November 24, 2018 in 2,753 words

Beto O’Rourke blows up the 2020 Democratic primary

Top party donors and operatives are eager to see the Texas congressman jump into the presidential race.

Above: The ascent of Rep. Beto O’Rourke reflects the volatility of a 2020 presidential primary that has flummoxed Democratic donors and activists for months.

Sparked by his narrow defeat in a Texas Senate race, Beto O’Rourke is scrambling the 2020 presidential primary field, freezing Democratic donors and potential campaign staffers in place as they await word of his plans.

Even prior to O’Rourke’s meteoric rise, many Democratic fundraisers had approached the large number of 2020 contenders with apprehension, fearful of committing early to one candidate. But the prospect of a presidential bid by O’Rourke, whose charismatic Senate candidacy captured the party’s imagination, has suddenly rewired the race.

O’Rourke — who raised a stunning $38 million in the third quarter of his race — is widely considered capable of raising millions of dollars quickly, according to interviews with multiple Democratic money bundlers and strategists, catapulting him into the upper echelons of the 2020 campaign.

Mikal Watts, a San Antonio-based lawyer and major Democratic money bundler, said several donors and political operatives in Iowa, after hearing from other potential candidates in recent days, have called to ask whether O’Rourke is running, a sign of his impact in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

“They’re not wanting to sign on to other presidential campaigns until they know whether Beto is going,” Watts said. “And if Beto is running, what good progressive Democrat wouldn’t want to work for Beto O’Rourke?”

Keep It Simple and Take Credit

As Democrats stare down eight years of policies being wiped out within months, it’s worth looking at why those policies did virtually nothing for their electoral success at any level. And, in the interest of supporting a united front between liberals and socialists, let me start this off with a rather long quote from Matt Christman of Chapo Trap House, on why Obamacare failed to gain more popularity:

There are parts to it that are unambiguously good — like, Medicaid expansion is good, and why? Because there’s no fucking strings attached. You don’t have to go to a goddamned website and become a fucking hacker to try to figure out how to pick the right plan, they just tell you “you’re covered now.” And that’s it! That’s all it ever should have been and that is why — [Jonathan Chait] is bemoaning why it’s a political failure? Because modern neoliberal, left-neoliberal policy is all about making this shit invisible to people so that they don’t know what they’re getting out of it.

And as Rick Perlstein has talked about a lot, that’s one of the reasons that Democrats end up fucking themselves over. The reason they held Congress for 40 years after enacting Social Security is because Social Security was right in your fucking face. They could say to you, “you didn’t used to have money when you were old, now you do. Thank Democrats.” And they fucking did. Now it’s, “you didn’t used to be able to log on to a website and negotiate between 15 different providers to pick a platinum or gold or zinc plan and apply a fucking formula for a subsidy that’s gonna change depending on your income so you might end up having to retroactively owe money or have a higher premium.” Holy shit, thank you so much.

This point has been made before on Obamacare, but the tendency behind it, the tendency to muddle and mask benefits, has become endemic to center-left politics. Either Democrats complicate their initiatives enough to be inscrutable to anyone who doesn’t love reading hours of explainers on public policy, or else they don’t take credit for the few simple policies they do enact. Let’s run through a few examples.

Us v Them: the birth of populism

It’s not about left or right: populism is a style of politics that pits ‘the people’ against ‘the establishment’. Its rise is a warning sign that the status quo is failing.

People cheer while waiting for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a rally.

When political scientists write about populism, they often begin by trying to define it, as if it were a scientific term, like entropy or photosynthesis. To do so is a mistake. There is no set of features that exclusively defines movements, parties, and people that are called “populist”: the different people and parties that are placed in this category enjoy family resemblances of one to the other, but there is not a universal set of traits that is common to all of them.

There is, however, a particular kind of populist politics that originated in the United States in the 19th century, which has recurred there in the 20th and 21st centuries – and which began to appear in western Europe in the 1970s. In the past few decades, these campaigns and parties have converged in their concerns, and in the wake of the Great Recession, they have surged.

The kind of populism that runs through American history, and has been transplanted to Europe, cannot be defined exclusively in terms of right, left or centre: it includes both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the Front National in France and Podemos in Spain. There are rightwing, leftwing and centrist populist parties. It is not an ideology, but a political logic – a way of thinking about politics. In his book on American populism, The Populist Persuasion, the historian Michael Kazin describes populism as “a language whose speakers conceive of ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class; view their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic; and seek to mobilise the former against the latter.”

That’s a good start. It doesn’t describe people like Ronald Reagan or Vladimir Putin, both of whom have sometimes been called “populist”, but it does describe the logic of the parties, movements, and candidates, from the US’s People’s Party of 1892 to Marine Le Pen’s Front National of 2016. I would, however, take Kazin’s characterisation one step further and distinguish between leftwing populists such as Bernie Sanders and Podemos’s Pablo Iglesias, and rightwing populists such as Trump and Le Pen.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

5 Laws From Other Countries (The USA Should Totally Steal)

Whenever you’re not being shot, mortgaging your house to pay a hospital bill, or visiting Florida, America can be a pretty great place. But a few of the less star-spangled countries also have some decent ideas about running a society, believe it or not. Ideas that our great nation should look into, carefully weigh the pros and cons of, and then steal. By force, if necessary, as is the American way.

5. Many Countries Make Voting A Duty

The U.S. has a representation problem. Barely half of the voting-eligible populace shows up to vote. That doesn’t sound like a terribly healthy democracy. But before we all pop our monocles and blame those lazy poors for not participating, consider that most people don’t vote because they’re literally too busy.

“No Preference”: the uncontested victor of every midterm election for a hundred years

According to a Pew survey, before 2016, “too busy or having a conflicting schedule” was the main cause for missed votes. And it’s easy to see why. There are still 20 states in the U.S. that don’t grant time off for people to vote. Ideally, free voting time should be available (and identical) for everyone around the country. You know, the way almost everybody else already does it. In Canada, a business that impedes a person from voting can receive a fine “up to $50,000, five years imprisonment, or both.” Quite a strong incentive there!

Of course, getting those busy bees time off doesn’t solve all of our problems. There’s no guarantee they’d use that time to vote. So why not … force them? Some argue that compulsory voting can improve voter knowledge and reduce partisanship. Maybe that’s why 23 countries have laws requiring citizens to vote. It seems like an effective way to ensure that more people practice their damn freedom … whether they want to or not.

The most tedious part of my job changed my relationship with gratitude


The turkey is a symbol of Thanksgiving, a holiday that involves photographed events and serves as a stand-in for the concept of gratitude.

Some people keep gratitude journals. I type generic terms into search bars of news photo archives.

Though the approach is different—the first a daily inventory of the good things you have in your life; the latter a daily meditation on the bad things you do not—the result, I’ve found, is much the same.

Looking through news photo libraries didn’t start as some sort of creative self-improvement project. It’s part of my job. Like many media organizations, Quartz subscribes to Reuters Pictures and AP Images, which gives us access to photos from thousands of photojournalists all over the world. When I was a Quartz technology reporter, using these subscriptions was fairly straightforward: I’d search for a term like “Facebook,” quickly locate a photo of Mark Zuckerberg’s latest public appearance, and add it to my story. The entire process took about three minutes.

But when I became an editor for Quartz at Work, the quick task of finding a photo to run with an article turned into a prolonged scavenger hunt. Quartz at Work covers concepts like leadership, careers, and creativity. The photojournalists shooting for Reuters and AP are typically focused on people and news events. Typing “leadership” into the search bar of AP’s photo site returns images of various world leaders at podiums; typing “career” mainly generates photos of football players, and typing “creativity”… also generates a surprising number of football photos.

And so, I came to rely on metaphors. In searching for an image to pair with an article about “radical transparency,” I typed “bubbles,” hoping for an example that was particularly (radically, even) clear. An article about “dual-career marriage” provoked the search phrase “doubles figure skating Olympics.”

High score, low pay: why the gig economy loves gamification

Using ratings, competitions and bonuses to incentivise workers isn’t new – but as I found when I became a Lyft driver, the gig economy is taking it to another level.

In May 2016, after months of failing to find a traditional job, I began driving for the ride-hailing company Lyft. I was enticed by an online advertisement that promised new drivers in the Los Angeles area a $500 “sign-up bonus” after completing their first 75 rides. The calculation was simple: I had a car and I needed the money. So, I clicked the link, filled out the application, and, when prompted, drove to the nearest Pep Boys for a vehicle inspection. I received my flamingo-pink Lyft emblems almost immediately and, within a few days, I was on the road.

Initially, I told myself that this sort of gig work was preferable to the nine-to-five grind. It would be temporary, I thought. Plus, I needed to enrol in a statistics class and finish my graduate school applications – tasks that felt impossible while working in a full-time desk job with an hour-long commute. But within months of taking on this readily available, yet strangely precarious form of work, I was weirdly drawn in.

Lyft, which launched in 2012 as Zimride before changing its name a year later, is a car service similar to Uber, which operates in about 300 US cities and expanded to Canada (though so far just in one province, Ontario) last year. Every week, it sends its drivers a personalised “Weekly Feedback Summary”. This includes passenger comments from the previous week’s rides and a freshly calculated driver rating. It also contains a bar graph showing how a driver’s current rating “stacks up” against previous weeks, and tells them whether they have been “flagged” for cleanliness, friendliness, navigation or safety.

At first, I looked forward to my summaries; for the most part, they were a welcome boost to my self-esteem. My rating consistently fluctuated between 4.89 stars and 4.96 stars, and the comments said things like: “Good driver, positive attitude” and “Thanks for getting me to the airport on time!!” There was the occasional critique, such as “She weird”, or just “Attitude”, but overall, the comments served as a kind of positive reinforcement mechanism. I felt good knowing that I was helping people and that people liked me.

But one week, after completing what felt like a million rides, I opened my feedback summary to discover that my rating had plummeted from a 4.91 (“Awesome”) to a 4.79 (“OK”), without comment. Stunned, I combed through my ride history trying to recall any unusual interactions or disgruntled passengers. Nothing. What happened? What did I do? I felt sick to my stomach.

Because driver ratings are calculated using your last 100 passenger reviews, one logical solution is to crowd out the old, bad ratings with new, presumably better ratings as fast as humanly possible. And that is exactly what I did.

For the next several weeks, I deliberately avoided opening my feedback summaries. I stocked my vehicle with water bottles, breakfast bars and miscellaneous mini candies to inspire riders to smash that fifth star. I developed a borderline-obsessive vacuuming habit and upped my car-wash game from twice a week to every other day. I experimented with different air-fresheners and radio stations. I drove and I drove and I drove.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s’ The Long Read.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

In rare footage of the North Korean capital, the Guardian gained an insight into what daily life is like for its citizens. Escorted by government minders at all times we were invited to visit a nursery, zoo, swimming pool, funfair, parks, factories, festivals and more, but were left questioning if anything was real. After returning to the UK, Emma Graham-Harrison reflects on what it’s like spending a week immersed in a personality cult.

Rola Hallam describes the Syrian government’s attack on health care, explains how the People’s Convoy came to be and lays out why it’s important to support local humanitarians.

Kathryn Miles talks about how the U.S. is overdue for a major earthquake, explains how we’re not preparing the way we should be and lays out some of the ways we’re causing quakes.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

ラブリーなピンクテントではしゃぐはな。Hana frisks with the cute pink tent.


Debt: A Love Story

In exchange for anonymity, one couple told us the brutal details of their life in the grip of an epic cycle of debt.

Kate: I’m Kate. I’m 46. I have a law degree. I don’t practice law though. When I got pregnant with our first, I took the highest-paying job I could find that still allowed me to stay home and be close to my kids when they were growing up. So I work for an insurance company, paying claims. I make about $70,000 a year. We live in the suburbs of a city in the northeast of the U.S. We have three kids: ages 11, 14, and 18.

Tom: My name is Tom. I have a graduate degree in advertising. I’m 48 and I’m an insurance claims manager. I earn about $90,000 a year doing that, but I also work a second job as a bartender a couple times a week catering in private homes. I make between $100 and $250 a night doing that.

Kate: We have an insurmountable amount of debt. I’m not even exactly sure how much it is anymore. We have $60,000 in credit cards, $18,000 in a loan, and then there’s our mortgage and the second mortgage we took out, which is about $360,000 all together. And that’s not even counting our student loans. How much are those, Tom? Are you at home? Can you look it up?

Tom: Yeah, I’m at home, but I have no idea how to even look it up. The only time I go on the site is to ask them to push back when we have to start paying it. I know that’s irresponsible and horrible, but that’s really, truly what I do. I think it started at about $90,000.

Now, with interest, the law school debt is at a hundred and something. It’s either around $120,000 or $140,000, somewhere in there. We’ve almost never paid my law school loans — every year we ask them to put us in a financial hardship status so we don’t have to pay. But the interest keeps building.

Tom: I think education loans probably started us on this path. But credit cards got us in trouble.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?