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Many Jewish voters are lukewarm on Bernie Sanders — for now
Bernie Sanders has increasingly spoken about his Jewish identity in the 2020 presidential primary. | Alex Wong/Getty Images As the race heats up, polling suggests Sanders is not the frontrunner among Jewish Democratic voters. There are several possible reasons why. After his early primary victories, Sen. Bernie Sanders is closer to being America’s first Jewish president than anyone has come in the country’s history. But 10 years ago, he was just an iconoclastic socialist senator from a small New England state where I, a Jewish girl from New York, happened to be attending graduate school. Several times, I watched Sen. Sanders walk down Montpelier, Vermont’s Main Street, for a July Fourth parade and expressed my approval so intensely my classmates teased me. I was kvelling (a Yiddish word that means feeling a sense of pride). As a secular New York Jew, Bernie felt like family. And as an avowed democratic socialist, he was one of a mere handful of national political figures whose positions aligned with my core beliefs. My excitement arose mostly from the connection between these qualities: the idea of Judaism and social justice as intertwined. Yet fast-forward to 2020 and polling indicates that full-throated Jewish support for Sanders hasn’t yet materialized. In fact, one Pew survey conducted just before the Iowa caucuses in late January found that Jewish support hadn’t consolidated around any one candidate, despite the historic presence of Sanders and another Jewish contender — Mike Bloomberg — in the race. According to Pew, only one in five Jewish voters preferred either Sanders (11 percent) or Bloomberg (8 percent). The other candidates for the Democratic nomination had similarly split support, with 31 percent preferring Biden, 20 percent for Warren, and 13 percent for Buttigieg; the remaining 11 percent were undecided, refused to answer, or gave another response. (We don’t know yet how Sanders’s strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire will affect these numbers.) If you’re surprised by this variety in Jewish voters’ preferences, you’re not paying attention. Yes, American Jews are a reliable Democratic voting bloc. Despite efforts by the Trump administration to use Israel policy (including moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem) to court Jewish votes, he remains wildly unpopular with Jewish voters. In the general election, our support will likely rally around whoever wins the Democratic mantle, whether or not it’s Sanders. But the clichéd-for-a-reason saying goes like this: “two Jews, three opinions.” And this early primary polling is a perfect example. Like many American Jews who see our heritage as an identity, a culture, and a way of thinking rather than solely a “faith,” Sanders identifies as both Jewish and secular. He has spoken more about his background this campaign season than in the 2016 election, connecting his family’s history of persecution with his values. For many, Sanders embodies a particular way of being Jewish. He draws a “universalistic vision of a better world from particular Jewish experiences of suffering and oppression,” according to Jewish Currents’ Joshua Leifer. “What is familiar is not necessarily beloved ... but to be an American Ashkenazi Jew and listen to the speech of Bernie Sanders, and watch the motion of his hands, is to know he is one of us,” writes Talia Lavin at the New Republic, adding that Sanders is part of a “long and flourishing tradition of secular Jews — and in particular secular Jewish leftists — who were Jewish in every particle of their being.” A vocal group of younger Jews have made this affinity into their calling card, nicknaming him Zeyde (Yiddish for grandpa) and forming new “Jews for Bernie” groups around the country. But American Jews, far from a monolith, carry intersecting identities: We include women, LGBTQ folks, and people of color, and some of us are Sephardi or Mizrahi in origin. Some Jews, myself included, feel that electing a woman president is more urgent than a Jewish one. Even for me, an original Bernie fangirl, Elizabeth Warren’s aggressive defense of reproductive justice — my defining political issue — is compelling enough to compete for my vote. Some Jews don’t necessarily feel the kinship with Bernie that I do; they are religiously observant, in contrast to his secularism, or they experience their Jewishness differently. And why should it be otherwise? If the statistic that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton teaches us anything, it’s that there is no rule saying people will vote based on a particular “group identity,” or even that group identity is a fixed category to begin with. With younger voters eschewing fellow millennial Pete Buttigieg for Sanders and older voters doing the opposite, with women voters not yet flocking to the female candidates and black voters sticking with Joe Biden in early polls, this is the primary that ought to put the final lie to the myth of identity-first voting. A few specific bumps do lie in the road for Sanders and Jewish voters, and they’re worth discussing. Israel is one. It’s ironic: Sanders is the only major presidential candidate who has lived in Israel, working on a kibbutz in his youth, and today his position on the occupation is more humane toward “the needs of the Palestinian people” than any of his rivals. Because he foregrounds the human rights crisis in Gaza and the West Bank, Sanders is facing heightened attacks on this issue, including from the so-called pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC. Right-wing factions have gone so far as to insinuate that he’s anti-Semitic. While this is ridiculous on its face (and, in fact, Sanders’s two-state position on Israel and Palestine lines up with the majority of American Jews), the scaremongering may be enough to deter a number of Jewish voters from jumping on the bandwagon with Sanders. Another stumbling block to Jews’ full-throated embrace is the fear of an anti-Semitic backlash. Barack Obama’s presidency and Clinton’s nomination have shown that when a member of an underrepresented group achieves new heights politically, it invites vitriol and backlash. Given that anti-Semitism is already on the rise, many older Jews in particular may feel that nominating Sanders will attract attention they don’t need. “Whenever rapid social change threatens the stability of the existing social order, the right-wing is tempted to fall back on the explanation of left-wing politics as a Jewish plot,” Joel Swanson writes at the Forward. “The inconvenient fact that the most successful Jewish presidential candidate in history is also the most successful socialist can only feed this conspiracy theory.” It’s also undeniable that some American Jews — like some people of all groups and backgrounds — may be wary of Sanders’s urgent social messaging. This group of voters may hate Trump, but they are unmoved by Sanders’s call for radical realignment or “revolution,” believing it to be impractical, too extreme, or an impediment to defeating Trump. Sanders will have to win over these cautious voters of all backgrounds in order to make it to the White House. A poll of American Jews taken in September 2019 by the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc and released this week found that “75% view President Trump unfavorably, and 66% view him very unfavorably ... in an open-ended question about what matters most about the 2020 elections, the most common response was defeating Donald Trump.” Many of these concerns mentioned above break down along age lines, with younger voters tending to embrace Zeyde’s radical politics more warmly than their parents. This is a pattern that appears to hold across demographics. But policy and ideology aside, I’d imagine most Jewish voters are simply preoccupied with the same “electability” obsession that many Democrats keep expressing. They want someone who can beat Trump and are hedging their bets, or backing whoever seems like a moderate frontrunner, until the best contender becomes apparent — hence the support of Biden before Iowa. In the coming weeks, we should question any narratives that try to pin Sanders’s lower polling numbers among Jews on his views on Israel, anti-Semitism, or any single determining factor. Like everyone else, American Jews are following the results, listening to the policy debates, watching the news, and waiting for their fellow Democrats to make their choice. And if that choice is Sanders, there may be worries, yes, but there will also be a lot of kvelling. Sarah M. Seltzer is a writer in New York City and an editor at Lilith Magazine.
vox.com
How a little electrical tape can trick a Tesla into speeding
Security researchers discovered a simple road sign hack that will trick Tesla’s intelligent cruise control feature. | Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images Security researchers found an unsettling vulnerability in Tesla’s intelligent cruise control. McAfee researchers recently tricked a Tesla into speeding while the car’s intelligent cruise control feature was engaged. This news signals, yet again, that completely safe, fully autonomous cars have still not arrived, and it suggests that they face new types of vulnerabilities. Over the course of 18 months, the researchers, whose report was published today, explored how they could get a Tesla to misread a speed limit by messing with the vehicle’s ability to see. To make that happen, the researchers placed visual distractions like stickers and tape that could trick the car’s camera system into misreading a 35-miles-per-hour speed limit. Here’s the sticker that confused the Tesla. While the researchers successfully spoofed the camera’s reading in several different ways, they found that just a 2-inch piece of black electrical tape across the middle of the 3 in a 35 MPH speed limit sign could cause the system to read the sign as an 85 MPH sign. In a live test with a 2016 Model S70 using an EyeQ3 camera from MobilEye, they found that, when the Tesla Automatic Cruise Control (TACC) was activated, the vehicle’s system would attempt to determine the current speed limit with help from the camera. That’s when those visual distractions — that small piece of black tape, in one case — could cause the car to misread the speed limit and head toward the 85 MPH speed. (The researchers note that they applied the brakes before the car reached that speed and that no one was hurt during testing.) “This system is completely proprietary (i.e. Black Box), we are unable to specify exactly why the order of operations is essential,” Steve Povolny, head of McAfee Advanced Threat Research, told Recode in an email. He also cautioned that the “real-world implications of this research are simplistic to recreate but very unlikely to cause real harm given a driver is behind the wheel at all times and will likely intervene.” Povolny added that cybercriminals have yet to publicly attempt to hack self-driving cars, although plenty of people are worried about the possibility. Still, the research demonstrates how self-driving cars, or cars with some autonomous abilities, can fall short. And it’s not the first time researchers have tricked a car like this. Just last April, similar stickers were used to get a Tesla to switch lanes improperly. Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson from MobilEye argued that the stickers and tape used by McAfee could confuse the human eye, too, and therefore didn’t qualify as an “adversarial attack.” “Traffic sign fonts are determined by regulators, and so advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are primarily focused on other more challenging use cases, and this system in particular was designed to support human drivers — not autonomous driving,” said the spokesperson. “Autonomous vehicle technology will not rely on sensing alone, but will also be supported by various other technologies and data, such as crowdsourced mapping, to ensure the reliability of the information received from the camera sensor and offer more robust redundancies and safety.” The researchers also said that they studied a 2020 Tesla vehicle with a new version of the MobilEye camera and did not observe the same problem, though they noted that testing was “very limited.” The study says that only Teslas produced from 2014 to 2016 that are equipped with the EyeQ3 model camera showed the vulnerability. The researchers also noted that neither Tesla nor MobilEye had expressed any “current plans” to address this vulnerability in their existing hardware. But this vulnerability isn’t about Tesla. It’s about the challenges raised by self-driving car technology and the growing industry that aims to make roads safer for all of us — but also requires strict testing and regulation. After all, time has shown that teaching a computer to drive is not as easy as teaching a human. As Future Perfect’s Kelsey Piper has explained: Following a list of rules of the road isn’t enough to drive as well as a human does, because we do things like make eye contact with othersto confirm who has the right of way, react to weather conditions, and otherwise make judgment calls that are difficult to encode in hard-and-fast rules. Such a judgment call might be spotting a weird-looking speed-limit sign and noticing if the car suddenly went more than double the speed limit. As Povolny told Recode, the flaw analyzed by McAfee could be just one of many issues that a self-driving car encounters in both the “digital” and “physical” worlds, including “classic software flaws, to networking issues, configuration bugs, hardware vulnerabilities, [and] machine learning weaknesses.” So that signals a long road ahead for self-driving cars. After all, the Teslas involved in the McAfee study still requires a human to be in the car and alert, though as several Autopilot accidents have shown, plenty of Tesla drivers overestimate the technology. Let’s hope when fully autonomous vehicles are finally on the highways, they won’t be so easily distracted. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
2 h
vox.com
Bloomberg’s past comments make trans voters wonder how much he’ll prioritize trans rights
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg steps off the stage after a speech at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum on February 13 in Houston. | Callaghan O’Hare/Getty Images Bloomberg’s comments on trans people are another reminder he isn’t a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. Mike Bloomberg is spending vast sums of money to convince Democrats that he is the best candidate to take on President Donald Trump. But, as some of his recently resurfaced comments on trans issues show, the New York billionaire isn’t always in line with the party he’s running to lead. A video of Bloomberg taken last year, in which he describes trans people as “she, he, it” and “some guy wearing a dress” emerged late Tuesday in a Buzzfeed report. His words resembled previously reported comments in 2016 describing a hypothetical trans woman as “a man in a dress” from which he has tried to distance himself recently. The Human Rights Campaign demanded an apology, saying the comments used “language that demoralizes and dehumanizes” trans people.And trans activists called out the former New York City mayor on Twitter. In the video, taken at a March 2019 meeting of the Bermuda Development Agency held in Manhattan, Bloomberg spoke about how Democrats running for office focus on things like trans issues, which then potentially alienates everyday voters. “If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people,” he said. Queer supporters of Mike Bloomberg, how do you explain this to our transgender family and friends? Because they deserve a Democratic nominee that doesn’t refer to them as “it.” pic.twitter.com/HNwuxDZzhf— H. Alan Scott / Sadie Pines (@HAlanScott) February 19, 2020 Instead, Bloomberg said, Democrats should focus on broader issues, like health care, education, and safety. “We’re focusing on things that have little relevance to people who are trying to live in a world that is changing because of technology and communications,” he said at last year’s forum. It’s not an uncommon argument.The morning after Election Day in 2016, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni suggested on MSNBC that “boutique issues” like “transgender bathrooms” caused a wave of support for Trump’s candidacy. Saturday Night Live host Colin Jost made a similar comment with a joke later that week. And to be sure, there is a difference between the two parties: The Trump administration has enacted a number of anti-trans policies a Democratic cabinet likely wouldn’t, like banning trans people from the military and proposing to undermine trans health protections. But trans rights weren’t a key animating issue for Trump on the campaign trail. Moreover,actual electoral results fail to prove Bloomberg’s hypothesis. Nowhere in 2016 were trans issues as front and center in an election than in North Carolina, which had been locked in a heated debate over HB2, the state’s now-infamous bathroom bill. The bill passed in March 2016 and required that all people use the gendered bathroom associated with their original birth certificate in all state-owned facilities, such as schools and government buildings. The bill’s biggest proponent was its former governor, Pat McCrory, but Democratic state attorney general Roy Cooper vehemently opposed the new law. The two then faced off in a gubernatorial race that was seen as a bellwether for the bathroom law. Cooper narrowly won in a state that went for Trump by nearly 5 percent and Republican senator Richard Burr by nearly 6 percent. Further, Bloomberg’s narrative ignores that it was Republicans who first started the trans bathroom panic, in an effort to create a new LGBTQ wedge issue in the wake of their Supreme Court loss on marriage equality in 2015. If Democrats are more vocally supporting trans rights now, it’s because Republicans started attacking the community years earlier. Whether a President Bloomberg would be as vocal of a supporter — let alone actively work to roll back the Trump administration’s attacks on the trans community — is a big question. The White House has a lot of power to shape transgender individuals’ lives Trump has only publicly mentioned trans people a couple of times. Most famous was his July 2017 tweet announcing the trans military ban, but other than that there was a brief mention to the press just before he boarded Marine One in October 2018. In contrast, rolling back trans rights was an immediate priority when the Trump administration took office. Just a few weeks into the new term in 2017, the Department of Education rolled back Obama-era guidelines to protect trans students, and later that year came the military ban. Over the past three years, the administration has taken steps to revoke health care non-discrimination protections for trans people and roll back protections for homeless trans people. In November, Trump’s Solicitor General argued in front of the Supreme Court that employers should be able to fire trans people simply for their gender identity. No matter how much — or little — Trump himself thinks about the trans community, the Republican officials he’s staffed his administration with obviously have a defined stance. In order to reverse the Trump administration’s anti-trans agenda, a future Democratic administration would have to almost immediately undertake a similarly scaled effort to implement pro-trans administrative rules and policies. Only about an estimated 0.6 percent of US adults identify as transgender, and voter ID laws can make it difficult for trans people to vote if they are in the middle of a gender transition. The community is simply too small to represent a significant voting block. When Democrats speak in favor of trans rights, they’re doing so to signal to a larger pool of progressive voters who largely care about trans issues. Democrats, similarly, are much more likely to be pro-trans rights than Republicans. The problem for Bloomberg is that he has a long record as a Republican elected official, and he’s now running to convince Democrats that he’s one of them. While he may be reined in by a generally pro-LGBTQ Democratic party, the president still sets the administrative agenda. And Bloomberg’s resurfacedcomments on trans people show that he has a long way to go to show Democratic voters that his politics align with theirs. Bloomberg released a plan for LGBTQ rights in late January, which mostly matches up with the ideas, such as passing the Equality Act and protecting trans people from health care discrimination, of other Democratic candidates. In a statement made to multiple media outlets Tuesday, the Bloomberg campaign touted the mayor’s record on trans issues. Mike understands that the transgender community has been under attack for decades and the advance of rights has not been equal. In April 2002, during his first year as mayor, Mike signed a sweeping transgender civil rights bill into law. His company provides comprehensive health care coverage for his transgender employees. As president, he has a comprehensive plan to secure rights for transgender Americans, including passing the Equality Act, ensuring transgender people have access to affirming health care and working to end the crisis of violence against transgender women. Mike is running to defeat Donald Trump and reverse the many policies he has implemented that attack the rights of the transgender community. So there are two versions of Mike Bloomberg here. There’s the one from last year who says that Democrats should focus on health care, education, and safety, while claiming that trans rights are something entirely separate from those core issues. And there’s the Bloomberg from this week, who claims he wants to be a champion for the needs of trans people, which include, by his own admission, health care, education, and safety. The trans community, which has withstood attack after attack from the Trump administration, understandably wants to know which Mike Bloomberg would be taking the reins should he get elected to the White House.
2 h
vox.com
The mutually beneficial war between Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg, explained
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at University of Nevada in Las Vegas. | Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images Two candidates who really want to portray the election as a two-way race. Michael Bloomberg has spent hundreds of millions on television ads, but he understands the value of free media as much as anyone else and has made an aggressive push in recent days to define the Democratic presidential nominating contest as a race between himself and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders’s campaign has responded in kind, working aggressively online to portray Sanders as the anti-Bloomberg and Bloomberg himself as a kind of mini-Trump. Sanders has called out Bloomberg on the campaign trail, but overall the spat has played out largely via Twitter, a platform on which few undecided voters get their news but on which very many journalists find leads for stories to write about. Consequently, in a crowded field, the tit for tat helps both campaigns to suck the oxygen away from other candidates — including Joe Biden whose poll numbers still seem pretty good but whose fundraising is flagging, the well-financed Pete Buttigieg who is still not very well-known nationally, Elizabeth Warren whose campaign is frustrated about being written off even as she’s won a number of delegates, and Amy Klobuchar who’s obscure but widely seen by insiders as someone who’d be well-liked if more people heard of her. The fight itself is revealing a number of themes that are in the mix as Democrats weigh their options. But it’s also heavily layered with irony. Bloomberg’s candidacy is fueled by anti-Sanders panic, but objectively, his entry into the race and rise in the polls has only served to make a Sanders nomination more likely. And Sanders’s camp is so eager to attack Bloomberg in part because the former New York mayor’s tenuous historical connections to the institutional Democratic Party make him an ideal foil for Sanders, who is himself aloof from the institution. It’s a fight that suits both men and their campaigns, in other words, and is thus likely to continue. Two campaigns are arguing on Twitter It all started, more or less, when Sanders decided to directly take on the claim that Bloomberg’s extremely deep pockets meant he could run a uniquely strong campaign against Trump in November. If I were trying to undermine the electability case for Bloomberg, I’d probably have cited things like his efforts to ban large sodas, but Sanders instead argued that his campaign “will not create the kind of excitement and energy” that he believes he himself can unleash. Bloomberg’s team shot back with a web video citing “Bernie Bro” tweets in which various Sanders supporters articulate the idea that they are more interested in intra-factional warfare than in beating Trump in November. We need to unite to defeat Trump in November. This type of "energy" is not going to get us there. https://t.co/bPuUZMs2d6 pic.twitter.com/Tdp6mpWjcX— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) February 17, 2020 Bloomberg’s messageis an idea that has probably not penetrated mass consciousness but that looms extremely large in the minds of people who spend a lot of time online. Most rank and file Democrats have broadly positive feelings toward everyone in the field and strongly negative feelings about Trump. According to Morning Consult, for example, 74 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of Bernie Sanders while 66 percent have a favorable view of Joe Biden. Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren are at 61, and Pete Buttigieg is at 60. But many Sanders supporters, taking the cue from thought-leaders at pro-Sanders media outlets like Jacobin, Current Affairs, and the Chapo Trap House podcast see things differently — they are very excited about the prospect of a Sanders presidency, very down on other Democrats running (and the Democratic Party writ large), and have little interest in clapping and cheering for the idea that the important thing is to win in November no matter who the nominee is. Many people who spend enough time online to be heavily exposed to this discourse also find it to be incredibly alienating and wrongheaded — and believe to an extent that negativity toward Hillary Clinton from Sanders-aligned media did serious damage to her presidential campaign in 2016. This critique is one level somewhat paradoxical. On paper, if you believe the differences between Sanders and the rest of the field are overblown but that Sanders’s fans are uniquely invested in exaggerating the stakes, that is a reason to see nominating Sanders as the best path to party unity. But most voters act emotionally rather than strategically, and if they are mad at the Sandersverse for sabotaging Democrats, that will make them disinclined to vote for Sanders. So the Bloomberg campaign is playing up the idea that Sanders is running a kind of anti-party movement of assholes, both to hit Sanders and to try to shield their own candidate from criticism. Sanders’s national press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, shot back with a tweet referencing both the NYPD’s Bloomberg-era stop-and-frisk policies and also the idea that Sanders has a multiracial political coalition behind him. I guess Bloomberg isn’t done beating up on Black and Brown people. ‍♀️#BernieBeatsTrump https://t.co/VwNvWWRjKs— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) February 17, 2020 Gray herself is a perfect flashpoint for these arguments because she’s said she voted for Jill Stein in 2016. In many Democrats’ view, Stein voters are bad people so a campaign that would hire a bad Stein-voting person in a prominent role is itself a movement of bad people that should be resisted. A more optimistic take would be that to win in 2020, Democrats need the votes of people who did not vote for them in 2016 so having people like that help craft the candidate’s message is smart. Bloomberg himself, meanwhile, prominently endorsed George W. Bush in 2004 so neither camp here is exactly a paragon of party loyalty. The final round of tit for tat involved the Bloomberg campaign issuing a statement comparing Sanders’s tactics to Trump, followed by the Sanders campaign tweeting a photo of Bloomberg golfing with Trump. https://t.co/XwB74v3u0w pic.twitter.com/UID9vVK1yi— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 17, 2020 In other words, everyone is having a rollicking good time. Bloomberg’s candidacy has been good for Bernie Back on January 18, Sanders was about 7 points down in FiveThirty Eight’s national aggregate polling average. By February 18, he had roughly a seven-point lead. That improvement in his relative position (and concurrently elevated odds of becoming the Democratic Party nominee) has involved just a 4 percentage point increase in the share of Democrats who say they are backing Sanders. The other 10 points worth of swing come purely from Joe Biden’s fall in the polls, a fall that has come largely thanks to Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg. This multi-way fragmentation of the moderate vote is helpful to Sanders not just in the mathematical sense, but because strategically Biden — even as someone who seems to have lost a step or two — is fundamentally a more difficult rival for Sanders to beat. Biden, unlike Bloomberg, has a deep reservoir of affection in the African American community that we know is robust enough to withstand the re-airing of some of his not-so-woke political positions from the 1980s and 1990s. Bloomberg so far is doing fine nationally with black voters based on having introduced himself to them through his own television ads, but it’s far from clear that will stand up to scrutiny. Bloomberg has also been marketing himself as an ally of Obama’s, which is an effective strategy in a Democratic Party primary. But unlike Biden, Bloomberg did not, in fact, have a close relationship with Obama — delivering only a very late, churlish endorsement of his reelection campaign in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Perfunctory is putting it kindly!— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) February 18, 2020 The fact that Bloomberg got his start in electoral politics as a Republican and only registered as a Democrat in 2018 after openly flirting with third-party presidential bids in 2012 and 2016 also serves to neutralizes the critique that Sanders is not a real Democrat. Bloomberg’s one real edge over Biden is that he’s incredibly rich. That’s not nothing as his recent rise in the polls illustrates. But Bloomberg’s wealth, recent history of center-right positions on a range of economic policy issues — pre-Trump he was critical of the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, against raising the minimum wage, skeptical of the Affordable Care Act, and a fan of cutting Social Security and Medicare — makes him a perfect foil for Sanders’ message and also lets Sanders position himself as a stalwart Democrat versus the heterodox Bloomberg, a much better positioning for him than running as a left-wing critic of the popular Obama administration. Bernie’s candidacy is good for Bloomberg This roster of policy positions is why Bloomberg didn’t wind up running for president in 2016. He took an honest look at his own record and the enemies he’d made in New York and concluded that there was no way he could win a Democratic Party primary. He also did the math on a third-party bid and concluded it would be hopeless and would most likely just end up helping a Republican. So despite evident ambition, he took a pass. It’s the resilience of Sanders’ campaign that’s changed that calculus, by creating a bogeyman that so terrifies many Democratic Party elected officials and consultants that Bloomberg’s record no longer seems like a total nonstarter. The billionaire mayor has basically disavowed all those old positions in favor of standard Democratic Party ones, while Sanders is pushing big new left-wing ideas that frighten many Democrats. That context uniquely creates the circumstances in which Bloomberg (as opposed to Biden or Amy Klobuchar or some other normal Democrat) looks like a reasonable option to party regulars. So between now and Super Tuesday, expect a lot more back and forth between the billionaire and the anti-billionaire, as they attempt to erase everyone else from the contest.
3 h
vox.com
Jenny Offill’s Weather is the climate change novel you’ve been waiting for
Left: Knopf. Right: Emily Tobey. This spare, searing novel asks how we live at the end of the world, which is right now. Jenny Offill’s Weather is a novel about living at the end of the world, which is to say that it is a novel about being alive right now. It’s about trying to understand climate change and motherhood — concepts so big that the mind can’t quite look at them dead on — by looking at them slantwise, through the smallest possible unit of thought. Weather is narrated by Lizzie, a former PhD student who dropped out halfway through writing her dissertation; now she works at her former university’s library. For extra money, she also works as an assistant for her old thesis adviser, who runs an environmental podcast called Hell or High Water. Lizzie’s job is to answer letters from terrified listeners. When she’s not working, Lizzie tends to her small son, Eli, who is attending a giant new school that Lizzie frets is “not on the human scale.” She also helps her recovering addict brother, Henry, tend to his newborn daughter. She jokes comfortably with her husband, Ben, about leaving him. Offill tells Lizzie’s story in a series of discrete units that are less like fragments than they are like a series of river pebbles: polished to a diamond brilliance, with no sharp edges. We enter each one without context, half-blind. “In the morning, the one who is mostly enlightened comes in,” Weather begins, referring to a Zen teacher who visits Lizzie’s library. It goes on from there, leaving us to find our way around. The idea of being “mostly enlightened” is central to Weather, which wrestles elliptically with religion. The epigraph, taken from minutes from a Connecticut town meeting in 1640, reads, “Voted, that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; voted, that the earth is given to the Saints; voted, that we are the Saints.” “Voted, that we are the saints,” Lizzie thinks again on July Fourth. She intermittently attends church services and Zen meditation classes, but they terrify her. She keeps coming up short at the idea that death is inevitable, and not just her own, but also her family’s. “Aw, c’mon, man,” she thinks, after repeating that she will have to let go of everything and everyone she loves. “Everything and everyone I love? Is there one for beginners maybe?” This is the central problem interrogated in Weather: How do we live under the belief that we are at the end of the world? How do we live our lives, care for our families, mother, work, and love, from within the apocalypse of the Anthropocene? As Lizzie spends more and more time working on Hell or High Water, she begins to stockpile and hoard survival tips, like how to start a fire with a gum wrapper and a battery; how to catch fish with only your shirt and your spit. She strategizes her “doomstead” plans. She’ll build on a hill for protection for floods and defense from marauders, she thinks, and surround her encampment with a moat. Meanwhile, Henry fantasizes relentlessly about all the ways he might find himself accidentally hurting his daughter. He writes them down and reads them to Lizzie so that he won’t act them out, relaying to her all the ways in which he pictures the baby “burned, smothered, strangled, flayed.” Lizzie rips up the fantasies, but Henry’s desires only literalize what she fears she has accomplished herself. She has burned and smothered and strangled and flayed her child’s future, because all of us have. We’ve killed the world. And so now, how do we live in it? That question is nearly impossible to confront without despair, but Offill’s form allows her to get closer than most writers. Those tiny units of story work like Zen koans: they are so opaque, and yet so deadpan and unflinching, that as they accumulate, we find ourselves brought closer and closer to the truth we could not bear to look at if it were presented to us head-on. We come so close that Weather feels honest and unsparing in a way few other novels about climate change have managed. And that honesty is what makes it satisfying when Lizzie fumbles her way toward an answer to her question: When you have destroyed the world, you live in it with hope, is what she suggests at the end of the novel. With impossible hope, and prayers for mercy and grace. By building a garden and watching it grow.
3 h
vox.com
Nevada Democratic debate: February 19, 2020
Democratic candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Bernie Sanders on stage at the eighth Democratic debate in New Hampshire in February. | John Tlumacki/Boston Globe via Getty Images Six candidates, including billionaire Mike Bloomberg, will take the stage ahead of the Nevada caucuses Saturday. With early voting in the Nevada caucuses already underway, six of the remaining eight Democratic candidates for president will take the stage in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Wednesday, February 19, for the ninth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election. The debate will start at 9 pm ET and run for about two hours; it will stream live on the NBC News and MSNBC websites. Former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg all qualified for the debate. Every candidate except Bloomberg was also onstage for the eighth primary debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier this month; Bloomberg only qualified for the Las Vegas debate after the Democratic National Committee revised the qualifying standards — a move that prompted some consternation from the rest of the field. The debate criteria for Las Vegas stipulate that candidates had to win at least one pledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Iowa or New Hampshire, poll at 10 percent or better in four national polls, or poll at 12 percent or better in two Nevada or South Carolina polls to make the stage. Follow along below for Vox’s debate coverage, including how to watch, breaking news updates, analysis, and more.
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Trump’s latest pardons show how quickly he’s normalizing corruption
Trump exits Air Force One in Los Angeles on Tuesday. | Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage They’re aimed at the very sorts of obstruction of justice and financial crimes he’s been implicated in. The notion that arguably the most personally corrupt president in American history has good-faith concerns about corruption has always been absurd. But whatever shred of plausibility it had was dealt a death blow on Tuesday when President Donald Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of a veritable who’s who of corrupt public figures. Trump commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges related to his efforts to basically sell a US Senate seat. He pardoned former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud and lying to investigators. He pardoned billionaire financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty to insider trading. He commuted the sentence of Judith Negron, who, according to the Justice Department, “masterminded one of the largest fraud schemes ever prosecuted by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force.” Also receiving a pardon was former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who was convicted of failing to report a bribe. Those names highlighted the list of 11 people who were suddenly granted pardons or commutations. Each of them, with the exception of two women whose sentences for drug-related crimes were commuted, were implicated in corrupt dealings. Mother Jones ticks through the rest of the pardon/commutation list: Ariel Friedler hacked into his competitors’ computers. Paul Pogue filed false income tax statements. David Safavian is a Republican lawyer who was convicted of perjury in connection with the Abramoff corruption scandal. Angela Stanton “spent time in Georgia prisons for things like felony embezzlement, theft and fraud” but since her release in 2005 has become a best-selling author and the creator of Reclaim It Albany. The backdrop to all of this is Trump’s recently completed impeachment trial — one stemming from the president getting caught trying to leverage congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine into politically motived investigations of the Bidens. Trump tried to justify his actions by arguing that as president, “I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION.” That logic was echoed by his legal team during the trial. But it was belied by the fact that a top Defense Department official told Congress last May that Ukraine had made good enough progress on anti-corruption efforts to merit the aid — not to mention the glaring hypocrisy stemming Trump’s refusal to divest from his business, one that enables foreign governments, corporations, and US politicians to curry favor with him by patronizing his properties and directly enriching him. Then, in the hours following Trump’s string of pardons and commutations, the Daily Beast reported that family members of one of the men Trump pardoned, Paul Pogue, donated lavishly to his fundraising committee and campaign in the months leading up to the pardon — a chain of events that appears to be about as corrupt as it gets. From Justin Baragona and Asawin Suebsaeng’s report: According to FEC filings, Pogue’s family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions and in-kind air travel to the Trump Victory Committee. Beginning in August 2019, Ben Pogue—CEO of Pogue Construction and son of Paul Pogue—and his wife Ashleigh made over $200,000 in contributions to the campaign. In August alone, Ben Pogue donated $85,000 to Trump Victory while Ashleigh Pogue contributed $50,000 that month. The following month, Ben Pogue made an in-kind air travel contribution of $75,404.40. The couple also made several large donations to the Republican National Committee and each donated $5,600 to Donald Trump for President Inc. Trump, of course, is not the first president to use the pardon power in politically questionable ways. George HW Bush pardoned Iran-Contra felons, and Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive billionaire Marc Rich on his last day in office. But in those cases, Bush and Clinton at least pretended to have principled reasons for the pardons. In contrast, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Michael Shear reported that Trump didn’t follow Justice Department vetting process before making the announcements, which they described as “mostly aimed at wiping clean the slates of rich, powerful and well-connected white men.” And statements released by the White House listed a number of Fox News personalities as character witnesses. Meanwhile, in comments to reporters, Trump erased the DOJ by describing himself as “the chief law enforcement officer of the country.” He went on to suggest that any prosecution in which former FBI director James Comey was even indirectly involved is fair game for pardons. Trump on commuting sentence for Blagojevich: "It was a prosecution by the same people -- Comey, Fitzpatrick -- the same group." pic.twitter.com/gXigT20Fdc— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 18, 2020 In short, the true purpose of Trump’s pardons and commutations appears to be threefold: consolidating power; dismissing the sort of obstruction of justice and financial crimes he’s been implicated in; and laying the groundwork for pardoning or commuting the sentence of longtime confidante Roger Stone, who’s scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. The events of Tuesday shouldn’t have been necessary to establish that Trump doesn’t actually have good-faith concerns about corruption. Tellingly, however, when Trump and his legal team argued just that during the impeachment process, Republicans such as Ted Cruz pretended to buy it with comments like, “A president is always justified, and in fact has a responsibility, to investigate credible accusations of corruption.” Those remarks are aging worse than ever now. The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.
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What to expect at the Nevada Democratic debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar on stage at the eighth Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire. | John Tlumacki/Boston Globe/Getty Images What happens in Las Vegas … could have implications for the Democratic primary. With early voting already underway in Nevada and the primary race still fluid, there could be more than a few fireworks when 2020 Democrats take the debate stage again. The ninth Democratic debate of the primary takes place this Wednesday, February 19, at 9 pm ET at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas. It will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo, and the Nevada Independent, and will be moderated by a panel of five journalists from those outlets. This will be the third 2020 debate hosted by NBC. It will be available to stream live on the NBC and MSNBC websites, as well as from Noticias Telemundo and the Nevada Independent. The debate, which is expected to last about two hours, will be a chance for the six Democratic candidates set to appear on stage to make their final case to voters before the Nevada caucuses this Saturday, February 22. Those six candidates are: Former Vice President Joe Biden Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg Sen. Amy Klobuchar Sen. Bernie Sanders Sen. Elizabeth Warren There are also two candidates still in the race who won’t be on stage: California billionaire Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Every candidate to qualify except Bloomberg was also on stage for the eighth primary debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, earlier this month; Bloomberg qualified for the Las Vegas debate after the Democratic National Committee revised the debate criteria last month — a move that prompted some consternation from the rest of the field. The new criteria gave candidates two paths to the stage: delegates or polling. Candidates had to either earn at least one pledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention out of Iowa or New Hampshire, or achieve at least 10 percent in four qualifying national polls or 12 percent in two qualifying early-state polls to qualify for the debate. That sets up an interesting dynamic: Bloomberg is the only candidate who has yet to appear on a ballot or the stage, but he’s on the rise in national polls. That could be an incentive for other candidates to take aim at him on Wednesday — but if the recent New Hampshire debate is any model, they’ll also be looking to land a hit on rivals who performed well in the first two states to vote. The state of the race, briefly explained Sanders is ascendant: After a win in New Hampshire and a close-run second-place finish in Iowa, the Vermont senator has cemented his status as frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president and in Nevada. Sander is leading in the RealClearPolitics national polling average by almost 8 points, and he has a 14-point lead in the Nevada average (albeit with limited polling in the state). Politico reported Monday that advisers for at least three campaigns have already acquiesced to a Sanders win in Nevada and are instead playing for second and third place. Bloomberg is a question mark: The New York billionaire has climbed to second place in recent national polls of the Democratic primary on the strength of more than $400 million in ad spending (and some honeyed brie). He hasn’t, however, been on a debate stage yet, and how he’ll perform Wednesday night is a mystery. He’s likely to be the subject of intense scrutiny over old comments about stop-and-frisk policing, redlining, and a slew of other topics. If Wednesday night goes poorly for Bloomberg, though, he has time to bounce back — his name won’t appear on a ballot until Super Tuesday on March 3. Candidates face a more diverse electorate: Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire — two of the whitest states in the country — Nevada is quite diverse. For several candidates — notably Buttigieg and Klobuchar — that could pose a problem. Both have done well in the first two primary states, but in a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, Klobuchar registered at 3 percent with African American voters, and Buttigieg did only slightly better at 4 percent. If either candidate wants to have a real shot at the nomination, they’ll need to show strength with voters of color down the stretch; Nevada will be a test of their ability to do so.
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The four crucial questions Jeff Bezos needs to answer about his $10 billion climate pledge
Jeff Bezos talking with Kanye West at a charity ball in 2019. | Kevin Mazur/MG19/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue The answers you deserve to know. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world, has earned many rounds of applause for the commitment he made on Sunday to give $10 billion to combat climate change, but he still isn’t answering many basic questions. The $10 billion he pledged for the Bezos Earth Fund is an unprecedented contribution that affords a private citizen great power over the world’s response to the climate crisis. It’s also a donation that deprives Americans of tax dollars since it’s subsidized by the tax code. And it comes amid mounting pressure on both Amazon for its environmental impact and on Bezos for his paltry prior philanthropy. So there’s a clear public interest in knowing exactly how Bezos plans to spend this money. There are not, however, clear answers on some very important details. Such as: Over what time period will Bezos administer this $10 billion? Many of today’s philanthropy advocates — and the billionaires that have signed The Giving Pledge — want to see donors give away their money to solve today’s problems, rather than setting up perpetual foundations sustained by an endowment well after the benefactor has died. That’s especially true given the deadline the world is facing on climate change. If the plan is to merely administer about 5 percent — the standard amount that most foundations give away in a current year — that would mean distributing about $250 million a year to grantees. If the plan is to eventually spend the $10 billion down to nothing, then maybe Bezos could give as much as four times that each year over the next decade. But we don’t know how he plans to dole out the money. Teddy - It would also be worth knowing if the plan is to spend the money down over a few years (I hope so!) or hold it in an endowment (which would be dumb, while the world boils away). Please, Jeff: Get it out the door in an effective way!— Alan Cantor (@Al_Cantor) February 18, 2020 Will any of this $10 billion be eligible for policy advocacy or political campaigns? The announcement on Instagram said that Bezos would fund “scientists, activists and NGOs” and that Bezos is focusing solely on charitable giving, rather than for-profit investments. But some advocates feel that the real way to solve the climate crisis is through electing different people to Washington — or at least by pressuring politicians to take different actions once they’re in office. Bezos himself has grown more comfortable with political donations. While that’s not how people traditionally think of “charity,” it could make Bezos into a political mega-donor depending on how he defines his terms. This is good and: Any super-wealthy person who says they want to make a meaningful impact on an issue should also be directing money & attention to electoral efforts — otherwise, they’re not serious about actually making a difference. https://t.co/RhqmThsuAA— Amanda Litman (@amandalitman) February 17, 2020 Who exactly is in charge of this program? The heads of large philanthropic efforts have enormous power — and yet they are largely anonymous figures. The person that Bezos chooses will largely be acting in lieu of the Amazon founder, who has a day job. And will the Bezos Earth Fund have a board of advisers who recruit and vet possible grantees, just like Bezos’s anti-homelessness charity effort has? Who will serve on that panel? There will be many, many people who will make a gold rush for the Bezos money. The gatekeepers at his new charity will play an influential role in determining what gets funded and what doesn’t. And lastly, here’s an easy one that Amazon isn’t answering: What legal structure does this philanthropy take? Is the Bezos Earth Fund a private foundation, a donor-advised fund, an LLC; or part of Bezos’s personal holding company, Bezos Expeditions; or something else entirely? Those all have different implications for the amount of tax dollars that the US government is deprived of since the donation is tax-deductible; the amount of money that Bezos’s philanthropy will be required to spend each year; and, importantly, the amount of disclosure that the Bezos Earth Fund will be required to offer to reporters, critics, and academics. We asked Amazon all of these questions to try to gain clarity into what could safely be considered one of the most important tech gifts ever. It is hard to believe that at least some of the questions don’t already have answers. But Amazon declined to offer them: “We just don’t have further details to share on announcement at the moment,” said a company spokesperson. “Please stay tuned.” In Bezos’s defense, this fits a pattern. In September 2018, he announced on social media his first large philanthropic commitment, $2 billion for homelessness and early childhood education work, but he didn’t fill in the details with a website and the advisory committee until November. Bezos says that we’ll hear from the Bezos Earth Fund this summer, so perhaps that’s when we’ll get some answers. But it is not unreasonable to expect answers for these questions from the get-go. Bezos is enjoying some rare positive headlines about his personal wealth, but with that should come some transparency and accountability about how exactly he will spend it. Philanthropy, at this scale and with this mission, is not merely a personal matter that is none of our business. It affects us all and deserves scrutiny.
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The executive actions Democratic presidential hopefuls intend to use to fight climate change
President Donald Trump announces his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House June 1, 2017, in Washington, DC. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Several candidates say they will stop all new fossil fuel leases on public lands. To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the third question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page. If Republicans control one or both houses of Congress and legislation stalls, what executive actions are you prepared to take to reduce carbon emissions? Joe Biden: On day one, [I] will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that put us on the right track to address our climate crisis. These executive actions will focus on: Requiring aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations. Using the federal government procurement system — which spends $500 billion every year — to drive towards 100 percent clean energy and zero-emissions vehicles. Ensuring that all US government installations, buildings, and facilities are more efficient and climate-ready, harnessing the purchasing power and supply chains to drive innovation. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation — the fastest growing source of US climate pollution — by preserving and implementing the existing Clean Air Act, and developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100 percent of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified and annual improvements for heavy duty vehicles. Doubling down on the liquid fuels of the future, which make agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change. Advanced biofuels are now closer than ever as we begin to build the first plants for biofuels, creating jobs and new solutions to reduce emissions in planes, ocean-going vessels, and more. Saving consumers money and reduce emissions through new, aggressive appliance- and building-efficiency standards. Committing that every federal infrastructure investment should reduce climate pollution, and require any federal permitting decision to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Requiring public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains. Protecting biodiversity, slowing extinction rates and helping leverage natural climate solutions by conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. Protecting America’s natural treasures by permanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump’s attack on federal lands and waters, establishing national parks and monuments that reflect America’s natural heritage, banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs, and establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030. Elizabeth Warren: My plan for public lands includes signing an executive order on my first day as president that says no more drilling — a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling and fracking offshore and on public lands. I will reinstate the methane pollution rule to limit existing oil and gas projects from releasing harmful gases that poison our air and reinstitute the clean water rule to protect our lakes, rivers, and streams, and the drinking water they provide. I will get us back into the Paris climate accord and restore the vehicle emission standards and the Clean Power Plan. I will also use all the tools of international trade to lead the global effort to combat climate change. I will make being party to the Paris Climate Accord and ending fossil fuel subsidies preconditions for any trade deal. I will push for a multilateral trade agreement to protect green policies like subsidies for clean energy and I will impose a border carbon adjustment to charge a fee to imported goods made using carbon-intensive processes. There’s a lot a president can do herself. I intend to use every tool to take action to defeat our climate crisis. Bernie Sanders: The bottom line is that there is a climate emergency which demands a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address its consequences and causes. As president, [I] will declare a national emergency on climate change and take immediate, large-scale action to reverse its effects. This is an existential threat and we will do whatever it takes to confront it. [I] will use executive authority to ban fossil fuel extraction on public lands, effectively ban fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining, ban offshore drilling, ban imports and exports of all fossil fuels, end all new federal fossil fuel infrastructure permits, aggressively regulate greenhouse gas emissions, use regulations to help us decarbonize our transportation and energy sectors, rejoin and strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement, and place a fee on imported carbon pollution-intensive goods. As president, [I] will impose sanctions on corporations and entities that threaten national and global emissions reduction goals. [I] will break up big agribusinesses that have a stranglehold on farmers and rural communities and negatively impact our environment, and enforce the Clear Air and Water Acts on large factory farms. And [I] will focus the federal government’s significant resources, including procurement, on transitioning to a 100 percent clean energy economy. Pete Buttigieg: I’d rejoin the Paris climate agreement and use every tool available to the President to regulate carbon emissions across economic sectors. I would also use the office to capitalize on the increasing interest in a carbon fee and dividend from some Republican Members of Congress. We need to remember that people are policy, so I would appoint leadership of the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and other key places with people who actually believe in environmental protection and solving climate change. Lastly, we can’t overlook action at a local level, so I would convene local leaders for a Pittsburgh Climate Summit to build commitments and share strategies to tackle carbon emissions. Tom Steyer: I will not hesitate to use the emergency powers of the presidency to protect the American public from the climate crisis, just as I would use those powers to protect our country from a hostile military invasion. My plan will eliminate fossil fuel pollution from all sectors to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero global warming pollution by no later than 2045. This means massive and immediate mobilization to decarbonize every sector in an equitable way, including transitioning to clean electricity, setting strong standards for new buildings, retrofitting existing buildings to improve indoor air quality and energy efficiency, accelerating electric vehicle deployment and charging infrastructure, stopping methane leaks and eliminating the use and production of global warming super-pollutants, and efforts to expand new development while meeting pollution reduction goals. Every part of the executive branch of government will bring its rules, purchasing decisions, and agency staff in line with our global and domestic science-backed carbon emissions reduction goals. My administration will immediately stop issuing leases to coal, oil, and gas companies for mining and fracking on federal lands, offshore, and in the Arctic, and rapidly and responsibly phase out existing operations. We have the tools to lessen the effects of this climate crisis, and I will ensure that they are not delayed, wasted or misdirected. Amy Klobuchar: As part of [my] plan for the first 100 days of [my] presidency, [I have] committed to taking the following actions to address the climate crisis: Get the United States back in the international climate agreement on day one: On day one of [my] presidency [I] will get us back into the agreement, working so that the United States maintains global leadership to address the climate crisis. Restore the Clean Power Plan: To address the climate crisis, [I] will immediately bring back the goals established by the Clean Power Plan, which set emissions standards for states with respect to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Bring back the fuel-economy standards:[I] will immediately restore and strengthen our fuel economy standards, which are key to fighting climate change. The Trump administration has weakened the fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks and has challenged the right of California and other states to follow more stringent standards. Reinstate the National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee to immediately start addressing the climate crisis: The National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee was charged with translating the findings of the National Climate Assessment into concrete goals. [I] will reinstate this committee that President Trump let expire. End the Trump Administration’s censoring of climate science: [I] will end the Trump administration efforts to censor climate science through actions like deleting climate-focused websites, removing the phrase “climate change” from reports, and preventing government scientists from attending conferences on climate change. Set ambitious goals to reduce the carbon footprint of the federal government: The federal government has a significant carbon footprint. As president, [I] will set ambitious goals to increase the efficiency of federal buildings, data centers, and vehicles, reduce water consumption, and increase the use of renewable energy. Undertake a comprehensive review and restore environmental protections repealed by the Trump Administration: The Trump Administration has revoked dozens of guidance documents and rules that protect people’s safety, health and the environment when it comes to our power plants, oil refineries, national parks and wildlife refuges, offshore drilling, pipelines, and oil and gas development. [I] will undertake a thorough review of all the repealed guidance and rules, and work to restore our environmental and safety protections. Mike Bloomberg: I will take a number of executive actions to cut carbon emissions, at the same time that we start the legislative process in Congress, regardless of party control, because we can’t afford to wait. Here are just a few examples: I will direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set strong standards for air pollution from both existing and new coal and gas power plants, as well as water pollution from hazardous coal waste. I will direct the EPA and the Department of Transportation to reinstate gas mileage and pollution standards for cars and trucks, and to set a timetable for aggressive new standards that will ensure all new cars are electric by 2035. I will direct the Department of Energy to create zero-pollution building codes and equipment standards, and work with the Federal Energy Regulation Commission and state utility regulators to build a 100 percent clean electricity grid. I will issue a moratorium on new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and in federal waters. And I will issue an order making environmental justice and equity a priority overseen by the White House, with a dedicated office in every agency. Combined with an ambitious approach to budget, tax, and appropriations bills, these actions can put the country on track for a 50% carbon reduction by 2030.
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How 2020 Democrats will address climate change through foreign policy
A woman walks to her eroded shelter home near the Meghna river in Bangladesh on September 12, 2019. | Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Barcroft Media/Getty Images Several ideas for improving climate security. To find out how Democratic 2020 candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the sixth question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page. The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier” in international conflict. At the same time, climate change stands to have the worst impacts on countries that contributed least to the problem. How should the US brace for global climate chaos? And what will you do to help other countries prepare for the impending disruption? Joe Biden: To address our defense and intelligence leaders’ warnings about the threats climate change poses to global stability and security, [I] will elevate climate change as a national security priority. Specifically, [I] will: Commission a National Intelligence Estimate on national and economic security impacts from climate change, including water scarcity, increased risks of conflict, impacts on state fragility, and the security implications of resulting large-scale migrations. Direct the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report to [me] annually on the impacts of climate change on defense posture, readiness, infrastructure, and threat picture, as well as the Defense Department’s strategy to manage those impacts. Direct the National Security Advisor, working with the Secretaries of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and others, to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the security implications of climate change. Invest in the climate resilience of our military bases and critical security infrastructure across the US and around the world to deal with the risk of climate change effects, including extreme weather events that caused over $8 billion in damages to Department of Defense bases in just the last year. [I] will direct the Secretaries of Defense and Energy to develop specific inventories of the most acute vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure due to climate change, and prioritize upgrades, hardening, and resilience investments to mitigate them. In addition, [I] will recommit the US to the Green Climate Fund, fulfilling America’s pledge and enhancing our security by helping developing countries better manage the adverse effects of climate change, including conflict, migration, and state fragility. The US will also work with international financial institutions to pursue shared debt relief for countries provided that they use those funds for climate-friendly development. As president, [I] will rejoin the Paris Agreement. But simply rejoining is not enough. [I] will use every tool of American foreign policy to push the rest of the world to raise their ambitions alongside the US. Part of this effort includes providing “green debt relief” for developing countries that make climate commitments. Elizabeth Warren: I support returning to the Paris agreement — and then using that as a basis to go further. My Green Marshall Plan is a commitment to using all the tools in our diplomatic and economic arsenal to encourage other countries to purchase and deploy American-made clean energy technology. It includes a new federal office dedicated to selling American-made clean, renewable, and emission-free energy technology abroad and a $100 billion commitment to assisting countries to purchase and deploy this technology. In my plan to overhaul how Washington does trade, I will use all the tools of international trade to marshall global action on climate. I will re-enter the United States into the Paris Climate Accord and make being party to that agreement and fossil fuel subsidies preconditions for any trade agreement. I will push for a multilateral trade agreement to protect green policies like subsidies for clean energy and impose a border carbon adjustment to charge a fee to imported goods made using carbon-intensive processes. I also make clear that countries who can’t live up to these standards won’t be abandoned. I will commit to providing technical assistance to help countries improve. I will also require the Pentagon to achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030 — consistent with the objectives of the Green New Deal. I will invest billions of dollars into a new, 10-year research and development program focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage and direct the Pentagon to produce an annual report evaluating the climate vulnerability of every US military base at home and abroad. Bernie Sanders: [I] know the importance of American responsibility and leadership on climate change. As President, [I] will take that role seriously and bring a commitment to the rest of the world on behalf of the American people to promote peace and aggressively reduce our emissions in an effort to get the international community to agree to limit global emissions to keep us at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. This will ensure the US remains in a position of technological leadership and make us competitive on all sustainable energy technology to achieve our global goal of decarbonization by 2050. The US has for over a century spewed carbon pollution emissions into the atmosphere in order to gain economic standing in the world. Therefore, we have an outsized obligation to help less industrialized nations meet their targets while improving quality of life. We will reduce domestic emissions by at least 71 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030 — the total equivalent of reducing our domestic emissions by 161 percent. Despite the major shortcomings of the Paris climate agreement, one primary reason why the globe was able to come together to sign the Paris agreement was that major developed nations like the US finally recognized that they had an outsized role in the creation of the climate crisis, and an outsized obligation to less industrialized nations to help them achieve the same kind of carbon pollution emissions reductions while improving the quality of life in those countries. In order to help countries of the Global South with climate adaptation efforts, the US will invest $200 billion in the Green Climate Fund for the equitable transfer of renewable technologies, climate adaptation, and assistance in adopting sustainable energies. US leadership can ensure that the developing world secures reliable electricity, reduces poverty and pollution-related fatalities, creates greater net employment, and improves living standards — all while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. [I] will bring together the leaders of the major industrialized nations with the goal of using the trillions of dollars our nations spend on misguided wars and weapons of mass destruction to instead work together internationally to combat our climate crisis and take on the fossil fuel industry. [I] recognize that the Pentagon is the largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and that the US spends $81 billion annually to protect oil supplies and transport routes. We are uniquely positioned to lead the planet in a wholesale shift away from militarism. [I] also recognize that climate change will only accelerate the unrest and migration that we are seeing today. We must address the root causes of migration, including rewriting disastrous trade policies and implementing a humane foreign policy that strengths labor and environmental standards across the world. The US must live up to its ideals as a nation by welcoming those who seek refuge, including from climate disasters. Pete Buttigieg: Climate is a threat multiplier and a threat shifter. Some of the most urgent threats the US faces today — from crises that originate in Syria, Sudan, and countries in Central America — are made worse by the extra stresses put on those states by failing crops and other effects of climate change. We have both an obligation, alongside other big emitters of warming gases, and a strong national interest in reducing those dangers. We can help by contributing fully to the Green Climate Fund and other funds that are putting resources toward helping countries adapt, and by integrating prevention and mitigation strategies into our own foreign aid. Over the long haul, the best and only way to manage these problems is to stop and reverse climate change through serious action at home and globally as part of our foreign policy. Tom Steyer: Increased droughts and other climate-related disasters are spurring more violent conflicts and increasingly volatile political situations around the globe. Hundreds of millions of people around the world risk losing their homes and livelihoods to sea-level rise, extreme weather, and political conflict driven by climate impacts. The Commander-in-Chief must protect us from the immediate dangers of climate change and ensure our country’s prosperity but also help to reduce the causes of conflict globally and prevent mass human rights abuses that can arise in times of disaster or resource stress. To create a safer and more secure America, we must secure our military bases against extreme weather, and improve our systems to prevent and recover from disasters. We also need to reestablish the United States as a global economic and moral leader by leading the worldwide transition to clean energy, redoubling our commitments to international agreements such as the Paris Accord, providing international aid for disaster relief and for countries that are transitioning away from fossil fuels, and helping protect the human rights of the growing number of people displaced by disasters. Amy Klobuchar: As President [I] will elevate the voices of our military and security experts who have repeatedly warned that climate change will increase the risks of international conflict and humanitarian crises. [I] believe that we must work with our allies to support countries most affected by climate change, including addressing global food and water shortages, supporting climate resilient development, helping countries adapt to the effects of climate change, and preparing for the increased risk of natural disasters. Mike Bloomberg: President Trump doesn’t just deny that climate change is real – he has also weakened our most powerful tool in the fight against climate change: our international leadership. No single country can beat climate change, or handle its impacts – more refugees, more conflicts over water, more political instability – by acting alone. Confronting those threats requires strong alliances. President Trump has attacked and insulted our allies. I will work with them and restore our commitment to international cooperation, including on climate change. I have a robust plan with specific steps to restore U.S. leadership, rally the world to ambitious carbon reductions and cooperate to manage climate-related conflict that starts with rejoining the Paris Agreement, which I will do on day one.
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Are 2020 Democratic candidates ready to scrap the filibuster to fight climate change?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives at a rally outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on September 24, 2019. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images At least four candidates are in favor. To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the second question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page. If Democrats win a narrow majority in the Senate, will you advocate for reforming or scrapping the filibuster? Joe Biden: [I do] not support ending the filibuster. Elizabeth Warren: As I’ve said before, if Republicans continue to [use] the same playbook they had under President Obama and try to block progress, we should get rid of the filibuster. Bernie Sanders: As was the case with workers’ rights, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement and the environmental movement, the only way transformational change happens is when millions of people stand up and demand it. Before we even get to the issue of the filibuster, we need 50 senators who are prepared to do what we, as a nation, have a moral obligation to accomplish - and that is to pass Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and other major reforms we need. Once we have — and [I] believe it will be sooner than later — a Democratic majority that is prepared to take on the greed and the corruption of the fossil fuel industry and vote for these major reforms in the House and the Senate, we will pass them. That means enacting real filibuster reform, including the return to requiring a talking filibuster. It is not right that one senator can grind the entire legislative process to a halt. Further, the budget reconciliation process, with 50 votes, has been used time and time again to pass major pieces of legislation and that under our Constitution and the rules of the Senate, it is the vice president who determines what is and is not permissible under budget reconciliation. While a president does not have the power to abolish the filibuster, a vice president in [my] administration will determine that a Green New Deal can pass through the Senate under reconciliation and is not in violation of the rules. Pete Buttigieg: Yes. With the filibuster in place, any meaningful action to combat climate change will be even further out of reach. Tom Steyer: I will certainly advocate for scrapping the filibuster. This legislative roadblock is preventing us from fixing an inadequate healthcare system, boosting lagging wages, controlling student debt, and ending gun violence. The filibuster only serves to maintain the status-quo and uphold a broken political system. Amy Klobuchar: [I] would be willing to advocate for getting rid of the legislative filibuster if legislation is blocked. None of this will matter if Democrats don’t retake the majority Senate and [I am] focused on that. Mike Bloomberg: The filibuster has been overused and misused, and it is probably time to get rid of it.
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How climate change ranks as a priority for 2020 Democratic presidential contenders
Climate change protesters disrupt Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden during a campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on October 9, 2019. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images Several candidates say they would take action on day one of their administration. To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the first question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page. A president has only 100 days or so in which to pass a few key priorities. Where does climate change fall on your list of priorities when you step into office? Joe Biden: [I] know there is no greater challenge facing our country and our world today than climate change. [I have] been clear that the United States needs to raise our ambitions on an epic scale, and lead the rest of the world to do the same. [I] would take immediate action on day one of my Administration to meet this challenge and ensure the US achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. If we don’t get this right, nothing else matters. Elizabeth Warren: Climate change is a threat to the safety and health of Americans — and it disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable communities and communities of color. I will keep talking about plans to confront the crisis and a comprehensive, bold approach to addressing climate change would be a top priority in my Administration. I’ve already made clear that on my very first day as president, I will sign an executive order banning new fossil fuel leases and drilling offshore. I’ve put forward several proposals to confront our climate crisis head-on including my plan to make a $2 trillion investment over the next 10 years in green research, manufacturing, and exporting. It will also spur the kind of worldwide adoption of American-made clean energy technology needed to meet the international targets of the Green New Deal. And let’s be clear: Right now Washington works great for Big Oil but not for communities across the country concerned about the climate crisis. We need to rein in the economic and political power of giant corporations, their lobbyists, and the wealthy and well-connected. The first thing I would do as President is pass my anti-corruption bill to end lobbying as we know it and make our government and democracy work for everyone. Bernie Sanders: [I]believe climate change is the single greatest threat facing us today. According to top climate scientists, we must act immediately to dramatically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, or we will suffer irrevocable environmental and economic damage. We are long overdue for taking this threat seriously, due in large part to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by multinational fossil fuel corporations to protect their profits and inaction and even denial from Republicans in Congress. [I]will do what it takes to avert climate disaster. We have many crises facing our country, from health care to education to income inequality, and [I] believe we must be able to “walk and chew bubblegum” at the same time in combating them. But climate change must be at the top of the list. We have a moral responsibility to leave our kids a planet that is healthy and habitable. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Pete Buttigieg: The timeline on climate has been decided by science, and the right time to get to net zero carbon emissions was yesterday. The next president can reverse the trajectory toward climate ruin that we’re on today. That’s why I will take immediate action to tackle this challenge head-on. Tom Steyer: Climate change is a crisis as big and urgent as any other that this country and our planet has faced. It demands our immediate attention on all levels of government and society. Our country needs a strong president who will make this a top priority. On my first day in office, I will declare the climate crisis a national emergency and use the emergency powers of the presidency to implement a plan to build a safer, more sustainable world, with or without Congress. This is truly a global crisis and it is long past time for the United States to take the lead in solving it. Amy Klobuchar: [I have] said climate change will be a top priority of [my] administration. In [my] announcement speech, [I] said that [I] will get the United States back into the international climate agreement on day one of [my] presidency, and [I have] announced several more immediate actions [I] will take in [my] first 100 days including restoring the Clean Power Plan, bringing back the fuel-economy standards, and putting forward sweeping legislation to combat the climate crisis. The legislation will include: A massive investment in green jobs and infrastructure Climate research and innovation Environmental justice programs Rural energy development and better, greener transportation Carbon pricing State, local, and private incentives for the immediate adoption and deployment of clean energy technologies Incentives and support for tougher building codes, appliance standards, buy clean, and climate resilience. It will put our country on a path to achieving 100 percent net-zero emissions no later than 2050 and fulfill our responsibility to our communities and workers who have helped power this country. Mike Bloomberg: Fighting climate change will be a top priority during my first 100 days in office and every day after that. My first act as president will be to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement. I will also take immediate executive action to reverse the damage done by President Trump, speed the transition to clean energy economy-wide, and put America on track to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. I will nominate committed climate leaders to head agencies and departments, and direct them to propose new pollution and energy standards to move our power and transportation and buildings toward clean energy. I’ll work with Congress to pass a budget with new funding for building energy upgrades and electric vehicle deployment, and quadruple investment in clean energy research and development. And I will work with Congress to pass infrastructure legislation that prioritizes electrifying our transportation system and buildings, expanding access to mass transit and other alternatives to cars, and converting our power system to clean energy.
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What 2020 Democrats will do to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change
Exxon Mobil chairman and CEO Darren Woods arrives for a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, China on September 7, 2018. | Mark Schiefelbein/AFP/Getty Images Some candidates say they will hold polluters criminally accountable for their harm to the environment. To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the fifth question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page. Right now there’s a nationwide push to hold fossil fuel companies accountable via lawsuits, shareholder resolutions, and divestment for their contributions to climate change and campaigns to mislead the public. Do you support these efforts? What do you see at the government’s role in holding polluters accountable? Joe Biden: [I] will take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit over people and knowingly harm our environment and poison our communities’ air, land, and water, or conceal information regarding potential environmental and health risks. As president, [I] will hold polluters accountable. Plain and simple. Under the Trump Administration, the EPA has referred the fewest number of criminal anti-pollution cases to the Justice Department in 30 years. Allowing corporations to continue to pollute — affecting the health and safety of both their workers and surrounding communities — without consequences perpetuates an egregious abuse of power. [I] will direct [my] EPA and Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable — including jail time where merited. Elizabeth Warren: Yes, I do. I have introduced legislation to hold top corporate executives criminally accountable if, as a result of their negligence, companies pollute the air or cause harm to our environment. Bernie Sanders: Yes. [My] Green New Deal includes a comprehensive plan to hold fossil fuel executive accountable and end their greed once and for all. For decades, fossil fuel corporations knowingly destroyed our planet for short-term profits. The fossil fuel industry has known since as early as the 1970s that their products were contributing to climate change and that climate change is real, dangerous, and preventable. Yet, they kept going. Instead of working to find solutions to the coming crisis, the fossil fuel industry poured billions into funding climate denialism, hiring lobbyists to fight even the slightest government regulation and oversight, and contributing to politicians who would put the interests of fossil fuel executives over the safety and security of the planet. Fossil fuel corporations have fought to escape liability for the pollution and destruction caused by their greed. They have evaded taxes, desecrated tribal lands, exploited workers and poisoned communities. [I] believe this is criminal activity, and, when [I am] president, [I] will hold the fossil fuel industry accountable. Transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy cannot be done without standing up to fossil fuel corporations. As president, [I] will prosecute and sue the fossil fuel industry for the damage it has caused. When it was revealed in 2015 that the fossil fuel industry knew their actions were contributing to climate change decades ago, [I] sent a letter to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking her to open a federal investigation to find out whether the industry violated the law. [I] will ensure that his Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigate these companies and bring suits — both criminal and civil — for any wrongdoing, just as the federal government did with the tobacco industry in the 1980s. These corporations and their executives should not get away with hiding the truth from the American people. They should also pay damages for the destruction they have knowingly caused. We will also support state and regional action to determine the projected harm to communities and pave the way for actions that remunerate devastated communities requiring care and repair and the dollars to do it. [I] will make the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution by massively raising taxes on corporate polluters’ and investors’ fossil fuel income and wealth. We will raise penalties on pollution from fossil fuel energy generation. The EPA has historically under-enforced the existing penalties for polluting under the Clean Air Act. As president, [I] will raise and aggressively enforce those penalties. [I] will require remaining fossil fuel infrastructure owners to buy federal fossil fuel risk bonds to pay for disaster impacts at the local level. Federal risk bonds can then be paid to counties and municipalities when there are fossil fuel spills, explosions, or accidents. [I] will divest federal pensions from fossil fuels and use the Federal Reserve and other financial regulatory bodies to force and pressure and financial institutions, universities, insurance corporations, and large institutional investors still invested in or insuring fossil fuels to transition those investments to clean energy bonds. Pete Buttigieg: Climate change and climate security is the defining challenge of our generation. We should push for change through every available avenue. Corporate social responsibility means little if a company’s business practices are harming people, and we must have robust enforcement and serious accountability for wrongdoing. Tom Steyer: I strongly support the efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their corrupt actions to mislead and endanger the public — in fact, I’ve been directly involved in the divestment effort. I spent my years on Stanford University’s board successfully convincing them to dump coal holdings and pushing hard for full divestment from fossil fuels. It is time that we break the grip that these corporations have over our political system and strengthen laws that protect workers and the environment. In the past, once fossil fuel companies have gotten all the money they can out of a community or a piece of land they try to pull up stakes and move on without repairing the damage they’ve done in the process. This needs to stop. We need to step up enforcement and prosecute corrupt companies that poison our air and water. It is time that we tell these executives that they will not prevent us from taking action on the climate crisis, and create real — potentially criminal — consequences for actions they may have taken to knowingly spread false information and slow climate action. I will enact structural change that ends government giveaways to big corporate polluters, manages public resources for all Americans, and invests in a regenerative economy with good, clean jobs in fossil fuel communities. Amy Klobuchar: [I] support efforts to hold companies accountable for their contributions to climate change and campaigns to mislead the public. [I have] signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and believe we also need aggressive campaign finance reform that takes on the political influence of special interests like the fossil fuel industry. Mike Bloomberg: Polluters should be accountable for cleaning up the damage they’ve done. That’s why we have environmental rules and regulations that include civil and criminal penalties. President Trump has slashed those rules to benefit special interests, and that puts public health and our environment at risk. I will reverse his rollbacks and strengthen rules, including those that allow the Department of Justice to bring civil and criminal cases against violators of environmental and other laws. We will also improve how companies measure and report climate risks and climate impacts. More transparency allows investors to make smarter decisions, which encourages investment in companies that are helping to lead the way on climate change – and it gives companies information they need to allocate resources in ways that protect our planet and our economy.
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How 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls want to help communities vulnerable to climate change
Bela and Jaques Sebastiao begin the process of cleaning up their home after it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida on October 17, 2018. | Raedle/Getty Images Elizabeth Warren says she’ll expand infrastructure to protect vulnerable communities from extreme weather events. To find out how 2020 Democratic candidates would use their presidential powers to address climate change, we sent six key questions to every campaign. This post includes seven candidates’ answers to the fourth question. You can find answers to the other five questions on the landing page. Some communities are more vulnerable to climate change than others. Some communities depend on fossil fuel industries more than others. What will you do to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected during the transition to clean energy? Joe Biden: [I understand] how vulnerable communities — particularly communities of color, tribal lands, and low-income communities — are disproportionately impacted by the climate emergency and pollution. We cannot turn a blind eye to the way in which environmental burdens and benefits have been distributed unevenly along racial and socioeconomic lines — not just with respect to climate change, but also pollution of our air, water, and land. The evidence of these disproportionate harms is clear. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, African Americans are almost three times more likely to die from asthma related causes than their white counterparts. And, nearly 1 in 2 of Latinos in the US live in counties where the air doesn’t meet EPA public health standards for smog according to Green Latinos. And according to the federal Government, 40 percent of the 567 federally recognized tribes in US live in Alaska where the rapid pace of rising temperatures and melting sea ice and glaciers threaten the critical infrastructure and traditional livelihoods in the state. We cannot let this continue. [I] will reinstate federal protections, rolled back by the Trump administration, that were designed to protect communities. He will make it a priority for all agencies to engage in community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices affecting communities of color, low-income, and indigenous communities. [I] will: Hold polluters accountable. Under the Trump administration, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has referred the fewest number of criminal anti-pollution cases to the Justice Department in 30 years. Allowing corporations to continue to pollute — affecting the health and safety of both their workers and surrounding communities — without consequences perpetuates an egregious abuse of power. [I] will direct [my] EPA and Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable — including jail time where merited. Ensure access to safe drinking water for all communities. Communities across America are experiencing a water crisis, in water infrastructure, contamination, accessibility and so much more. Here in the US, from rural areas to cities, from Flint, Michigan to Merrimack, New Hampshire to Martin County, Kentucky, many Americans cannot safely drink their tap water. In much of the southwest and west, the problem is a lack of sufficient water, expected to exacerbate with a changing climate. [I] will make water infrastructure a top priority, for example, by establishing systems to monitor lead and other contaminants in our water supply and take necessary action to eliminate health risks, including holding polluters accountable and support communities in upgrading their systems. Ensure that communities harmed by climate change and pollution are the first to benefit from the Clean Economy Revolution. Low-income communities and communities of color don’t equally share in the benefits of well-paying job opportunities that result from our clean energy economy. For example, African Americans hold only 1 percent of energy jobs. As President, [I] will make sure these communities receive preference in competitive grant programs in the Clean Economy Revolution. And work to fulfill our obligation to all workers impacted by the energy transition and their communities, including coal miners and power plant workers. In addition, [I] will work to fulfill our obligation to all workers impacted by the energy transition and their communities, including coal miners and power plant workers. These communities powered decades of American economic growth, and they deserve our respect and support as we shift our country away from coal as an energy source. [I] will protect the pensions and health benefits that these workers have earned and invest in communities impacted by the climate transformation so that they, too, can succeed in the 21st century clean energy economy. More on [my] plan for coal and power plant communities is available at joebiden.com/climate. Elizabeth Warren: I support the Green New Deal, which seeks to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers. Specifically, I support the Green New Deal commitments to create high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hire local workers, offer training and advancement opportunities, and guarantee wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition to a non-fossil fuel economy. My plan for green manufacturing would inject a massive $2 trillion into green research, manufacturing, and exporting. An independent analysis found my plan would create 1.2 million good jobs right here at home. I also believe we need to work with farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, invest in sustainable farming and land use practices and build a more sustainable food system so everyone has access to healthy food. We must also invest in hardened infrastructure to protect people, particularly vulnerable communities, from extreme weather events. I also believe it is essential to respect the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and tribal governments and to engage in meaningful consultation with tribal nations on policies affecting their lands. My plan for public lands includes a commitment to restoring national monuments targeted by the Trump Administration and formally incorporating tribal stakeholders in the management of public lands. I’m also a sponsor of the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act — a comprehensive plan for investing in and rebuilding these islands, including by making their electrical grids more renewable and resilient and making significant investments in infrastructure. Bernie Sanders: [My] Green New Deal is not only a serious climate plan, but an opportunity to uproot historical injustices and inequities to advance social, racial, and economic justice, including redressing the exclusion of black, brown, Native American, and other vulnerable communities from the programs that made up the original New Deal. As president, [I] will ensure an inclusive, comprehensive process from start to finish. Workers and communities on the frontline of fossil fuel extraction, transportation and use and those most vulnerable to climate impacts must be involved from the creation and implementation of regulations and protocols to the distribution of funds and carrying out the work of the Green New Deal. And we will follow the Principles of Environmental Justice adopted at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. The goals and outcomes of the Green New Deal should continue to be developed under the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing with strong and consistent consultation with the communities most affected by the currently unequal enforcement of environmental laws. [I] will ensure justice for frontline communities – especially under-resourced groups, communities of color, Native Americans, people with disabilities, children and the elderly – to recover from, and prepare for, the climate impacts, including through a $40 billion Climate Justice Resiliency Fund. And providing those frontline and fenceline communities a just transition including real jobs, resilient infrastructure, economic development. [I] will invest $238 billion to clean up Superfund sites and $150 billion to clean up and revitalize brownfields, and other areas and communities that have been polluted by the fossil fuel, chemical and mining industries. We will spend $100 billion on fossil fuel well and mine cleanup. We will provide targeted regional economic development to communities especially in need of assistance during our transition to a clean energy economy. We will provide $130 billion for counties impacted by climate change with funding for water, broadband, and electric grid infrastructure investments. We will extend civil rights protections to ensure full access to the courts for poor and minority communities to seek legal protections by overturning the Sandoval Supreme Court decision that set an unreasonable burden of proof of racism for claims of environmental racism, including disparate and cumulative exposure to environmental health risks. We will fully survey and track pollution in vulnerable communities, ensure the creation and implementation of the Green New Deal is accessible to people with disabilities and non-English speakers, ensure equitable hiring standards, expand nutrition and home energy assistance programs, and much more to ensure that environmental justice is front and center as we transition to a 100 percent sustainable economy. And this plan will prioritize the fossil fuel workers who have powered our economy for more than a century and who have too often been neglected by corporations and politicians. We invest $1.3 trillion in a just transition to guarantee five years of a worker’s current salary, housing assistance, job training, health care, pension support, and priority job placement for any displaced worker, as well as early retirement support for those who choose it or can no longer work. We will do all of this and much more to ensure a just and equitable future for frontline and fence line communities including real jobs, resilient infrastructure, economic development. Pete Buttigieg: I believe that we’ve got to build a coalition to effectively combat climate change. There are some estimates that through better soil management, soil could capture a level of carbon equivalent to the output of the entire global transportation industry — we need to make sure farmers and rural America are a part of this solution. I would eliminate tax credits for fossil fuel companies, but dedicate funds to training workers in the industry for new careers. We also need to focus on resilience in vulnerable communities and build stronger infrastructure that can better withstand extreme weather. Tom Steyer: My Justice-Centered Climate Plan will not only provide clear air and water, but also honor the contributions and sacrifices of workers in fossil fuel industries and prioritize justice for communities that have been treated as environmental dumping grounds for far too long. While climate change affects us all, it hurts low income communities, indigenous peoples, and communities of color first and worst. I will implement a sustainable transition to clean energy that begins with creating a 50-state, community-led process to develop tailored local approaches that respond to the unique needs of communities. These community-led plans would see support from all levels of government. For example, the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps will effectively create 1 million jobs for young Americans, underemployed people, and displaced workers, and will work to diversify state and local economies currently dependent on fossil fuel revenues. Building a regenerative, diversified economy requires inclusivity that works to protect unions and workers entering new industries. Amy Klobuchar: As part of [my] sweeping climate change legislation, [I] will make sure climate resilient infrastructure investments will be targeted towards communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change, including communities of color and tribal communities. [I] also believe that we must fulfill our responsibility to our communities and workers who have helped power this country as we address the climate crisis and [my] legislation will include targeted financial support, job training, and direct federal investment that will create new jobs in communities that depend on fossil fuel industries. Mike Bloomberg: We will work to ensure no one is left behind by the transition to clean energy, including Americans in coal country and the low-income communities and communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by pollution from fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change. Coal helped to power America’s rise, but coal’s days are numbered and coal jobs aren’t coming back – and President Trump has given people in coal country nothing but empty promises. We’ll support career education and apprenticeship programs that help people in communities that have been dependent on fossil fuel jobs. We will work with cities and towns in those regions to invest in infrastructure, support small businesses, and create new jobs that pay good wages. And we’ll require that fossil fuel companies honor their benefit and pension promises to employees. We’ll also work to make every community resilient to the impacts of climate change, prioritizing environmental justice and starting with those that are most vulnerable. We’ll make sure that low-income communities see the benefits of a clean energy economy, including jobs and reduced pollution. We’ll create an Infrastructure Resilience Finance Corporation to strengthen communities against flooding, storms, and wildfires – and we’ll work to restore and strengthen our natural defenses, like wetlands and floodplains.
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We asked 2020 Democratic candidates 6 key questions on climate change
Katie Falkenberg/LA Times/Getty Images Here’s what they said. All of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates recognize climate change is a top priority for voters and have released detailed plans to confront it. For the most part, the candidates agree that the US must reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century at the latest. But beyond that, it’s been tough to compare where candidates agree and where they stand apart. Activists have said the crisis deserves far more time and attention, but the Democratic National Committee voted down holding an official climate change debate and has barred contenders from participating in third-party debates. The discussion that has taken place during debates was haphazard and, for the most part, shallow. However, the DNC left the door open to “forums” and “town halls.” CNN and MSNBC stepped up and devoted an unprecedented amount of airtime to questioning candidates about climate change. These discussions were useful but the serial interview format meant that candidates couldn’t challenge one another and viewers couldn’t easily compare all the proposals presented. But most voters don’t have hours and hours to devote to figuring out what executive orders candidates will sign, how they will hold greenhouse gas emitters accountable, and whether they would abolish the filibuster to accomplish their climate agenda. So we asked every 2020 Democratic presidential campaign to respond to six key questions on climate change. This allows candidates to answer in some depth and our readers to compare their answers directly, an opportunity they may not get at the next debate on February 19. Our questions are informed by two ideas: Candidates for president should be asked what they will do with the powers of the presidency to advance climate policy. While they may have interesting opinions on a whole range of subjects, presidential powers are circumscribed (despite what Trump seems to think). What ultimately matters is not what they will say or even what they believe but how they will use the limited powers available to them. Climate science is peripheral, not central, to climate politics. Candidates still feel obliged to say they “believe the science” on climate change, rather than simply talking about it the way they talk about other real things, like income inequality or diabetes. The climate discussion has been stuck on science for decades — just where conservatives want it. But it is power, not science, at issue in climate politics. Power, not differing assessments of the IPCC’s work, is what divides climate hawks from their opponents. Questions should focus on how to shift the balance of power. To this end, here are the questions we put to every candidate: A president has only 100 days or so in which to pass a few key priorities. Where does climate change fall on your list of priorities when you step into office? If Democrats win a narrow majority in the Senate, will you advocate reforming or scrapping the filibuster? If Republicans control one or both houses of Congress and legislation stalls, what executive actions are you prepared to take to reduce carbon emissions? Some communities are more vulnerable to climate change than others. Some communities depend on fossil fuel industries more than others. What will you do to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected during the transition to clean energy? There is a nationwide push to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their contributions to climate change and for their campaigns to mislead the public, via lawsuits, shareholder resolutions, and divestment. Do you support these efforts? What do you see as the government’s role in holding polluters accountable? The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier” in international conflict. At the same time, climate change stands to have the worst impacts on countries that contributed least to the problem. How should the US brace for global climate chaos? And what will you do to help other countries prepare for the impending disruption? You can read more about our reasoning behind these specific questions here. We received responses from Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bloomberg (as well as other candidates who’ve since dropped out). Here are the answers from the remaining candidates. —Umair Irfan and David Roberts
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Where the US already has a border wall with Mexico
Clothes hung out to dry at a migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, close to the US border wall. | Jillian Weinberger/Vox Nearly 25 years ago, the federal government divided Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, with a wall that looks a lot like the one President Trump wants to extend along the southern border. Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, are known as “Ambos Nogales” — “both Nogales.” The city straddles the border of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. For a long time, a hole-riddled chain-link fence ran along that border. Residents could cross back and forth with ease, and Ambos Nogales felt like one big community. As the longtime county sheriff, Tony Estrada, recalled, “On a Mexican holiday like Cinco de Mayo, they would actually let everybody come across the border. And it was a great celebration.” But in 1995, the federal government replaced the chain-link fence with a wall. Over time, that wall has been fortified with surveillance towers, more Customs and Border Protection agents, drones, and coils of barbed wire. In the 25 years since, the wall has changed the community and the lives of its members. It’s also had deadly consequences for migrants who want to cross into the United States. Now, President Trump wants to extend the Nogales model all along the US-Mexico border. It’s a drum he’s been beating since the 2016 race, a project that’s already started and that he’s campaigning on building out even further. In the final episode of the season, The Impact goes to Nogales with the Arizona Republic to find out why the federal government decided to build the wall, how it has changed Ambos Nogales, and how the wall has affected migrants who hope to cross into the United States. Further listening and reading: Rafael Carranza’s reporting in the Arizona Republic Maritza Dominguez’s work on the Valley 101 podcast USA Today Network’s “The Wall: A 2,000-mile search for answers” Radiolab’s Border Trilogy explores Operation Blockade and the federal government’s Prevention Through Deterrence policy Vox’s guide to where 2020 candidates stand on policy, including immigration
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Christopher Caldwell’s big idea: The civil rights revolution was a mistake
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Behind Johnson is Martin Luther King Jr. | Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty We debate. America is a divided country. If I asked you to work backwards to the origins of the culture war or to the event that set us on our current course, what would it be? Vietnam? Watergate? The Iraq War? Donald Trump? A new book by Christopher Caldwell, an influential conservative journalist, proffers a surprising answer: the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Caldwell’s book, The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, has become a must-read among right-leaning intellectuals. The book isn’t exactly an assault on the initial Civil Rights Act so much as an attack on its legal outgrowths. Caldwell doesn’t defend racism or the apartheid system the Civil Rights Act dismantled; rather, he argues that the civil rights movement spawned a whole constellation of other liberation struggles — for immigrants, for gay and transgender rights, for sexual freedom — that Americans did not sign up for and did not want. And the result of this steady encroachment is what Caldwell calls a “rival Constitution” that is incompatible with the original one and the source of a great deal of social unrest. There are a lot of fascinating observations in Caldwell’s book, and some conspicuous omissions, but it does scan as something of a rant, albeit a very eloquent one. White Americans, he writes, “fell asleep thinking of themselves as the people who had built this country and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races.” The notion that white Americans are at the bottom of any hierarchy seems far-fetched, but he’s right in a narrow sense. The price of leveling an unequal social order is often the resentment of people whose power has been diminished. Caldwell seems to think that price is too high. I reject Caldwell’s view of history, but I do think he identifies some very real tensions at the core of American life. And whatever you think of his diagnosis, this is an important book that’s worth engaging because it articulates what many Americans on one side of the culture war feel. I spoke to Caldwell by phone about his motivations for writing the book, what he thinks went wrong with the Civil Rights Act, and why he thinks white people — white men, in particular — are getting left behind. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Americans regard the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a great moral and political achievement. You call it an “oppression.” Why? Christopher Caldwell Well, what I said was that by November of 2016, there was a working majority in a presidential election that perceived it as an oppression. And the judgment that was made in the 2016 election was at least indirectly a response to the order that arose out of the 1960s. Sean Illing Who was oppressed by the order that arose out of the Civil Rights Act? Christopher Caldwell Of the book’s many narrative lines, the one that’s received a lot of attention finds the source of a lot of our conflicts in the legislative outgrowths of the Civil Rights Act. Overturning segregation meant overturning a lot of the democratic institutions of the South. Now you can argue that they were illegitimate or that they were invidious or they were exclusionary, but the federal government needed legal tools to overturn a functioning democratic system. And those tools wound up being adaptable to a whole range of other tasks. Sean Illing What other tasks? Christopher Caldwell Securing the advancement of women in corporations, securing the integration of immigrants in American society, winning rights for gays, winning rights for transsexuals. Set aside the merits of any of this, the point is that accomplishing these things involved empowering judges and regulators or bureaucrats more generally to make laws. And I think that a lot of people felt left out of that process. Sean Illing Do you think it would’ve been better to have left things as they were? Should we have allowed Jim Crow to end whenever the South decided the time was right? Christopher Caldwell The short answer to that is no. This book is in no way a defense of Jim Crow or segregation or anything like that. Sean Illing It seems to me that some cultural disorientation was an unavoidable consequence of any effort to create more equity in the system. And it was probably inevitable that progress on the racial front would lead to pushes for progress on other fronts. I guess I’m wondering what you think we could have done differently? Christopher Caldwell It’s important to say that this is really a work of history. I don’t lay out or propose an alternative path. This isn’t a road not taken book. But I will say that as long as the civil rights legislation was limited to solving the problem of segregation, it had a self-evident coherence for most Americans, and it had a set of boundaries. I think as you went on, and as it deepened, it deepened through new measures like affirmative action and busing. But more importantly, as it spread, it became an open-ended thing, and it became quite unclear to Americans where it stopped, and where the old system of just letting the local democracies still obtained. Sean Illing One consequence of the Civil Rights Act, in your words, was that it forced the issue of race “into every nook and cranny of the country.” That seems wrong to me. Not having to think about race was a luxury for white people in a world in which their power was unquestioned. The Civil Rights Act upended that by extending rights and power to more people, more groups. Christopher Caldwell I think you’re right about that. One thing you’ll have noticed in the book is that I make a lot of use of the legal scholars who were called critical race theorists. They were somewhat controversial in the ’90s, but I think there are a lot of them on campuses now. There’s one in particular named Alan David Freeman, who has focused a lot on this conception of victims and perpetrators. In the case of segregation, blacks were obviously the victims and whites were obviously the perpetrators. What Freedman says is that if you’re on the victim end, if you’re on the receiving end of this inequality, you live it as a deprivation of a lot of specific things and you’re not going to feel it’s fixed until you start getting those specific things, whether they’re material things like an equal shot in the housing market or just let’s say abstract things like respect and dignity. If you’re on the perpetrator’s side, then it looks to you like an ethical problem, and the moment you say,okay, we’re all equal, then the situation seems solved to you. And as long you don’t hear anyone endorsing the old system, then we’re fine. I think that’s a pretty accurate description of the sociology of this. Sean Illing The perception of privilege is worth circling back to, but I want to highlight a point you make in the book about the roots of this “rival Constitution” because I think it frames a lot of this discussion. You write: “Just half a decade into the civil rights revolution, America had something it had never had at the federal level, something the overwhelming majority of its citizens would never have approved: an explicit system of racial preference.” This is technically true since what we had was a separate but equal doctrine, and therefore not a system of “racial preference.” Is it your position that we should have preserved the separate but equal framework? Was the cure really worse than the disease? Spencer Grant/Getty Images A large crowd gathers in South Boston’s Columbus Park to protest federal court-ordered busing of black students to all-white neighborhood schools in 1975. Christopher Caldwell That’s an essay’s worth of arguing, but I just want to repeat that this book is not a defense of segregation. Sean Illing I don’t mean to imply that it is, and I’ll just say clearly that that’s not how I read it at all. But you do argue that the cure of civil rights legislation may have been worse than the disease of segregation insofar as it paved the way for all these other movements that steadily eroded the rights of Americans to organize their communities however they want. Christopher Caldwell Yes, only if you understand that it’s the extensions of the Civil Rights Act, not the initial treatment itself, that I’m talking about. What we’re talking about here is the unintended consequences and bureaucratic refinements and things that have to do less with the civil rights movement and the protagonists and antagonists of it. Sean Illing Well, let’s talk about some of those extensions so that it’s clear for readers. Part of your argument is that freedom of association is the “master freedom” that makes every other political freedom possible and that some of these extensions of civil rights, like anti-discrimination laws for gay Americans, undermines it. Do you really believe that, say, requiring a baker to sell cakes to gay couples obliterates the possibility of meaningful political freedom? Christopher Caldwell That’s an interesting case that I would want to study before I pronounce on it, but I’ll tell you in the abstract how I feel about that question. The question of whether to sell a cake to a specific kind of customer is covered under the public accommodations aspect of the Civil Rights Act. The problem in those cases, as I understood it, is that they were being compelled to write a message on the cake. I thought that that was the constitutional issue. But as I say, I didn’t write about that case as a journalist. I think there’s a sentence on it in the book, but I think it’s the free speech aspect and not the public accommodations aspect that’s the problem there. [Author’s note: Caldwell’s characterization of the Colorado baker’s case isn’t quite accurate. In that case, the plaintiff’s lawyer argued that the wedding cake itself, not any particular message, was expressive and so preparing it signaled a pro-same-sex marriage view.] Sean Illing What are some better examples in your mind that clarify the problem? Christopher Caldwell There are quite a number of them and they work in different ways. Look at the way bilingual education was brought into American life, for example, which was in a Supreme Court case that was called Lau v. Nichols in 1974. When the Supreme Court made its judgment [the Court ruled that the school system was required to provide equal opportunities and access to all students since it received federal funding], the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare began writing rules about what this necessary bilingual education would look like. At that point, the courts began giving ups and downs on whether schools were acting in accordance with the rules set up in the Education Department. So this was a new law and a new set of institutions that at no point had ever passed through the democratic part of the American system. There’s no bilingual education law. And one of the things that surprised me in the course of the book was discovering that when Michael Bloomberg in New York, as mayor, tried to shut down a couple of bilingual education problems, he wasn’t able to do it. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. It shows how a regime of new laws and institutions sprang out of the initial civil rights passage and was enforced without any input at all from the actual electorate. Sean Illing At one point, you write that white Americans “fell asleep thinking of themselves as the people who had built this country and woke up to find themselves occupying the bottom rung of an official hierarchy of races.” People will read that, fairly or not, as the cry of a reactionary, someone who doesn’t recognize the country anymore and hates what it’s become. Christopher Caldwell I don’t think of myself as a reactionary, but one of the unintended consequences of civil rights was to create a white consciousness. And I think that it’s the photographic negative of what we can call intersectionality. But, as I said earlier, as long as civil rights law was focused on segregation, it was both comprehensible and it had some boundaries which I think kept the country calm. But as it spread, you started having coalitions based on rights. And the two parties evolved around this coalition-building. So you have these rights-based coalitions that unite blacks, immigrants, the handicapped, women, gays, transgender people, everyone who benefits from these new protections. But as that happens, as these coalitional pieces come together, a segment of the population gets cut out from the conversation, and that segment becomes its own coalition, which is principally white Americans. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images President Trump attends a “Keep America Great” rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 10, 2019. Sean Illing “White consciousness,” as you put it, is like any other identity: It gets activated when it’s under threat or challenged. And this sort of reaction was an unavoidable consequence of any effort to level the playing field. This is a problem you accurately diagnose, and I just don’t see a way around it. Christopher Caldwell Well, I don’t give up hope for that, but I’m saying that it’s where we’re stuck right now and that’s a worrisome thing. Sean Illing Have the actual lives of white people been materially harmed? White people, by practically any measure, are still doing pretty well in this country, no? Christopher Caldwell What I’m saying is, there’s a feeling of loss among people. It’s tough to talk about white people because these developments have coincided with an extraordinary opening up of equality in society. Sean Illing I don’t doubt that feeling of loss, and I don’t want to diminish its importance. The question is, does the reality of loss track with the feeling of loss? Christopher Caldwell I think there are a lot of things that have been lost. Certainly that sense of cultural security that you described is part of it. But I think there’s also the sense of having lost sovereignty, of having lost self-rule. And there’s a sense that the country no longer responds to electoral and congressional politics the way it used to. So to go back to the conversation about gay rights. If you look at the debate over gay marriage between, say, 2003 and 2015, what you see is 33 consecutive referendum votes against gay marriage, three votes for gay marriage, and then a removal of the issue from the democratic part of society and the conferring of the authority to decide it on the judiciary. This is troubling to a lot of people from a constitutional perspective, and I don’t think it can be explained away in terms of a lost privilege or anything. Sean Illing Have you thought much about how this post-civil rights history might look from the perspective of the other side? How the price of stability in the pre-civil rights era might look through the eyes of someone whose dignity was sacrificed on its altar? Christopher Caldwell I thought about this the other day and I thought about a couple of people living in the same town. Say there’s a guy who lives in a medium-sized town, he’s gay, he’s now able to marry. He has two adopted children, and he looks at this rights revolution and he says, “Wow, I owe my whole life to this.” And that’s wonderful. At the same time, across the street from him might be a guy who doesn’t believe in gay marriage. The guy who doesn’t believe in gay marriage is not just someone who disagrees with him. It’s much deeper than that. And whether it’s for moral or religious reasons, he may hold his opponent’s lifestyle in contempt in a very serious way. This is a very difficult situation. The guy who disagrees with gay marriage may have a son who’s being taught about gender fluidity in school at seven years old. And that may bother him and he may say, “I never voted for this. No one in my neighborhood likes this.” And so he feels, with some cause, that he’s living in an undemocratic society. What I’m saying is, there are things to celebrate here but also things to worry about. The clash between the two sides is, in some ways, irreconcilable. Sean Illing I think you’re right about that, and it’s partly why your book ends in a rather depressing cul-de-sac. We’re not going to repeal the Civil Rights Act, nor are we going undo the progress of, say, the gay rights movement. And you know that. So where does that leave us? Christopher Caldwell I say that we have a situation in which the Democrats only get the full rights they desire by withdrawing certain freedoms of choice from the American public. And for the Republicans to get the full unbridled democracy that they want would require the repeal of the Civil Rights Act. But I’m not wishing for that. Again, this book is a history, not a manifesto. I simply wanted to describe the intractability of the partisan divide. I don’t think the Civil Rights Act is going anywhere either. So where does that leave us? Well, I’m not sure. The book is a description of where we are. And while it’s a conservative book, I do think there’s room for some common ground. I do not think that the Trump movement or the Republican Party more generally is a racist movement. I don’t think that, but I do think that Trump’s rise has something to do with these laws that were originally passed to fix our race problem. And it has to do with the way those laws have evolved. And this is something the left and the right can agree on, even if they can’t agree on the path forward.
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How the British royal family makes its money
This is what Harry and Meghan are giving up. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex took the whole world by surprise when they announced that they would seek financial independence from the British monarchy. In their announcement, they clarified that this meant giving up the part of their income that comes from the British taxpayers. But that’s not the only way the royal family as a whole makes its money. The British royal family is essentially a very wealthy landlord. Its members aren’t allowed to work aside from their official duties, but they can collect rent and profits from the numerous estates that are historically affiliated with them. These inherited estates form part of the Queen’s net worth, which, in 2019, was estimated to be about £370 million. It also makes an income from two other massive real estate portfolios, called the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. These include castle ruins that are now tourist attractions, but also whole villages, commercial real estate, and a cricket stadium in London. These portfolios made just over £20 million each in 2019; the money from the Duchy of Lancaster goes to Queen Elizabeth, and the Cornwall income goes to Prince Charles. The income Harry and Meghan receive from British taxpayers is where things get tricky, and it represents a sort of pact between the British public and the monarchy. The British monarchy once owned a lot of the iconic real estate that draws millions of tourists every year — the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace, to name a few. King George III handed these properties over to the government during his rule, and in exchange, the royal family receive a percentage of the profits from these properties in taxpayer money every year. These properties are known as the Crown Estate, which has grown to be an extremely profitable portfolio that includes commercial real estate in London. In exchange for that money, the royal family members are beholden to strict rules that dictate how they earn income and how much access they give to an aggressive press corps. They also have to follow standards to maintain the family’s brand and image so they can continue to draw tourists and tourism money to the UK every year. Because royals aren’t allowed to work outside of their official duties, and because a lot of the real estate the family earns income from doesn’t actually belong to it, the illusion of the royal family’s private wealth is greater than its actual net worth. Queen Elizabeth, the richest royal family member, is the 356th richest person in the UK, for example. In that regard, the couple’s “Megxit” may have been a financially savvy move. They’re able to hold on to their private inheritance and possibly also the income from the Duchies, while having the freedom to make income outside of this model by breaking free from the rules that come from taxpayer funding. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.
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Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma on her ravishing romantic masterpiece
Héloïse and Marianne comfort each other with the rolling sea behind them. | Neon “Titanic is the hugest success, and it’s because it’s totally queer,” says the French filmmaker. Few movies have ever hit me as hard as Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the new film from French director Céline Sciamma. (Read my review here.) Sciamma’s unique talent for capturing the lives of women who are rarely placed at the center of cinematic stories might not seem to be a particularly strong fit for a period piece about an aristocratic woman dreading her impending marriage. But in the story of the budding romance between Héloïse (the aforementioned aristocrat) and Marianne (the woman who will paint her portrait), Sciamma found a way to talk about so much of the history that usually is left on the cutting room floor, of the women and queer people of the past who are too often pushed to the edges of the stories we tell about times long gone. The movie is quietly radical in its gender and class politics, but it’s also wholly approachable. At one point when we spoke, Sciamma said she thought a lot about the movie Titanic while making her own film, and it shows. This is a classic love story, but one that hides considerable political depths. It’s also quietly radical in the way it uses digital cameras to depict the past, allowing for the capturing of images in lower light levels than would have been possible with more traditional methods. Whole scenes are lit seemingly entirely by fireplaces or candles, and Sciamma’s camera crew had to invent new methods of lighting scenes just to get the images the director wanted. There’s lots to talk about with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which is why I was so glad to speak with Sciamma when she visited Los Angeles (for the first time ever, she said) to attend the Golden Globes. (Portrait was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film there but lost to Parasite.) Our conversation ranged all over the map, from lighting rigs to Greek myths. It’s been lightly edited for length and clarity. Amy Sussman/Getty Images for BAFTA LA Céline Sciamma (center) attends the BAFTA Tea Party with Portrait of a Lady on Fire stars Adèle Haenel (left) and Noémie Merlant. Emily VanDerWerff This movie is so good at using the camera to relay the ways that women watch each other, or the way they look at things they want. I haven’t seen a movie capture that in quite the way this one does. How did you build that into the film at every level? Céline Sciamma I see [the movie] as a manifesto about the female gaze. I see this as such a strong opportunity to make new stuff, new images, new narratives. They are such powerful images, and they are so not seen. And you are in charge. You have a strong responsibility. But also, there are so many opportunities to be playful. To embody ideas that matter a lot to myself, but also to a lot of people. I see it as a really great dynamic for creating and also very fun visually. For instance, ask yourself the question of “how do you embody sorority?” The answer being, a long take, a wide shot, of three women in the kitchen with social hierarchy being totally turned around, with the aristocratic women cooking, whereas the maid is an artist and the artist is looking at the maid. And they’re silent. This is such a powerful image, and it’s so easy to make. People are telling me, “Oh, your film is a utopia.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but our utopias are not ideas we have in our minds. They’re not things we wish we were living. They’re rooted in our own experience.” I know about sorority, I know about an all-women world. It’s not a utopia. It’s part of my life. And that’s what I rely on to make these images. Emily VanDerWerff This movie is also about how the female gaze produces art and the way a woman who is an artist perceives the world. How true was that to your own experience as a woman artist? Céline Sciamma It is close. It’s also a portrait of women artists in general, because I did a lot of research on this period. I chose this moment of art history because there were hundreds of women painters at the time that had flourishing careers. We’re always being told about women’s progress and women’s opportunity — that we’re “getting there.” But it’s not true. It’s cycles. And we can see it today that we experience backlash also. And they did also, at the time. There was a strong female critic scene that we never hear about. And they were looking at women’s body of work more than their male colleagues were, for instance. The film is a love story, but it’s also about creating. That’s why I decided to depart from the biopic dynamic, which is always about this strong portrait of a strong woman and I think this is politically not good. It’s very liberal. It’s about, “Oh, you can make it in this hard world!” And strong women — what’s “strong”? I wanted to invent [a woman] to talk about [all women] and not have this heroic dynamic. It’s not about her body of work. It’s about an artist’s work, her questions, her difficulties, and her success within one frame. It’s not about a destiny. That was really important for me, to show somebody at work. Neon Here’s the lady on fire you’ve heard so much about. Emily VanDerWerff What do you think is powerful about examining the historical limitations placed on women and queer people? There are certainly lots of critics and artists who want to create narratives of empowerment, and those can be great. But I sometimes love stories like this, about the limitations that can be placed on us, even more. Héloïse’s mother can basically tell her who to marry, for example. Céline Sciamma Héloïse’s character is much more restrained, even though she is an aristocratic woman, than Marianne’s character. The tragedy of lesbian life is not the tragedy of lesbian representation. It’s not the same. Lesbians have been activists. They’ve had the opportunity to live their life more freely sometimes, than straight women, because they could avoid a lot of things, like getting married and having children. If you look at the suffragettes, for instance, lesbians were there. The tragedy is that we get erased from history. But we are activists and sometimes more in the position to be. They talk about that in the movie. Marianne [who can live more openly] seems to have more opportunity than Héloïse. These stories are really dangerous for patriarchy. That’s why the male gaze is obsessed with representing lesbians, for instance. It’s a way to control it. Our stories are powerful because they are dangerous. We are dangerous. So it’s a very good strategy to despise us — to undermine us — because it’s giving us less leverage for a very powerful political dynamic. The narrative of the film is based on equality among the love story, because there is no gender domination. Embodying equality in a love dialogue could be a wake-up call for a lot of persons. That’s why it’s so important to tell stories. It’s to represent us, so a lot of people feel seen. And the film is about that mutual gazing. But it politically involves much more than our stories. Emily VanDerWerff When you see the man sitting at the table late in the film, after having spent so long with only women, it’s such a shocking moment. Céline Sciamma Yeah, it’s a jump scare of patriarchy. Like, they look like that. We forget how they look. [laughs] Neon Sophie (left) and Marianne form an unlikely friendship. Emily VanDerWerff I’ve been wondering how you captured some of those shots in such low light. Was it shot digitally? Céline Sciamma Yeah. It was a very strong choice to shoot in digital, especially with a period piece. We tried 35 [millimeter film]. When we did the tryouts, my director of photography Claire Mathon and I wanted to shoot digital for one reason. We wanted to give back to these women from the past their hearts, their desire, the rush of blood to the cheek. It was a love story, of course, but it was also a movie about the rise of desire. We wanted to look at desire, which is something we rarely see because of the strong convention in cinema of love at first sight. We always agree that of course you’re going to totally fall in love. Digital was about the rush of blood. Like, can you feel this? We began with shooting the exteriors for eight days. I wanted it to be kind of gothic, so it’s colorful, but it’s more Brontë sisters, the gray and the rain. And it was super sunny [when we shot the exteriors]! Cinema is about welcoming things with enthusiasm, especially things that you don’t have power over. You have so much power over everything that sometimes it can be super disturbing that you don’t get what you expect, especially with period pieces where you design everything. And the fact that the sun came in, we were like, this is good news, and we have to bring back this light now to our castle in the Parisian periphery [where the interiors were shot]. The lighting was taking a lot of time, because the castle was very old, so we couldn’t put anything on the walls — no lighting, nothing. So it was all coming from the outside. You know, this big structure with a lot of light involved. So every scene was very smoothly lit [to mimic the look of the bright sun]. Sometimes it’s painful, because you have less time with the actors and you dedicate a lot of time to the light. In cinema, the time you devote says a lot. And every shot was very, very precisely lit. Emily VanDerWerff Greta Gerwig gave an interview where she said that before she shot Little Women, Steven Spielberg told her that if you’re making a movie set in the 1800s, it really needs to be shot on film. Normally, I’d agree with that, but I think your film captures how it would feel to be in a room where there’s only the one light source, a fireplace or candle or something. How did you create that world where there might be only the one light source over in the corner or the wall, and it’s dark everywhere else? Céline Sciamma You had to be very inventive. Period pieces are all about choosing what you’re going to do with the candles. And a character walking with a candle took so much [light] around. Sometimes the actors, they couldn’t move. They were surrounded with rope lights that were invented by the camera crew. You invent your own way of lighting things, which is a lesson you can learn from Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon,where he actually invented optics to find the right candle lighting. I entered the room, and I was amazed. It was really like a fantasy world with a lot of rope lights everywhere. And it’s pretty radical in a way, because it’s not naturalistic, yet it feels so true. Emily VanDerWerff The movie’s class politics are interesting, too. Even though Marianne has a little bit more freedom than Héloïse, they both have more freedom than Sophie, the maid. How did you want to talk about class in the middle of all of these other sociopolitical dynamics? Céline Sciamma It’s two levels. It’s trying to embody how sorority can abolish social hierarchy but within a collective, small group with a kind of friendship. But that doesn’t mean that we’re naive. Sophie’s basically more stuck than any of them. But it’s also about the narrative and how the story never portrays her as the servant. She’s never in the frame if she doesn’t have something to say or a stake for herself. She’s never an extra. She disappears from the movie for a long time, and then she comes back when she has her own journey, which is a way to treat her as a whole character, but not by taking the step of showing the oppression and being oppressive with the character and by making her perform what’s expected from a maid in cinema. Does she know about their love story? We’ll never know. This is a decision that the film makes that is not a betrayal to the reality of the maid but that actually embodies her as a full human. That’s how cinema can bring more equality without being in a fantasy. Emily VanDerWerff In talking about how this movie depicts sorority and lesbians being at the forefront of political revolutions, I’m reminded that Sophie has an abortion in this movie. It feels like such a necessary part of the story, but if you really think about it, it’s not as central as the love story. What made it so important to put in the film? Céline Sciamma It’s a two-step scene. Because there’s an abortion scene, and the three women then represent the abortion by painting it. And, I always thought about that in this two-step thing, which some people find disturbing. There’s this French author named Annie Ernaux, and she wrote a book about her own abortion, and in this book, she says there is no museum in the world where there is a frame called “The Abortion.” It’s an everyday thing, but it’s never represented. And why? When you’re looking at something that hasn’t been represented much, you’re filling a void. But it has to belong to this film. It’s not about making an abortion scene. It’s about making the abortion scene of that film and the fact that there’s a child on the bed consoling [Sophie as she goes through the abortion]. It’s the grammar of the film, which is a lot about people consoling each other. Those three things were really important to me in the process of making this scene. And also telling the audience that abortion is not about not liking kids. It’s about having the kids you want, when you want. Emily VanDerWerff When they create the painting of the abortion, it’s almost as if they all wordlessly agree it has to be done. I’ve seen a few people saying, however, that they felt like Sophie wasn’t asked how she felt about Marianne recreating this moment for a painting, and that’s maybe uncomfortable for her. What made that moment so potent for you? Céline Sciamma That scene is about the collaborative dynamic in the film. I really wanted Héloïse [the model] to have the input [on the painter]. “Look,” she says to the painter. “You should look.” She knows. What I wanted to embody in that scene is the input, the idea, the intellectual process of representing the abortion belongs to the model. I really wanted to talk about this model-painter dynamic in a different way, because, you know, that was the only opportunity women had to be in workshops of the painter was to be models. There were very few opportunities to be artists because they didn’t get the education. And I really wanted to show that dynamic because these characters have ceased that dynamic. They weren’t silent, naked, inspiring women just because they’re beautiful in the room. They were very active, and they put all their brains into this. And that’s also what I wanted to show. And also, the movie is fully about consent and how consent is also super erotic and super sexy. Sophie, even though she went through this, she’s being asked what she wants. And each time they touch each other, they never touch each other without asking first. We tried to make it very mutual. Neon Marianne and Héloïse delight in their newfound love. Emily VanDerWerff What about the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which Marianne, Héloïse, and Sophie have very different opinions on, makes it such a good grounding point for the film? Céline Sciamma The film represents a lot of mythologies about the model and the artist. Orpheus and Eurydice is a myth that has been looked at by feminists a lot, because it’s basically about how the male gaze can kill you. This tradition of looking at Orpheus and Eurydice like that and trying to see the point of Eurydice was, for me, a way to play with this myth. I wanted those women to have strong intellectual conversations and perspectives, and I really crafted that scene where they talk about Orpheus and Eurydice as a “Netflix and chill” scene. You know? They get to talk about it, and each one has their own perspective. We look at myth as something from the past that can give us lessons. Myth is not about the lessons. It’s not about the morality of it. It’s about the tension. And I wanted to embody that: the tension and the question. Emily VanDerWerff We’ve talked a lot about the power of gaze, of being able to see someone. But what’s the power of being seen, of Héloïse and Marianne finally seeing each other? Céline Sciamma It’s super hard to answer this question! [Being seen] makes you kind of fragile. Maybe that’s why people are so afraid. Maybe that’s why there are so many power dynamics in love stories. I think it’s about being totally fragile. It’s like the shot-reverse shot dynamic at the moment when the painter realizes that she’s being looked at, when Héloïse says “Well, if you’re looking at me, who am I looking at?” Suddenly, there’s a wide shot of her behind the canvas and she seems so fragile and lonely. But it definitely makes her shift and makes her a better lover and a better artist. Emily VanDerWerff I have been thinking about love stories where it feels like the two lovers actually see each other, and they almost always end tragically, like we can’t believe that could be a sustainable dynamic in some way. Céline Sciamma Yeah. For instance, Titanic. Titanic is the hugest success, and it’s because it’s totally queer. Leonardo DiCaprio was totally androgynous at the time. DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were both not known — not stars — so there was no power dynamic between them. Like, if you look at the sex scene in Titanic, she’s on top. He’s the one who’s being totally fragile and insecure. I think it was a huge success because it’s a love story with equality and with emancipation. I think the movies are in dialogue. I thought a lot about Titanic because it’s also the present of a love story and the memory of a love story. A successful love story should not be about eternal possession. No, it should be about emancipation. And it is an emancipation story, because maybe [Kate Winslet’s character in Titanic] lost this love, but we see her being free and riding horses and wearing pants. It’s all about emancipation. The success of a love story is not about how long it lasts. It’s not about ending your life together. Him dying is tragic, but it’s not the end of the story. In equality, there is emancipation. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is in theaters now. It will expand throughout the country in the weeks to come. The Criterion Collection will release it on DVD and Blu-ray later this year.
7 h
vox.com
Mike Bloomberg has a plan to clean up electricity and it doesn’t need Congress
Like everything in stock art world, natural gas power plants are beautiful at sunset. | Shutterstock Bloomberg would supercharge the EPA to get rid of coal and block new natural gas. This piece was originally published on December 17 and has been lightly updated. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is a problematic presidential candidate for all sorts of reasons. Progressives are irritated that he is attempting to brute-force his way into the Democratic primary by spending more on ad campaigns than the rest of the primary field combined. Then there’s his lamentable record on civil liberties and race relations. And the fact that he was a Republican as New York City mayor, he endorsed George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection, and he has given money to and hosted fundraisers for Republicans as recently as 2018. When it comes to climate change, however, Bloomberg’s record is almost entirely positive. He was instrumental in standing up and funding the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which has been one of the most ruthlessly effective activist campaigns of my lifetime. Recently, the Associated Press, in a “fact check,” rebutted the notion that Bloomberg is single-handedly responsible for all recent coal-plant closures — and it’s true, market forces helped, as did government policy. But everyone who has paid attention to the power sector knows that the kind of activist pressure he has supported frequently makes the difference at the margin. More recently, Bloomberg pledged $500 million to an expanded Beyond Carbon campaign, which will shoot for a 100 percent clean-energy economy, taking on not only coal but also natural gas, the next key battle in US decarbonization. This fact has not received enough attention — if Bloomberg brings the same discipline and credibility to the anti-natural gas fight that he brought to the anti-coal fight, it could help shift the national landscape. Which brings us to the Bloomberg presidential campaign’s first policy proposal on climate change, released in December. (In January, he released a second plan to make buildings zero carbon by 2025.) The first plan is worth noting for just this reason: It explicitly targets natural gas. We’ll also replace existing gas plants – and stop the construction of new ones. This is critical to stopping the worst effects of climate change because gas is now a bigger source of climate pollution than coal, and emissions from gas are growing. https://t.co/9XCU1xBFYJ pic.twitter.com/IweS27Etsk— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) December 13, 2019 The premise of Bloomberg’s campaign is that he is an experienced, level-headed executive, ready to run things with a steady hand. In keeping with that theme, his plan for clean electricity — which targets 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions in the power sector by 2028 “moving toward 100% as soon as possible thereafter” — focuses entirely on executive powers. It presumes no legislative help. It contains only achievable promises, consistent with what can be done by a president, acting alone, within a president’s term. That is somewhat in contrast to the sweeping, speculative plans from the other candidates, and likely to make the plan unpopular among activists, but it is nonetheless a good perspective into what any Democratic president could do if Congress goes the wrong way. Let’s take a look. Bloomberg would supercharge the EPA to get rid of coal and block new natural gas There are several pieces to the plan, including financial support for clean energy technologies, removing fossil fuel subsidies from the tax code, a moratorium on new fossil fuel leases on public land, restoring scientific integrity at the EPA, and putting frontline communities and environmental justice at the heart of federal planning. But the two pieces I want to focus on have to do with coal and natural gas. Specifically, Bloomberg promises to shut down the remaining 251 US coal plants and replace them with clean energy. And he promises to “stop the rush to build all proposed gas plants.” Coal plants will be shut down by “increasingly stringent emissions and pollution limits.” Elsewhere, he promises to restore and strengthen all the rules that Trump has been rolling back, so presumably those limits will include tightened regulations on mercury and air toxics, coal ash, SO2 and NOx, and other air and water pollutants. But the centerpiece, according to campaign advisers, will be a version 2.0 of Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which Trump has also rolled back), targeting 80 percent power-sector carbon reductions by 2028, as well as sharp reductions in local pollutants like SO2 and NOx. As part of our Beyond Coal campaign, we’ve closed more than half of the coal plants in the country - even with President Trump working against us. We’ve set a goal of retiring all of them and replacing coal with clean energy sources. https://t.co/9CyzVPQlgg pic.twitter.com/4bfjafrmPi— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) December 13, 2019 A new CPP that stringent, focused primarily on public health, would wipe out coal power plants. But it would also hit natural gas plants. In addition, to head off the current incoming rush of new natural gas plants, Bloomberg’s EPA would issue a draft New Source Performance Standard (something else Obama did that Trump rolled back), which would require all new power plants to use the best available technology — namely, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) — to reduce GHG emissions (along with NOx, etc.). That would, at a stroke, cancel 99 percent of those new natural gas plants. (Who knows, maybe a plant or two will figure out how to make CCS feasible.) And because of a quirk of the Clean Air Act, a draft New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) has the force of law as soon as it is issued, but it can’t be challenged in court until it is finalized, which is one reason industry loathes the NSPS provision. (Coal baron Robert Murray took this to the Supreme Court and lost.) Companies will have to begin aligning their future plans around the NSPS the moment a draft is issued. There are also other tools in the executive toolbox with which to go after natural gas, including national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for NOx, soot, and ozone, but it is mainly the combination of the CPP2.0 and the NSPS that would take out coal and natural gas. This is a targeted approach, going after the polluters in the sector, putting public health out front. It lacks a certain inspiration factor, but it has the considerable virtue of being something that a president — at least a president willing to hire good people and invest political capital — has a high probability of being able to accomplish. All executive actions will face court challenge Of course any new rules from a Bloomberg EPA would immediately face legal challenge, many of them would end up in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court shows every sign of being hostile to environmental and climate change rules. There is a decent chance a Roberts Court would kill some or all of any activist EPA’s efforts. However, there are some countervailing considerations. First, what the hell else is a president going to do? While Congress mucks around, or just as likely does nothing, a president has to act on the priorities that got him or her elected. Using the powers of the presidency entails court review. The rules can be thoughtful and legally solid, but there’s ultimately not much the president can do if federal or Supreme Court judges choose to act as a partisan enforcers. (There’s no word on whether Bloomberg would support more radical measures like packing the Supreme Court or the federal courts.) Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Not a hopeful alliance for climate hawks. Second, if there’s one thing to learn from Obama’s experience, it’s that deliberate, careful sequencing gets you nowhere. Obama didn’t pull the trigger on EPA carbon regulationsuntil it was beyond clear that there would be no climate change legislation. Many carbon-related rules didn’t have time to go into effect or be upheld in court. In retrospect, Obama should have done what Trump has done: blitzed. Do everything at once. Overwhelm the capacity of opponents to focus. For Bloomberg, that could mean a whole suite of new agency rules, all at once, alongside whatever may be going on legislatively. The Supreme Court simply doesn’t have the capacity to hear more than a fraction of the resulting lawsuits, and in federal courts, despite the hack judges McConnell is churning out, the legal defenders of Obama regulations have racked up a solid record. Campaign advisers also note that rules premised on public health have a longer and more robust record than carbon-focused rules. Third, even as cases wind their way through the courts, companies will be realigning around the new targets. That’s what happened around Obama’s CPP, and although that rule ultimately never received a decisive court judgment, companies began shifting their business plans in response. Consequently, next year the US will reach the initial CPP goal — 32 percent power-sector carbon reductions from 2005 levels by 2030 — a decade early. The same would happen in response to a CPP2.0 targeting 80 percent reductions by 2028, issued early in the next president’s term. By 2024, or whenever the case finally reached the Supreme Court, companies will have realigned around the new direction (which will be reinforced by renewed international climate efforts). What to take away from Bloomberg’s plan I don’t personally think much of the idea of Bloomberg as president and I don’t think he has much of a shot anyway — he failed to qualify for the next debates — but on climate policy, perhaps uniquely among policy issues (save gun control), it is worth listening to what he proposes. He is an unconventional face for an environmental campaign and has, for better or worse, brought attention and credibility to the fight against fossil fuels among audiences environmentalists can’t always reach. Having followed politics for years, I am intensely skeptical of claims that executive experience is any special preparation for the presidency. (Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump promised to “run the government like a business,” so ...) But Bloomberg’s executive experience really does seem to have helped the Beyond Coal campaign. As its leaders were the first to say, Bloomberg helped focus the campaign relentlessly on data and accountability, imposing a discipline that is, ahem, not always present in the nonprofit advocacy world. And it paid off — almost 300 plants, more than half the US fleet, have shut down. “In God we trust, everyone else bring data.” @MikeBloomberg #Bloomberg2020 pic.twitter.com/ZaO7idhXqC— N.C. for Mike (@NCforMike) December 15, 2019 The Bloomberg plan promises “incentives for innovations in data and technology to monitor and analyze sources of pollution, enabling stronger enforcement against polluters.” This suggests he wants to bring that same data-focused accountability back to the EPA. If he, or any president, can do that successfully, it would make a huge difference. Bloomberg has more climate policy on the way. The campaign has also pledged to target 50 percent economy-wide emission reductions by 2030, a more ambitious goal that will certainly require some help from Congress, especially in hard-to-reach sectors like industry and agriculture, but it hasn’t released any policy details on that stuff yet. Still, a practical but ambitious plan to use the EPA — to prevent a rush to natural gas plants, to drive coal underground for good, and to accelerate a clean-energy transition in the power sector — should be on the agenda of any new Democratic president. And it should get underway on day one, whatever broader legislative efforts may unfold alongside it.
7 h
vox.com
Everywhere basic income has been tried, in one map
Grace receives $22 a month as part of a 12-year universal basic income study run by the charity GiveDirectly that began in October 2016 in Western Kenya. | Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images Which countries have experimented with basic income — and what were the results? After hundreds of years, basic income seems to be finally catching on. The general idea — that the government should give every citizen a regular infusion of free money with no strings attached — has been around since the 16th century. But it’s experienced a remarkable resurgence over the past few years, moving from the fringes into the mainstream. Advocates ranging from tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to libertarian economist Milton Friedman have endorsed it. Andrew Yang popularized it on the Democratic debate stage. And around the world, countries are running pilot programs to test it. Scott Olson/Getty Images Andrew Yang campaigning in Manchester, New Hampshire, on February 8, 2020. Yang touted a universal basic income during his presidential campaign. With a few exceptions — Kenya, where a big experiment in universal basic income (UBI) is underway; Iran, which has a nationwide unconditional cash transfer program; and Alaska, which gives an annual dividend to everyone in the state — basic incomeprograms are offering money to small groups of a few hundred or a few thousand people, not an entire polity. In other words, they offer a basic income, but not a universal basic income. These small-scale trials are necessary because governments want to have a good sense of what the effects will be before they start shelling out many billions or trillionsof dollars. Proponents of basic income argue it’s the best way to end poverty: Just give everyone money! Some also say it’ll help society cope with a coming era of automation-induced joblessness. And the evidence so far suggests that getting a basic income tends to boost happiness, health, school attendance, and trust in social institutions, while reducing crime. But critics worry that it will disincentivize work, cheating economies out of productivity and cheating individuals out of the sense of meaning that work can bring. Plus, they say, it’s just plain unaffordable for the government to pay every citizen enough to live on regardless of whether they work. The evidence so far does not support these critiques, as you’ll see. Below are all the places that are trying or have tried some version of basic income. You’ll find that only unconditionalcash transfers are included here. Some 130 countries, from Mexico to Italy to Uganda, have instituted conditionalcash transfers, which may require recipients to send their kids to school or go for health checkups. Although these programs have proven beneficial in some cases, they’re not the subject of this piece. Note that most of the basic income projects here are funded by governments, but a few are funded by private donors. Scroll down for details on how each place gave out or is giving out free money — and what behavioral effects it seems to have on the recipients. Christina Animashaun/Vox United States The US has tried a few basic income experiments, but most have been short-lived small-scale trials. Alaska is an exception. Since 1982, the state has given each citizen an annual check just for being alive, effectively wiping out extreme poverty. The money — which can range from around $2,000 per person when oil prices are high to $1,000 in cheaper gas years — comes from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state-owned investment fund financed by oil revenues. Economists investigated whether the payment was leading people to work less and found that “the dividend had no effect on employment” overall. (It has, apparently, had an effect on fertility, encouraging families to have more kids. It’s also had some unexpected effects onthe state’s politics.) Mark Thiessen/AP Katherine Hayes demonstrates urging Alaska lawmakers to fund a full oil wealth fund check, known locally as the PFD or Permanent Fund Dividend, on July 8, 2019, in Wasilla, Alaska. Another long-running program is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Dividend in North Carolina. Since 1997, revenue from a casino on tribal land has been given to every tribal member, no strings attached. Each person gets on average somewhere between $4,000 and $6,000 per year. Economists found that it doesn’t make them work less. It does lead to improved education and mental health, and decreased addiction and crime. Between 1968 and 1974, the US experimented with giving cash to around 7,500 people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, Seattle, Denver, and Gary, Indiana. The money proved beneficial to recipients but did modestly reduce the hours they worked; Dylan Matthews has explained for Vox why we shouldn’t make too much of that slight reduction. What about current projects? Stockton, California, is in the midst of an 18-month experiment: It’s giving $500 per month to 125 people. The money comes from individual and foundation philanthropy, with the initial $1 million in funding coming from the Economic Security Project. The first batch of data shows the recipients are mostly spending the money on food, clothes, and utility bills. Y Combinator, which previously ran a small trial in Oakland, California, is now planning to start a new trial elsewhere in the US. Canada Between 1974 and 1979, Canada ran a randomized controlled trial in the province of Manitoba, choosing one farming town, Dauphin, as a “saturation site” where every family was eligible to participate in a basic income experiment. The basic income seemed to benefit residents’ physical and mental health — there was a decline in doctor visits and an 8.5 percent reduction in the rate of hospitalization — and high school graduation rates improved, too. Nevertheless, the project, known as “Mincome” andfunded jointly by the provincial and federal governments, was canceled after four years when a more conservative party came into power. Four decades later, another Canadian province, Ontario, was willing to try again. In 2017, the Liberal government launched a basic income pilot project in three cities: Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay. It was supposed to help 4,000 low-income people and last for three years. Rob Gillies/AP Jodi Dean with her daughter Madison in Hamilton, Ontario, on November 21, 2017. Dean, a Canadian mother of three, received her first basic income check one month prior. She said the extra money gave her family “the breathing room to not have to stress to put food on the table.” But then a new Progressive Conservative government came into power, led by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. In 2018, they canceled the project after hearing from staff that it disincentivized participants from finding work. However, the pilot had only been active a short time, not long enough to gather the data required to support that claim. A handful of participants have since filed a class action lawsuit against the government. Brazil Brazil has been experimenting with cash transfers to poor families since the 1990s, and it now runs the massive Bolsa Familia program, which gives millions of people cash transfers. This isn’t a UBI since the transfers are conditional — recipients are expected to keep their children in school and visit health clinics. But the massive program has formed the backdrop for Brazilian experiments in unconditional cash transfers. From 2008 to 2014, a Brazilian nonprofit called the ReCivitas Institute administered a basic income — funded by private donors — in the village of Quatinga Velho. One hundred residents received 30 reais (about $8) per month. This year, around 52,000 people in the Brazilian city of Maricá are receiving a basic income under a new program called the Renda Basica de Cidadania (Citizens’ Basic Income). Each will receive 130 reais per month (around $35), which is expected to lift many above the poverty line. Because the money is coming out of the city budget, mostly from oil royalties, this program has the potential to stick around for a long time; it currently has no end date. Finland In 2017, the Finnish government decided to see what would happen if it chose 2,000 unemployed citizens at random and gave them a check of 560 euros ($635) every month for two years. Participants were assured they’d keep receiving the money if they got a job. As it turned out, the income didn’t help them get jobs, but it did make them feel happier and less stressed. The recipients also reported that they felt more trust toward other people and social institutions — from political parties to the police to the courts — than they did before getting a basic income. Finland ended the trial in 2018. Germany In 2014, the nonprofitMein-Grundeinkommen used crowdfunding to set up a basic income raffle. By the end of 2019, it had awarded almost 500 basic incomes to people all over the world who’d submitted their names. Each got about $1,100 per month for a year. According to FastCompany, 80 percent of recipients said the income made them less anxious, more than half said it enabled them to continue their education, and 35 percent said they now feel more motivated at work. In 2019, the nonprofit Sanktionsfrei kicked off another basic income project funded entirely by private donors. For three years, 250 randomly chosen people in Germany will receive unconditional transfers of up to $466 per month, while 250 others act as a control group. The Netherlands In 2017, Utrechtand a few surrounding cities kicked off a basic income experiment with 250 recipients as part of a randomized controlled trial. Some recipients got the money (around $1,050 per month) unconditionally, while others had to do volunteer work. The researchers’ aim is to figure out which way of delivering the financial assistance works best. Results are expected to be made public this May. Iran In 2011, Iran rolled out a nationwide unconditional cash transfer program to compensate for the phase-out of subsidies on bread, water, electricity, heating, and fuel. The government gave out sizable monthly payments to each family: 29 percent of the median household income on average. The program was later dialed back as some Iranians came to believe it was disincentivizing people to work. Yet economists found that “the program did not affect labor supply in any appreciable way.” The program is still running, and it’s the only such program in the world to run nationwide. Kenya The largest and longest UBI experiment in the world is taking place in Kenya, where the charity GiveDirectly is making payments to more than 20,000 people spread out across 245 rural villages. As part of this randomized controlled trial, which started in 2016, recipients receive roughly 75 cents per adult per day, delivered monthly for 12 years. Some preliminary results will be available later this year. In the meantime, we’ve already seen that in another GiveDirectly program in Kenya, cash transfers have stimulated the economy and benefited not only the recipients themselves but also people in nearby villages. AFP via Getty Images Samson, 72, at his home in the Bondo region of Kenya, on October 3, 2018. Samson receives $22 a month from the American NGO GiveDirectly. Namibia Between 2008 and 2009, all residents below the age of 60 living in the Otjivero-Omitararegion of Namibia received a basic income: 100 Namibian dollars ($6.75) per person per month, no strings attached, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Funding came from private donors in Namibia and around the world. As a result, child malnutrition dropped and school enrollment rates went up, while poverty-related crime (like theft) fell, according to reports from BIEN and the Center for Public Impact. However, a lack of alignment with the national government meant that the pilot project was never rolled out nationwide. India Between 2011 and 2012, a pilot project in the state of Madhya Pradesh gave a basic income to some 6,000 Indians. The project, coordinated by the Self-Employed Women’s Association and funded by Unicef, included two studies. In the first study, every man, woman, and child in eight villages received a monthly payment: 200 rupees ($2.80) for adults and 100 rupees for each child (paid to the guardian). After one year, the payments increased to 300 and 150 rupees, respectively. Meanwhile, 12 similar villages received no basic income, acting as a control group. In the second study, one tribal village received an income of 300 rupees per adult and 150 rupees per child for the entire trial. Another tribal village acted as a control. The results: Receiving a basic income led to improved sanitation, nutrition, and school attendance. EyesWideOpen/Getty Images An Indian family walk by a barber shop in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India, on February 1, 2012. China In 2011, following years of budget surpluses and under pressure to help poor and elderly people, Hong Kong tried out a program called Scheme $6,000. All adults with a valid Hong Kong permanent identity card— some 6 million people— were eligible to receivea one-time giveaway of HK$6,000 ($772) each. The public had a host of complaints about the program — for example, that administrative costs were eating up too much of the money that could go to citizens — and it only lasted one year. However, it was briefly revived in 2018 thanks to another budget surplus and round of pressure to help the needy. Macao, an autonomous region on the south coast of China, has been experimenting with basic income since 2008, when it began giving small but unconditional transfers to all residents —around 700,000 people — as part of a Wealth Partaking Scheme. Each year, local residents get around 9,000 patacas ($1,128) and nonpermanent residents get around 5,400 patacas ($672). Unfortunately, critics say these sums are too paltry to make a real dent in poverty. 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.
8 h
vox.com
Donating $10 billion isn’t the best way for Jeff Bezos to fight climate change
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a net worth of $130 billion. He’s donating $10 billion to the fight against climate change. | Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images Amazon is a mega-polluter. Cleaning house at the company should be the CEO’s top priority. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest person on the planet, has announced that he’ll donate $10 billion of his own money to fight climate change. That raises two questions: Is philanthropy really the best way for Bezos to pursue that goal? And even if it is, how will he make sure he’s choosing recipients who will make effective use of the new funding? “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share,” Bezos wrote in his Instagram announcement on Monday. “This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.” That sounds good, and donating $10 billion to address the climate emergency is certainly a commendable action, although it’s worth noting that figure represents less than 8 percent of Bezos’s total net worth of $130 billion. But the devil is, as they say, in the details. And Bezos’s announcement is very short on those. Some climate groups are far more effective than others, so depending on where exactly Bezos puts his money, he could have a vastly beneficial effect on the planet — or very little effect at all. There is, however, something Bezos could do right now that would be guaranteed to have a vastly beneficial effect on our climate: He could clean house at his company. Amazon is a mega-polluter, and although Bezos has lately pledged to decrease its carbon footprint in response to pressure from inside and outside the company, there’s a whole lot more he could do. The most effective actions Bezos could take to help the climate arguably have nothing to do with charity. He could make Amazon cut its carbon emissions much more quickly and stop working with oil and gas companies that use its technology to locate new fossil fuel deposits. That may not be as eye-catching as announcing a $10 billion gifton social media, but it would be a surefire win for the environment, whereas Bezos’s donations may or may not prove effective. How Bezos could make Amazon more climate-friendly In his announcement, Bezos wrote that his new Bezos Earth Fund will begin issuing grants this summer. He also said things like “climate change is the biggest threat to our planet” and “Earth is the one thing we all have in common — let’s protect it, together.⁣⁣⁣” What he did not mention is that his company is itself a big threat to the climate; it emitted more than 44 million metric tons of carbon in 2018 alone. That’s almost as much as a small country likeSwitzerland, Denmark, or Norway emits in a year. Nor did he mention that hundreds of his own workers, going by the name Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, have been pushing the company to improve even though Amazon has reportedly threatened to fire them if they continue to speak out. These employee activists were less than impressed with Bezos’s announcement on Monday. “We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” the group said in a statement. “The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells? When is Amazon going to stop funding climate-denying think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and climate-delaying policy?” In addition to harming the environment through its fuel-guzzling delivery vehicles and its copious plastic packaging, Amazon has also sponsored the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that promotes climate change denial. And through Amazon Web Services, the company continues to court oil and gas companies that use its technology to locate new fossil fuel deposits. Of course, if Amazon Web Services were to cut ties with these companies, they would probably go to one of Amazon’s competitors, like Microsoft. But the planet would probably still benefit. For one thing, a move like this on Amazon’s part could shift industry norms, putting pressure on its competitors to cut ties with oil and gas companies, too. But even if that doesn’t happen, it’s worth noting that Microsoft already has more ambitious climate targets than Amazon does. Greenpeace called out Bezos in a tweet on Monday, writing, “Why is Amazon providing advanced computing technologies to the oil and gas industry so it can discover and drill more oil, more efficiently? Jeff Bezos — if you want a climate safe future that OIL MUST STAY IN THE GROUND.” Last year, a Greenpeace investigation also found that Amazon data centers in Virginia, where the bulk of the company’s cloud infrastructure is located, are powered by only 12 percent renewable energy. To Amazon’s credit, the company has pledged to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2040. To that end, it’s ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles (from a startup that Amazon invested millions in last year). But it could be working faster to clean up its act, and, crucially, it could stop working with oil and gas companies that are actively harming the climate. How Bezos could effectively use donations to help the climate Bezos’s decision to donate $10 billion comes at a time when many are debating whether billionaire philanthropy is actually a good way to improve the world, or whether it’s a gambit that mostly enables the ultrarich to burnish their images and exert influence. Whether you like it or not, billionaire philanthropy exists. And if it’s going to keep existing, then we’d probably do well to figure out how donors’ resources can most effectively tackle our world’s biggest problems, including climate change. When I interviewed a range of experts on how billionaires can best spend their money to help the climate, some, as you might expect, mentioned research and development for clean energy technologies. Groups like Founders Pledge, Giving Green, and ImpactMatters, which conduct rigorous research to find the most effective charities, have identified some of the best organizations in this space. But other experts have pointed out that we already have a fair amount of good tech that can help us mitigate global warming. What we don’t have is political will. They say it’s most effective for billionaires to focus on the social and political conditions that would enable the tech to take root — for example, by building a robust climate activist movement or by getting Democrats elected to Congress and to the presidency. “We’ve got some solutions available already, but we’re not deploying at anything like the speed we need — that’s the ongoing power of the fossil fuel industry at work,” Bill McKibben, the author of The End of Nature and co-founder of 350.org, told me. “The only way to break that power and change the politics of climate is to build a countervailing power. Our job — and it’s the key job — is to change the zeitgeist, people’s sense of what’s normal and natural and obvious. If we do that, all else will follow.” McKibben pointed out that you don’t even need $1 billion, never mind $10 billion, to do this. “Look at the amount of good Greta Thunberg and her young colleagues have done while barely spending a nickel.” Alan Robock, an environmental science professor at Rutgers University, agreed. “I always say it’s more important to change your leaders than to change your lightbulbs. We need government action, both in regulations and in incentives,” he told me. “The problem is the selfish fossil fuel industry, which has captured the Republican Party and the White House. So I would spend my billion dollars getting Democrats elected to Congress and the presidency. They would then enact the policies we need.” Again, getting climate-friendly politicians into positions of power — Democrats or, for that matter, Republicans with a positive environmental agenda — would probably cost less than $10 billion. And it would likely be a very effective use of Bezos’s money. On the other hand, it would potentially open him up to the critique that he’s undermining democracy by directing his massive private assets to exert public influence. Critics of billionaire philanthropy might say Bezos is doing everything he can to diminish the tax contribution he makes to zero, then declaring himself willing to solve a public problem in the manner and time of his own choosing, and then taking a further tax break for creating a new charitable entity. As the political theorist Rob Reich has argued, “the citizens of the United States are collectively subsidizing, through foregone tax collection, the giving preferences of the wealthy.” Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, the North America director of 350.org, told me, “If I were a billionaire, I would first and foremost expect a hefty tax on my gross income that would allow the majority of Americans to live healthy and safe lives. One of the first places this financing should go is toward the Green New Deal.” It was unclear from Bezos’s announcement whether any of his donation could go to political campaigns, and Amazon declined to answer Vox’s questions on the matter. However, the Instagram post did say that activists will be among the recipients. In theory, the grantees could range from the well-established 350.org to the fledgling Extinction Rebellion, an activist movement that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to demand governments do more to stave off mass extinction. There’s evidence that focusing on movement-building is essential in the climate fight. For instance, Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth has argued that if you want to achieve systemic social change, you need to mobilize roughly3.5 percent of the population, a finding that helped inspire Extinction Rebellion. That’s not an impossible proportion of people to get into the streets — particularly if the activists doing the work get funded. It makes sense to fund activists and not only big research institutes or nonprofit organizations. Sometimes an organization has all the donations it knows what to do with, and more money won’t enable it to do more of what it’s good at. This factor, which experts call “room for funding,” will be important for Bezos to consider given that the sum he’s looking to spend is unusually large. 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.
8 h
vox.com
Meet the moderators of the Nevada Democratic debate
Moderator Chuck Todd and Hallie Jackson, NBC News chief White House correspondent, appear on Meet the Press in Washington, DC, on March 31, 2019. | William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal/Getty Images Six candidates are poised to face off in Las Vegas just days before the caucuses. Five journalists, including representatives of NBC News and the Nevada Independent, will moderate the ninth Democratic debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday, February 19. They are NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, Noticias Telemundo senior correspondent Vanessa Hauc, and Nevada Independent founder Jon Ralston. For Holt and Todd, Wednesday also marks their second time moderating in this Democratic primary cycle. The debate, hosted at the Paris Theater, will be broadcast on NBC News and MSNBC as well as the NBC News website, beginning at 9 pm ET. The timing of this week’s debate — which is the second to take place this month alone — is significant since it’s the last one before the Nevada caucuses on February 22. The event is set to feature six candidates who’ve met the latest qualifying criteria laid out by the Democratic National Committee: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and, for the first time, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. To qualify for this debate, candidates had to meet a new set of criteria set by the DNC, Vox’s Emily Stewart writes: Now, candidates have to hit either a delegate or polling threshold: They have to have landed at least one pledged delegate for the Democratic National Convention out of Iowa or New Hampshire, or they have to get either 10 percent or more support in at least four national, South Carolina, and/or Nevada polls, or 12 percent or more in two state polls in South Carolina and/or Nevada. Polls that take place between January 15 and February 18 will be considered. As the primary grows more heated — and Super Tuesday approaches — the debate is set to mirror this tension. The debate in New Hampshire, for example, featured prominent sparring between moderates Klobuchar and Buttigieg, and it’s likely even more candidates will take each other on directly on Wednesday. The moderators for Wednesday’s debate all cover politics in different capacities: Hallie Jackson: Jackson is the chief White House correspondent for NBC News and the anchor of the daily news program MSNBC Live. Lester Holt: Holt anchors NBC Nightly News, a daily program focused on breaking news in the US and across the globe. Chuck Todd: Todd hosts the news and commentary program Meet the Press With Chuck Todd, a show that airs weekly every Sunday. He also serves as NBC News’s political director. Vanessa Hauc: Hauc is a senior correspondent for Noticias Telemundo. Jon Ralston: Ralston has been covering Nevada politics for more than 30 years and is the founder of the Nevada Independent. The Democratic National Committee is making a concerted effort to increase the diversity of debate moderators The DNC has made a commitment to increase the diversity of debate moderators in the 2020 cycle, and has mandated that at least one person of color and one woman serve as a moderator in every debate. Given how historically white and male the debate space has been, greater diversity among moderators has been a priority for advocacy groups including NARAL, Emily’s List, and Color of Change. In an open letter last spring, the groups urged media outlets and other organizations to ensure that at least 50 percent of the moderators running the debates were women and at least 50 percent were people of color. UltraViolet, an organization dedicated to gender equity, spearheaded the letter, which also called out sexism in political media coverage writ large. Though the roster of moderators hasn’t always hit activists’ bar, thus far, the DNC has lived up to its pledge. It began the debates in Miami last June with a diverse group of moderators. The ninth debate will continue that trend: Of the five moderators, two are women and two are people of color.
8 h
vox.com
How a basic iPhone feature scared a senator into proposing a facial recognition moratorium
Sen. Jeff Merkley says that Apple software’s ability to recognize faces — as well as China’s authoritarian use of technology — pushed him to act. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Recode chatted with Sen. Jeff Merkley about everything from his iPhone to China’s treatment of the Uighurs. With just a picture of your face, someone armed with facial recognition software could find everything there is to know about you, from your name to your address to information about your family. That such tech could usher in an age of constant surveillance has many spooked. Recode recently chatted with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who recently introduced a bill aimed at curbing government use of facial recognition software after he noticed the technology at work on his iPhone — and saw the scope of its power in China's use of it against the country’s largely Muslim Uighur minority. News earlier this year that Clearview AI, a mysterious facial recognition startup, has scraped more than 3 billion photos from the web and social media, and provided that tool to more than 600 law enforcement agencies, has only fueled further concern. Several cities have now banned the tech, and late last month, 40 groups called for the use of the tech to be suspended. But US lawmakers haven’t yet moved to regulate facial recognition, though there are ideas. Proposals include prohibiting the tech in federally assisted public housing and requiring that commercial users of the tech gain consumers’ consent to use their data. Now there’s Merkley’s plan, in conjunction with Sen. Cory Booker: forbid the use of the tech by federal law enforcement without a court-issued warrant until Congress comes up with better regulation. Their bill, called the “Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act,” would establish a commission to study the technology and propose guidelines; it would prohibit sending federal money to state and local governments to “invest in facial recognition software, purchase facial recognition technology services, or acquire images for use in facial recognition technology systems.” But the American Civil Liberties Union’s Neema Singh Guliani warns that “a warrant doesn’t solve the fundamental concerns with face recognition.” She points to research showing that the tech can be biased and more inaccurate when applied to women and people of color, as well as the risk that the tech endangers our civil liberties and privacy. Merkley told Recode that the technology may be useful in investigations and that we can’t eschew it entirely. But he’s also fearful that excessive use of the tech will become a tool for “government tracking” of civilians. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Rebecca Heilweil To start, do you want to describe what you’re trying to do with your new proposal? Sen. Jeff Merkley I’m basically trying to take on the federal government from being a Big Brother government that tracks Americans everywhere you go. It’s a technology that’s spreading very, very quickly, and it has huge implications for privacy and for the power of government. And I think we should hit the pause button. So my bill basically says look, unless you have a warrant, you, the federal government, can’t use facial recognition as a tool. And you can’t use it until Congress explicitly authorizes its functions. … And to prepare the foundation for that conversation, I’m creating a commission to come back within 18 months for recommendations. So, it’s the sort of thing — if we don’t act and hit the pause button — it just spreads so quickly, so powerfully, that it’s very hard to turn back the clock. Rebecca Heilweil Was this in response to the news about Clearview AI and the New York Times report about law enforcement using that facial recognition tool? Sen. Jeff Merkley Actually, that came after I started working on this bill. The point that really caught my attention was how the Chinese are using facial recognition for the Muslim minority, where they have about a million people enslaved and they track them everywhere they go. It makes you understand what a powerful tool this is. Unlike fingerprints, which are hard to collect and you have to be very deliberate, you can capture people’s facial image with cameras set up everywhere, on streets, on doorways, in public settings, and so on and so forth. And databases can be combined, and of course, as Clearview is doing already, combining massive amounts of data. And it just becomes so easy to track. The temptation is always to let the government do more and more. The other thing that really caught my attention was, on my iPhone, when I was searching for a picture and stumbled into the fact that you could look and — when you hit the search function — different pictures will pop up of people. And you can hit that person and every picture that you’ve taken with that person in it will show up. Instant! And I’m just going, “Wow.” I was so stunned at how well it works. So, for example, when I searched on a picture of my wife or my daughter, even if their face is turned sideways, even if it’s in the shadows, it still seems to find them. And I’m just stunned at how well it works. So it’s extremely, extremely powerful. Rebecca Heilweil So the proposal has an exception for warrants. Why leave that in when other cities have banned the technology entirely? Sen. Jeff Merkley Well, a warrant is about authorizing a search where you have presented evidence of a crime. That seems a place where if you can catch somebody who is killing people or raping people or doing other serious injury to fellow citizens, I think that’s a legitimate use of the tool, one that citizens would probably overwhelming support in order to stop a criminal activity. Rebecca Heilweil But some would say that a warrant doesn’t address the bias and accuracy problems. As the National Institute of Standards and Technology has shown, these tools can have accuracy problems, especially when they’re applied to minority groups. Sen. Jeff Merkley In the case of a warrant, it’s an investigative tool. It puts you on the track of potential suspects, but it doesn’t create a case in and of itself. It takes a lot more evidence before a grand jury is going to proceed to say this person needs to be put on trial for something. And the victims may well be individuals from minority groups, or otherwise. I think, no matter who the victims are, folks would appreciate that this is a tool to track down someone doing injurious things. To think of it in the context of if your family member was horrifically hurt by someone who had already horrifically hurt others, and we didn’t utilize a picture that was taken by someone from a video camera or something when they entered a store and figure out who that person is, you would go, “Why didn’t we?” Why didn’t we stop that person before they hurt someone else? So I think that when there is a warrant process, that’s very different than just the everyday tracking of Americans. Those are different ends of the spectrum. Rebecca Heilweil It seems like what you’re saying is that you see a difference between constant surveillance and using facial recognition in an investigation. Sen. Jeff Merkley That’s right. Rebecca Heilweil Is there a federal agency already using this technology that you’re most worried about? Sen. Jeff Merkley Well, we know that the FBI uses it, ICE uses it ... I’m just concerned [about] these agencies that have the ability to access massive databases. And some of those databases are enormous in the private sector, as you had referenced, and are being sold. I’m very concerned about the government getting into this business of tracking everyone. I don’t think the government should be able to know where we go in our daily lives. And I’m very concerned about the private sector, too, but this bill is a way of starting the conversation in the place that I think is the biggest concern, and that’s government tracking. Rebecca Heilweil Any last comment? I’d like to give you the final word. Sen. Jeff Merkley If we don’t get in front of this issue and start holding hearings and debates and wrestling with it, it is going to grow to be so widely used so quickly that we will never stop it. And we will live in a constant surveillance state forevermore. Let’s not let that happen. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
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vox.com
Getting an abortion in “the most pro-life state in America”
Katie Caldwell is a patient advocate at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana. | Annie Flanagan for Vox Welcome to the Louisiana clinic at the center of the battle that could gut Roe v. Wade. SHREVEPORT, Louisiana — The first patients arrive around 10 am. They wear boots and coats against the December cold, but there’s coffee inside to help them warm up. Christmas figurines — a Santa holding a tree, a quaint house covered in snow — give the place a homey feel. In the waiting room, Friends plays on the TV. Even before they sit down, though, patients are confronted with reminders that this place is under threat. A sign on the door reads “internal and external security surveillance: 24 hours a day.” Another, nearby, asks patients not to speak to protesters. Then there is theominous poster on the waiting room wall: “The coastline of Louisiana is not eroding nearly as fast as a woman’s right to determine her own outcome.” This is Hope Medical Group for Women, one of the last abortion clinics in Louisiana, which was recently ranked “the most pro-life state in America.” Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 19, 2019. Security cameras on the roof of the clinic. Once patients are here, the first step is an ultrasound, required under Louisiana law for each patient seeking an abortion. A technician is also required to display the ultrasound image on a screen, describe in detail what it depicts (“including limbs if they are present and viewable”), and offer a printout of the image. There is also a 23-point consent form patients must review and sign, which states that “the heartbeat of the unborn child is required to be made audible to me,” although patients can decline to listen. After the ultrasound comes a visit to a doctor, who is required to offer patients a packet from the Louisiana Department of Health titled “Women’s Right to Know.” In the two dozen or so pages, they’ll find a warning that patients with a family history of breast cancer should seek medical advice before getting an abortion (studies have shown no link between abortion and breast cancer). A section titled “emotional side of an abortion” states that “some women have reported serious psychological effects after their abortion.” (A recent study found that five years after an abortion, 84 percent of patients had positive feelings about the decision or no feelings at all.) Then, before they can actually get an abortion, patients have to wait. Like many states, Louisiana requires a 24-hour waiting period between the ultrasound and the procedure. For patients who live in Shreveport, that could mean an extra bus trip home and back. But the clinic routinely draws patients from 200 miles away in any direction. “We get Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas,” assistant clinic administrator Stephannie Chaffee tells me during my December visit. “We get from Oklahoma.” Clinics have been closing across the South and Midwest for a decade now, and for many people in the region, Hope is the best option — even if it’s a three-hour drive. The majority of patients at Hope live at or below the poverty line, and many don’t own cars. So they wait until they can borrow a car or get a ride. Some patients end up having to barter with friends, Merritt Rebouche, director of patient advocacy at Hope and a board member with the Abortion Care Network, tells me: “If you watch my kids and drive me to this appointment, then I’ll watch your kids for the next three weeks.” If it’s too far to drive back between the ultrasound and the abortion, some patients stay in hotels in the area. Nicole Jordan, an ultrasound technician at the clinic, tells me she’s driven several patients to hotels herself. But at a minimum of around $30 a night, hotels may be out of reach for someone about to spend hundreds of dollars on an abortion — especially in a state where the minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour. This is what it’s like to get an abortion in Louisiana right now: It’s legal, but getting one is an enormous undertaking, requiring patients to travel hundreds of miles, spend hundreds of dollars, and sometimes be away from their families for days at a time. And this year, it might get a lot harder. In March, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee), a challenge to a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. If the state wins and the law goes into effect, two of Louisiana’s three clinics could close — including Hope. Abortion opponents — and more than 200 Republican members of Congress — are urging the Court to uphold the Louisiana law, arguing that it’s necessary for patients to get the best care. “The bill that the Supreme Court will hear is a women’s health piece of legislation,” its sponsor, Louisiana state Sen. Katrina Jackson, tells me. But abortion rights groups around the country say that upholding the law could be the beginning of the end of legal abortion in America — at least for the Americans most likely to seek the procedure. Posters are required to be displayed throughout Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 19, 2019. If Hope closes, patients who would ordinarily come to this clinic in the northwest corner of Louisiana would likely have to travel to New Orleans, more than 300 miles away in the southernmost part of the state. The other option would be to cross state lines — but if the Court upholds Louisiana’s law, other states in the region are likely to pass more restrictions, and their clinics could shut down, too. “Louisiana is very much the canary in the coal mine, and we will see a decline that starts there and spreads to other states,” T.J. Tu, senior counsel for US litigation with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Hope in the case, tells me. In the past year, six states, including Louisiana, have passed near-total bans on abortion. But all those bans have been blocked in court. And what makes getting an abortion today so difficult — and could make it even more difficult in future — isn’t a sweeping ban. It’s distance, time, money, the challenge of getting a ride, taking a day off work, and finding someone to care for the children that most abortion seekers already have. Those barriers are especially high for patients who are low-income — the majority of people who seek abortion in America. And if the state of Louisiana wins its case this year, the barriers could get a lot higher. A visit to Hope is a reminder that in many parts of the country, all that stands between pregnant people and the end of Roe v. Wade is a handful of clinics — most of them small, isolated, and racing to keep up with an increasing number of restrictions that, staff say, have nothing to do with patient care. And with each new requirement from the state, Hope clinic administrator Kathaleen Pittman tells me, “it’s the patients that pay the price.” One of the biggest barriers to abortion in Louisiana is just getting to the clinic in the first place Louisiana laws end up affecting patients at Hope in ways that might be surprising to outsiders. For example, during my visit, a patient asks Katie Caldwell, a staff patient advocate at the clinic, about getting an IUD, one of several highly effective, long-acting contraceptive methods that have been credited with reducing the rate of abortions nationwide in recent years. But Hope doesn’t perform IUD insertions — federal and Louisiana laws banning Medicaid coverage for most abortions make it hard for abortion clinics to provide other medical services, because Medicaid won’t pay for them. However, the clinic can give prescriptions for birth control pills, patches, or the NuvaRing. So the patient gets a prescription for the patch before she leaves Caldwell’s office. The waiting rooms at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 19, 2019. She also gets an appointment for the following week to get mifepristone, the first drug in a medication abortion regimen. Under Food and Drug Administration regulations, the drug has to be dispensed in a doctor’s office or other health care center, not a pharmacy. The second drug, misoprostol, can be obtained at a pharmacy, but Caldwell warns the patient to get any prescriptions from Hope filled before she leaves Shreveport. “We send people to area pharmacies that we have an idea will be hospitable to them filling their prescriptions, but with each pharmacist change, that could change,” Caldwell tells me later. The reason stems from a Louisiana law that allows health care providers, including pharmacists, to refuse any health care service that violates their “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” “What that looks like for us is pharmacies refusing to fill patient prescriptions because they have our location’s name on there, or our physician’s name on there,” Caldwell says. But it’s not just misoprostol. Pharmacists have refused to fill birth control and PrEP HIV prophylaxis medication. Caldwell has also heard of primary care doctors refusing to care for patients after they find out they’ve had abortions. If a pharmacy does deny the patient while she’s still in Shreveport, at least Hope clinic staff can help her find another pharmacy that might provide the medication before she begins the drive home. If she drives, that is. Chaffee, the assistant clinic administrator, estimates that around 15 percent of patients who come to Hope don’t have a car. Public transportation in the state, meanwhile, is “quite limited,” Steffani Bangel, the executive director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, says. There’s a bus system in Shreveport, but many of Hope’s patients come from rural areas of Louisiana or surrounding states, Chaffee says. “Some of them don’t even have bus stations in their town.” The stretch of road between Baton Rouge and Shreveport, Louisiana, on December 19, 2019. Louisiana has three abortion providers, often requiring people to travel long distances when seeking an abortion. Most patients end up needing a partner or a friend to drive them. “A lot of times, that’s what hinders them from getting here in a timely fashion,” Chaffee says. “They just don’t have a ride or anyone that will take them.” And getting a ride to Shreveport is only half the battle. Patients have to make at least two visits to the clinic, 24 hours apart. That means they need a place to stay and a way to get there, and a way to pay for all of that. A patient’s first visit to Hope costs $50, including the ultrasound. For the next visit, if the patient chooses a medication abortion, the cost is $550. A surgical abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy costs the same as the medication, but later procedures are more expensive. Hope does abortions for patients who are up to 16.5 weeks pregnant. After that, they have to go to one of the other clinics in the state or drive across state lines, since Louisiana law bans abortion after 20 weeks. In most cases, the cost of the procedure isn’t covered by insurance. In addition to the federal restrictions on Medicaid, Louisiana also bans health care plans on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchanges from covering abortion. That leaves most patients at Hope, 70 to 85 percent of whom live at or below the federal poverty line, to come up with the money out of pocket. Because this is a common setback,staff at Hope canhelp patients get financial assistance to pay for the procedure. On any given day, 75 to 90 percent of the clinic’s patients get some form of financial assistance, Chaffee tells me. The New Orleans Abortion Fund, for example, has helped more than 1,200 patients around the state since it was established in 2012. The fund paid an average of about $350 per patient last year. “Of course the need far exceeds our capacity, but we’re really proud to say that our capacity is growing,” Bangel says. Still, money remains an obstacle for a lot of patients. People often know they’re pregnant but can’t make it to Hope before the 16.5-week deadline; Chaffee says it happens “all the time.” About half the time, money is the reason. The other half, it’s transportation. More than half of Hope patients already have children at home, Pittman tells me. They may need to pay for child care — in a state with a serious shortage of affordable care for kids. Patients may also have to take time off work and lose wages as a result. “These costs add up tremendously and quickly,” Bangel says. One study conducted in 2014 found that for more than half of patients who got abortions at a variety of clinics around the country, total out-of-pocket costs — including the procedure and travel — were more than a third of their monthly income. All of this is further complicated by the stigma around abortion. For another medical procedure, patients might be able to borrow money from friends or family. But “if you’re unable to talk about the care that you’re seeking with the people in your community, you’re unable to pull together resources,” says Elizabeth Gelvin, client services program coordinator at the New Orleans Abortion Fund. Aidi Kansas, who got an abortion in Louisiana in the early 1990s, remembers the stigma well. “I grew up in New Orleans with a very Catholic Latino family,” she tells me, “and so there was a lot of shame attached to female sexuality.” When she decided to get an abortion, she only told her boyfriend and her best friend what was happening — not her mother or her sister, even though she and her sister are only 11 months apart. “It’s crazy that I didn’t feel that I could turn to her,” she says, “but I just felt at the time that being a sexually active 19-year-old carried a lot of shame for me.” Stigma was also a factor for Kimberly O’Brien, who was living in Louisiana with her husband and daughter when she became pregnant in 2011. It was a much-wanted pregnancy, she tells me, but at about 20 weeks, doctors discovered multiple severe abnormalities in the fetus. At the time, O’Brien only knew of one abortion clinic in her area. She’d driven by it and seen the protesters in the parking lot: “There was a woman with a shopping cart with baby dolls in it,” she says. “No way in hell am I doing that,” she says she thought, especially because she was “already super upset” at having to end a wanted pregnancy. Instead, she and her husband ended up driving to Texas, where a doctor started her abortion procedure — only to be told that the hospital no longer allowed abortions past 20 weeks unless the pregnant patient’s life was in danger. O’Brien had to go, mid-procedure, to a clinic next door. “They basically had me put on some sweatpants, I’m hooked up to the IV of fluids already, get in a wheelchair, roll across the street,” where a doctor injected a drug to stop the fetal heart, she says. Then she was sent back to the hospital to finish dilating her cervix and emptying her uterus. “It felt so frustrating and just so insane,” O’Brien says. But she also knew she was fortunate, because “I have so many resources that so many other women do not have. “I have a husband that can take off work, I have parents that can watch my child, we have health insurance, we have a car that we can pay to put gas in, we can pay to get a hotel room for a couple of nights,” she says. “It was very eye-opening to me that what a pain in the ass it was to me would have been tenfold for so many other women.” Today’s abortion laws in Louisiana have a decades-long history The obstacles that O’Brien and others have faced in Louisiana are part of a nationwide story. Abortion started to become a partisan issue in the 1970s, when Republicans began using opposition to the procedure as a way to appeal to Catholic voters and other social conservatives. States had begun liberalizing their abortion laws in the 1960s, and in 1972, strategists for Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign used anti-abortion messages “to present Nixon to all Americans as a cultural conservative who stood for the preservation of traditional roles and values,” Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel write in their book Before Roe v. Wade. Nixon won in 1972, but the following year, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade made legal a nationwide right to abortion. Anti-abortion groups, some of which had already been established in the years of loosening state laws, began looking for ways to restrict the procedure within the limits the Court had just set. Meanwhile, Republicans revisited Nixon’s strategy, using abortion to attract socially conservative voters in the South away from the Democratic Party. Whether because of that strategy or as part of a larger party realignment or both, Republican and Democratic voters began to move apart on the issue of abortion, and in 2018, while 46 percent of Democrats thought abortion should be legal under any circumstances, only 11 percent of Republicans thought so. Essentially, over the past three decades, people who strongly oppose abortion have become a crucial Republican voting bloc, with Republican lawmakers backing ever-stricter regulations on the procedure in an effort to appeal to them. Those efforts got a significant boost in 2010 when Republicans gained majorities in state legislatures across the country. After that, abortion restrictions began passing at a faster clip than ever before — more than 80 passed in 2011 alone. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images Abortion rights advocates rally to protest new restrictions on abortions, May 21, 2019, in West Hollywood, California. Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images An activist during a “Stop the Bans” protest in Los Angeles on May 21, 2019. 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. Many of the laws passed after 2010 were restrictions on abortion clinic operations that abortion rights supporters argued were aimed at shutting down clinics. They certainly had that effect — the South and the Midwest, where Republicans had legislative majorities, lost 83 clinics between 2011 and 2017. Then in 2016, abortion opponents won another victory with the election of President Trump. As a candidate, Trump had promised to nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Many believe he’s made good on his word. After his appointment of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, many advocates on both sides of the abortion issue believe conservatives on the Court have the votes to, if not get rid of Roe completely, then at least weaken it to the point of uselessness. And their opportunity could come from Louisiana. The Hope clinic sits at the center of a Supreme Court case that could dismantle Roe v. Wade The state is unusual in that Democratic politicians, not just Republicans, have opposed abortion there, too. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed the state’s “heartbeat” bill last year. And as Alexandra Seghers, director of education at the group Louisiana Right to Life, tells me, “our Louisiana legislature is very bipartisan in their pro-life efforts.” Over the years, those efforts have led to some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country. “Louisiana has truly become one of the test kitchens of anti-choice politics,” Bangel says. “What I always say to folks is, if there is a restriction that’s going to be introduced somewhere, it’s either been introduced in Louisiana first or they’ll introduce it here next year.” In 2014, the state passed a law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Jackson, the Democratic state senator who introduced the bill when she was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, describes it as “a women’s health issue.” Without it, she tells me, “there was no continuity of care” because if patients had emergency complications, “the physician couldn’t call ahead and get them admitted to the hospital.” Nicole Jordan is an ultrasound technician at the Hope Medical Group for Women. Abortion rights advocates, however, counter that patients can always get care at a hospital, whether or not the doctor who performed their abortion has admitting privileges there. Meanwhile, they point out that it can be very difficult for abortion providers to get privileges — often, paradoxically, because so few of their patients are ever admitted to hospitals (fewer than 0.25 percent of patients have major complications after an abortion, according to one 2014 study). The result has been that in states with admitting privileges laws, clinics are forced to close. But abortion providers also challenged these laws in court, arguing that they violated Americans’ rights under Roe. In 2016, a challenge to an admitting privileges law in Texas made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which struck down the law, finding that it did not offer a medical benefit to patients that was “sufficient to justify the burdens upon access” it imposed. In 2014, Hope challenged the admitting privileges law in Louisiana, and the measure has been blocked while it works its way through the courts. In March, the Supreme Court will hear the case. However, the Court looks very different from how it did in 2016 — with the addition of Trump-appointed Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, many believe the Court will reverse its 2016 decision and uphold the Louisiana law. If the law goes into effect, Hope may be forced to close. One of the physicians there has admitting privileges, Hope’s administrator tells me. But “he has said all along, if he is the last remaining physician, he cannot handle it by himself,” Pittman says. He has been targeted by abortion opponents for many years, she explains. “And the fewer clinics we have, the [bigger] increase in targeting we see.” While the clinic would not “close overnight” if the law went into effect — “we would honor our commitments,” Pittman says — she doesn’t know how long they could hang on. It’s not entirely clear what would happen with the other two clinics in the state. But a district court in the case found that if the 2014 law were enforced, “the one remaining clinic would be the clinic in New Orleans,” Tu, the Center for Reproductive Rights attorney, says. New Orleans is a five-hour drive from Shreveport, much of it across rural areas of the state. Traveling there would add more than 600 miles, round-trip, for many patients coming from the north or west. And the change would leave one clinic responsible for an enormous number of patients — 8,000 to 10,000 abortions are performed in Louisiana every year, Pittman says. “Folks will probably have a harder time scheduling appointments,” Bangel says, leading to later and more expensive procedures. At “every level, it’s going to become more difficult for folks,” she says. And those difficulties will disproportionately affect low-income people and people of color, many say. “As a woman of color, it upsets me because I know that white women are not going to suffer for this as much as women of color,” Aidi Kansas says, adding that when she was able to get her abortion, “it was because my white boyfriend had the money.” Ultimately, if the Supreme Court upholds the admitting privileges law, “what that means is that almost all patients in Louisiana will have nowhere to go,” Tu says. Going to a neighboring state is unlikely to help much, either. After Texas passed its admitting privileges law in 2013, more than half of the state’s clinics shut down. After that, Hope saw an increase in patients from Texas “that’s never dropped back down,” even after the law was overturned, Pittman says. If Hope closes, those Texas patients will have to find somewhere else to go, too. Their journeys will also be complicated by the fact that, depending on what the Supreme Court decides, other states may ramp up their efforts to pass restrictions on clinics. In the wake of the 2016 case, many states put the brakes on admitting privileges laws. But if the Court upholds the Louisiana law, “what you’ll see is a number of states dust off these unconstitutional admitting privileges laws and try to enact them again,” Tu says. Moreover, he says, the decision could pave the way for “a whole new generation of targeted regulations of abortion providers” beyond just admitting privileges requirements. Today, nearly 90 percent of counties in the US have no abortion clinic, and with every new type of clinic restriction, the number of clinics declines further, Tu says. Nationwide, the impact of a decision in favor of the Louisiana law would be “potentially devastating.” If Hope closes, people who want to end pregnancies will be left with few options Louisiana isn’t just a difficult place to end a pregnancy; it’s also a hard — and sometimes dangerous — place to give birth and raise a child. The state had the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the country in 2019, at 44.8 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. The rate is even higher for black women in the state, with 72.6 deaths per 100,000. When it comes to helping people care for children, the state also struggles. “There’s not really a social safety net here,” Rebouche, the director of patient advocacy, says. Only about 12 percent of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding — meant to help low-income families with basic needs — goes directly to families in the state, she says. Some of it actually goes to crisis pregnancy centers, controversial facilities for pregnant people that have an anti-abortion message, Rebouche says. Under a program established in 2003 — and since adopted in other states — the centers and other anti-abortion groups can get state money to offer “abortion alternative services,” as Sarah Moore reported last year at Facing South. In recent years, the program has received more than $1 million annually. The anti-abortion centers do provide resources for pregnant people in need, from diapers, wipes, and baby clothes to referrals to social workers, says Seghers of Louisiana Right to Life. “If pro-life people are going to say that abortion is wrong and that these women shouldn’t have to choose abortion, we agree that they should be able to follow through and help these women,” Seghers says. “You can’t just say, ‘You can’t do that,’ and then leave them be.” Kathaleen Pittman, administrator at the abortion clinic in Shreveport, Hope Medical Group for Women, poses for a portrait on December 19, 2019. But anti-abortion centers can also give patients misinformation about pregnancy and abortion, Rebouche says, like falsely claiming that abortion is highly dangerous. “They can literally lie to you,” she says. One 2017 study of the websites of crisis pregnancy centers in Georgia found that 41 percent contained misinformation about the physical or mental health risks of abortion. If Hope and other clinics in Louisiana close, some people who want an abortion simply won’t be able to get one and will end up carrying their pregnancies to term. Such a situation can have a severe impact on pregnant people and their families: Research has shown that people who want an abortion but can’t get one are more financially insecure than people who are able to terminate their pregnancies, and may have more difficulty bonding with their children. Being denied an abortion is also associated with short-term health risks, like anxiety, and longer-term ones, like higher rates of chronic headaches and migraines compared with people who are able to get the procedure. And in the absence of clinics, others will try to terminate their pregnancies outside the medical system, some staffers at Hope say. Already, “we’re seeing more patients that are trying to self-manage,” inducing abortion themselves with medication or herbs purchased online or elsewhere, Caldwell says. A lot of patients will probably turn to the internet, she says. Contrary to the pre-Roe narrative of people using coat hangers to induce their own abortions, many reproductive health advocates say that self-managing an abortion can be a safe option, at least from a medical perspective. While medication ordered online may not have been through FDA testing to establish potency and lack of contamination, one recent study of abortion pills ordered online found that most contained enough of the necessary medication to be effective. But people who self-manage abortions can face legal risks. While Louisiana isn’t one of the five states that explicitly ban the practice of self-managing an abortion, other laws could still be used to criminalize the practice. Abortion rights advocates are studying “ways that the legislature might try to enact some policies that actually do go so far as to punish people with criminal enforcement for self-managing their own abortion,” Michelle Erenberg, executive director of the reproductive health group Lift Louisiana, tells Vox. “This is the real nightmare scenario.” Some at Hope mention other disturbing consequences if the clinic shuts down. “I’m thinking the worst,” Jordan, the ultrasound technician, tells me when I ask what patients would do. “I would hate for women to go back in time,” with situations like “babies in dumpsters,” she says. For Jordan, one thing is clear: Shutting down Hope won’t shut down abortion. “Us as women,” she says, “if we need something done, we’re going to find a way to get it done.”
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Welcome to The Highlight’s Gender Issue
Anshika Khullar for Vox Nonbinary adults discuss life in a changing landscape; passing while trans; remembering the “Axe effect”; parents’ tug-of-war over baby clothes; and more. We are experiencing a moment of profound clarity when it comes to understanding gender, a shift precipitated by a dramatic turnaround in the acceptance of gay identity and expansion of marriage rights, a new spotlight on trans rights, and a reevaluation of masculinity brought on by the Me Too movement. So what better moment to examine the way we live gender now? In our cover story, we dispatched photographer Annie Tritt to capture the stories of older adults who have only recently arrived at the language to identify as nonbinary — to acknowledge that they do not fit neatly into male or female boxes, that they are neither, both, or fluid. They shared journeys from fear to self-discovery that affected their relationships with their children, with spouses, and with God. In a frank essay on her experience as a trans woman, Vox’s critic-at-large Emily Todd VanDerWerff explores the nuances of craving to be feminine, of wanting to “pass,” and the misgivings she feels about her desire for pink razors. It took having a child this winter for writer Chris Chafin to wonder why we dress infants in either pinks or blues, even at the risk of being wrong about who they are. Turns out we can blame Freud, not to mention the parental instinct to project our likes and dislikes onto our offspring. Also in this issue, we explore how Axe body spray inundated teenage boys with a vision of masculinity — and sexuality — that still haunts us today; and how a new exhibit reveals compelling truths about the notion of proof for survivors of sexual assault. While creating the Gender Issue, we turned to diverse writers and artists to tell us their stories in their own voices — even as we imagined our cover, a garden-like “gender utopia” in which the subjects of the issue mingle. In fact, the vibrant world drawn by trans nonbinary artist Anshika Khullar is not so far off from the real one. It’s complex, and it is beautiful. Life in between: Nonbinary adults, in portrait Five people on finding the words — and the strength — to be themselves. by Annie Tritt Annie Mok for Vox The Assimilationist, or: On the unexpected cost of passing as a trans woman The trouble with finding my true self in the beauty aisles. by Emily Todd VanDerWerff Zac Freeland/Vox How baby clothes became a pink and blue battleground A century ago, we dressed infants the same. So why is it so hard now? by Chris Chafin Michelle Kondrich for Vox The pungent legacy of Axe Body Spray For a generation of teens, the fragrance and its iconic ads upheld a bygone image of masculinity. by Mac Schwerin Courtesy of Kyle Knodell Opening a Pandora’s box of truths about rape kits Artist Aliza Shvarts collected exam kits from across the country. Now, an exhibition is using them to explore evidence, consent, and the standard of care for those who’ve experienced assault. by Lux Alptraum
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The Assimilationist, or: On the unexpected cost of passing as a trans woman
Annie Mok for Vox The trouble with finding my true self in the beauty aisles. Part of the Gender Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. In March 2018, a handful of days after I came out to my therapist as a trans woman, I decided to buy a razor to shave my legs. For the first time in my life, I was aware that my legs had hair on them, and I was at once irritated by that hair and a little anxious about it. I didn’t know why, but I wanted it gone. Even though I had a perfectly good razor I used to shave my facial hair, I felt strongly that I needed something pink or purple to tackle the thicket on my legs. So, standing there in a Target razor aisle looking for something functional but also cute, my anxiety growing as I was sure people were looking at me and seeing my secret true self and judging me accordingly, I found myself torn. The pink razor marked as explicitly “for women” was so lovely and sleek — but it was also functionally the same product as the black-and-neon-green razor for manly dudes right next to it. And the pink razor was $1 more expensive. Intellectually, I knew the “pink tax” existed because I had spent most of my adult life reading up on women’s issues. (I wonder why?) But this was my first encounter with it in the wild, with the fact that you could want so badly to feel a sense of belonging that you would let capitalism gouge you over and over again. I wanted so desperately to indicate my essential woman-ness that I was willing to pay extra for it. Screwing up my courage, I grabbed the razor, keeping my head down at the cash register, ready to say that it was for my wife, should anybody ask. (Newly out trans people are terrified of the gender police, who generally don’t exist except in our heads.) That pink razor was a piece of crap, and within six months, I had to replace it. My old men’s razor — which I still use to shave what facial hair I have left — is going strong after years of use. It was as if I was experiencing the market pressures of being a teen girl in the space of about three months In the months thereafter, money seemingly poured out of me. It was so, so expensive to be a woman. I found myself having to buy an entirely new wardrobe, one I’m still struggling to fill out here and there. I needed new shoes. I needed makeup. Buying all this stuff in aggregate was expensive, of course, but each individual item was expensive in and of itself. Can a man spend a lot of money on clothing? Of course. But he also has many affordable options. Finding such options in the women’s section was its own challenge. It was as if I was experiencing the market pressures of being a teen girl in the space of about three months instead of over several years. Even beyond that, there’s the cost of laser hair removal and electrolysis to get rid of my facial hair. There are regular sessions with a therapist who specializes in gender dysphoria. There was a crash course in voice training, in an attempt to coax my old rumble into a reasonable alto. Changing my name cost almost $500, and a printout of the paperwork proving my name was changed was another $50. There are so many expenses to come, including surgeries and more documentation of my identity, and so on and so forth. It’s expensive and exhausting, and it will never end. And yet I never ask myself why I’m doing all this. I just am. I need to. There’s a word that comes up in trans circles often, and I think it probably describes me (or, at least, people have used it to refer to me at times, when they think I don’t know they’re doing it): assimilationist. The best way to describe an assimilationist is to describe myself, so here’s what I’m wearing right now, on a chilly California day at the start of the year: My hair (on which I use somewhat expensive lightening shampoo to coax it toward a dirty blonde) hangs just past my chin. On my nose sit round-framed blue glasses ($500). I’m wearing a full face of makeup (my first visit to Sephora ran me $250, good fucking God), and I have on a pink sweater, a gray undershirt, black tights, and a ruffled black skirt (around $120, all told, mostly from Target). Cap this off with some dark purple running shoes ($75) and you’ve got the whole look. This outfit would not seem out of place on just about any woman in her 30s who works in the media. It’s a solid everyday look when I don’t have to make any on-camera appearances. (I have a more expensive wardrobe for when I do.) That’s precisely the point of the assimilationist claim: As trans people, we’re supposed to complicate the gender binary, not uphold it. By trying my damnedest not to stand out but to blend in — to tilt whatever little equation you run in your head when you see me away from “man” and toward “woman” — I’m propagating a system that hurts both trans people and women disproportionately, via everything from broad, systemic violence to the relatively minor sin of the pink tax. Here’s the thing that gives me a thrill but probably shouldn’t: It’s working. I can count the number of times I’ve been misgendered in the past six months on two hands, and it now happens so infrequently that I can chalk it up to somebody misspeaking far more often than to a deliberate attempt to make me feel like shit. I’ve even had a few encounters where someone was shocked to learn I was trans, not cis. I’ve developed camouflage. My justification for my style, from the first, has always been that if you Google my name, the very first page of results is filled with stories about how I’m trans. Even as I increasingly “pass” for a cis woman, I can’t escape the fact that I became a vaguely public figure and spent more than a decade publishing journalism (and a book!) under a man’s name. Even if I am invisibly trans in a crowd of people on the street, I am visibly trans once you know who I am, because unlike so many trans women, I was already visible when I transitioned. Still, my transition has gone much, much better than I expected it to. I had certain advantages in this regard, from economics (I have much more money than the majority of trans women) to race (white trans people have the same built-in societal advantages as white people in general) to geography (California presents few structural barriers when an adult wants to transition). I also had advantages when it came to my genetic code. My testosterone level has been low my whole life, so my body was already fairly androgynous. It didn’t take that much estrogen to shift androgyny toward traditional femininity. See also: Same dress, same mirror, 7 months apart. pic.twitter.com/49hKYgynTN— Emily VanDerWerff (@tvoti) January 15, 2020 Many trans women have few or even none of my advantages. They cannot escape the fact that when they go out into society as themselves, they are constantly, visibly trans, with all the horrors that can bring. They can’t pay to eliminate their beard shadow. They can’t buy feminine clothes that fit their frames. They can’t spend countless hours training their voice to sound just so. And not all trans women are traditionally feminine. Many prefer looks that might skew toward androgyny or butchness. And this is just trans women — I haven’t touched on trans men, on nonbinary people, on gender fluidity, on those who are agender. Our goal as trans people should be to normalize all of these identities and in so doing push back against an unfairly limiting gender binary that hurts cis men and women, too. That binary imprisons all of us within a limited set of ideas of who we can be and what we are capable of, and many of the rules that govern it are arbitrary and invented by a society built by cis men for the benefit of cis men. Okay. I agree with all of the above. But I also love to be a traditionally feminine woman. Womanhood and women in general just make more sense to me than anything else I’ve ever tried. (My attempts at male bonding over the years glistened with flop sweat.) The gender binary makes me feel more like me. I want to eliminate it. I also want to hang on to some of it. It feels like I just got here. The thing about self-acceptance is that when you’re just getting used to it, you become an easy mark. The first time I went to Sephora, I spent way more on makeup than I ever thought possible, because the salesperson who helped me made me feel so good about myself. From the second she learned my name, she called me Emily, even though I was in full guy mode. She used she/her pronouns. She told me I was pretty. I plunked down $250, and I would have spent well over $300 if she had managed to talk me into a $70 foundation. (My wife saved me on that one.) To be clear: None of this is the salesperson’s fault. None of it is my fault, either. This is just how society is designed to function, and to come out as trans later in life is to suddenly start careening downhill into a newer, truer gender, without some of the guardrails that snap into place when you grow up cis and figure out the ways society tries to exploit you on the grounds of gender. It’s not like any of us are immune to these capitalist pressures. There are distinct economic expressions of “womanhood” and “manhood” that are meant to help us all find a sense of belonging and centeredness in our own genders by spending money on products to affirm them. We can be aware of this manipulation, can even roll our eyes at it, and still be susceptible to it. Annie Mok for Vox The problem, I suppose, is that I like being an assimilationist. I like it when people just assume I’m a woman without a second glance. I like it when I don’t have to explain myself. I like that if I go to buy a pink razor that’s more expensive than a men’s razor now, I never feel I have to come up with an excuse for why I might be buying it. This makes me feel more affirmed as an individual, but it also makes me feel like a shitty member of the trans community. The larger political project of dismantling the terrible structures of the capitalist patriarchy continues apace, and here I am cooing over my friend giving me a bracelet that spells out my name in Morse code. (Want to win a trans girl’s heart? Give her jewelry that involves her name somehow. You’ll have a friend for life.) I cannot ignore that in my attempts to slide headfirst into womanhood, I am more or less appeasing a society that is set up to favor cis people. I am especially doing a disservice to my nonbinary siblings, whose very existences challenge the idea that there are “men” and “women” and that’s it. I am a safe version of transness, corporatized and commodified, fit for mass-market consumption. I do not challenge you to rethink the gender binary in any real way. But affirmation is not a thing that can be given to us. It is something we nurture and grow from within, and it comes in as many shapes and sizes as there are people. Gender is a social construct, except for all the ways in which it sure seems like it’s deeply ingrained within my very self, and if you tell me I look pretty today, I will smile and thank you for the compliment. This is not all that different from how a cis woman might navigate the world, or so I’m told. We’re all constantly making our own compromises with some feminine ideal that was created for us at some point, an amalgam of a million different ideas of what it means to be a woman that is internally inconsistent and makes no sense, yet holds this unattainable appeal for way too many of us. (Men do this, too, of course.) Maybe I run so hard toward becoming that idealized girl because I know I can never be her, due to the circumstances of my birth. Maybe if I run hard enough, I’ll get there and suddenly wake up a suburban mother of two in Omaha, Nebraska. Maybe I wear so many dresses because I really love wearing dresses. Maybe I’m just overthinking it. There are reasons to blend in beyond self-acceptance. Namely, the world is already cruel, and being trans only ramps up that cruelty. If you can find a way to escape that cruelty, shouldn’t you? Let me give you an example. While riding the train from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica recently, I became dimly aware that a man standing right in front of me was shouting a homophobic slur at someone sitting behind me, over and over. This other person, whom I could not see, begged him to stop, in a voice deep enough for me to assume masculinity. I was wrong. When the target of the man’s slurs launched herself at him, I saw she was wearing a woman’s top and skirt. She had long messy hair. She windmilled down the aisle of the train and tried to land a punch or slap or something on the man. She failed, while he dropped her to the floor, flailing at her with his fists and feet, mostly failing to connect. Eventually, they were separated by others on the train. The world is already cruel, and being trans only ramps up that cruelty. If you can find a way to escape that cruelty, shouldn’t you? As the woman pulled away, I felt the lurch of recognizing a fellow trans woman, albeit one who does not pass for cis, whether she wants to or not. I cannot know her situation, but I have seen variations on her in every support group I’ve been to, in every young, scared woman DMing me on Twitter to ask if she, too, might be trans, as though I had the power to lift a terrible curse. While she retreated, other passengers laughed that exhausted, relieved laugh that arises in any situation where people who’ve just been through a tense situation are simply glad to have gotten out unscathed. But I felt something else in the laughter, something beyond “What the fuck was that?” I figured it out as I exited the train at the next stop, in front of some teenage boys who were still laughing about the altercation. “You see that dude?” one of them said. “He was in a skirt.” They howled at the thought, while I was two steps ahead of them, wearing a dress. They were oblivious to my presence and to my transness. I passed, because I assimilated. Here’s the part where I tell you that I turned around and told them to shut up, risking the freedom of passing to do the right thing. Or here’s the part where I tell you I found the woman in the crowd of people exiting the train and walked her to wherever she was headed. Or here’s the part where I tell you that I resolved to do better, to push more against the strictures of the binary. But I did none of these things. I simply quickened my pace and walked on to my appointment. Assimilation affords me the privilege of not getting involved, of doing the easy thing instead of the right thing. It also afforded the teens walking behind me the privilege of laughing at a cruel joke, rather than trying to push back against it. And it afforded all of my fellow passengers the privilege of rolling our eyes when the man started yelling slurs at the woman, rather than trying to get him to stop. Assimilation lets me be seen but also not seen. I can disappear. And in disappearing, some part of me evaporates. Could I have said something? Certainly. Should I have said something? I don’t know. I keep wanting to call myself a coward, but I am also right to feel scared. What if everybody had found me out? What might have happened then? The border between my safety and something horrible is so tenuous, and societal norms dictate that I am the one who’s asked to enforce it, not anybody who might dare to cross it. Annie Mok for Vox This is insufficient as an apology to the woman on the train. I’m sorry about what happened to you, and I’m sorry I didn’t stop it. I’m sorry literally anybody else who could have didn’t shout down that man. I hope you are okay. I have no excuses. I blend in because I love to wear dresses. I blend in because I love to go out with my women friends and have no one bat an eye when they see us together. And I blend in because I feel a power in living as my true self. Assimilation is powerful and affirming, but it is also a bind that traps me, tempting me into closing the door behind me to all of the trans people who cannot assimilate or do not want to. It’s a false choice between the allure of belonging and the power of speaking out against injustice. Early in my transition, a trans guy friend told me that sometimes trans people are so aware of their individual privileges that they become all they can see. I didn’t understand what he was saying at the time. I do now. But my friend said something else, too, which is that one’s own happiness is not a sin. Assimilating, blending in, is not a choice I made for safety reasons or even aesthetic ones. It’s an expression of who I really am. The challenge is to keep holding that door open, to not close it behind me, to take a sledgehammer to its edges until it’s wide enough for everyone. Womanhood is too expansive a category to be defined by limited parameters, no matter how it’s marketed. Capitalism feeds off this ideal woman, but it didn’t strictly create her. She’s an outgrowth of all of us, a golem created over millennia by an ever-shifting set of thoughts on what it means to be a woman. To be a trans woman is perhaps to be more aware of this odd set of expectations, of the way you probably don’t need that pink razor but want it anyway. But it’s not to be uniquely aware of those expectations. I am an assimilationist not because I have failed to examine my choices or the options afforded me under capitalism, but because when I find myself affirmed by family, by friends, by random strangers, I realize how deeply intoxicating it can be to love your life. What a novelty this is! To fight and fight and fight and discover the simple beauty of actually living the life you merely occupied before. Emily Todd VanDerWerff is Vox’s critic at large, and the former TV editor for the A.V. Club. She previously weighed in on the 25 all-time best episodes of television for The Highlight.
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How baby clothes became a pink and blue battleground
Zac Freeland/Vox A century ago, we dressed infants the same. So why is it so hard now? Part of the Gender Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. When Laura Hunter wanted to buy a gift for a coworker’s baby shower, she did what a lot of people who need baby gifts in a hurry do: She drove to a big-box retailer, in this case Buy Buy Baby. Looking for a particular swaddle — a long strip of fabric that is wrapped around a newborn to comfort them to sleep — she flagged down a sales associate. As they twisted and turned through the aisles, the associate stopped short to ask Hunter an important question: Was this swaddle for a girl baby or a boy baby? “It took me aback,” says Hunter, an attorney living in Washington, DC. “It’s a swaddle for a baby. It’s just a baby. It’s a blanket!” Jennifer Marmor, a podcast producer in Los Angeles, told her family and friends she didn’t know the sex of her child when she was pregnant because she thought it was the simplest and least confrontational way to make sure she got gender-neutral clothes (in fact, she knew she was having a boy). Shopping on her own, she was constantly surprised by how aggressively gendered everything was. Browsing in Target, she says, she’d find a cute onesie, notice she was in the girls’ section, and think, “Well, this doesn’t scream girl,” before noticing an overt and (to her) pointless feminine detail, like “ruffles on the butt.” Americans are obsessed with the sex of their newborns. Expectant parents are so seized with gender-reveal mania that they’re accidentally setting wildfires, crashing planes, and even killing people in ever-wilder stunts. Visit Amazon for baby clothes and you’re asked to pick a sex before you can see any merchandise. Retailers such as the Gap, Gerber, and Walmart all sort newborn clothing into boy and girl categories by default — indeed, this is the most common way to encounter baby clothes. This isn’t limited to children. Finding clothes that match your gender identity is fraught, even when an adult is making a decision about their own clothes for their own body. But how do you navigate sartorial choices for someone else, especially when that person hasn’t made any determination about their identity, or hasn’t even been born yet? Marmor would freeze, not knowing what to do. On the one hand, who cares? But on the other, she says, buying an explicitly, pointedly gendered piece of clothing for a baby of the opposite sex “feels like a statement that I don’t necessarily want to make, either: ‘I’m going to put my boy in clothes clearly for a girl!’” Hunter had similar problems. “I brought home a cute pair of overalls with a striped yellow tee underneath them,” for her infant son, she says. “Someone told me, ‘Oh, no, that’s for girls. See the frilled collar and ruffled bottom?’ Like, he’s 5 months old. Why can’t it just be a cute pair of overalls with a onesie?” Hunter and Marmor are among a group of new parents fueling a backlash to the hypergendered world of newborns. Parents give lots of reasons for rejecting the options currently on the market: wanting to reuse infant clothes for future children who could be of either sex; not wanting to advertise a love of trucks their infant almost certainly doesn’t have; being surprised at the tastelessness of so many infant clothes; or, yes, feeling uncomfortable enforcing gender norms. While there are some gender-neutral items on the market, they can require a huge amount of expert online shopping to find. An expectant or new parent casually visiting the site of a big retailer could easily miss them. Yetevery well-meaning parent is terrified of unintentionally doing damage to their child, whether that means feeding them food that turns out to be unsafe, buying a crib that’s later recalled for some ghastly hazard, or a million other accidental disasters. And with the recent increase insupport for transgender people (a 2019 study from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that 62 percent of Americans said they have become more supportive toward transgender rights over the past five years), some parents are worried about forcing a gender identity on a child. But above all, many new parents like Hunter and Marmor are asking themselves, isn’t a baby … just a baby? Wind back the clock just over 100 years and you’d be hard-pressed to tell an infant boy from an infant girl, says Jo Paoletti, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and the author of several books on the history of the gendering of children’s clothing, including 2012’s Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America. How we ended up in a culture so obsessed with the gender identity of infants turns out to be a complicated, century-long tale involving everything from Sigmund Freud to 1980s advances in medical technology. For most of the history of the Western world, Paoletti says, infants were considered almost a different class of human being, sexless and dressed more or less the same regardless of gender. In Europe — and, later, the United States — all babies typically wore swaddles, then dresses until they were as old as 7 (though, to be fair, there were boys’ and girls’ dresses of slightly different cuts). Just look at a painting from mid-1700s Connecticut, Boys in a Garden, which shows two young boys, the older one in breeches and a frock coat (“boy clothes”), the younger one in an elaborate gown not uncommon for his age. Throughout the past two millennia, babies in art were depicted nude, in gowns, or in swaddles of various types. Consider Jesus. He is perhaps the most famous baby of all time, but good luck finding a sculpture of him in a tiny pair of pants. There are many reasons for this. In some parts of Europe, wealthy parents preferred long gowns that prevented their children from crawling, which they considered base and animalistic. Practically, of course, a loose gown is also easy to change, and in later times, white gowns were easy to bleach. But there were philosophical reasons for the gender-neutral treatment of young children, as well. Victorians, especially, were concerned with thinking of children as pure, pre-sexed beings for as much of their lives as possible. Parenting convention at the time held that “draw[ing] attention to children’s sex prematurely is to risk all kinds of deviation,” explains Paoletti. “They’ll become sexually precocious. The boys will be homosexual. They’ll masturbate too much.” Any gender attribution to a young child was frowned upon, she says; even something as relatively benign as calling a male child “such a little man” had “a kind of creepiness to it from the 19th-century point of view.” Giving babies gendered qualities was, simply, gross. The way we dress babies began to change with Sigmund Freud’s 1905 publication of “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,” which held not only that sexual characteristics were innate, but also that our experiences as children could influence us for the rest of our lives. Freud’s theory of identification was particularly influential in the early 20th century. It held that at a certain point, children must identify with one or the other parent and adopt their characteristics; a boy identifying with his mother was supposedly the root of a whole host of mental disorders. This belief merged with several others, notably those of psychologist G. Stanley Hall, who studied the sexuality of adolescents, to create a period in the 1910s and ’20s focused on establishing ever-younger children as proper men. (This focus was almost entirely on men). “How do we toughen up our boys and make them more manly?” was a common concern throughout that period, which was addressed in various ways, says Paoletti, including the 1910 founding of the Boy Scouts of America. Dresses for boys older than infants went out of fashion, along with the idea that early gendering would somehow harm a child’s psychological and sexual development. Dresses for infants, however, existed at least into the 1950s. The next major touchpoint — in many ways the one that began our modern gendered world — is the rise of amniocentesis in the 1980s. This test, originally given to pregnant women to check for birth abnormalities (principally the chromosomal markers for Down syndrome), had the side effect of being the first reliable assessment to accurately determine sex before birth. Hunger for both of these results helped amnio explode in popularity. “‘Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl,’ a very modern query to someone still obviously expectant,” Patricia A. Nelson of Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote to the New York Times in response to a column on amnio in summer 1988. According to the Times, about 3,000 women each year were having the procedure in 1975; by 1990, it was 250,000. Parents now knew the sex of their baby before birth, which helped spark a kind of mania for gendered dolls, frilly onesies, tiny cars, and pink and blue things of basically every size and shape, according to Paoletti. New parents were almost irresistibly compelled to buy as many gender-specific things as they could. “Now what we have is that the children are just like mini adults from almost the point they appear in the world and aredressed accordingly,” said Hazel Clark, a professor of design studies and fashion studies at the Parsons School of Design. Retailers have been engaged in an escalating gendered arms race in children’s clothing ever since. There is evidence that the wave of hypergendered clothing may be cresting, at least among older children and teens. According to a 2016 study from trend forecasting agency J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, a full 56 percent of Americans ages 13 to 20 shopped outside of their chosen gender, the same percentage said they knew someone who went by gender-neutral pronouns, and 81 percent said a person shouldn’t be defined by their gender. The same year, a UCLA study estimated that 1.4 million transgender people live in the United States. “People who don’t want to feel restricted ... to what’s historically been male or female? That’s not going anywhere. That’s only going to expand,” said Christina Zervanos, the head of public relations at Phluid, a Manhattan boutique that exclusively sells nongendered clothing. She sees a general softening of strict gender norms across society and believes it will continue to have ripple effects beyond those who identify as trans — maybe even to new parents. And gender-neutral doesn’t have to mean some kind of massive, boring tan sack that we pour our infants into, like a bundle of potatoes. Indeed, every parent interviewed for this story talked about being frustrated that retailers seem to think “unisex” means “gray.” They want vibrant colors — yellows, greens, reds, patterns, drawings — just not things that are restrictively gendered. “People assume that if you’re going to have something that’s gender-neutral, then it’s going to be oversized ... or drapery,” says Zervanos. “We celebrate color. If you walk into the store, there’s a lot of color and a lot of print.” If retailers were quick to catch on to and promote the rise of gendered baby clothes, says Clark, they should also reflect this change in society. “The convention of having the boys’ and the girls’ section, [and] the way of sort of directing the consumer, and making assumptions about where the consumer will be going to find the clothes has got to be rethought by the retailer,” she says. Some have already made strides. COS and its parent brand, H&M, for example, exclusively offer unisex or gender-free infant clothes. The Gap recently launched a hub for gender-neutral baby clothes, the Neutral Shop, which has been steadily growing in popularity, though it isn’t particularly easy to find when poking around the Gap’s website (it’s effectively hidden under the heading “Newborn 0 to 24m”). But making moves is easier than staking out a position. Vox contacted Amazon, Walmart, Target, Buy Buy Baby, Carter’s, the Gap, H&M, COS, Old Navy, and the boutique infant brand Mac & Moon for this story; Target was the only brand to offer a comment on the record, via email. This is that comment in its entirety: We organize clothing by gender in stores and on Target.com. We understand parents don’t always know whether they are having a boy or a girl, so we intentionally create products that span a variety of colors, prints, and patterns, including offering a number of more neutral aesthetics. We also organize baby clothing on Target.com in a unisex baby clothing category to make it easy for our guests to find. For most of my life, the sartorial choices of infants weren’t, shall we say, top of mind. But this past fall, my wife gave birth to our first child, a girl. When shopping, I was surprised at how early and how often I was required to make choices about my daughter’s likes and dislikes and her presentation to the world. Of course, all those choices aren’t really about my daughter; they’re about me. Parents use our children to signal things about ourselves to other people. For parents, there’s lots we want to say: We like the Ramones, we shop responsibly, and we care about the environment. For the past few decades, the sex of our babies — and all the gendered characteristics that supposedly go with it — was high on that list. From birth, we wanted people to know about our sweetgirls and our tough boys so much that when all else fails, we strapped pink bows on their heads so it’s utterly impossible for anyone to mistake a girl for a boy. Now, we wonder, are some tasteful, colorful, attractive gender-neutral options too much to ask? My wife and I bought a lot of stripes and polka-dots, and an adorable sweater with cartoon bears that the retailer told us was for boys. The gender fixation is a historical anomaly, a perfect storm of technology, psychology, and anxiety about a changing world. But the world is changing, inexorably. And many new parents agree with the Victorians: There is something creepy in waxing lyrical about the gender characteristics of your infant. There’s something sensible in this 19th-century way of treating an infant as something of a blank slate, not daddy’s little girl or mommy’s little hellraiser, but, you know, just potential — a beautiful, lovable human that could become almost anything. Chris Chafin covers the business of culture for publications including Rolling Stone, Vulture, and the BBC. He also hosts a movie podcast.
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The pungent legacy of Axe Body Spray
Michelle Kondrich for Vox For a generation of teens, the fragrance and its iconic ads upheld a bygone image of masculinity. Part of the Gender Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. Was there ever a time more suited to the whims of a male American teen than the early aughts? The video game Grand Theft Auto IIIhad just shipped. LimeWire made Shaggy’s entire discography free and accessible. Hollywood was bullish on Seann William Scott. And then, in 2002, Axe arrived. A body spray meant to split the difference between deodorant and cologne, Axe bulldozed the senses with a fragrance so strong it seemed to precede the bodies it clung to — like Febreze, or a bad reputation. Almost 20 years later, it hasn’t managed to shake its association with the scent of middle school. Its introduction to drugstore aisles was attended by a series of notorious ad campaigns built on naughty jokes and blunt promises, the crux of them involving a parade of women lusting after some schmo. Over the next decade, Axe evolved to include deodorant sticks, shower gels, and hair care. But even as its product line began to reflect the refined grooming habits and shifting sensibilities of the modern metrosexual man, its branding stuck to old-school attitudes about romance. In ads suggesting that its scents would overpower all resistance, Axe pitched itself as artillery for a perpetual battle of the sexes — the howitzer of attraction. It was a winning formula: Axe sold $71 million worth of bottled machismo in 2006, just four years after entering the US market. Today, the iconic ad campaign feels fossilized, obsessed with a bygone vision of masculinity. (Axe rebranded in 2016, and although it still enjoys annual global revenues of more than $1 billion — comparable to a decade ago — it has posted year-over-year declines in the cultural cachet department.) Nevertheless, those 2000s-era commercials continue to notch thousands of views on YouTube. There’s the one in which an attractive spokeswoman spanks herself with the arm of a mannequin she just demo-sprayed. There’s the one with the guy made of chocolate who gets licked in a darkened movie theater. Part of these ads’ charisma rests on misdirection. Axe would have anthropologists believe that its target audience was 20-something men for whom quick-draw sexual episodes were a semi-regular occurrence; in fact, the brand’s power user was a 13-year-old boy with a mom who humored him. Glimpsed from the vantage point of the #MeToo era, Axe looks like a spasm of late patriarchy, but its legacy is complicated by the women who helped develop and champion it and the environment that teen boys fostered with it. To America’s horniest pubescents, it didn’t matter that the ads weren’t “real.” It only mattered that the body spray was. The scents smelled like what they had been told men should smell like: patchouli and sandalwood and musk; like Burt Reynolds in that famous Cosmocenterfold. That was the feeling of dousing your barren chest in two ounces of uncut manstank. If the sprays imparted that tiny bit of confidence, if they helped gangly tweens lurch their way toward adulthood, what was the harm? As it turns out, we’re still asking. Axe was officially born in 1983, in France, under personal care behemoth Unilever, which launched the line with three original scents: Amber, Musk, and Spice. But the brand as we know it today was born 12 years later when the company handed advertising duties to hip London agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1995. (For trademark reasons, Axe is called Lynx in the UK and a few other countries.) At the time, Axe had flattening sales and stale marketing that leaned on the kind of self-serious fragrance tropes — stock jazz tracks, square jawlines — “that you see in 101 different ads,” says Sir John Hegarty, BBH’s co-founder. The brand needed a facelift. Hegarty and his team reasoned that Axe’s missing ingredient wasn’t sex, per se. It was irony. The brand was already gesturing, clumsily, toward seduction, but that only got you so far. Among a younger, savvier audience, the implication of sex wasn’t subversive; it was hackneyed. Nobody believed a body spray could single-handedly seal the deal for its wearer. Leaning into the absurdity of that proposition let BBH deliver its message with a fat wink. “So we came up with this whole strategy about the Axe Effect, as though it was this amazing effect that once you spray it on, any woman would fall for you,” Hegarty said. “Which of course is nonsense.” The Axe Effect anchored ads for the next 20 years. For the message to land, the guys had to be geeky, a bit socially deficient, and relatable — James Bond doesn’t need the Axe Effect. The women would be stunners. That was the joke: The starker the hotness differential, the more it beggared belief, the more clearly the ads would present as self-aware. “Really, you were talking to 15- to 18-year-olds,” Hegarty said. “And you were talking to a group of kids who were emerging into adulthood who needed confidence. I mean, the background to all this is they were very insecure.” Suddenly a worldview coheres. The brand’s first commercial to use the strategy, which depicts an awkward young man at a cocktail party who turns suave as soon as he applies the spray, conjures a dystopian vision of adulthood. There are elaborate cocktails, freestanding pieces of art, finger foods. Axe promises not just to help boys get the girl, but to help them navigate a world that punishes inexperience. Take as a given that teenage boys are deathly afraid of their perceived immaturity. Imagine or remember a world in which the opinions of your male friends and classmates were everything, and girls belonged to a mysterious order that you thought about constantly — and occasionally consulted — but whose value-add was theoretical. To be able to go to the drug store and spend a few bucks on a spray can that cleanly telegraphed a worldview that assured peers you wanted the same things they did: How could you not prize that kind of commodity? “It’s the easiest possible way to try and become a man,” said Frank Karioris, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh who studies masculinity. “It doesn’t take labor, it doesn’t take work, it doesn’t take money ... it just takes you using Axe.” He suggested that although the brand offered no real utility when it came to actually picking up women, its grammar of seduction helped affirm a sense of manliness — “particularly for teenage boys, who are told that having sex somehow is the thing that defines you being a man,” he said. The ads changed a lot as Axe grew up, but certain elements stuck around to remind viewers who the product was really for, like the floppy haircuts and unripped torsos. The application ritual always involved an extended crop-dusting over the chest. Of course, Axe took liberties with its suggested volume. (“Spray more, get more,” read one straightforward tagline.) If your olfactory nerves were irreparably frayed, if you can still picture the fog of your junior high gym, blame the ritual, and the unstoppable appeal of a reusable prop for teenage boys to play-act manhood. Targeting teens meant Axe was also targeting their mothers, who often did the grocery shopping, and who were among the most important stakeholders in their sons’ hygiene habits. The explicit nature of Axe’s branding, not to mention its infamous pungency, made an alliance between moms and Axe counterintuitive — until you were in the company of a sweaty 15-year-old. “I’ve got two sons,” said Rosie Arnold, a former BBH employee and the creative director on some of Axe’s most celebrated ads. “When people say, ‘Oh my God, doesn’t Axe or Lynx smell awful?’ I’m like, ‘Not as awful as teenage boys.’” The brand counted girlfriends as another constituency and regularly tested its campaigns with young women, many of whom liked the ads. “I adored the Axe advertising,” said Cindy Gallop, the president of BBH New York during Axe’s stateside launch. “I thought it was fantastic, because it was absolutely on the right side of that line” between cheeky and profane. And yet, in some ways, women were beside the point. One mid-aughts commercial featured Ben Affleck playing himself over the course of a regular day. As he walks around and does his errands, he tallies the number of women who check him out. At the end of the spot, Affleck enters a hotel elevator with a geeky blue-collar guy (played by a young Scoot McNairy) and the two compare their numbers. The joke is that McNairy, an impecunious nobody covered in Axe, gets 20 times the attention as an A-list Hollywood star — but the metajoke is that after 12 hours of female come-ons, both men are more concerned with homosocial posturing than actually getting lucky. The ad lays bare Axe’s sometimes contradictory, sometimes complementary messages. McNairy’s cartoonish success with women proves that when you have Axe, “You don’t need to be a good talker, you don’t need to be the most attractive, you don’t need to be wealthy, you don’t need to have the perfect job,” as Karioris put it. But his levered sexual capital isn’t spent on sex; instead, it’s used to extract respect from Affleck. The same insecurity that powered the Axe Effect ultimately ate it from the inside. An existential threat was brewing — not within the FCC or bronchially besieged gym teachers, but something far more vital: sales. By 2013, the rate of global growth “had declined a little bit,” said Fernando Desouches, who was then Axe’s global brand development director. Unilever was forced to confront the possibility that the Axe Effect no longer resonated with adolescent dudes. That year, the company conducted a study of more than 3,500 hundred men in 10 countries, poking at conceptions of masculinity and self-esteem. “When we talked to people, we realized that men were in a different place,” Desouches said. He had worked on Dove’s groundbreaking “Real Beauty” campaign and saw parallels in the socialscape. In describing them to me, he deployed a familiar word. If the Axe Effect was saying “that you’re not good enough — not attractive enough — until you wear a product that will make you attractive, this is not empowering.” Other tectonic forces were at work, aptly summarized on Unilever’s website: “We know that the rules of attraction are changing and that it is about connection, not conquest.” Management had come around to the idea that women were not prizes to be won. Teens had, too, in their way. Plus, Axe had so relentlessly polished its image as a tool for the needy that it had started to become associated with them. “[T]o most high school and college-aged males, Axe had essentially become the brand for pathetic losers,” writes Martin Lindstrom in his book Brandwashed. In 2016, Unilever introduced a new platform animated by the tagline “Find Your Magic.” This campaign treats empowerment as teleological: Young men are told to find what makes them special (there’s gotta be something) and learn how to flaunt it (whatever it is). The anthem commercial is strategic and sensible and well-made and doomed to fade from our collective memory like 99 percent of all marketing efforts. It might yet save Axe from stigma, but at the cost of the brand’s iconoclasm. The architects of the Axe Effect, for their part, aren’t sure it needed saving at all — at least not the strategy that informed the original messaging. Like everything else related to sex and gender, the wake of Me Too brings new gravity to a frank discussion of Axe’s faults. “When it comes to the Me Too generation, of course you’ve got to be sensitive to that,” Hegarty said. “You can’t ignore it. You can’t be on the wrong side of the debate.” But he argued that seduction still ought to be respected. “Since the beginning of time, the guy who’s been able to seduce the girl is the one that wins out. And that isn’t going to change.” Gallop maintains that Axe’s early advertising exploded taboos surrounding women’s libidos and should be viewed as a net positive. But didn’t the Axe Effect imply that men needn’t worry about impressing a woman on their own merits because Axe would hotwire a sexual outcome no matter what? She laughed. “Good God, man, you are really overthinking this,” she said. “It’s only fucking advertising.” Mac Schwerin is an advertising copywriter and freelance journalist. He lives in Singapore.
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