she is perfect. Her grandmother is sewing the white dress for her. . . . Be assured I am very excited about the picture.” Excitedwasn’t a word he’d often used about his assignments for the Post. Rockwell’s search for the “perfect” little girl may seem odd, given the common belief that Problem simply replicates a news photograph. But that misconception is an unwitting tribute to how completely the real episode and Rockwell’s depiction of it have fused in our collective memory. Aside from the basic situation, virtually every detail of the picture is Rockwell’s invention. His usual MO was to sketch or paint from photographs of local residents, who would come to his studio and then follow his directions as they struck various poses. He’d employed a photographer named Bill Scovill virtually full-time since 1953, and it was Scovill who likely took the reference photos for The Problem We All Live With. Only two African American families lived in Stockbridge then. Rockwell was friendly with the patriarch of one of them: Bill Gunn, who’d posed for The Golden Rule and also chaired the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP. Rockwell became a lifetime member in October 1963, around the time he began working on The Problem We All Live With. Two of Gunn’s granddaughters were approximately the right age to stand in for Bridges: first cousins named Lynda and Anita Gunn. Lynda ended up doing most of the posing. Anita and other members of the Gunn family, who had been invited to observe the photo sessions, enjoyed the Coca-Colas that Rockwell passed around. For Lynda, the tricky part was balancing herself on two wooden boards — front foot tilting upward, back foot tilting down — to simulate walking. It was an old device of Rockwell’s, and he also used it for the separate reference shots of her four adult escorts. Timothy Tai for The Boston Globe via Getty Images Lynda Gunn poses in 2016 with Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” decades after she served as the 7-year-old stand-in for Ruby Bridges as Rockwell worked. Rockwell used models, and photographs, as the basis of his work. At least two of the burly men who posed for the painting were authentic US marshals sent out from Boston to oblige him. Another was Stockbridge Police Chief William J. Obanhein, who, oddly enough, would later enjoy a peculiarly ’60s-ish fame of his own as the “Officer Obie” of Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 hit song “Alice’s Restaurant.” But we’ll never know which of Bridges’s escorts he impersonated. In one of Rockwell’s boldest breaks with representational convention, the marshals are painted from their shoulders down — not just faceless but headless. While that doesn’t dehumanize them, exactly — if anything, it makes their determined bearing more eloquent — nothing could better emphasize Rockwell’s understanding that the moment’s emotional truth lay in Ruby Bridges’s solitude. “Of course they were terribly disappointed that I didn’t show their faces,” he would explain years later. “But if I’d shown the four faces, you wouldn’t have seen the little girl.” Rockwell’s depiction of Bridges was another matter. He chose to darken her skin tone, making it darker, in fact, than that of either Lynda or Anita Gunn. Today, such artistic license — deliberately darkening a subject’s appearance as a way of overemphasizing race and provoking the viewer — would be seen as racially insensitive. But he plainly hoped to disconcert Look’sreaders by making her blackness the picture’s central issue. Paradoxically, that also made her unmistakable individuality more arresting. Except for the somewhat too-vivid yellow of the marshals’ armbands — arguably, the picture’s only flaw — and the almost bridal whiteness of the little girl’s dress, which is one of its masterstrokes, the only patch of color that’s meant to draw the eye is the stain on the wall behind them, the residue of a flung tomato. (“It took me ten tomatoes to look as though it had really splashed,” Rockwell later recalled.) But it’s not as prominent as Problem’s most shocking ingredient today: the all-caps racial slur scrawled on the wall. With its decapitated marshals and the diminutive Ruby walking in stark profile, the painting is among Rockwell’s most stylized. There is even an artificiality to the way the four bodyguards’ left arms are cocked back so that the viewer can see their badges as well as the court order tucked into the lead marshal’s side jacket pocket. The artist has pared down the actual event to its essential meaning — an atypical treatment for Rockwell, who loved to pack his canvases with incidental detail. What’s strikingly absent, except by unpleasant implication, is Rockwell’s most durable theme: community. The mob heckling Ruby Bridges is nowhere to be seen, and only gradually does it sink in that it’s because we’re looking at Bridges and her escorts from the mob’s point of view. We can only dissociate ourselves from them by refusing complicity. When the Lookissue came out, Rockwell was in Moscow, which would have confirmed white bigots’ worst suspicions even — or especially — if they’d known he was participating in a cultural exchange program at the US Information Agency’s behest. He didn’t return home until early February, entirely unaware of how The Problem We All Live With had been received. According to Solomon, he was greeted by “sacks of disapproving mail” from readers that Look’seditors had forwarded to him. The negative letters were venomous: “Anybody who advocates, aids or abets the vicious crime of racial integration is nothing short of a traitor to the white race, and a traitor to the illustrious white founders of this country,” wrote G.L. Le Bon of New Orleans. “THE WAR HAS JUST BEGUN!” But there were supportive letters, too. Chester Martin of Chattanooga, Tennessee, wrote, “I have never been so deeply moved by any picture. . . . Thank you for showing this white Southerner how ridiculous he looks. The truth is pretty hard to take until we get it from a Norman Rockwell.” Onetime Negro League third baseman turned real estate broker and occasional poet David J. Malarcher was stirred enough to send Look a poem he’d written in honor of the illustration, including these verses:“Their hands are tense / Their gait is rare / Their arms are ready for the fray / The little girl is unaware / That she is history today.” Another approving letter came from a self-described former Rockwell “debunker” who’d once scoffed at “how maudlin and commercial” his work was. “Permit me now to choke on my words. . . . YOU have just said in one painting what people cannot say in a lifetime.” In his thank-you letter, Rockwell modestly explained that “I am [sic] just had my seventieth birthday and I am trying to be a bit more adult in my work.” “Adult” is an interesting choice of words for a man his age. When Mary was alive, Rockwell had plunged into therapy, almost as if he couldn’t stand the idea of Mary monopolizing the shrinks’ attention. He had sessions twice a week with Erik Erikson, the analyst to whom we owe the locution “identity crisis.” Erikson was famous mainly for his work with troubled children, and the most beloved illustrator in American magazine history occasionally resembled one. The side of Rockwell that had never matured left him uncommonly dependent on validation from others, maybe now more than ever. As a result, Hurlburt’s encouragement thrilled him. Besides offering specific recommendations that Rockwell happily accepted — it was Hurlburt who suggested the marshals be depicted with their arms back — he provided the support and approval Rockwell craved. “I don’t want to sound slushy or sentimental,” he wrote Hurlburt in the spring of 1966, “but I can’t resist writing you to tell you how much your creative art direction has meant to me. You have given me the opportunity over and over again to paint pictures of contemporary subjects that I am fascinated with.” The most unsparing picture he ever painted was the accompanying illustration for a 1965 Look article called “Southern Justice.” As unknown today as Problem is famous, Murder in Mississippi was Rockwell’s depiction of the June 21, 1964, killing of civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney — two white New Yorkers and a local African American volunteer — by Klansmen and local police.Spooky, harshly lit, and almost barren, it’s as close as Rockwell ever came to Goya’s Los Desastres de la Guerra. Because the exact circumstances under which the three men died weren’t known, Rockwell struggled with deciding how to portray their final moments, initially including their killers in the frame before reducing them to looming shadows. What stays constant is his depiction of the victims: one dead, one dying, one grimly preparing to meet his fate. Sprawled on the ground, Goodman has already been killed. Schwerner is still standing, his head turned in profile to gaze at his executioners. Linking the two white men is Chaney, who’s been shot once and is on his knees, clutching Schwerner with both hands for support. Schwerner’s right hand has pulled him close in an embrace, tugging up Chaney’s T-shirt to expose his bare back, Rockwell’s way of emphasizing both Chaney’s race and his vulnerability. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images James Chaney was one of three civil rights workers depicted in Rockwell’s painting Murder in Mississippi, which chronicled their killings at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and police in 1964. Rockwell dove into more difficult aspects of American life in the 1960s as an illustrator for Look. Rockwell’s unusually detailed notes on the murders are a moving testimony to his determination to do right by the civil rights workers. He remarked on Goodman and Schwerner’s “beatnik sneakers and blue jeans.” In one poignant observation, he wrote that “they had, all three, had haircuts the day before.” The reference photos also emphasize his emotional commitment. His son Jarvis modeled as Schwerner, and Rockwell himself posed for a detail photo of Chaney’s bloodied hand gripping Schwerner’s bicep. Both the hand and the bicep are Rockwell’s. It could be the most strangely haunting picture of Norman Rockwell anybody ever took. Because his facial expression doesn’t matter, he’s gazing placidly at the camera, wearing a slight smile. Yet, consciously or not, by impersonating Schwerner and Chaney simultaneously, he’s claiming an identification with both victims — one black, one white. “I tried in a big way to make an angry painting,” he wrote to Hurlburt in May 1965. “If I just had a bit of Ben Shahn in me it would have helped.” It’s an interesting wish, since the very left-wing Shahn’s Depression-era paintings had derived their force from semi-grotesque distortions that were utterly at odds with Rockwell’s innate naturalism. As it happened, Hurlburt apparently agreed; Lookopted to print not Rockwell’s final version of the scene but one of his rawer preliminary studies. Only 18 months into their association, this was the acid test of Rockwell’s trust in his new patrons. Initially disgruntled, he ended up conceding that “All the anger that was in the sketch had gone out of” the finished painting. Look would never print a Rockwell picture that angry again. During the next five years, Rockwell’s paintings on “contemporary subjects” for Lookwere hardly confined to indictments. He’d simply gotten more selective in the aspects of modern America he found worth celebrating. He painted more than one picture championing the Peace Corps: “I love. . . the ideals and the performances of these young people,” he told Hurlburt. He boosted Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. Maybe most endearingly, he was besotted with NASA, producing gadget-happy depictions of the space program. Even the third and last of his major civil rights paintings for Look struck a relatively hopeful note, amounting to a reconciliation of the “Norman Rockwell” of yore with his new focus on topicality. New Kids in the Neighborhood featured a pair of black children and a trio of white ones sizing each other up as a moving van is unloaded behind them. The benign mood is undercut only by a detail that isn’t easy to spot even face-to-face with the original and that must have been indiscernible in Look’sreduced reproduction: a white woman peering from a nearby window, her expression conveying worry, verging on hostility. Rockwell hardly wanted New Kids in the Neighborhood to be his last word on the subject. But he and Lookwere unable to agree on the much grimmer painting he proposed next. Existing in multiple versions, none of which seems to be fully finished, Blood Brothers depicts two men — one black, one white — dying side by side in a pool of their intermingled blood. The point, of course, is that you can’t tell whose blood is whose. Initially, Rockwell wanted to set Blood Brothers in “the ghetto,” in the parlance of the era. But Lookurged him to transpose the scene to Vietnam, which would obviously have implied a different set of pieties. Rockwell gave the revision a dutiful try. By late 1968, however, he was grumbling, “I think I want to go back to the ghetto.” Either because of that impasse or some other dispute, he and Hurlburt eventually abandoned the idea. But if the combat zone version of Blood Brothers had seen print, it would have been Rockwell’s only painting for Lookto deal with the Vietnam War head-on. He may have balked because the concept left his personal position on the war unstated, and he and his wife, Molly, were both staunch in their opposition to it. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images Norman Rockwell stands with some of his paintings in 1969, at age 75. As citizens, he and Molly weren’t shy about letting Lyndon Johnson know where they stood. An uncooperative sitter when Rockwell had painted the new president in 1964, LBJ likely grew weary of the stream of telegrams from the couple demanding negotiations instead of bombing. But a Rockwell artwork directly attacking the war would have been too polarizing for Look’s editors, and it appears he never proposed one. What hecould do was agree to paint philosopher and peace activist Bertrand Russell’s portrait for the very left-leaning Ramparts in 1967. Almost a quarter-century after tackling the Four Freedoms for the Pentagon’s Office of War Information, he firmly refused a Marine Corps request to produce a propaganda poster. “I was supposed to do a portrait of a soldier in Vietnam kneeling over to help a wounded villager and love shining in their eyes,” Rockwell told Women’s Wear Dailyin 1968. “I thought about it a lot, and my wife said, ‘You can’t do that and you know you can’t.’ [So] I’m doing John Glenn instead.” The first American astronaut to orbit Earth was the kind of Marine Rockwell had no problem lionizing. By the late ’60s, he often heard from older fans who wondered why he couldn’t go on giving them “those sweet old pictures like you used to do.” But Rockwell was unmoved. “You can’t make the good old days come back just by painting pictures of them,” he snorted. “That kind of stuff is dead now and I think it’s about time,” he told another interviewer. After a lifetime of diffidence, Rockwell’s interviews from the end of the decade are remarkably energetic and cocky, militant, even. Without disavowing his earlier work — “I couldn’t have had my tongue in my cheek for 50 years” — he never stopped insisting that “red-cheeked little boys and mongrel dogs” no longer typified America. “Now it’s all sex or race troubles,” he remarked, “homosexuality or college riots, and I think it’s a great challenge.” Even more startlingly, he declared in that pivotal year of protest, 1968, that he “couldn’t paint the Four Freedoms now. I just don’t believe in it.” A different kind of freedom entranced him instead. Rockwell was enamored of the counterculture, not least for its visual éclat. “I think the hippies and the Yippies are wonderful,” he told the International Herald-Tribune. “I think of everybody as models, and I’m so goddamned sick of business suits with conventional haircuts, like I have.” In 1968, Rockwell pointedly included a hippie couple — he in a fringed jacket, she with a flower in her hair — among the concerned citizens in The Right to Know, his last “political” painting, which shows a multicultural cross-section of Americans staring accusingly at an empty leather chair. (The caption’s mention of “wars we do not want” finally made his position on Vietnam explicit.) Touchingly, among the faces — all dramatically underlit — is the artist himself, his hand tenderly resting on the young woman’s arm. Rockwell desperately wanted to paint beat poet Allen Ginsberg as well as Bob Dylan and his family. While nothing came of either project, Rockwell did paint two of Dylan’s onetime sidemen when he agreed to do the cover art for guitarist Mike Bloomfield and organist Al Kooper’s album The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. It’s one of his most carefree paintings, showing Bloomfield “smoldering through ice-blue irises” and looking “more sensual than any other man Rockwell ever painted,” as Vanity Fair’s David Kamp noted in a 2010 essay. Nonetheless, Lookexpected Rockwell to do his due diligence in election years, even if his enthusiasms lay elsewhere. Tasked with painting the 1968 presidential candidates — Gene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey among the Democrats; Nixon and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller among the Republicans — he chose to render all of them with two faces: the Rockwellized version of Greek masks of comedy and tragedy. (He wanted to paint independent segregationist candidate George Wallace in front of a funereally black background, but Lookvetoed that one.) As had been the case in 1960, the eventual Republican nominee — “the hardest man I had to paint, ever” — was a challenge. “[Nixon’s] got a mean eye,” he said. “And then he has these big chestnuts in his jowls.” That August, with the Republican convention done and the Democrats’ debacle in Chicago looming, Rockwell wrote to Hurlburt, “I was delighted to have you call me yesterday and tell me that I don’t have to paint Mr. Nixon again.” But he did. Once Nixon won, Rockwell had to paint him as “Mr. President.” It’s now the only Rockwell painting in the National Portrait Gallery, and this time around, he managed what he’d once said was impossible. His subject looks like a nice man who is, nonetheless, unmistakably Richard Nixon. At any rate, Rockwell — as no one else did — captured Nixon’s eternal, tentative, thwarted wish to be the good-hearted person he wasn’t, which is the painting’s peculiar beauty. Despite his aversion to the new president as a subject for portraiture, Rockwell had voted for him this time around. Whatever prompted his choice — loss of heart, alienation from the Democratic Party’s 1968 shambles, or credulous hope that Nixon might actually end the war in Vietnam — it was a wan coda to the most dramatic and exhilarated (indeed, the only) self-reinvention of his long career. Largely sidelined after 1972 as he developed dementia, eventually dying in 1978 at age 84, Rockwell never painted another significant picture again. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images Pallbearers carry Rockwell’s casket out of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, after funeral services on November 11, 1978. Alfred Eisenstaedt/The Life Picture Collection via Getty Images Rockwell, pictured in 1974. Tom Carson is a National Magazine Award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, the New York Times, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and other publications.
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Why Iran’s coronavirus outbreak may be worse than you think
A woman wears a respiratory mask after deaths and new confirmed coronavirus cases in Qom, Iran, on February 25, 2020. | Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images If you had to pick a region primed for an outbreak, the Middle East would be a top choice. On Monday, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Hairichi went on television to tell reporters that the government had the nation’s coronavirus outbreak completely under control. The sweat pouring down his face during the announcement, while jarring, could’ve been the result of stress. But on Tuesday, a dark irony came to light. Hairichi wasn’t just stressed — he had contracted coronavirus. That development underscores the Iranian regime’s troubling mismanagement of the outbreak inside the Islamic Republic, which as of Tuesday had seen 95 reported cases, including 16 deaths. The outbreak was first identified days after authorities there said they had no Covid-19 — the official name for the disease — within their borders. Iraj Harirchi, Iran's deputy health minister, went on TV yesterday (left) to insist the Iranian government was getting the #coronavirus outbreak under control.Today it was announced Harirchi himself has the virus. pic.twitter.com/dO0RgLyydk— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) February 25, 2020 It gets worse. Reports indicate new cases in the region — such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries that host US troops — and even cases in Canada can be traced back to Iran. The reason, it appears, is that the government in Tehran either didn’t understand the severity of the problem or, more likely, quashed evidence of the outbreak altogether. The lack of alarm allowed millions of workers, religious pilgrims, and others who travel to and from the country every day to spread the disease. The result is that Iran is arguably now the second major center and culprit — behind China — of a crisis looking more and more like a pandemic. Iran has taken some important measures, including closing down certain public spaces, to curb the disease’s spread. But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also seems to be blaming others for his government’s faults, saying, “It is one of the enemy’s plots to spread fear in our country and close down the country.” Scapegoating others instead of taking responsibility for what’s occurred, experts say, is symbolic of the regime’s failure at a vital moment. “A breakdown in national-level decision-making has severely hampered its ability to contain the spread of the virus,” said Henry Rome, an Iran expert at the Eurasia Group. Why Iran is such a dangerous place to have a coronavirus outbreak If you were asked to pick a region primed for an outbreak, the Middle East would be a good choice. Wars in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria have not only destabilized governments but have led to millions of refugees fleeing their homes for safer lands. Governments in many of those places also aren’t inclined to be transparent about what’s going on. Add the religious pilgrims, migrant workers, and others crisscrossing the region every day and “it is a recipe for a massive viral outbreak,” Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the New York Times on Monday. The Iranian city of Qom, the nation’s religious capital, is a case in point. Its population hovers around 1 million, but it gets over 20 million visitors a year. So far, the city remains open to travelers, especially Muslim pilgrims aiming to pray at the holy sites there. Part of the reason for that is Tehran didn’t want to admit that an outbreak had begun there, even when a parliamentarian representing Qom said 50 people had been infected. Now, even prominent members of the city — like the director of medical studies at Qom’s main university — has the disease and is in quarantine. In other words, conditions in the Middle East — and, in this specific case, Iran — mean the outbreak is not only bad but is only likely to get worse. US sanctions on the Islamic Republic — placed as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign — will contribute to problems as they have helped weaken Iran’s economy and resources to combat the spread. Of course, Tehran could stop spending money on weapons and terrorism and prioritize taking care of the nation’s people instead. Scarier still is this situation may be worse than we know. In fact, Isaac Bogoch, a professor and infectious diseases expert at the University of Toronto, estimates there may be over 18,000 undetected cases of coronavirus in Iran because of how it spread to others so quickly. 1. What is the burden of #COVID19 in Iran? We looked at this, and at how this may be transmitted through air travel locally and more broadly given that flight restrictions were only recently imposed.This is a pre-print (not peer reviewed):https://t.co/TxnQI8YDWC— Isaac Bogoch (@BogochIsaac) February 25, 2020 China, another authoritarian nation that bungled its initial response, remains the main area of concern and the true epicenter of the burgeoning crisis. But Iran, sadly, is looking more and more like another place that may soon require help to curb the danger — if only the regime will allow it.
vox.com
The Supreme Court case that could end Roe v. Wade, explained
Anti-abortion activists try to block the sign of an abortion rights activist during the March for Life in Washington, DC, on January 19, 2018. | Alex Wong/Getty Images There are three ways the Court could decide June Medical Services v. Russo. Not one is good news for abortion rights. The constitutional right to an abortion is most likely in its final days, though there is considerable uncertainty about whether the Supreme Court will explicitly overrule Roe v. Wade or simply hollow out the right until it becomes meaningless. June Medical Services v. Russo, a case that the Supreme Court will hear next Wednesday, could easily be the case that drains this right of its remaining force. The right to an abortion’s fate was likely sealed in October of 2018, when Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to a seat on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh’s predecessor, Justice Anthony Kennedy, spent many years maintaining an uneasy equilibrium between four justices who oppose the abortion right and four who’ve spent their time on the Court defending it. Though Kennedy typically voted to uphold abortion restrictions, he also recoiled at laws that cut so deeply into the abortion right as to render it meaningless. But Kennedy is gone, and Kavanaugh is widely expected to join his four colleagues who reject the right to terminate a pregnancy. In his short time on the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh already tried to impose new procedural barriers on abortion plaintiffs that could have rendered the right virtually unenforceable. The law at issue in June Medical will be familiar to anyone who has followed the last several years of abortion litigation. Indeed, it’s hard to escape a sense of déjà vu. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of a Texas law that sought to make it harder to obtain an abortion. One of those provisions required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. June Medical, meanwhile, involves a Louisiana law that is virtually identical to the admitting privileges law struck down in Whole Woman’s Health. While the two laws are tough to distinguish, the Court is very different today than it was in 2016. Kennedy provided the key fifth vote to strike down the Texas law in Whole Woman’s Health. And Kennedy is no longer around to reaffirm that decision. While it is overwhelmingly likely that five justices will vote to uphold Louisiana’s law, there is some uncertainty about how they will do so. It is possible that the Court will overrule Roe v. Wade outright. But it is at least as likely that the Court will leave Roe nominally in place while simultaneously watering down the abortion right to such a degree that it loses meaning in red states. The Court often prefers to create the impression that it will not allow the law to swing wildly according to the justices’ whims. Broadly speaking, if the Supreme Court decides not to explicitly overrule Roe, there are two ways that June Medical could go down. Banning abortion through sham health laws Abortion-rights advocates often refer to laws like the one at issue in June Medical as targeted restrictions on abortion providers, or “TRAP” laws — laws that superficially appear to make abortions safer but whose real purpose is to make it much harder to operate an abortion clinic. On the surface, hospital admitting privileges seem to be a valuable credential that can be used to screen out doctors that — at least in the opinion of local hospitals — cannot be trusted to treat patients. But the reality is that this credential is very difficult for many abortion providers to obtain. And requiring abortion doctors to obtain such a credential does little to make abortions safer. One of the most sophisticated anti-abortion groups in the country is Americans United for Life (AUL), a group that writes “model” anti-abortion legislation that can be taken up by state lawmakers. In 2014, AUL took credit for 74 anti-abortion laws enacted by state legislatures in the proceeding four years. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images Thousands of demonstrators march in support of Planned Parenthood during a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 30, 2019. Both the Texas admitting privileges law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health and the Louisiana law at the heart of June Medical closely resemble the “Abortion Providers’ Privileging Act,” model legislation drafted and promoted by AUL. Significantly, AUL did not promote this model bill as an anti-abortion measure — or, at least, it did not do so in its public-facing advocacy. A 2012 document promoting the model legislation, for example, claimed that “abortion clinics across the nation have become the true ‘back-alleys’ of abortion mythology.” Legalizing abortion, it claimed, “has not eliminated substandard medical care, kept people without medical licenses from performing abortions, ensured competent post-abortion care, nor prevented women from dying from unsafe abortions.” Thus, AUL claimed that admitting privileges are a useful credential that can be used to screen out incompetent abortion providers. “States laws mandating that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges,” it claimed, “are critical to ensuring that women receive proper and competent abortion care.” This messaging — that admitting privileges laws are intended to protect women’s health and not to shut down abortion clinics — formed the backbone of Texas’s defense of its admitting privileges law. And it also animates Louisiana’s arguments in June Medical. The Louisiana law, according to the state’s brief in June Medical, was enacted to promote “abortion safety by means of doctor credentialing.” Yet the Supreme Court soundly rejected this justification for admitting privileges law in Whole Woman’s Health. In Casey, the Supreme Court held that “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right.” Admitting privileges laws, the Court held in Whole Woman’s Health, are just such an unnecessary regulation. As Justice Stephen Breyer explained in that case, abortions are a very safe medical procedure — “less than one-quarter of 1 percent” of first trimester abortions result in complications. Indeed, complications from abortions are so rare that abortion doctors often struggle to obtain admitting privileges for this very reason: Many hospitals only grant admitting privileges to physicians who admit a certain number of patients every year. Admitting privileges laws, in other words, impose a significant burden on abortion clinics and on those clinics’ patients, while doing very little to make an already very safe medical procedure any safer. If the Louisiana law is allowed to take effect, it’s expected to close at least two of the three abortion clinics within that state. More broadly, according to the Guttmacher Institute, TRAP laws led to the closure of half the clinics in Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, and Texas between 2011 and 2017. The Supreme Court could potentially use June Medical to give a broad blessing to TRAP laws. And such a decision would not need to explicitly overrule Roe in order to drastically roll back or even eliminate the right to an abortion. The Texas law at issue in Whole Woman’s Health, for example, did not simply require abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. It also required most clinics to make expensive improvements to their facilities — some of which had nothing to do with the actual medical care provided by those facilities. If the Louisiana law is upheld, states could potentially require abortion doctors to obtain more and more difficult-to-obtain credentials, while simultaneously requiring the clinics themselves to pay for millions of dollars in unnecessary equipment. Eventually, these burdens would become so great that no abortion clinic could afford to operate, and the right to an abortion would cease to exist in states led by anti-abortion lawmakers. Banning abortion by preventing anyone from suing to enforce their rights Alternatively, the Supreme Court could drastically limit abortion rights by making it much harder for anyone to bring a lawsuit challenging an anti-abortion law and by providing only very narrow relief to plaintiffs who do prevail in an abortion case. June Medical is technically two consolidated cases, June Medical Services v. Russo and Russo v. June Medical Services. The first case concerns the constitutionality of Louisiana’s admitting privileges law. The second concerns a threshold question — whether the right party brought this lawsuit in the first place. The plaintiffs in these cases are an abortion clinic and two physicians who wish to provide abortion care in Louisiana. The Supreme Court established more than four decades ago that abortion providers may sue to challenge a state law restricting abortion, but both Louisiana and the Trump administration now ask the Supreme Court to overrule this long-standing rule. The general rule is that a plaintiff in federal court “must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties.” Thus, because the right to an abortion belongs to the person seeking an abortion, the ordinary rule would require that person to be the plaintiff in any lawsuit challenging an abortion restriction. But the Supreme Court allows third parties to bring a lawsuit when “the party asserting the right has a ‘close’ relationship with the person who possesses the right” and “there is a ‘hindrance’ to the possessor’s ability to protect his own interests.” This doctrine is known as “third-party standing.” Under this third-party standing doctrine, the Court allowed abortion providers to challenge laws restricting abortion. As Justice Harry Blackmun explained in Singleton v. Wulff(1976), “the constitutionally protected abortion decision is one in which the physician is intimately involved.” And abortion patients may be hindered in their ability to assert their rights, in no small part because someone seeking an abortion is likely to give birth before their rights are fully litigated. Now, however, Louisiana wants to eliminate this rule allowing abortion providers to sue on behalf of their patients. Abortion providers interests, it claims, “potentially conflict with” the interests of their patients when a state enacts health regulations. If, in fact, the admitting privileges law is a credentialing requirement enacted in good faith to protect patients from incompetent doctors, then the doctor’s interest diverges from that of the patient. The doctor wants to be free from a burdensome regulation, but the patient wants to be sure that they will receive competent care. It’s a clever argument, but it’s hard to square with Whole Woman’s Health, which already determined that admitting privileges laws do little to protect patient health. The argument also assumes its own conclusion. After all, the core constitutional question in June Medical is whether Louisiana’s law is a legitimate health regulation or a sham law enacted to shut down abortion clinics. But the state effectively asks the justices to assume one answer to this question and then use that assumption to lock abortion providers out of court. If the Supreme Court buys this argument, that would force abortion-rights lawyers to find an actual pregnant person who wants to get an abortion but is prevented from doing so by a state abortion restriction, every time it wanted to bring a lawsuit challenging such a restriction. That inconvenience wouldn’t be enough to shut down abortion litigation entirely — Roe v. Wade was brought by an individual woman seeking an abortion — but it would make it significantly harder to find plaintiffs. One recent study, for example, found that 60 percent of individuals who stated publicly that they had an abortion “reported experiencing harassment and other negative incidents after sharing their story.” A potential plaintiff in an abortion case may not want to risk such a consequence. A decision preventing doctors and clinics from bringing abortion lawsuits would be devastating to the abortion right, moreover, if it were combined with another procedural change favored by many conservative judges. In a recent dissenting opinion seeking to restrict abortion rights, Justice Kavanaugh drew a distinction between “facial” challenges to an unconstitutional law and “as applied” challenges. When the Court declares a law to be invalid on its face, the law ceases to operate altogether. Whole Woman’s Health, for example, held that Texas’s admitting privileges law was facially invalid. When a court strikes down a law as applied to a particular plaintiff, by contrast, that means the law cannot be applied in the specific circumstances that arose in that case. But the state may still be able to enforce the law against other parties who are not before the court. Kavanaugh suggested that a facial challenge to Louisiana’s TRAP law is not appropriate, and he’s hardly the first member of the Supreme Court to make such a suggestion. Four dissenters drew a similar distinction between facial and as-applied challenges in Casey. If Kavanaugh gets his way, that would mean that an individual patient challenging an abortion restriction would only be able to secure a court order allowing them and them alone to obtain an abortion. Imagine, moreover, that Kavanaugh’s rule were also layered on top of a decision holding that providers may no longer challenge anti-abortion laws. The result would be a world where the only way to overcome an unconstitutional abortion restriction would be to find a lawyer, file a lawsuit, obtain a court order, receive the abortion, and do all of this before the pregnancy became so advanced that it was no longer legal to terminate it. And that’s assuming that abortion clinics would continue to operate in a state where the only way for anyone to obtain an abortion is to first obtain a court order. As a practical matter, this world looks virtually identical to one where Roe was explicitly overruled. Wealthy individuals would still be able to fly to another state — or, if necessary, to another country — to obtain an abortion. But patients who lack the means or the job flexibility to travel to a distant clinic would be trapped. The Supreme Court’s opinion in June Medical will most likely be handed down in late June. When that decision does come down, there’s no guarantee that it will overrule Roe. The decision could rest on complicated procedural grounds, and it may not immediately be clear what the decision means for people seeking an abortion. But the decision could very well be a disaster for abortion rights even if the Court claims that it is leaving Roe in place. There are many ways to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion without explicitly overruling Roe.
vox.com
The exhausting, lucrative world of childhood sleep consulting
Sarah Lawrence for Vox Tired parents are desperate to get their kids to sleep. There’s a whole industry designed to help (for a fee). I remember when I reached my breaking point with my son’s sleep. He had faced big changes to his little life over the previous year: an interstate move, a new house, a new preschool, and the arrival of his baby sister. His routines suffered for it, and his bedtime demands had become increasingly baroque and desperate. If my husband or I didn’t stay in the room with him until he fell asleep, he would explode with panic. “I’m all alone and I’m only 3 years old!” he wailed through a sheet of tears and mucus. If we left the room, he hurled his body against the door like a moth thumping a porch light. This particular night, my husband was out of town, leaving me solo with both kids. Hours since I’d gotten him in his jammies, my son was still awake and his protests were threatening to wake the baby. This risk was unacceptable. I pulled him out of their shared bedroom and into “the big bed” with me. The lights were off but his little overtired body wouldn’t stop twitching and jerking with excitement. As his heels jabbed at my ribs (“I’m just stretching”), I directed my phone’s glow away from his face and fired off a deranged missive via online form. Christine emailed me back the next morning. “One of the top times that I get emails from tired parents is somewhere between midnight and 2 am,” says Christine Stevens, who owns Sleep Solutions by Christine. Stevens is a certified child and infant sleep consultant, a professional who offers services to families struggling with behavioral childhood sleep problems. She is one of the growing league of such professionals around the globe, a cohort of providers who fill this need for exhausted families. There are no national or international guidelines on who can be a provider, but a sleep consultant typically receives training through one of several organizations that offers a proprietary sleep curriculum in service of getting parents and children the sleep they need to function and thrive. The Family Sleep Institute, one of these organizations, calls its curriculum comprehensive and evidence-based, covering such topics as “Safe Sleep Environments Preventing SIDS,” “Twins,” and “Working with Families of Children with Special Needs” in their certification program. “I’m all alone and I’m only 3 years old!” Some might associate sleep consulting with “sleep training,” a phrase often used as shorthand for the practice of teaching infants to self-soothe via controlled crying, also called “crying it out.” But childhood sleep concerns are as diverse as each family who seeks help. One set of parents may be fed up with their 10-month-old still waking every two hours at night like a newborn, and they might feel prepared to grit their teeth through some crying; they just need help getting started. Another family might be trying to keep their 2-year-old from sneaking into their bed at 3 am every night. Most parents have tried to solve the issues themselves but feel overwhelmed by the abundance of opinions available via internet forums, books, and friends and family. The sleep consultant can offer each family custom assistance from a menu of services, ranging from a one-time phone consult for $50 to a custom sleep plan with coaching via text message, to extended stay in-home consulting, which can cost thousands. Children have presumably been tormenting their parents with disrupted sleep since we lived in caves, yet sleep consulting is a fairly emergent field. A survey of sleep consultants published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine in 2018 showed that the median length of time a consultant has been in practice is just four years. While childhood sleep problems are common, the supply of board-certified pediatric sleep specialists is low, with few pediatricians certified in sleep medicine or psychologists certified in behavioral sleep medicine. Though they are not medical providers and may not have a health care background, certified child sleep consultants fill a need for commonsense solutions to everyday sleep hassles. Stevens said that pediatricians often refer families to her, as their caseload does not permit the type of individualized behavioral coaching that a sleep consultant can provide. Families might seek help for a range of problems, from resistance to napping and bedtime delaying, to night wakings and unwanted bed-sharing, to excessively early waking. Maybe sleep has always plagued new parents, but modern American parents face a particularly trying set of circumstances. In most American families, every adult works. In 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, around 65 percent of mothers with children under age 6 worked. Forty-one percent of mothers in 2017, the latest year with available data, were sole or primary breadwinners for their families. Their families’ financial security depends on their earnings, and yet American parents don’t have access to a single hour of paid leave provided at a federal level following childbirth or the adoption of a child. The best we have is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides no paid leave but protects one’s job for up to 12 weeks. Even so, FMLA doesn’t apply to all employers, nor does it apply to all workers. For those who haven’t been employed for a full year when they give birth, the employer has no obligation to furnish a period of leave, even unpaid leave. A worker’s best bet may be eligibility for short-term disability (six weeks for vaginal delivery, eight weeks for a C-section). If a person returns to work after this period in order to prevent the financial ruin of further income loss or job termination, their body might very well still be bleeding. A parent in this position is unlikely to have the multigenerational support at home that previous generations did, and it’s biologically typical for their baby to wake two to three times during the night. American women are mostly working outside the home, frequently outearning their partners but still performing more of the unpaid household labor, including caring for children, than men in similar demographic categories. Parents, and especially mothers, are exhausted. “I’m just stretching” What’s a worn-out parent to do? It’s not that there isn’t enough information out there about baby sleep. Most of us turn first to the internet for advice on, well, everything, an information landscape too saturated, contradictory, inaccessible, or general on this topic to translate helpfully into much concrete action. There are the parent message boards, terrifying and dense minefields of extreme opinions and war stories. Asking for help on social media usually solicits the type of advice that shows up on the first page of Google, an acquaintance with no children who used to be a nanny and says, “try swaddling!” Then there are the hundreds of books by experts, with titles like Happiest Baby on the Block and On Becoming Babywise growing so popular that entire brands, complete with product lines, have sprung up around them. (If you ever see The No-Cry Sleep Solution on a new parent’s coffee table, you have my encouragement to gently hug them; they’re really going through something.) Yet even these books, with their case studies and distinct ideological permissions and prohibitions, can still feel too overwhelming and general for a desperate parent. Even Cara Dumaplin, whose baby sleep company Taking Cara Babies has 704,000 Instagram followers, does not provide individualized sleep coaching. She offers short phone consults for a fee, but only for those who have already purchased and enrolled in her online classes. Sleep deprivation makes for good retail, as parents determined to cut through the information cacophony may turn hopefully to stuff. Dr. Harvey Karp, the renowned professional behind Happiest Baby on the Block, sells products on his website that support his sleeping precepts, from tight swaddling sacks to constrain the baby’s startle reflex to a $1,300 bassinet, the Snoo, that safely rocks and soothes baby for better nighttime sleep. The harrowing online reviews of this product answered my questions about who would buy such an expensive bassinet: people who feel they have no choice. One five-star review reads: “I did not want to buy this. ... In her first 6 weeks, I could count on one hand the number of times I got any more than 1.5 hours of sleep. Then one night at 3 a.m. I started getting worried about what life would be like when I had to go back to work at 11 weeks. I have a one-hour commute each way and I work in patient care and got more and more nervous about the potential of getting in a car accident or making a terrible mistake at work because of sleep deprivation.” Parents of early-rising toddlers may feel tempted by the range of children’s clocks that give time cues, perhaps the best known being the Ok to Wake! clock. The Ok to Wake! clock is an alarm clock and nightlight shaped like a chubby little alien. Parents determine the morning hour when toddlers are allowed to leave their bed, and program the clock accordingly. At the correct hour (in our home, it’s 7 am) the clock glows green, creating a visual cue for preliterate children. This can change lives — or it can be an expensive nightstand decoration, depending on the temperament of the child. Often, parents who seek out sleep consultants have tried everything, or they’re just too wiped out to try anything. “I ask [parents], ‘Have you read the books? What have you tried?’ And they say, ‘I’ve bought the books, but I don’t have time to read them, I’m too tired.’” Stevens said. It’s hard to overstate the hopelessness of indefinite sleep deprivation. We just want someone to tell us what to do and when to do it. Dr. Benjamin Spock, in his Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, made waves in the postwar era with his gentle and intuitive approach when he counseled parents to trust themselves: “You know more than you think you do.” What about those of us who feel they know absolutely nothing? Sleep consultants can lift this hopelessness. When I had my initial phone consult with Christine, the most comforting words I heard were that she could help, and that within days I could be walking out of my son’s bedroom by 8 pm and waking up with just my husband beside me in bed. When friends heard that I’d hired a sleep consultant, they were eager to glean secret knowledge or “hacks” from which they could benefit. I had to break it to them that there’s no magic, just a structure informed by sleep education and the built-in accountability to keep to that structure. Sleep consultants do not train babies, after all, they train parents. Leanne, 40, first hired a sleep consultant when her oldest son was eight months old. Her pediatrician’s office had hosted an open house where a local sleep consultant was offering free consults, and Leanne hired her after the consult for more hands-on help. Her son was not sleeping, day or night. He only ever slept in very short chunks, and had to be in someone’s arms or in motion in a swing device or stroller. “I felt dumb, honestly,” Leanne said of the crisis with her son’s sleep. She and her wife were both working full-time. “The solution [provided] was so simple, but I couldn’t think.” When he was a toddler, they hired the same consultant again for a reset, when new sleep concerns had emerged. It’s important to bear in mind that sleep problems that appear behavioral may have underlying medical concerns, which families should address with their primary care provider. “If parents are seeking help for their child’s sleep problems then they should know that person’s qualifications to best determine if they can help with the specific sleep problem,” says Maile Moore, pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) at the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital. “A sleep coach/consultant is a general term for someone who provides advice, education, and support to help improve a child’s sleep,” she continued. “However, the criteria for who can call themselves ‘sleep coaches’ can be quite variable and does not guarantee any specific training or certification.” What prevents parents from seeking specialized help? Maybe they don’t know they have options, or maybe they think parenthood is supposed to feel this way. Exhaustion is often worn as a cultural badge of honor, proof that we’ve ground ourselves to a paste at the altar of self-sacrifice. Maybe, like me, they feel like a millennial dipshit for needing to outsource a difficult stumbling block on their parenting journey. By far the largest practical barrier to accessing services provided by sleep consultants is cost. Prices, depending on the services provided and area of the country, can range from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. In most cases, the service is coded as an “alternative therapy” not covered by health insurance. Those who have access to health savings accounts or flexible spending accounts may be able to use that pre-tax income to defray the costs. Yet considering most Americans wouldn’t be able to cover a $1,000 emergency, hiring a professional remains chiefly out of reach. “In my dream, it was April already but it was still cold!” One option is to seek treatment at a pediatric sleep center through one of their sleep coaches, typically a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician with sleep medicine training. Like any other medical specialty referral, this would typically be covered by medical insurance or Medicaid. The locations of these centers track closely to population density, so those living in rural areas and those who have mobility barriers may have limited access. Telemedicine could improve access to these professionals; after all, many non-clinical sleep consultants provide all their services remotely. I never once met our sleep consultant in person, but the confidence she brought to my parenting, via a behavioral plan and scheduled phone check-ins, felt very personal. The well-being I’ve enjoyed on the other side of no-drama child sleep is something all parents, regardless of income level, deserve to experience. As I worked late at night recently, my son burst through my bedroom door crying about a bad dream. “In my dream, it was April already but it was still cold!” he explained through tears. A nightmare, to be sure. He asked if he could sleep in bed with me and I said yes, rather than walk him right back to his room the way I’ve been professionally coached to do. I was on deadline, and I didn’t know how much time I’d have the next day to write. An hour later, I closed my laptop and carried my son’s small sleeping form back to his bed, thinking of Dr. Spock’s words: You know more than you think you do. Not perfect, but for this family, it was pretty good. Sign up for The Goods’ newsletter and we’ll send you the best Goods stories exploring what we buy, why we buy it, and why it matters.
vox.com
Why do people fast for Lent?
A woman with a cross on her forehead for Ash Wednesday listens to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) during a campaign rally at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center February 10, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. | Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images And six other questions about the Christian observance of Lent, answered. Lent is a mystery to a lot of people. Many folks are generally aware that it’s a religious observance that happens every spring and somehow involves people getting ashes smeared on their forehead and/or giving up chocolate or booze or Facebook until Easter. But like most practices rooted in Christianity, the way people observe Lent, or whether they observe it at all, varies wildly depending on their heritage, specific religious tradition, and preferences. Still, there are some rules and guidelines that mark the observance of Lent for Christians who observe the season. And, increasingly, even nonreligious people are picking up the ritual. Here’s an overview. What is Lent? Lent is the greatest and most solemn period of fasting on the Christian church’s calendar, leading up to the celebration of Christianity’s greatest feast day: Easter. The easiest way to understand the church calendar is as a sort of live immersive theater, designed to reenact the life of Jesus every year from Christmas (birth) to Easter (resurrection). During that time, readings in traditional churches revisit stories from the gospels that focus on those events in Jesus’s life. (Following Easter is a 50-day “Easter Season” culminating in Pentecost, and then a season called either the Pentecost season or “Ordinary Time,” which lasts until Advent begins around the end of November.) As Advent is the season of anticipation leading up to the great feast day of Christmas, Lent is the season that precedes the greatest feast day: Easter, which marks the day when Christians celebrate Jesus’s resurrection and triumph over death. In English, Lent got its name from the Old English word len(c)ten, which means “spring season.” How long is Lent, and why? Lent technicallylasts for 46 days. The period is a mirror of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, praying, and being tempted by Satan before he started his public ministry. Jesus had gone to the desert to prepare his soul for an intense three-year period of healing people, preaching, and ministering, at the end of which he was crucified by the Roman Empire and religious leaders. The concept behind Lent is that each year, Christians will mimic Jesus’s actions in the wilderness. Lent is sometimes called the “Great Fast.” It’s a period of time in which Christians are meant to give up some comfort or adopt some spiritual practice that leads to self-examination, repentance from sin, and, ultimately, renewal of the soul, all in anticipation of greater dedication to serving others and God in the coming year. Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images Catholics celebrate Ash Wednesday during a mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Malad (W), on March 6, 2019 in Mumbai, India. Advent, the period leading up to Christmas, is also sometimes observed as a fast. But in that case, the period is meant to foster a feeling of anticipation before celebrating the birth of Jesus. Lent, by contrast, is more about recognizing and embracing one’s mortality, and acknowledging the sinfulness that marks earthly life. Since Christians believe that Jesus’s resurrection foreshadows the resurrection and renewal of the whole world at the end of days, Lent is a time to turn away from sin, mourn death and brokenness, and anticipate a day when the broken world will be healed. If Jesus fasted for 40 days, why is Lent 46 days long? Because each week, the fast is interrupted by a Sunday — six in all. In traditional Christian teaching, each Sunday is itself a feast day, a mini-remembrance of Jesus’s resurrection that happens every week. So, Christians who observe Lent are told to break their Lenten fast on Sunday and celebrate the feast. The manner in which they break that fast varies, depending on the tradition. (This mirrors the Jewish teaching that prohibits fasting on Sabbath, except in years when Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls on the Sabbath.) How are the dates for Lent calculated? It’s complicated, and it depends on the date of Easter. In contrast to Christmas, which in Western Christianity (most Protestants and Roman Catholics) is always celebrated on December 25, Easter is a moveable holiday that drifts around the calendar. However, it always falls on a Sunday in the Northern Hemisphere’s spring. As with many other holiday observances in Christianity, the history of Easter date-setting is rather long and complicated, stretching back millennia and interacting with various calendars used by people in the ancient world. But since roughly the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, when church leaders set rules, precedents, and guidelines for many aspects of Christian worship, Easter has been more or less calculated by locating the first full moon following March 21 on the Gregorian calendar. And that’s how the date is calculated by Western churches today. Orthodox Christians use a slightly different system — which means that when Orthodox Easter (sometimes called Pascha) lands on the same day as Western Easter, as it did in 2017, it’s coincidental. This year, Western Easter is on April 12, and Orthodox Easter is on April 19. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images Children at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2019. As with Christmas, the Christian holiday of Easter has been adopted in the mainstream as a secularized holiday and packaged as a commercial product — traditionally with chocolate eggs and stuffed rabbits. That secularized version of the holiday is celebrated on the Western Christianity date for Easter. (The annual White House Easter Egg Roll is held on Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday, a tradition dating back to 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes issued an order allowing children to roll Easter eggs on the lawn that day.) Once the date for Easter is fixed, all you have to do to calculate the other days of observance that fall during the Lenten period — including Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday — is count backward. Good Friday is the Friday before Easter, and Maundy Thursday is the day before that. Both those days are traditionally marked with special church services. The Sunday one week before Easter Sunday is called Palm Sunday, in remembrance of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion, as the crowd waved palm branches. Branches used in the church celebration are saved to be used to make ashes for the next year’s Ash Wednesday observance. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, falls 46 days before Easter. The day preceding it is sometimes celebrated as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, depending on who you’re talking to. What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent on the Western Christian calendar, falling 46 days before Easter. In 2020, Ash Wednesday falls on February 26. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz leads the Ash Wednesday 2019 celebrations in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. In observance of the day, the palm branches that were blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year are burned to create ashes and used to mark worshippers’ foreheads at church services. Traditionally, the minister applying the ashes says "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." The latter phrase originates in Genesis 3:19, when God casts Adam and Eve out of paradise after theydisobey him and tells them they must labor for their food from that moment until their deaths. It is echoed throughout the Bible, and refers to the idea that man was created from the dust of the ground, and the body turns back into dust by disintegration after death. You can think of Ash Wednesday as the Christian spin on memento mori, a yearly reminder that our lives will one day end in death. It’s the start of a season meant to remind observers, in a visceral way — through denying themselves the comfort of food or some other thing — that humans are limited, and must depend on God for their very life. It is a day for humility. In 1930, following his conversion to Christianity, T.S. Eliot published a famous poem called “Ash Wednesday,” which includes these lines that illustrate the attitude that the observance of Ash Wednesday is meant to evoke: And pray to God to have mercy upon usAnd pray that I may forgetThese matters that with myself I too much discussToo much explainBecause I do not hope to turn againLet these words answerFor what is done, not to be done againMay the judgement not be too heavy upon us Because these wings are no longer wings to flyBut merely vans to beat the airThe air which is now thoroughly small and drySmaller and dryer than the willTeach us to care and not to careTeach us to sit still. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deathPray for us now and at the hour of our death. (The last two lines of the poem are from the “Hail Mary” prayer, forms of which are prayed by Catholics, Anglicans, and some Lutherans and other Protestant denominations.) In some parts of the world, the day before Ash Wednesday is celebrated as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, and can involve anything from pancakes and self-examination to wild partying (sometimes to mark the end of Carnival). It’s a last hurrah before the season of penitence begins. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images Members of the Krewe of Rex King of Carnival parade down St. Charles Avenue Mardi Gras Day on March 05, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Why do people fast during Lent? Most people know Lent as a time to fast from something — chocolate, alcohol, sex, and social media are all popular choices in the US. Not everyone fasts during Lent — many evangelical churches haven’t traditionally observed the church calendar, though the practice has grown more popular in America in the past few years. LifeWay Research, which studies subjects of interest to churchgoers and pastors, found that in 2017, 61 percent of Catholics planned to fast during Lent, while 28 percent of evangelicals intended to fast. (In 2014, the same study found that only 16 percent of evangelicals planned to fast during Lent.) Some people who observe Lent don’t fast at all, electing instead to add a spiritual practice during the 40 days, such as regular church attendance, prayer, giving to charity, or performing community service. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images An Ash Wednesday service at St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC. Western Christianity typically allows observers to pick whatever they want to fast from (as opposed to stricter fasts observed by other denominations and religions), based on a person’s understanding of what earthly comforts distract them from worship or are crutches that prevent them from fully understanding their own sinfulness. Protestants in particular tend to avoid specific church-mandated practices when it comes to fasts (we can probably thank Martin Luther for that), so practices vary widely. Some Catholics keep a more rigid version of the fast. The most notable and well-known practice is abstaining from eating meat on Fridays, sometimes in addition to giving up something else for Lent. This observance varies widely by parish and from individual to individual — some Catholics fast from meat every Friday throughout the year, in a mini-observance of Jesus’s death every week. But even less strict Catholics may fast from meat on Fridays during Lent, and all Catholics are encouraged to skip meat on Good Friday. (Fish is permitted, for reasons that are fascinating and somewhat arcane, which is why those who went to Catholic school often grew up eating fish at lunch on Friday, and why church-hosted fish frys are a popular Friday occurrence during Lent. It basically has to do with the ancient world’s conception of fish, as well as some other practical reasons — though eating fish took a political turn at the time of Henry VIII.) Prayer and almsgiving (giving extra money to the poor) are also emphasized during Catholic Lent observance. Orthodox Christianity is far more strict about the fast. In fact, strict Orthodox observers fast from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, olive oil, and alcohol every Wednesday and Friday. During Lent, a fairly complicated fast is observed: Every weekday, Orthodox Christians abstain from all of those products. Additionally, during the first week of Lent, worshippers may fast entirely from Monday morning through Wednesday evening, and then observe the strict fast the rest of the week and throughout the Lenten period. Wine and oil are added on weekends in the second through sixth weeks. And Orthodox worshippers may fast from Thursday night through Saturday night before Easter. (Observance can vary from individual to individual.) Interestingly, Lenten practices are why we have Easter eggs — the faithful would abstain from eggs and dairy during Lent, but in the days before refrigeration, the dairy then would spoil. Eggs, however, keep fresh much longer and would still be good when it was time to break the fast. Vyacheslav Prokofyev\TASS via Getty Images Painting an Easter egg during an Easter Gift charity festival in central Moscow. Do you have to be Christian to fast during Lent? No. But your purpose for fasting will probably differ, depending on your motivation to participate. Christianity is hardly the only religion in which fasting is part of the yearly observance. Muslims observe a month of sunrise-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan, and Jewish observers may also mark high holidays with fasts, particularly Yom Kippur. Fasting is a big part of Hinduism, Buddhism, and many other religious traditions. Why fasting? For most religious people, their faith and practice is about more than mental assent to a list of beliefs — it’s about the whole human experience, which includes the body. Fasting reconnects the body to the emotions, mind, and soul, often by interrupting our autopilot mode and recognizing the ways we self-medicate that might be destructive to our souls. That’s probably why even some nonreligious people have picked up on Lent. Writing at Talking Points Memo in 2015, writer Monica Potts explained why she observes Lent, even though she’s no longer religious: If everyone celebrates Lent the way they celebrate Christmas, it could just seem like another way Christianity is taking over. But I think nonbelievers reclaiming the best parts of religious traditions does the opposite, and reestablishes American morals outside of organized religion. I still give up sweets for Lent every year, and sometimes alcohol or meat. I don’t always make it all the way through, but I don’t go around breaking Lent willy-nilly. I take it seriously. Partly, it’s a way to try to jumpstart post-winter weight loss. But there’s something more to it for me, a sense of connection with my own past and with others in my present. I look forward to it as much as I do the sun melting the snow. And when Easter Sunday comes April 5, the chocolate bunny I buy will taste better than it ought to. This sentiment is echoed by everyone from atheists to lifestyle bloggers, who find the observance of Lent — without the religious aspects — helpful for developing self-control and hitting the reset button, in a manner similar to the observance of New Year’s resolutions. (That it falls so close to the New Year is part of the appeal: It’s a convenient time to pick up those broken resolutions again.) That said: For Christians in particular, Lent isn’t meant to be a time for self-improvement (though that may be a byproduct). In fact, the idea of using Lent to improve yourself — even your spiritual life — is considered the opposite of Lent’s purpose. Lent is specifically designed to dismantle the egotistical ideas we sometimes have about ourselves, to identify the places in our lives where we’ve grown arrogant or complacent, to remember that we are going to die someday, and to repent and renew our dependence on God. Lent is meant to be uncomfortable. And it’s meant to end in gratefulness.
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The crucial debate Democrats almost had in South Carolina
Sen. Elizabeth Warren gives an interview in the spin room after the Democratic debate on February 25, 2020. Warren advocated for eliminating the filibuster during the debate. | Scott Olson/Getty Images The alternative universe of the Democratic primary cracked, but just briefly. The Democratic presidential debates, like all presidential debates, have mostly taken place in an alternative universe where the president’s powers are absolute, and so the argument revolves entirely around electability, differences between the proposed agendas of the candidates running to win the White House, and decades-old votes that supposedly reveal their true values. But at Tuesday’s South Carolina debate, the reality of the situation the next president will face occasionally broke through, though never very clearly, nor for very long. Every Democratic candidate running for president is proposing a sweeping legislative agenda, which means the actual constraint, if any of them win, is how many votes Democrats have in the House and Senate versus how many they need. In the House, that answer is straightforward: 218, or a bare majority of the chamber’s 435 seats. In the Senate, the answer is more complex: They need 50 votes to take control, but 60 to pass most legislation, due to the omnipresence of the filibuster. There are some exceptions to that rule — the budget reconciliation process permits some legislation, under narrow conditions, to pass with 51 votes, and judicial nominees are now immune from filibuster — but in the Senate as it’s currently composed, 60 votes is usually the necessary number. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tried to force a conversation over that 60-vote limit tonight. It came during a conversation on gun control, wherein former Vice President Joe Biden bragged about beating the NRA in the ’90s, and said he’d do it again as president. What he didn’t mention is that the Obama administration repeatedly sought, and failed, to pass gun control in the aftermath of horrific mass shootings. Biden was part of that effort, and he was unsuccessful. It fell to Warren to explain why: We have to talk about what it’s really going to take to get something done. I’ve been in the Senate. What I’ve seen is gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority, and then doesn’t pass because of the filibuster. Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry. It gives a veto to the oil industry. It’s going to give a veto on immigration. Until we’re willing to dig in and say that if Mitch McConnell is going to do to the next Democratic president what he did to President Obama, and that is try to block every single thing he does, that we are willing to roll back the filibuster, go with the majority vote, and do what needs to be done for the American people. Understand this: Many people on this stage do not support rolling back the filibuster. Until we’re ready to do that, we won’t have change. Warren is right, on all counts. Among those who oppose rolling back the filibuster are Biden, and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar. But Sanders got the next question, and he ignored the issue, spending his time apologizing, instead, for past votes to grant gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg tried to press the point a few minutes later, saying: I want to come back to the question of the filibuster because this is not some long-ago bad vote that Bernie Sanders took. This is a current bad position that Bernie Sanders holds. And we’re in South Carolina. How are we going to deliver a revolution if you won’t even support a rule change? Sanders got the next word and, again, ignored the issue, choosing instead to highlight a commendation he got from a gun control organization started by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The tension between Sanders’s revolutionary rhetoric and his more institutionalist approach to Senate rules is underexplored in his candidacy, but would be a serious problem for his presidency. The only place he has sought to resolve it is Medicare-for-all, where he’s offered a complex plan to use the budget reconciliation process by instructing his vice president to try and overturn the Senate parliamentarian’s rulings, but since budget reconciliation is limited to a single bill a year, that doesn’t answer the question for the rest of his agenda. Senate Democrats can’t change the filibuster — indeed, they’ll be trying to wield the filibuster — if they don’t win back the Senate, so Tuesday night’s other occasional moment of clarity came as various Democrats argued for why they were the best choice to lead a ticket that could win it. Klobuchar argued that “the way we do it is having someone leading the ticket from a part of the country where we actually need the votes,” gesturing towards her success winning elections in a purple, midwestern state. Joe Biden noted that he campaigned for most of the House Democrats who won Republican seats in 2018, and has endorsements from more of them than any other candidate. Bloomberg argued that he’d spent more than $100 million to help elect those Democrats, and in a moment of honest, but infelicitous, phrasing, said, “I bought them,” and then corrected himself to “got them”: Did Mike Bloomberg actually just tell the Moderators that he BOUGHT all the Dems who voted in Nancy Pelosi for $100 million?What is happening in this #DemDebate2020 right now?#democraticdebates pic.twitter.com/1mY3oXsZGI— Big Dan Rodimer for Congress-Nevada's 3rd District (@DanRodimer) February 26, 2020 But here, again, both the moderators and the candidates quickly moved on. Every Democratic debate so far has featured a lengthy argument over the details of Medicare plans that the next president will have limited, and if there’s a Republican Senate, no, power to pass. None have featured a sustained debate over the questions that will actually decide what kind of Medicare plan — and climate plan, and gun control plan, and minimum wage bill, and infrastructure plan — will pass: which candidate is likeliest to sweep more Democrats into the Senate, and whether and how the various candidates would convince Senate Democrats to change the rules to make ambitious governance possible again. We’re deep into the primary now. There have been 10 Democratic debates (12 if you count the debates broken into two nights), and even more forums, town halls, and so on. We know, at this point, what the candidates want to do. It’s time for debate moderators to start pressing them, in a serious and sustained way, on how they’ll do it.
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4 winners and 2 losers from the Democratic debate in South Carolina
Democratic presidential candidates Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer at the Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2020. | Scott Olson/Getty Images It was the most chaotic, confusing debate to date. In a way, the only true winner of Tuesday night’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina, was chaos. The Democratic candidates talked over each other repeatedly, defied all attempts by moderators to impose order, and wasted plenty of time jockeying to be the next to get a word in. In the rare, fleeting moments when only one person was talking, that person was probably unloading the harshest oppo research they could remember. Sen. Elizabeth Warren went after former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for allegedly telling a female employee to “kill it” when she got pregnant; former Vice President Joe Biden connected Bernie Sanders’s past votes on gun control to the white supremacist attack on a Charleston church in 2015; even billionaire Tom Steyer got real criticism from Biden, so that he didn’t feel left out. It was hardly the most illuminating event of the primary season so far, but it came at a crucial moment, mere days before the South Carolina primary and the last debate before Super Tuesday’s high-delegate contests in California, Texas, and other states. Here’s who gained momentum going into one of the most important periods of the 2020 primary, and who lost ground. Winner: Bernie Sanders At the risk of repeating the obvious, Bernie Sanders is the Democratic frontrunner. He won the popular vote in the first three caucus/primary contests, and pending a recount in Iowa he might have won the delegate breakdown in all three, too. He has a double-digit lead in national polling, putting him in an excellent position for Super Tuesday. The anti-Bernie field is fragmented: Mike Bloomberg’s metric tons of baggage are proving too hard for his cash to overwhelm, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar don’t appear able to extend their appeal beyond Iowa and New Hampshire; and while Joe Biden is in good shape in South Carolina, Sanders is hot on his heels. Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images Sen. Bernie Sanders, followed by Joe Biden, arrives on stage for the Democratic debate. So to win on Tuesday night, Sanders just needed to hold his own. And he did. Despite candidates lobbing both familiar (abolishing private insurance, past anti-gun control votes) and new (praising left-leaning dictators’ social programs) attacks on him, Sanders didn’t lose his cool, and his opponents were never able to really dig into him. By far Sanders’s most vulnerable moment came when Norah O’Donnell brought up Sanders’s kind words for Cuban literacy programs. Like many leftists, Sanders expressed heavily caveated solidarity for leftist regimes like Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, especially when those regimes were being threatened by right-wing authoritarian movements backed by the US. This is not particularly shocking for people who know where Sanders comes from, but a national audience is another story, and O’Donnell surfacing the matter was an opportunity to see how much this history could actually hurt Sanders. Sanders passed this first test with flying colors, in part because the moderators threw it at him after asking Mike Bloomberg about his comments denying that China is a dictatorship. “I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world and I was amazed at what Mayor Bloomberg said a moment ago,” Sanders replied to O’Donnell. “He said that the Chinese government is responsive to the Politburo, but who are they responsive to? Who elects the Politburo? You have a real dictatorship there.” It was a strong start, followed up by a satisfactory explanation of his comments on Cuba, situating them in the context of former President Barack Obama’s historic opening to the country. “Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba. I said what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education,” Sanders said. “Occasionally, it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran.” “Being honest” about topics that politicians aren’t typically honest about is at the core of Sanders’s appeal as a candidate, and he showed he could take the same approach when asked about Cuba. It was a good audition for the general, and crucially for a frontrunner, he did no harm to his standing in the primary. — Dylan Matthews Winner: Donald Trump If there was any single takeaway from Tuesday night’s debate, it’s that Democrats are still very far from united in their quest to beat President Donald Trump. For most of the debate, the candidates viciously sniped at each other — not just by criticizing each other’s policy proposals, but by repeatedly shouting and attacking one another in very personal ways. Warren criticized Bloomberg for allegedly making sexist jokes and remarks to his female employees. Biden suggested that Sanders is under the NRA’s control because of his voting record on gun control. At several points, the men on the stage yelled at each other and the moderators to demand a chance to talk and criticize the other people onstage. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump during a wreath laying ceremony in New Delhi, India on February 25, 2020. Whether the attacks and yelling were warranted or not, it was very ugly (on top of hard to follow). There are currently eight Democrats running for president. Five of them arestill polling, based on the RealClearPolitics’ average of the polls, at 10-plus percent. It’s not clear if anyone will even get a majority of the delegates once the primary process is over; FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast estimates that there’s a 43 percent chance that no one will get more than half of pledged delegates at the current rate. The Democratic Party clearly has not decided yet. This is what Trump wants to see. Some research suggests that tough, divisive primaries do hurt candidates in the general election. More than three weeks after the caucuses in Iowa, this certainly looks like a tough, divisive primary — and that could hurt Democrats, and help Trump, in November. — German Lopez Loser: Amy Klobuchar It feels like just yesterday that Amy Klobuchar achieved a rare feat in American politics: a solid debate performance that actually mattered. At the ABC News debate in New Hampshire on February 7, she kicked Pete Buttigieg in the shins, deriding the idea that another “newcomer” in the White House would do better than the one in there right now, and shot up in New Hampshire polling. She wound up in third place in the state ultimately, barely behind Sanders and Buttigieg and performing far better than anticipated. It was easily the biggest surprise of the NH primary, one that Klobuchar fans thought could set her up for future success. Win McNamee/Getty Images Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks during the Democratic debate. But sometimes you do well in New Hampshire and all it means is that you did well in New Hampshire. Klobuchar’s strength did not carry into Nevada. She is a non-entity in most South Carolina polling. She lacks the money and organization to compete with the likes of Sanders and Bloomberg on Super Tuesday. Her best hope of continuing her New Hampshire success was another breakout debate performance that could lead to a surprise in South Carolina that would then set up more surprises this coming Tuesday. That, suffice it to say, didn’t happen. Klobuchar seemed barely present for most of the night amid the candidates’ screaming and arguing, despite speaking the third-most in the field. She barely registered in the long discussion of US relationships with dictatorial regimes, and while Mike Bloomberg got many minutes to defend his record in New York City, Klobuchar didn’t get a similar opportunity to lay out her record. Her final moment in New Hampshire’s debate was stirring and emotional; her final moment in the South Carolina debate was her telling the audience, “I‘d say the biggest misconception is that I’m boring, because I’m not.” If you have to tell people you’re not boring, you’re losing. Let’s be clear: Even a pretty good night wouldn’t have been enough to propel her into Super Tuesday. She needed another gamechanger, and didn’t get one. — Dylan Matthews Loser: Moderators Did you ever have a substitute teacher who was so mild-mannered, and commanded so little natural respect and authority, that you and the rest of your middle school class quickly realized you could just shout him out until he agreed to just crawl behind his desk and read a book while you did whatever you wanted for 45 minutes? That’s basically what Tuesday night’s debate felt like, except for two full hours. The candidates were so eager to get at each others’ throats (or to admonish each other for undermining party unity) that they gleefully steamrolled moderators Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King, Margaret Brennan, Major Barrett, and Bill Whittaker at every opportunity. They even took active pleasure in doing so — “I know how you cut me off all the time but I’m not going to be quiet anymore!” Joe Biden exclaimed at one point. At another, he burst in, “I’m not out of time. You spoke overtime and I’m going to talk!” Win McNamee/Getty Images Joe Biden and Tom Steyer yell at each other as Sen. Amy Klobuchar reacts. Every candidate cut each other off and talked over one another throughout the two-hour debate. Pete Buttigieg was perhaps the worst offender, interjecting without being called on several times in a desperate attempt to center himself in the discussion. But just about every candidate jockeyed to interrupt at one point or another, often leading to 10-20 second pileups where no one was saying anything intelligible at all. “I would ask respectfully if you would all try to keep to the time,” Gayle King desperately requested at one point, as Amy Klobuchar just laughed at her. It felt like a metaphor for the whole proceedings: one of the gladiators in the ring laughing off a would-be referee’s attempt to impose order on what, it was by then clear, would be chaotic bloodsport. — Dylan Matthews Winner: Marijuana legalization Eight years ago, the idea that any serious Democratic presidential candidate would back marijuana legalization was unthinkable. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in 2016, backed only legalizing medical marijuana and leaving legalization to states to decide (although Sanders, when he ran against Clinton in the primary, said he’d likely vote yes on legalization if it came up in Congress). Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images Marijuana activists hold up a 51-foot inflatable joint during a rally at the U.S. Capitol to call on Congress to pass cannabis reform legislation on October 8, 2019. At Tuesday’s debate, the majority of candidates on the stage supported legalization — and even the moderates, like Biden and Bloomberg, backed decriminalization, which would remove criminal penalties for possession but typically keep a civil fine in place. This is a remarkable shift from a “tough on drugs” paradigm that has dominated US politics for decades and maintained a harsh line of criminal prohibition of all drugs. But it’s also a shift in line with where voters are going on the issue. According to polls from Gallup and the Pew Research Center, the majority of Democrats — 75-plus percent — support legalization. Even a majority of Republicans, who are more resistant to drug policy reform, back legalization. And 11 states have legalized, most of them with ballot initiatives. Now it’s also clear that, whoever the Democratic presidential candidate is, they’ll also back at least decriminalization, if not full legalization. It’s a huge win for advocates of marijuana reform. — German Lopez Winner: New York City Were you watching the South Carolina debate, and thinking, “huh, there certainly is a lot of discussion about mid-2000s New York City policy?” For this we can certainly credit former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose quick rise in the polls and nearly unlimited budget has rattled the Democratic primary race. Stop-and-frisk, charter expansion, Bloomberg’s response to 9/11, affordable housing, the infamous attempt to ban soda, the smoking ban — even the fight for gay marriage in New York state — all came up before the candidates even got to the coronavirus, and often threatened to outshine issues important to South Carolina voters. Drew Angerer/Getty Images Much of the most recent Democratic debate focused on Mike Bloomberg’s mayoral policies for New York City. Bloomberg, like any other candidate on that debate stage, should be challenged on his record, including answering for policies such as stop-and-frisk. But not everything Bloomberg did in New York can be repeated if he became president. So when the moderators asked Bloomberg whether he would replicate his ban trans fats in restaurants and attempt to ban soda on a national level, Bloomberg’s response, though extremely canned, was right: “New York City isn’t like all other cities otherwise you would have a Naked Cowboy in every city. Let’s get serious. I think it’s good government to teach people good science and tell them how to extend their lives.” - Jen Kirby
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Biden promises to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court
Ketanji Brown Jackson is one of several federal judges who might be considered for a Supreme Court shortlist. | US District Court for the District of Columbia Only two African Americans, and no black women, have served on the nation’s highest court. Former Vice President Joe Biden made an unexpected pledge at the end of Tuesday night’s Democratic debate — “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure that they in fact get representation.” Biden’s promise comes just days before Saturday’s South Carolina primary, which will likely be dominated by African American voters. Only two African Americans, Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, have served on the Supreme Court. And only one woman of color, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, has joined the Court. If Biden is elected and follows through on that promise, his nominee would be the first black women to serve as a justice. The identity of that nominee could depend on how soon a vacancy opens up on the Supreme Court — if the vacancy occurs relatively late in a Biden presidency, the former vice president would have more time to fill the lower courts with potential candidates for a Supreme Court appointment. If a seat were to open up on the Supreme Court early, one obvious contender for such a nomination is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who currently serves on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Jackson, who is only 49 years old, clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer. She was also one of a handful of judges that President Obama interviewed for the Supreme Court vacancy opened up by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016. Obama eventually nominated federal appellate Judge Merrick Garland, who was blocked by a Republican Senate. Another relatively youthful potential nominee is Justice Leondra Kruger, a 43-year-old former law clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens who currently sits on the California Supreme Court. The progressive advocacy group Demand Justice also published a list of potential Supreme Court nominees which includes several African-American women, including Kruger, criminal justice scholar Michelle Alexander, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill, and New York University law professor Melissa Murray. Of course, for Biden to follow through on this pledge, he will need to secure the nomination, win the presidency, wait for a vacancy, and then get that nominee through the Senate — something that may be impossible if Republicans retain a Senate majority.
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5 key moments from South Carolina’s otherwise very messy Democratic debate
Members of the media watch the Democratic debate in the press room in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2020. | Scott Olson/Getty Images From Elizabeth Warren’s “kill it” twist to Biden vs. Sanders on guns, here are the highlights of Tuesday night’s debate. Also, there was a lot of yelling. There was a lot of yelling at the Democratic debate in South Carolina on Tuesday. Like to the point that sometimes it was really unclear what was going on. And we’re not talking about a lively debate, like the one in Nevada a week ago, when elbows were sharp, and conversation was sharper, or it at least made sense. Tuesday’s showdown sort of started that way — candidates took a lot of opening shots at Sen. Bernie Sanders early on, hinting that they might train their fire on the Vermont independent instead of on billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was the main target last time around. Bloomberg hit Sanders on reports that Russia is backing him, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she’d be a better president, and even billionaire Tom Steyer, who seems to have been pursuing a bromance with Sanders, said that while Sanders’s “analysis” might be right, he doesn’t like his solutions. All within the first 15 minutes. “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight,” Sanders joked. But the debate went off the rails pretty quick, and it never really got back on track. The all-white stage awkwardly talked a lot about people of color. Bloomberg was asked a lot of questions about his mayoral record — even his attempt at a giant soda ban came up. There was a pretty substantive debate about guns, but it was often hard to follow — was it about Sanders’s NRA record, former Vice President Joe Biden’s gun control work, or whether Congress will do anything with the filibuster still in place? This is the last debate before a lot of voting, and the stakes are high. South Carolina votes in its primary on Saturday, followed by Super Tuesday just three days later on March 3, when over a dozen states will vote. Then the next Tuesday, another bunch of states head to the ballot box. By that point, nearly half of the national delegates at stake in the primary will have been won. We won’t see the candidates on the debate stage again until March 15 — by then, it’s likely that multiple contenders who appeared on the stage in Charleston will have dropped out. Tuesday’s debate was messy, and it’s not clear whether it’s going to make much of a difference for anyone. But if you missed it, here are a handful of moments that stood out: Elizabeth Warren hits Mike Bloomberg on another part of his employment record Warren’s story about being let go from a teaching job when she was pregnant as a young woman is a familiar staple of her presidential campaign: She was in her early 20s and visibly pregnant with her daughter, Amelia, and the principal at the school where she worked told her someone else would have her job the following year. On the debate stage, Warren recounted the story — but ended it with a surprising twist: she referenced an allegation that Bloomberg once told one of his employees to have an abortion. “At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘Kill it,’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said,” Warren said. .@ewarren pushes for women to be released from @MikeBloomberg's NDAs: "People want a chance to hear from the women who have worked for Mayor Bloomberg." #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/Xluprn0ioi— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 26, 2020 Vox’s Anna North explained what Warren was referring to: She was talking about allegations by Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a former employee at Bloomberg’s company, Bloomberg LP. In a 1998 lawsuit, Garrison said that when she told Bloomberg she was pregnant, he told her to “kill it.” When she asked him to repeat himself, he said it again: “kill it.” Then, according to her suit, he mumbled, “Great! Number 16!” — a reference to the number of women at his company who were pregnant or on maternity leave. Bloomberg has denied the allegation, and he did again on Tuesday. “Never said that,” he said, trying to pivot to discussing New York City’s school system. Warren wouldn’t let it go, continuing to push Bloomberg on his history with women and insisting he go farther than releasing three women who have made complaints against him from nondisclosure agreements. Bloomberg became visibly agitated. “I don’t know what else she wants us to do,” he said. When the moderators asked Warren what evidence she had of the allegation she’d made, her response was quick: “Her own words.” “When I was accused of doing it, we couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. But right now, I’m sorry if she heard what she thought she heard or whatever happened, I didn’t take any pleasure in that,” Bloomberg said. “And we’ve just have to go on. But I never said it.” Despite Bloomberg’s efforts to move on from the issue, Warren managed to turn a staple of her stump speech into one of the most memorable moments of the night. — Emily Stewart An all-white stage of candidates talks about people of color Tuesday’s debate was just the latest one when the stage didn’t feature a single person of color — a dynamic that was painfully apparent as candidates sought to discuss racism and discriminatory policies like “stop and frisk.” Much like the Nevada debate, even as candidates sought to call out disparities, none were able to speak directly about their own experiences, in the same way that candidates including Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris were able to in the past. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Pete Buttigieg attempted to address the lack of diversity on stage at the Democratic debate. “None of us have the lived experience of walking down the street... and feeling eyes on us, regarding us as dangerous, without knowing the first thing about us because of the color of our skin.,” he said. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said as much in a striking exchange with Bloomberg, when both were confronted about their missteps with black and brown constituents in their communities. “I come to this with some humility because I’m conscious of the fact that there are seven white people on this stage,” he said. “ None of us — none of us have the experience, the lived experience o f— for example, walking down the street, or in a mall, and feeling feeling eyes on us, regarding us as dangerous, without knowing the first thing about us justice because of the color of our skin.” .@PeteButtigieg says stop & frisk was racist & acknowledges the lack of candidates of color at the #DemDebate."I come to this with some humility because I'm conscious of the fact that there are 7 white people on this stage talking about racial justice.” https://t.co/66AoqMK8pw pic.twitter.com/iT9qNvLeQI— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 26, 2020 It was a good point — and one that Buttigieg made even as he’s been called out for his own record in South Bend, Indiana, where he’s gotten pushback about his decision to dismiss the city’s first black police chief and an effort to implement a revitalization initiative that demolished deteriorating homes. In a New Hampshire debate earlier this month, Buttigieg struggled to respond to a question regarding South Bend’s disproportionate arrests of black residents for marijuana possession during his tenure. Buttigieg, of course, wasn’t the only candidate onstage to attempt to awkwardly address the stark lack of diversity onstage. “I know if I was black my success would have been a lot harder to achieve. And I know a lot of black people, if they were white it would have been a lot easier for them,” Bloomberg said. “That’s just a fact, and we’ve got to do something about it rather than just demagogue about it.” — Li Zhou Democrats split on whether or not China’s Xi Jinping is a dictator Mike Bloomberg has a China problem, mainly in that he refuses to condemn Chinese President Xi Jinping — who made himself leader for life — is a dictator. In an interview last year, Bloomberg told Margaret Hoover, the host of PBS’s Firing Line, that the country’s president, Xi Jinping, “was not a dictator.” “He has to satisfy his constituents, or he’s not going to survive,” Bloomberg said. Win McNamee/Getty Images Mike Bloomberg speaks during the Democratic debate. Asked about those previous comments, Bloomberg touched upon China’s lack of free press and human rights problems before returning to the question at hand. “In terms of whether he’s a dictator, he does serve at the behest of the Politburo” — an official leadership group that oversees the country’s Community party. “But there’s no question he has an enormous amount of power, but he does play to his constituency.” It’s a fair point. There’s no question dictators have to play politics, too. Despite their immense power, they still have to keep other elites and certain parts of the citizenry happy. That’s still not a good enough of an excuse to keep qualifying statements about Xi’s politicking when he’s, say, putting over a million Uighur Muslims into concentration camps — something former Vice President Joe Biden pointed out. “This guy doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body,” he said. “He’s a thug that has a million Uighurs in reconstruction — I mean concentration — camps. This is a guy who you see what’s happening right now in Hong Kong,” he added, noting he had nevertheless worked with Xi when the administration deemed it necessary, pointing out his part in convincing Beijing to join the Paris climate accords. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has previously been criticized for qualified statements about despots, even got in on the action: “He said that the Chinese government is responsive to the Politburo, but who are they responsive to? Who elects the bureau? You have a real dictatorship there.” This moment is more important than just marking a clear difference in the debate. The US-China relationship is the world’s most important one. How the next American president thinks about Xi and his leadership has major ramifications for the next administration and the globe. We all just got a glimpse of what that future might look like with one of these Democrats in office. — Alex Ward Joe Biden hit Bernie Sanders for his record on guns At Tuesday night’s debate, Biden hit Sanders — from the left. The former vice president pointed to his decades-long record on gun control, reminding viewers that he helped pass bills that implemented national background checks and banned assault weapons (for 10 years) in the 1990s. Then he shifted to an attack on Sanders: But my friend to my right and others in fact also gave into the gone manufacturers absolute immunity. … 150 million people have been killed since 2007, when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability. More than all the wars, including Vietnam, from that point on. Carnage on our streets. Biden is right here: Sanders did vote for a 2005 bill that protects gun companies from lawsuits if their products are used in crimes. Then-President George W. Bush signed that NRA-backed bill into law. Win McNamee/Getty Images Joe Biden argued with Sen. Bernie Sanders about his record on gun control during the debate. That’s only one part of Sanders’s moderate record on guns. He also voted against a bill in 1993 that established national background checks. Even after Sanders came to support universal background checks and other gun control measures that Democrats and some Republicans backed in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sanders raised doubts about the efficacy of gun control — telling Vermont’s Seven Days in 2013, “If you passed the strongest gun control legislation tomorrow, I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the tragedies we have seen.” .@JoeBiden slams @BernieSanders for his vote to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits, and says he can fight the gun industry: “If I'm elected — NRA, I'm coming for you, and gun manufacturers, I'm gonna take you on and I'm gonna beat you.” #DemDebate https://t.co/nLka6lk6UJ pic.twitter.com/al8mPYBzTD— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 26, 2020 But Sanders has tried to shift on this, particularly after the 2016 primary election in which Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley hit him on the issue. He has backed all sorts of bills in Congress that would strengthen gun laws. He’s emphasized that he has backed an assault weapons ban for decades. His campaign’s gun safety platform promises to pursue a series of stricter measures on guns. In his campaign announcement speech, he cited gun violence as one of his top issues — stating, “I’m running for president because we must end the epidemic of gun violence in this country.” Still, Sanders’s more moderate record on gun control has kept him vulnerable to attacks from the left, even from moderates like Biden, as we saw on the debate stage on Tuesday. — German Lopez Warren and Buttigieg back getting rid of the filibuster Democrats have talked a lot this election about what they want to do in the White House — Medicare-for-all, the Green New Deal, etc. — but not how they’re going to do it, namely, how to get anything through Congress. In the midst of discussions about gun control on Tuesday evening, Warren pointed that out — and noted that unless they get creative with some procedural rules, they’re not going to get very far. Win McNamee/Getty Images Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren both advocated for getting rid of the filibuster during the Democratic debate. “What I’ve seen is gun safety legislation introduced, get a majority, and then doesn’t pass because of the filibuster,” she said. “Understand this: The filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry. It gives a veto to the oil industry. It’s going to give a veto on immigration.” The filibuster debate among Democrats has been a hot issue at different times throughout the primary, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias explored last year. “Progressive politics right now is very focused on broad ideological visions. It hasn’t grappled with the reality that progressives are at a massive disadvantage in the upper chamber of Congress and no bold idea will make it through without a change,” he wrote. Warren, however, was interested in grappling with that Tuesday. Democrats, she said,have to understand that what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did under President Barack Obama — stopping so many things from passing — is going to happen under the next Democratic president unless the rules of the Senate changed. To try to get anything accomplished, Democrats need to be “willing to roll back the filibuster, go with the majority vote, and do what needs to be done for the American people,” Warren said. "Understand this: the filibuster is giving a veto to the gun industry. It gives a veto to the oil industry. It's going to give a veto on immigration." -@ewarren #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/dX7Nj3Td66— Daily Kos (@dailykos) February 26, 2020 The remarks were a contrast with Sanders and Biden, who don’t support getting rid of the filibuster, which requires anything to pass a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. Pete Buttigieg followed Warren in making the filibuster point on Tuesday and taking a swipe at Sanders over his position. “How are we going to deliver a revolution if you won’t even support a rule change?” he asked. — Emily Stewart
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Here’s how tickets were allocated for the South Carolina Democratic debate
Democratic presidential candidates former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Tom Steyer speak after the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. | Win McNamee/Getty Images What we know about the attendees. Candidates on the debate stage were markedly rowdier on Tuesday — and they weren’t the only ones. Throughout the night, the audience seemingly was, too. In moment after moment, including when Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the overwhelming support he receives from billionaires, the audience responded effusively with boos. Notably, in several instances, the reaction seemed to favor Bloomberg, who was once again confronted by multiple candidates over issues including “stop and frisk” and alleged sexist comments. The apparent support for Bloomberg from the crowd raised questions about whether there was an outsize presence of his supporters in the audience, given the extensive cheers he seemed to garner at the event compared to the one that took place in Nevada. Speculation on Twitter was only amplified by a local news article that went viral, which claimed tickets started at a whopping $1,750 to $3,200 for donors looking to sponsor a package of events, including the debate. An update was later published to indicate that these ticket options were removed from the Charleston County Democrats’ website. Bloomberg’s campaign has made clear that it did not pay any supporters to participate in the audience, and a spokesperson told Vox that each candidate was given an equal number of tickets for the event by the Democratic National Committee. Before the debate, Bloomberg sent a list of guests he invited, which ranged from former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake to Reverend Sharon Risher, a gun violence survivor. According to the Charleston County Democratic Party, tickets for the debate were extremely limited and allocated by organizers of the debate including the DNC and the South Carolina Democratic Party. During past debates, including the one that took place in the Miami, Florida last year, donors were able to purchase sponsorships for access to the debate night and related receptions, and many speculated that a similar arrangement may have been what gave the audience a pro-Bloomberg vibe. Here’s what we know about how tickets were distributed for Tuesday’s South Carolina debate. What we know about how tickets were allocated for the debate According to a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson, all seven candidates were allocated an equal number of tickets for the debate by the Democratic National Committee. A Bloomberg campaign official has told NBC News’s Josh Lederman that the campaign has not paid audience members to go to the debate. Per @JoshNBCNews: A Bloomberg campaign official says the campaign did *not* pay people to attend the debate and cheer for Bloomberg.— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) February 26, 2020 Access to tickets were limited for individuals who were not affiliated with the campaigns and the organizers of the debate, according to the Charleston County Democratic Party: “Tickets are extremely limited. The campaigns of participating candidates will have a set number of free tickets to distribute to their supporters,” the group stated. “Ticket allocations will be determined by the national party and other host organizations.” According to DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa, the tickets were divided between the DNC, campaigns and the South Carolina Democratic Party, along with debate hosts the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, CBS and Twitter. Let me give you the facts: The tickets were divided up between the DNC, campaigns (with equal allocation), SC Dem Party, CBCI, CBS and Twitter. We invited local and community leaders, and DNC supporters. This is the most diverse audience. https://t.co/KB1qRWePa6— Xochitl Hinojosa (@XochitlHinojosa) February 26, 2020 In the case of at least one past debate, attendees have been able to pay thousands of dollars to sponsor the debate and obtain tickets. As indicated by a story from WCSC, a CBS affiliate based in Charleston, such options were once listed on the Charleston County Democratic Party website, though they’ve since been taken down. “The Gaillard is only so big and this is something that is just a hot ticket from across the country. These kind of events really are set up for sponsors and things like that,” Charleston County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Condon previously told the network. Outstanding questions we still have The DNC has not responded to a request for comment about how many tickets are doled out to sponsors who pay to attend. We don’t yet know if there were a disproportionate number of Bloomberg supporters in the audience compared to supporters of other candidates.
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The next Democratic debate could feature a much smaller stage
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on stage at the ninth Democratic debate in Las Vegas. | Mario Tama/Getty Images Candidates will return to the stage in Arizona next month for the 11th debate of the primary. Believe it or not, there are still more Democratic debates: After three in quick succession this month, the next debate — No. 11 — will take place on Sunday, March 15, in Phoenix, Arizona. The debate will be co-hosted by CNN and Univision and is two days ahead of a busy election night, when Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio vote. CHC Bold — a political action committee affiliated with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — has partnered with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for the debate. The debate starts at 9 pm ET and runs for about two hours, but the location, moderators, and criteria to qualify have yet to be announced. The March debate (probably) won’t be the last. The DNC’s plan calls for 12 debates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with the last on a yet-to-be-announced date in April. Previously, candidates have been required to win pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, exceed a certain number of individual donations, or meet a polling threshold in order to qualify for the debates, but it’s unknown how those requirements might change as the primary race moves into its later phases. A smaller field of candidates By the time candidates take the stage in Arizona on March 15, nearly 50 percent of delegates to the Democratic National Convention will have been allotted. Considering that less than 5 percent of delegates have been awarded so far, that has the potential to change the race — a lot. It’s possible that Sen. Bernie Sanders — the current frontrunner for the nomination — will have all but locked up the race by then. That’s looking a lot more likely after his overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses, and the Vermont senator hopes to knock out one of his leading rivals — former Vice President Joe Biden — with a come-from-behind victory in the South Carolina primary on Saturday. Sanders also has the best chance of winning a majority of pledged delegates, according to the FiveThirtyEight primary forecast, at 43 percent. In second place: No one (which could lead to a contested convention), and Biden trails in third with a 10 percent chance. If that’s the case and Sanders solidifies his claim to the nomination, then the March debate could be uneventful. Of course, something else could happen. If the moderate lane in the primary — currently crowded with Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and billionaire Mike Bloomberg — thins and support coalesces behind one candidate, then Sanders could face a strong challenger down the stretch. In that scenario, the Arizona debate could feature a small but fiercely contested stage. In either case, however, it’s likely that at least a few of the eight remaining candidates will be out of the race by then, making for the smallest debate line-up yet. Every candidate not named Sanders (or Tulsi Gabbard, who’s only technically still in the race) has already faced calls to drop out. In short, just about anything could happen over the first few weeks of March, but if nothing else, we can look forward to a smaller debate stage.
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The allegation that Mike Bloomberg told a pregnant employee to “kill it,” explained
Mike Bloomberg denied allegations from 1998 that he told a former Bloomberg LP employee to “kill it” after she told him she was pregnant, during the Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2020. | Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images Warren brought up one of the most explosive allegations against Bloomberg at Tuesday’s debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren didn’t wait long at Tuesday’s debate before challenging former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on his history with women. The senator told a story she’s told before — that at the age of 21, she lost her job after her boss discovered she was pregnant. But this time, she added something else: “At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, ‘Kill it,’ the way that mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said.” She was talking about allegations by Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a former employee at Bloomberg’s company, Bloomberg LP. In a 1998 lawsuit, Garrison said that when she told Bloomberg she was pregnant, he told her to “kill it.” When she asked him to repeat himself, he said it again: “kill it.” Then, according to her suit, he mumbled, “Great! Number 16!” — a reference to the number of women at his company who were pregnant or on maternity leave. Bloomberg has denied the allegation, and he denied it again Tuesday night, saying, “when I was accused of doing it, we couldn’t figure out what she was talking about.” But earlier this month, another former Bloomberg employee, David Zielenziger, told the Washington Post that he also heard the comment. “I remember she had been telling some of her girlfriends that she was pregnant,” Zielenziger said. “And Mike came out and I remember he said, ‘Are you going to kill it?’ And that stopped everything. And I couldn’t believe it.” Tuesday night wasn’t the first time Warren called out Bloomberg on the debate stage over women’s allegations of sexism at Bloomberg LP. And since their first back-and-forth on the subject atthe Nevada debate, he has agreed to release some former employees from nondisclosure agreements signed as part of settlements in discrimination suits. But if his responses during Tuesday night are any guide, he has yet to fully reckon with the allegations against him and his company. The “kill it” comments are one of many allegations against Bloomberg and his company Garrison’s suit was one of nearly 40 lawsuits filed against Bloomberg LP between 1996 and 2016, as Business Insider reported last year. Most of those lawsuits involved discrimination on the basis of gender, race, disability status, or pregnancy. In addition to the “kill it” comments, Garrison alleges in her suit that Bloomberg made a litany of sexist and racist comments over the years. At one point, Garrison says, the then-CEO asked her, “You still dating your boyfriend? You giving him good blow jobs?” When he found out that another female employee was having a hard time finding a nanny, he responded that “it’s a fucking baby” and that “all you need is some black who doesn’t even have to speak English to rescue it from a burning building,” according to the suit. She also said that after she complained about the “kill it” comments, Bloomberg “directed” her firing. Bloomberg ultimately settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum and denied the allegations. In his testimony in the case, he said, “I never said those words and there would be no reason to do so, it’s ridiculous and an outrage.” In addition to the suits themselves, Bloomberg has faced criticism around his refusal to release women from nondisclosure agreements they signed as part of settlements in their lawsuits. The Me Too movement has helped bring to light the ways such agreements can be used to essentially buy women’s silence, and advocacy groups have pushed other companies to release former employees from NDAs. NBC, for example, has agreed to do so, but only if former employees contact the company first. Warren called the former mayor to account on the issue at the Nevada debate. “What we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there,” she said. “He has gotten some number of women — dozens, who knows — to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.” Then, last Friday, Bloomberg announced that his company had identified three women who had signed NDAs related to allegations of comments by Bloomberg, and said that the company would release them from their agreements if they wished, as Vox’s Emily Stewart reported. “I recognize that NDAs, particularly when they are used in the context of sexual harassment and sexual assault, promote a culture of silence in the workplace and contribute to a culture of women not feeling safe or supported,” Bloomberg said in a statement. But Warren argued on Tuesday that this wasn’t sufficient. “If he says there is nothing to hide here, then sign a blanket release and let those women speak out so that they can tell their stories,” she said. Bloomberg sounded petulant in his response. “The trouble is, with this senator, enough is never enough,” he complained, before boasting that, “we did what she asked, and, thank you, we probably made the world better because of it. And by my company renouncing using these, we probably changed, hopefully, the corporate landscape all across America.” Bloomberg also seemed to minimize the allegations brought by Garrison and others. “Nobody accused me of anything other than making a comment or two,” he said. But telling a pregnant person to “kill it” or using racist language about someone’s child care situation aren’t just “a comment or two” — these are serious allegations of discrimination that deserve a serious response. At least at the debates so far, Bloomberg hasn’t seemed inclined to give one.
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Tom Steyer’s push for term limits is a truly awful idea
Why term limits are bad, in one FDR picture. | Keystone Features/Getty Images Term limits are great ... if you like corruption and incompetence. Billionaire and presidential candidate Tom Steyer thinks that the problem with Congress is that its members have too much experience. At Tuesday’s debate, Steyer pressed his proposal to impose term limits on lawmakers. “I am for term limits of 12 years for every congressperson and senator,” Steyer said, pointing out that term limits would “get rid of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.” One problem with Steyer’s proposal is that it is unconstitutional. In US Term Limits, Inc v. Thornton (1995), the Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas state constitutional amendment that sought to term limit members of Congress. As the Court explained, “fundamental principle of our representative democracy” is that “the people should choose whom they please to govern them.” That means that they can choose someone with many years of experience in office. Constitutional limits aside, term limits are the sort of reform that may seem intuitive to many voters, but that is widely rejected by political scientists and others who’ve studied their impact closely. As Dartmouth government professor Brendan Nyhan said of Steyer, “few politicians have worked so hard or spent so much to, in effect, troll an entire scientific field.” A 2006 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures examined states with term-limited lawmakers. It determined that term limits tend to increase the influence of lobbyists and lead to a “decline in civility” that “reduced legislators’ willingness and ability to compromise and engage in consensus building.” Term-limited lawmakers, the NCSL explained, “have less time to get to know and trust one another” and “are less collegial and less likely to bond with their peers, particularly those from across the aisle.” Such lawmakers often do not have enough time to learn how the legislature works, or to master difficult policy issues. And they can’t turn to senior colleagues to give them this information because there are no senior colleagues. That “forces term-limited legislators to rely on lobbyists for information,” because lobbyists are able to spend years mastering legislative process and developing institutional memory about recurring policy debates. Term limits may also reward dishonest behavior by lobbyists. In a legislature with long-serving lawmakers, the NCSL explains, lobbyists depend on “their reputation to effectively do their jobs.” A lobbyist caught “lying to or misleading a legislator” risks “a loss of credibility that quickly ends a lobbying career.” Thus, lobbyists have an incentive “to use reliable information and provide legislators with all sides of a policy debate” when they know that those lawmakers may stay around for a long time. With term limits, however, a lobbyist caught in a lie only needs to wait a little while and this lie will be forgotten. As a result, the NCSL warns, “short-term lobbying goals have come [to] outweigh the importance of long-term credibility.” And, on top of all of that, term limits may foster laziness in lawmakers because, as Nyhan writes, “incumbents who lack a reelection incentive can reduce the effort they devote to their jobs.” He cites an empirical study showing that term-limited lawmakers sponsor fewer bills and are more likely to miss votes. Of course, if voters believe that a specific lawmaker is past his or her expiration date, those voters can always choose to elect someone else. There is no reason why, in a nation with regular elections, lawmaking should be a lifelong career for corrupt or incompetent lawmakers. But if Steyer wants to foster corruption and incompetence in Congress, term limits are a pretty good way to accomplish that goal.
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What a Mike Bloomberg foreign policy might look like
French President Emmanuel Macron and Mike Bloomberg in Paris on December 12, 2017, during the One Planet Summit. | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images A different kind of billionaire dealmaker? “I know more about foreign policy than any of the candidates. I’ve negotiated deals around the world, I’ve dealt with politicians in every one of these countries, we do business with their companies and with their governments.” You’d be forgiven for thinking Donald Trump said this. But you’d be wrong. It was Mike Bloomberg, according to veteran reporter and columnist Joyce Purnick, who cited the quote in her 2009 book, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics, recounting Bloomberg’s dalliance with a potential presidential run back in 2008. Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and three-term mayor of New York City, also contemplated a run in 2016, before ultimately backing Hillary Clinton. Ahead of the 2020 race, Bloomberg thought about it, decided against it, and then changed his mind and got into the mix late in 2019. And now that he’s officially in, the former mayor is facing the first real test of what a Bloomberg administration foreign policy might look like. Bloomberg is running as a Democrat, but he wasn’t always one, and his foreign policy reflects his evolution from Democrat to Republican to independent to Democrat once again. He’s strongly in favor of free trade, backing deals such as President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He supported the Iraq War and has since said he doesn’t regret that, though he’s also described it as one of the US’s biggest foreign policy mistakes. He’s promised to restore American global leadership and sees the private sector as having a big role in that, especially on issues such as climate change. And Bloomberg does have a global profile. His multinational company, Bloomberg LP, continues to do business the world over, though he’s stepped aside from day-to-day operations to run his campaign. He became mayor of New York right after 9/11 and steered the city through its rebuilding and, later, the 2008 financial crisis. He had a robust travel portfolio, including visiting troops in Afghanistan after 9/11. He’s poured millions and millions into philanthropic efforts, particularly around climate change and public health. He served as the United Nations special envoy for climate action. Bloomberg, then, has his fair share of foreign policy credentials. Cities, and by extension their mayors, are grabbing a more prominent role in world and economic affairs. Yet, as mayor, Bloomberg had a degree of independence he wouldn’t necessarily have as president. And as a philanthropist, he often undertook initiatives that made up for the shortfalls of national governments. There’s still plenty in Bloomberg’s foreign policy that is unclear and untested, especially if he ends up facing off against Trump. A spokesperson for Bloomberg’s campaign confirmed to Vox that Bloomberg will put his company into a truly blind trust if elected president in November, and that he “strongly believes there should not even be the appearance that public office can be used for personal benefit.” Still, that hasn’t stopped his company’s business ties to places like China from coming under scrutiny. But Bloomberg’s campaign is bargaining that after the volatility of Trump on the world stage, voters are looking for a candidate who will offer steady, predictable leadership: restoring America’s reputation, rebuilding alliances, and helping the country look a bit like the good guy again on issues like climate change and foreign aid. Bloomberg is likely to use his record both at home and abroad to make the case that he can get results — a bet that he’ll be the better billionaire businessman to serve as America’s as chief diplomat. The foreign policy of a New York City mayor Bloomberg isn’t the first New York City mayor to have national ambitions. (I mean, another one also ran in this very election.) America’s largest city and financial capital has always given its mayors a certain stature that others probably wish they had. Bloomberg defined New York in the 2000s, serving three four-year terms, one of which he muscled through the city council to get for himself. He was first sworn into office on January 1, 2002, and the rebuilding of lower Manhattan and economic recovery happened under his watch. This transition wasn’t always smooth, but Bloomberg, untested in government until that time, took over a city still raw from the tragedy. He also touts his record at keeping the city safe from another terror attack. He created the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism force, which grew to about 1,000 officers and had a robust intelligence unit that posted officers overseas and worked closely with federal law enforcement. Bloomberg’s campaign website says the NYPD’s unit, with federal authorities, deterred at least 15 terror attacks on NYC. In 2012, ProPublica examined a widely cited figure of 14 attacks and found that some instances overstated the NYPD’s role, or overestimated the seriousness of the plots foiled. The NYPD’s intelligence division also engaged in a highly controversial surveillance program that effectively amounted to spying on New York City’s Muslim population. New York City mayors are also no strangers to foreign travel. As former New York City Mayor Ed Koch put it in his book The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti-Semitism: “This is not exclusively a New York phenomenon, but it is primarily a New York phenomenon.” Koch said that New York’s diverse communities meant a mayor’s constituents took interest in what was going on in their homelands. It used to be “de rigueur that mayors would visit the three ‘I’ countries — Israel, Ireland, and Italy,” Koch wrote, though that changed as the city’s demographics changed, and Puerto Rico (which, of course, is a US territory) and the Dominican Republic soon joined the list. Bloomberg kept up this tradition. He traveled to Israel as mayor-elect. He went on official visits to the Dominican Republican and Puerto Rico before and after he was sworn in. Later in his first year, he traveled to Greece and Turkey, and then to visit troops in Afghanistan. He returned to Israel quite a few times as mayor. He stopped by the UK and Ireland and Italy. He traveled to China in 2007, where he implicitly criticized the regime’s censorship, saying “access to information is a strength, not a threat, and it is a fundamental part of innovation” — though he didn’t go as far as some human rights groups wanted. From there, he went to Bali for a climate conference, breaking with the Bush administration he once backed. A lot of these trips were for ceremonial reasons, like dedicating memorials, or to promote business relations and cross-cultural ties or best practices. Exchanges went both ways, too. A well-worn passport does not exactly mean an established worldview, but mayors do engage in a bit of parallel diplomacy. For Bloomberg in particular, politics had to crop up in his increasing global advocacy on climate change and public health. Yet these issues often seem much more political than they really are when viewed in the domestic context; in reality, such initiatives tend to generate a little bit more goodwill on the international stage than, say, discussing trade or national security concerns. New York City mayors also have to work closely with the United Nations, which is headquartered in the city. That can naturally draw mayors into world affairs. The mayor’s office has long had a liaison office with the UN, which Bloomberg rebranded as the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. The office both promotes NYC to the world and does the nitty-gritty work of dealing with diplomats when they descend on the city. Bloomberg set off a bit of a dispute over diplomats’ parking violations early in his tenure that went all the way up to the State Department, but otherwise, he tended to see the UN as a platform to promote some of his key policies, including once speaking there about his public health initiatives. As the New York Times wrote at the time, it wasn’t exactly the Gettysburg Address, but “he was not above giving advice to the world.” And Bloomberg couldn’t entirely avoid national issues in New York. He supported the Bush administration in the Iraq War (and Bush for reelection in 2004), and his opinion carried weight because he was the mayor of the city attacked on 9/11. ‘’Don’t forget that the war started not very many blocks from here,” Bloomberg said, standing alongside then-first lady Laura Bush in 2004. Though Bloomberg’s views have shifted on the Iraq War, his remarks fed into some of the flimsy justification and misdirection to frame the war in Iraq as connected to the war on terror. In 2007, Bloomberg switched from Republican to independent, saying it better reflected his “nonpartisan approach” in New York. It amped up speculation that he was contemplating a third-party run for president, especially as he was becoming more vocal on issues like climate change. There was probably something to this, as Bloomberg began to publicly dabble more in foreign policy in the lead-up to 2008. The Times reported that he got regular briefings on foreign policy with as diverse a crew as Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state; and former Clinton ambassador Nancy Soderberg. Still, Bloomberg’s actual foreign policy views remained a bit opaque, beyond his initial support for the Iraq War and strong support for Israel. In late 2006, as questions about a possible Bloomberg presidential run started up, he described himself in a radio program as “a bit more of a hawk.” He also suggested American power should be used to intervene to defend human rights, specifically referencing the genocide in Darfur: “We go back and we say, ‘Oh, we should have done more to stop the holocaust in the late ’30s in Europe,” he said. “Well, Darfur is another place where we haven’t learnt anything, unfortunately.” In in his answer, he also seemed to suggest some of the country’s entanglements abroad at the time had made such intervention difficult, though he wasn’t explicit: I think this country has an obligation to help people around the world. One of the real problems with where we are today is America is a superpower and it has responsibilities. And if God forbid we were called upon to defend people who were getting massacred elsewhere in the world, do we have the resources and the stomach to go and do that. That’s one of the problems of being tied up in one part of the world. And goodness knows there are places in this world where people are getting massacred. And I don’t think that we’re doing enough. Bloomberg didn’t run for president in 2008, instead serving a third term as mayor, which ended in 2013. After he left office, he continued to pursue issues like climate change and public health through his philanthropic work. Bloomberg has funded America’s Pledge, which brings together state and local leaders committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord. In 2018, he was named the United Nations special envoy for climate action, and he personally covered the US’s share of contributions to the UN’s efforts to meet the Paris benchmarks. He runs the Bloomberg Business Forum, which had its third annual conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which brings together government officials (including some heads of state) and businesses to talk about “global challenges.” As Vox’s Umair Irfan put it, Bloomberg turned himself into America’s “de facto climate ambassador.” That already sets up quite a contrast with President Trump, whose decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement has in some ways elevated Bloomberg’s activism in this area. Global warming is undoubtedly going to be a huge challenge for the next president — and something Bloomberg has said he will make a priority. But, as with any administration, it’s just one of the many crises ahead. Bloomberg’s foreign policy baggage: The Iraq War and China Bloomberg isn’t the only candidate who will have to answer for his support of the Iraq War. As New York mayor, Bloomberg didn’t exactly have a say in what happened, though he supported the war and later opposed Congress trying to put a timetable on withdrawal in 2007. He has become a bit more skeptical of the US’s prolonged commitment over time, and especially of the war’s ability to distract from other issues at home and abroad. He told the Council on Foreign Relations last month that “in hindsight, the biggest U.S. foreign policy mistake since World War II was the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” So he’s acknowledged the mistake, but his stance also largely seems to be: Let’s move on and deal with the situation as it is, not as one wishes it could be. “America wanted to go to war, but it turns out it was based on faulty intelligence, and it was a mistake,” Bloomberg said in January 2020. “But I think the people that made the mistake did it honestly, and it’s a shame, because it’s left us entangled, and it’s left the Middle East in chaos through today.” He has previously said he would keep a small number of troops in places like Afghanistan for counterterrorism missions, though a campaign spokesperson also told Vox the candidate will support efforts to reach a peace plan in Afghanistan that will allow for the “judicious withdrawal” of US troops. Bloomberg has also faced criticism for his somewhat soft approach to China. In an interview last year, Bloomberg told Margaret Hoover, the host of PBS’s Firing Line, that the country’s president, Xi Jinping, “was not a dictator.” “He has to satisfy his constituents, or he’s not going to survive,” Bloomberg said. Xi has steadily increased power, cracked down on dissent both within and outside of government, interned more than 1 million ethnic Uighurs in “reeducation” camps, and steadily encroached on Hong Kong’s autonomy. Though the crisis around the coronavirus may be rattling his regime in a way these other challenges haven’t, it has mostly exposed the limitations of China’s authoritarian rule. As the Washington Post has reported, Bloomberg’s business has grown in China, and he’s built relationships with Chinese officials — the same ones he’ll have to deal with on tough issues like trade, climate change, and human rights. A Bloomberg News reporter has also said a story got killed over fears that its publication could hurt Bloomberg’s company in China. That’s of course not the first time China’s economic potential has put some businesses in awkward positions: Look at the NBA, which faced a major controversy over one Hong Kong tweet. Bloomberg has said he will put his company in a blind trust. But whether he will still carry over the mentality of making compromises with China to protect or grow economic ties into his presidency seems to be the outstanding question. Either way, Bloomberg has said the US and China must “find ways to work together” and dismissed Trump’s hostile trade war as a viable strategy. A campaign spokesperson acknowledged that China isn’t playing by the rules but said a Bloomberg administration doesn’t think the trade war is the right approach. Instead, Bloomberg would invest infrastructure and education at home in the US and strengthen alliances with other Asian countries. “Then, from a position of strength, [Bloomberg] will lead new and better trade partnerships, and revive international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, in order to write stronger global rules and pressure China to play by them,” the campaign spokesperson said. Bloomberg has also said he would support legislation to sanction those responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where Uighurs are being surveilled and detained. It’s a promising sign of some toughness, but that may make “finding ways to work together” much harder for both the US and China. Bloomberg’s engagement stance contrasts with some of his Democratic rivals — and it’s a definite departure from Trump. Bloomberg’s foreign policy approach: Diplomacy, professionalism, and bringing his global ambitions to government As Vox’s Emily Stewart has written, Bloomberg “is facts over fiction, data over politics, and realism over rhetoric.” Expect this to translate to foreign policy, too. Bloomberg’s campaign has said restoring American leadership will be a top priority, including rebuilding alliances and renewing a focus on diplomacy as a first resort. Action on climate change requires both of these, and Bloomberg would already have a head start with a fair amount of global goodwill and a robust profile on this issue. If Trump’s State Department has been marked by chaos and politics and the undermining of civil servants, expect a Bloomberg State Department to swing in the opposite direction with data, experts, and buzzwords like “strategic investment” and “coordinated application” — in other words, a kind of conceptual merging of government bureaucracy and a Bloomberg global initiative. Bloomberg will certainly look to private philanthropy and civic groups to continue to partner with the public sector on issues like climate change. Public-private partnerships are nothing new for government, but a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson said that the candidate sees them as necessary across a range of issues, from hacking and cybercrime to pandemics. Global health is likely to be another key issue and is another area where the US could reassert leadership it’s largely vacated. Otherwise, Bloomberg seems prepared to follow a pretty centrist Democratic foreign policy. He supported the TPP. Though he initially opposed the Iran nuclear deal, he says he’ll get back into the Iran deal without preconditions. He says he is committed to trying to find a realistic peace agreement in Afghanistan. It’s a promise to get restore steadiness and maybe a degree of normalcy to American foreign policy — this time with a billionaire businessman who prefers pragmatism and plans.
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Why Twitter says Bloomberg’s fake Sanders tweets don’t break its rules
Facing criticism, the campaign of Mike Bloomberg deleted a series of fictitious quotes by Bernie Sanders, which the campaign said was satire. The Bloomberg campaign’s controversial tweets fictitiously quoting Bernie Sanders, briefly explained. On Monday, presidential hopeful and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s campaign posted — and then deleted — several controversial tweets about rival Sen. Bernie Sanders that prompted confusion and tested the rules of what political campaigns can share on social media. The tweets, which Bloomberg’s campaign called satire, featured fictitious quotes attributed to Sanders, in which Sanders appeared to praise dictators like Kim Jong Un, Bashar al-Assad, and Vladimir Putin, with the hashtag “#BernieonDespots.” While the tweets are now gone, people are continuing to debate social media companies’ responsibilities when it comes to policing political speech online. Though Twitter and other platforms have implemented rules that limit the sharing of certain types of political misinformation, controversy abounds. The Bloomberg campaign posts are another example of how much confusion exists online about what’s true and what’s not, and what’s the difference between a joke or an attack — and how finding a clear answer often depends on context and nuance that doesn’t always come through clearly in a tweet or Facebook update. The Bloomberg campaign just tweeted out 6 fake/mock quotes attributed to Bernie Sanders.Then, in a separate tweet, the campaign said that "to be clear" the tweets were satire.Has Twitter commented on whether the string of tweets violate its policies on misinformation? pic.twitter.com/g8pPL8YyYV— Hamza Shaban (@hshaban) February 24, 2020 With the Bloomberg campaign’s tweets about Sanders, for example, the account followed up on the thread by tweeting, “To be clear — all of these are satire — with the exception of the 60 Minutes clip from last night.” (Sanders recently said on the CBS program that he opposes the authoritarian regime of Cuba’s late Fidel Castro, but that it’s “unfair to simply say everything is bad” about the leader, such as a mass literacy program he implemented). To many, it was obvious these tweets were an attempt at a joke. But others criticized the Bloomberg campaign for posting what they saw as a misleading attempt to smear Sanders using fabricated quotes. When the series of tweets were viewed together, it was more obvious that they were satirical. But the fake Sanders quotes appeared on some people’s Twitter feeds in isolation — lacking context, seemingly serious to some, and all the more confusing.It’s just one of several recent instances where Bloomberg’s tweets, sponsored memes, and other social media activity have tested the boundaries about what is allowed on social media. Not sure who's running this twitter feed, but these aren't real quotes & it's misleading for them to be in quotation marks. You might think the "joke" is obvious but a lot of people on the internet won't know it's satire. This is how disinformation spreads https://t.co/6TCATqsD2n— Clare Malone (@ClareMalone) February 24, 2020 Even when they’re not being satirical, politicians generally have a lot of leeway in what they can say on social media without violating company rules around misinformation or hate speech. President Trump has repeatedly tweeted false statements about everything from his impeachment proceedings to immigration, and he has posted media that some see as inciting violence toward political opponents. All of this has remained on Twitter because the company considers Trump’s posts newsworthy, despite calls for the company to take them down. And Facebook (unlike Twitter and YouTube) continues to enforce a controversial policy that allows lies in political ads, such as the Trump campaign’s ad making false claims about the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son in Ukraine. Democratic candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren has tested those boundaries by running a fake ad claiming Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg endorsed Donald Trump for president, meant to be a critique of the rule. Twitter, like other major social media companies, doesn’t ban content just because it’s false or potentially misleading — but it does have a set of rules barring any content that’s considered “platform manipulation” or “spam”. A spokesperson for Twitter told Recode that the Bloomberg campaign’s specific tweets falsely quoting Sanders didn’t violate any of its current rules on the site. If Bloomberg’s campaign had posted an edited image, like a fake screenshot (as opposed to text) of Bernie making fictitious statements, then would likely be a violation of Twitter’s upcoming manipulated media policy that is rolling out on March 5. The spokesperson also told Recode, “Admittedly, satire is a challenging one. Context of the content is important. As it pertains to the synthetic and manipulated media rule it is pretty well explained in the blog in that we evaluate the potential impact of the media i.e. is the content in question ‘shared in a deceptive manner.’” Twitter’s policy is far from clear — and will continue to require some subjective calls on what is and isn’t a joke. The rules on Facebook or YouTube are not much clearer because every major tech company is grappling in 2020 with how to balance users’ free speech with their ability to do harm. Meanwhile, Bloomberg consistently (and perhaps smartly) continues to push the boundaries of these platforms’ rules — garnering criticism, but also, free publicity. Last Friday, Twitter suspended 70 pro-Bloomberg accounts run by people paid by the Bloomberg campaign who were posting identical tweets in favor of the candidate. Twitter said the accounts violated its policies on “platform manipulation and spam.” In this case, because the language of many of the posts were word-for-word copies of the same coordinated language, it was a clear violation of the social media’s rules. The campaign also posted a doctored video of the last Democratic presidential debates that made it seem like he had an “epic mic-drop” moment that stumped his opponents — even though, as my colleague Alex Ward explained, he didn’t. The campaign has more broadly been paying people $2,500 a month to post positive content about Bloomberg on social media and text their friends about him. And it’s paying much more to big-name influencer Instagram accounts to post ironic memes about the candidate. In every case, Bloomberg has received criticism, and in some cases, social media companies have hit the candidate with a slap on the wrist, for these tactics that blur the lines between spam, misinformation, and clear advertising. But in the end, the publicity may be well worth any criticism. Whether you agree with it or not, Bloomberg is smartly exploiting the gray areas social media companies have established around politics and free speech online. It’s a difficult problem that will only get more complicated for social media platforms as we get closer to Election Day.
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