Articles/2 How a Small Town Is Standing Up to Fracking - Rolling Stone.pdf
How a Small Town Is Standing Up to Fracking Grant Township, Pennsylvania, population 741, has became the front line of a radical new environmental movement – and they're not backing down May 22, 2017
Stacy Long, on her property in Grant Township (right), has been fighting to stop her town from being used as a toxic waste dump. Mike Belleme for Rolling Stone
On October 24th, 2012, several agents from Pennsylvania General Energy, an oil-and-gas exploration company, met privately with local officials from the rural western Pennsylvania community of Grant Township. Fracking was booming in Pennsylvania, and PGE had been trucking tens of thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater to faraway injection wells in Ohio. Developing
an injection well somewhere in Pennsylvania could save the company around $2 million a year, and Grant Township, a swath of woods and hayfields slightly larger than Manhattan and populated by a mere 741 people, seemed like an especially good spot.
Most of the meeting's attendees – which included the three Grant Township supervisors, a rep from the local state senator's office and an official from the county's office of planning and development – will not speak about the event. But about 10 months later, one of the supervisors passed along a notice to a retired elementary-school teacher named Judy Wanchisn. In lettering so small "you need a magnifying glass to read," says Wanchisn, the notice declared that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "plans to issue an Underground Injection Control (UIC) permit to PGE . . . to construct and operate one class II-D brine disposal injection well." Wanchisn had no idea what that meant, but she could tell it was bad.
Wanchisn, now 74, lives about a mile from the proposed injection-well site, in a modest white ranch house overlooking East Run, a creek that's popular with anglers and home to an ancient salamander species called the hellbender. She was born and raised in Grant Township and taught elementary school for 20 years in the neighboring community of Purchase Line. When she received the EPA announcement, she was enjoying her retirement, spending days with grandkids and girlfriends, gardening and taking care of her husband, who has a heart condition. But she soon found herself spending more time in front of the computer, researching injection wells.
Fracking involves sending millions of gallons of chemical-laden pressurized fluid into deep layers of rock, creating fractures that release trapped oil and gas. In the past decade, Americans have been enjoying the cheap domestic energy resulting from the fracking boom, which now produces two-thirds of the country's natural gas and half of its oil. But fracking has also created its share of unwanted byproduct. Some 36,000 oil-and-gas wastewater-injection wells – disposal sites for the fluid that seeps to the surface after a well is
fracked – lie sunk across our land. Pennsylvania presently has only eight active injection wells, but several are in the process of being permitted. And as the incredibly gas-rich Marcellus shale layer is developed, along with another massive shale layer a few thousand feet beneath it called the Utica, there will surely be more to come.
Fracking wastewater is a toxic brew containing some of the carcinogenic and flammable chemicals left over from the fracking process, as well as heavy metals and radioactive elements like radon and radium that seep out of deep rock layers. Between 2005 and 2014, America pumped approximately 189 billion gallons of fracking wastewater down injection wells, the equivalent of letting the full force of Niagara Falls gush directly into the earth for 14 and a half days. "They started drilling without having any idea what they are going to do with the waste," says Penn State ecologist William Hamilton, who writes a blog about western Pennsylvania. "To me, pumping it into the ground seems like a very foolish way to dispose of a toxic material. There are going to be gigantic, unknown and long-term consequences to this."
Oil-and-gas companies in Pennsylvania once delivered fracking wastewater to sewage-treatment plants. But in the summer of 2008, residents began noticing that their water had developed a funny taste and their dishwashers were malfunctioning. A steel plant reported the water was corroding its machinery. Last year, the EPA banned the practice. The majority of fracking wastewater produced in Pennsylvania is now treated in industrial facilities and reused in fracking wells. Eventually, the mixture becomes too toxic to handle, at which point it is pumped into an injection well. In 2011, a well operated by EXCO Resources oozed waste for four months into a remote forest in central Pennsylvania. A landmark study published last year in Environmental Science & Technology, co-authored by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, determined that a West Virginia injection-well site was "impacting the stream that runs through the area." USGS studies have also linked injection to earthquakes in Ohio, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Essentially, Wanchisn learned, the ground beneath her would be used as a vast toxic-waste storage locker. PGE planned to inject 42,000 gallons of fracking wastewater a day into a layer of rock 7,500 feet beneath the ground, where it was to remain for eternity. The pumping would continue 24 hours a day, every day, for half a generation or more – Wanchisn's teenage grandchildren could be married with children, and PGE would still be injecting fracking waste.
Judy Wanchisn, who rallied neighbors to fight back. "People didn't want anyone messing around with their water," she says. "They understand 'you poison my water and I don't have a home.'" Mike Belleme for Rolling Stone
In October 2013, about 30 residents raised safety issues with the EPA at a public hearing in Grant Township's small municipal building. The president from the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, Sherene Hess, worried about the durability of the well's cement casing, along with the rock layers' ability to hold the waste. Others expressed concerns about seismic faults and the toxicity and radioactivity of the fracking wastewater. Plans to monitor the
well were lacking, and there were unresolved issues concerning the hazards of transporting waste to the site. "What we don't know about injection wells," Hess told the assembly, "may, in fact, hurt us."
After the meeting, Wanchisn assumed the system had worked: The community had presented a well-researched array of scientific facts and formally filed its complaints. How could the federal government's environmental watchdog permit a well in a town that widely opposed it? For five months, Wanchisn heard nothing. Then, in March 2014, she received a letter from the EPA. The injection well had been approved. "We were novices," she says. "We thought someone was going to save us, but what we hadn't yet realized was that no one was going to save us but ourselves."
Despite calls from Donald Trump and his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to roll back "out of control" environmental regulations, in reality, the federal government rarely blocks projects outright. Battles tend to unfold within the regulatory system once a project gets the green light – a community marks out a certain threshold for pollution and tries to ensure the polluting industry stays below that mark. When it comes to fracking, the EPA has been especially business-friendly, declaring injection "a safe and inexpensive option for the disposal of unwanted and often hazardous industrial byproducts," and has approved thousands of wells across the country.
"Americans are often under the belief that the EPA or their local state environmental agency is going to save them from environmental pollution, and that is simply not the case," says Leila Conners, a documentarian whose 2016 film, We the People 2.0, examines how corporations undermine American democracy. "What people have to realize is that they are participating in a system that is not working. Across our country right now, companies are allowed to dump their waste pretty much for free."
But as construction on the injection well neared, Wanchisn and the other Grant Township residents began to wonder why they had to accept the EPA's ruling at all. With the help of outside advocates, the small community landed
upon a radical strategy: It adopted an ordinance that granted residents the right to local self-government, essentially seizing the power to bypass the EPA. According to the new laws of their renegade township, not only could humans defend themselves against PGE, but so too could the streams, the salamanders, the hemlock trees, the very soil underground. As outrageous as it might seem, the move thrust Grant Township onto the front line of a new environmental movement: It's the battle to grant legal rights to nature. And amazingly, it appears to be working.
The injection-well site in Grant Township. Mike Belleme for Rolling Stone
A few hours from Grant Township, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, is a small organization called the Community- Environmental Legal Defense Fund. CELDF has a staff of about a dozen and an annual operating budget of just $900,000 (the Sierra Club's is $100 million). Co-founded in 1995 by an Alabama-born lawyer named Thomas Linzey and his then-partner Stacey Schmader, CELDF began as a traditional environmental firm, helping communities fight toxic projects. But the work was discouraging. CELDF
would sue over a problem with a proposal, and the company would submit an amended permit, which was then approved. "We got invited to the White House, and we met Al Gore," says Linzey. "But all the liberal progressive community cared about was that we were enforcing existing environmental laws. No one seemed to care that the community we were fighting for still got a new toxic-waste incinerator."
The disconnect led Linzey to recall a landmark 1972 paper he read in law school: "Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects." "I am quite seriously proposing," wrote its author, Christopher Stone, "that we give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called 'natural objects' in the environment – indeed, to the natural environment as a whole." Stone defended the theory by urging readers to consider the nation's dark past: Children as young as eight once worked in American factories; until 1920, women in most states couldn't vote, serve on juries or sue in court; and 160 years ago, African-Americans were sold on auction blocks. "The fact is, that each time there is a movement to confer rights onto some new 'entity,' the proposal is bound to sound odd or frightening or laughable," wrote Stone. "This is partly because until the rightless thing receives its rights, we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of 'us' – those who are holding rights at the time."
Under Linzey's direction, CELDF was transformed into a civil-rights group for the environment. It has since helped about three dozen communities across the country draft laws to grant legal rights to nature. They have fought the oil-and-gas industry, factory farms, sludge haulers and other polluters. The plan, says Linzey, is to inject the idea of rights of nature into the national dialogue by working community by community. The ultimate goal is to work with legislatures to introduce rights-of-nature language into state constitutions and, eventually, the U.S. Constitution.
Wanchisn contacted CELDF in April 2014. Initially, the conversation did not go well. An energetic Pennsylvania organizer named Chad Nicholson
explained to her the group's rights-of-nature mission. "It was like he was talking Greek," says Wanchisn. "We butted heads."
But Nicholson also offered insight into Grant Township's experience with the EPA. "The regulatory system is cooked," he told Wanchisn. "Its DNA does not allow communities to actually say no to things and protect their environment. Communities are then left arguing over the details of a permit granted to a corporation, but what a permit does is allow a certain amount of illegal activity to go on in the community. A permit is about negotiating the rate of destruction, not stopping it." The only way to prevent contamination, he said, was to never let the corporation into their community in the first place. Wanchisn liked that approach. She didn't want a judicious permit; she wanted no injection well. In that case, Nicholson said, this "is not a pollution problem; it is a democracy problem."
Stacy meets with Chad Nicholson at her home in Grant Township on Thursday, April 27. Mike Belleme for Rolling Stone
By then, Grant Township had a new lead supervisor, a passionately conservative former coal-company executive named Fred Carlson. "If there's anyone who should be going along with this thing, it's me," Carlson says of the injection well. "But you have to think about the generations to come. And one of the biggest resources that this country has is clean fresh water." He was eager to work with CELDF, which helped write a community bill of rights that made it illegal within the township to operate injection wells. The ordinance would also give residents the right to local self-government and grant "natural communities and ecosystems within Grant Township, including . . . rivers, streams, and aquifers . . . the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve."
On CELDF's recommendation, Wanchisn, along with her eldest daughter, Stacy Long, and a family friend, founded an environmental organization called the East Run Hellbenders Society. They went door-to-door explaining why the ordinance was the only way to stop the injection well. "It didn't matter if they were Democrats or Republicans," says Wanchisn. "People didn't want anyone messing around with their water. They understand 'You poison my water and I don't have a home.' "
For the Pennsylvania oil-and-gas industry, the ordinance was a call to war. PGE sent a team of lawyers from Pittsburgh to the June 2014 township meeting where the ordinance was put to a vote. This time, more than 50 people showed up, many of them spilling out of the tiny municipal building into the parking lot. "PGE does not want to fight," the company's attorney, Blaine Lucas, told the crowd, urging a rejection of the ordinance. "If it goes to federal court, and I don't want to saber rattle here . . . there's a possibility the township could be required to pay our attorney fees."
Carlson fired back. "The only reason that I can see that you gentlemen are here is that Grant Township is a very small township," he said. "We're being picked on. We're not happy with it." He asked the room for a show of hands. Nearly everyone favored the bill. "Our ordinance is passed," Carlson declared.
"You boys know where we're at. If there's a problem, go at it."
Before summer was out, PGE filed a furious 19-page lawsuit in federal court, calling Grant's ordinance a violation of PGE's constitutional rights. "Grant Township's conduct," the suit claimed, "is deliberate, arbitrary, irrational, exceeds the limits of governmental authority, amounts to an abuse of official power and shocks the conscience." In October 2014, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, or PIOGA, a powerful lobbying group, motioned to intervene on PGE's behalf. Grant Township wasn't just up against a single energy company anymore – it was up against the entire industry. Linzey had predicted the blowback. "To expect a fully formed legal theory initially out of rights-of-nature is just ridiculous," he says. "It takes actual conflicts to build that body of law."
In response, he urged Wanchisn and the other East Run Hellbenders, along with the local watershed – that is, the body of water itself – to file a motion to intervene on the township's behalf. It was Christopher Stone's theory put into action, and the oil-and-gas industry was not amused.
"Utter bull crap of the highest order," read a post on Marcellus Drilling News, a popular industry blog. "But a dangerous precedent if allowed. We can see your dog suing you, the trees that ring your property suing you, wrongful death lawsuits for killing a snake. . . . An ecosystem filing a lawsuit would be funny, if it weren't such a tragically vicious attack against the fabric of this country and the HUMANS that live in it."
A year later, Judge Susan Paradise Baxter of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected the watershed's attempt to intervene in the case and overturned the township's ordinance. The takeaway was clear. Grant Township had no right to deny a corporation its right to inject fracking waste. "Although Defendant wishes it were not so," wrote Judge Baxter, "the development of oil and gas . . . is a legitimate business activity and land use within Pennsylvania."
Supervisors Fred Carlson (left) and Jon Perry (center) led the council's opposition to the well. Chauncey Ross/Indiana Gazette
Since the election of Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Congress has already attempted to nix an Obama rule meant to limit oil-and- gas companies from flaring methane, which releases the potent greenhouse gas and other toxins into the atmosphere. It has also rolled back a regulation that prevented mining companies from removing mountaintops and dumping the leftover debris into nearby river valleys. According to a statement issued by the White House in early February, the administration intends to further "nullify unnecessary regulations imposed on America's businesses." All of which underscores for Linzey that protecting the environment in Trump's America will require an epic fight. "Unfortunately, traditional liberal environmentalists are scared to death of that confrontation," he says. "We have to understand change doesn't come from comfort."
For Linzey, the battleground could not be more fundamental. Congress' power to regulate state policy is laid out in Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution: "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." The Commerce Clause, as it's known, binds 50 sovereign territories into the United States of America. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law because discrimination was found to have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act share a similar story. In America, social and environmental justice hangs on commerce. And American corporations have feasted off this arrangement. "Our constitutional structure is an archaic suicide pact," Linzey says. "You are looking at a system of law that elevates rights of property and commerce above the rights of communities, people and nature."
The expansion of constitutional rights for corporations – commonly referred to as corporate personhood – began with an 1886 case involving the Southern Pacific Railroad. Chief Justice Morrison Waite, a corporate attorney who had never served a day as judge prior to joining the Supreme Court, determined the 14th Amendment, originally crafted to secure constitutional rights for freed slaves, applied to corporations as well. In 1906, corporations gained protection from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. A 1931 case involving a Russian shipbuilder protected corporations from unlawful government seizures under the Fifth Amendment. A series of cases in the 1970s granted corporations free-speech rights under the First Amendment, freedoms expanded in the 2010 Citizens United decision. Four years later, the Hobby Lobby case granted religious freedoms to corporations as well.
But the growing influence of corporations on all branches of the U.S. government has inspired an opposing narrative, albeit one on the fringes of legal theory: the development of a nature personhood. "Given the rigidity and hostility of the current Court's standing jurisprudence, the intransigence of Congress, and the over-crowded agenda of the Executive Branch,"
Georgetown legal scholar Hope Babcock wrote in a 2016 paper on the rights of nature in Ecology Law Quarterly, "this may be the only way to protect our disappearing natural resources."
That's where CELDF comes in. One of the organization's first cases involved Tamaqua, an eastern Pennsylvania community of about 7,000 people not far from Philadelphia. Decades of coal mining had formed massive pits across the landscape, which a number of sludge-hauling companies were using to dispose of human, hospital and industrial chemical waste, including coal ash, a powdery soot that, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, can cause "heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, kidney disease . . . birth defects and impaired bone growth in children." In 2006, with the help of CELDF, the community passed an ordinance that banned dumping in the pits and declared that "natural communities, and ecosystems" be considered "persons." Chris Morrison, then Tamaqua's mayor, says, "I was just standing up for my environment, but there were other states and even other countries that contacted me for advice."
Most of the communities CELDF has worked with have been in Pennsylvania. The others are spread across the country, concentrated in states that value both the outdoors and industry: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and New Hampshire. In 2007, an organization called the Pachamama Alliance contacted CELDF and arranged for Linzey and another attorney to travel to Ecuador, where they helped draft rights of nature into the country's new constitution. Three years later, Bolivia enacted the Law of Mother Earth, granting nature nearly a dozen rights, including the right to life and to exist. CELDF is presently working in Australia, Sweden and Nepal.
The movement has even spread back to one of its original wellsprings, among Native Americans. Last September, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin became the first native tribe to begin the process of formally installing the rights of nature into their tribal constitution. Among other threats, oil-and- gas companies are mining the tribe's rich sand layers for use in fracking.
"This concept was always there," says Jon Greendeer, the executive director of Heritage Preservation with the Ho-Chunk Nation. "What the rights of nature does is translate our beliefs from an indigenous perspective into modern legislation."
But nowhere have the boundaries of the fight been more clearly defined than in Grant Township. Big Energy has put its full weight behind stopping rights of nature there because a victory for the town could set a precedent for others to fight back in America's fracking heartland. There's billions of dollars on the line, at a time when shale gas layers like the Marcellus have analysts trumpeting America's energy independence. "For the oil-and-gas industry, this rocks their world," says Linzey. "It means communities would have the power to say no to fracking and fracking waste, and these corporations would have to find a new line of work."
Protestors at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Office. Nina Berman/Noor/Redux
In December 2015, a fleet of trucks commenced work at the site of the
proposed injection well. The chert-rock layer that PGE intended to fill with fracking wastewater had been mined since the late 1990s for its natural gas. But now the natural gas was nearly tapped out. To transform the site into an injection well, PGE needed to pump down fluids and observe how the well responded. This is called a manual integrity test, and for the residents of Grant Township it was a reasonable measure of how an around-the-clock industrial site would impact their community. "That was the worst week of my life," says Long, Wanchisn's daughter. "It was like an invading army set up camp."
Pickups and tanker trucks came and went. A giant drilling rig lit up the sky like a massive industrial Christmas tree. A security detail guarded the entire noisy operation. "We live here because it's quiet, peaceful and there's a sense of community," says William Woodcock, an interior decorator who works at Lowe's and lives in a 10,000-square-foot Grant Township estate that serves as a workshop for his partner, Jon Perry, a nationally renowned player-piano restorer. "But if I have to wake up to machinery running 24 hours a day, beaming lights that block out the stars and dumping toxic waste into the ground, the reasons to live here will be gone."
PGE's right to begin injecting waste in Grant Township was still far from assured. Although Judge Baxter had struck down Grant's community-bill-of- rights ordinance, CELDF offered another strategy. The judge's decision rested on the fact that Grant's regulations were trumped by state law. But a 1972 state act aimed at increasing the power of local government enabled Pennsylvania communities to adopt something known as a home-rule charter. This meant the municipality would no longer be hamstrung by state laws, and instead be bound by an agreement crafted and voted upon by its residents.
Wanchisn and Long once again hit the streets, joined by a growing number of local allies, including Long's husband, Mark, and Woodcock and Perry. Woodcock was particularly troubled by PGE's encroachment. He grew up on
a farm in western New York, not far from Love Canal, the infamous neighborhood built atop a chemical-waste dump. Images of the carcinogenic black sludge that oozed into the basements and backyards of Love Canal were seared into his mind. "Here was history repeating itself right on my doorstep," says Woodcock. "I needed to be a part of at least trying to make it stop."
Many of Grant's residents were initially wary of home rule. "They didn't understand it," says Wanchisn. "We had thrown a lot at them in a three-year period." But at the same time, town members had become increasingly willing to join the fight. "There's a fair degree of 'fuck you' in this area," says Perry. "We don't want people to come in and mess with us."
Not only did home rule pass in November 2015, by a margin of two to one, but both Perry and Long were elected town supervisors. Wanchisn and her rebel band had effectively taken over local government. According to the home-rule charter, which remains in effect, the injection of fracking waste in Grant Township is illegal, and nature has rights.
The decision did little to discourage PGE, which conducted the manual integrity test a month later. "CELDF is really pitching a form of anarchy here," says Kevin Moody, general counsel of PIOGA, the industry's lobby. "What these people are trying to do is a failed mission. And in the process it is costing our clients real money and time."
Moody, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, with a close-cropped head of white hair and matching thin white beard, meets with me at a diner north of Pittsburgh. A couple of months earlier, in September 2016, Judge Baxter had released a statement that her ruling on the ordinance did not stand for the home-rule charter; PGE would have to file a separate lawsuit. While this seemed like a victory for Grant Township, it also meant more legal fees fighting PGE and PIOGA – all of which the town could eventually be responsible for in damages. Now, over a slice of pie, Moody tells me, "The ultimate irony in their position is that they want to deny rights to
corporations, which are composed of people, but they want to give rights to ecosystems, which can function fine without people."
An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Moody was actively looking for a district attorney with the "intestinal fortitude" to charge Grant Township supervisors under a crime called official oppression. The offense, when government officials exceed their authority, carries a fine of up to $5,000 and a possible two-year prison sentence. At the diner, I ask Moody if he really aims to throw community leaders like Stacy Long and Jon Perry in jail. "It's an extreme measure," he says. "But it's one that is certainly in our toolbox."
In March of this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reapproved PGE's Grant Township injection well, along with a well in nearby Highland Township, a community that has also been working with CELDF. The DEP, it turns out, has a history of overlooking pollution concerns. As the fracking boom kicked into high gear, complaints to the DEP skyrocketed, but the agency did not make any of them public until last year, when a Pittsburgh investigative nonprofit called Public Herald uncovered nearly 10,000 complaints dating back to 2004. Many are terrifying. "Complainant noticed an odor to water about a year ago," reads one from a woman in Washington County, south of Pittsburgh. "Son has been getting sick and having liver problems, dog has died."
As for Grant Township, the DEP claims to be working in the best interest of Pennsylvanians. "Our job is to administer the statutes passed by our general assembly," says Scott Perry, the agency's deputy secretary of oil-and-gas management. "And operating a disposal well is a lawful activity."
The new DEP permit requires PGE to monitor the Grant Township site with seismometers, and to shut down the well if it spurs earthquakes of 2.0 magnitude or greater. PGE has since appealed, saying the DEP lacks authority to impose these conditions. At the same time, the DEP has sued Grant and Highland townships, claiming that certain sections of their home-
rule charters unlawfully interfere with state oil-and-gas policies. Grant has filed a countersuit, defending the charter's legality. If nothing else, the rights- of-nature movement has held up the injection well in the courts for five years, with no end in sight.
Meanwhile, the home-rule charter still stands. Even if Judge Baxter strikes it down, Grant is prepared for a potentially confrontational resistance. Last year, the community received training from the Climate Disobedience Center and passed an ordinance legalizing civil disobedience. "If enforcement through nonviolent direct action is commenced," the document states, "this law shall prohibit any private or public actor from bringing criminal charges."
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the drinking water of 77 million Americans comes from sources that are untested or contaminated. As the Trump administration and Congress continue to dismantle environmental regulations, the question remains: Who will fight back? To some extent, we have already seen the answer. It is rural communities, it is poor communities, it is communities of color, places like Standing Rock, and Flint, Michigan, and Grant Township, vulnerable communities that again and again find themselves on the front lines of the fight for a cleaner world. These are the places where industry goes to dump its waste and do its dirtiest work. "It is areas that suck," says Long. "Areas that don't have a population, or at least a wealthy, educated population. It is areas like Grant Township. We are a sacrifice zone."
Grant Township's injection-well site is in a meadow across the street from the cemetery where Wanchisn's mother is buried. If PGE ignores the home-rule charter, which Moody says he would advise them to do, tanker trucks filled with fracking wastewater, a dozen or more a day, coming at all hours, would veer off Pennsylvania Route 286 at Purchase Line, where Wanchisn taught elementary school, climb up a hill and through a belt of forest, then wind back down on curves that for four to five months of the year are packed with snow and ice. At that point, Wanchisn and Long see two options. Greet the
first truck at the township line and explain to the driver that by injecting their payload they'd be breaking the law. And then, if the driver keeps driving, step into the street. "What else do we have to lose?" says Long. "I am going to put my body in front of a truck. Change happens because people stand up to fight."
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Articles/6 Volkswagen's Big Lie.pdf
Volkswagen's Big Lie How VW's decision to double down on a fossil-fuel technology led it into deceit and disaster.
By Chris Iovenko
April 21, 2016
This article appeared in the Spring, 2016 issue of The American Prospect
magazine. It was written prior to Volkswagen's recent emissions violations
n September 2015, Volkswagen shocked the automotive industry and
the world by admitting publicly that, since 2008, it had duped
consumers and violated U.S. federal and state emission laws by using
a “defeat device” or “cheatware” in its diesel automobiles. The cheatware
detected when the car was being put through an emissions test cycle and
made the exhaust emissions compliant only during the test.
Under actual driving conditions, emissions of certain toxic pollutants shot up
to as much as 40 times more than the tests found. The cheatware had been
installed in some 11 million VW vehicles worldwide, as well as Audis and
Porsches, including nearly 600,000 vehicles in the United States.
The impact of this disclosure on VW has been calamitous. VW stock has lost a
third of its value since the scandal broke. Its new-car sales in the United States
are plunging, due in part to a mandated stop-sale on all new diesels, even as
U.S. car sales overall are reaching decade highs. If that weren’t bad enough,
VW is facing numerous civil suits as well as enforcement measures and fines
from both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of
California. VW is also under investigation by regulators in Europe.
The scale and audacity of the deception are especially stunning given VW’s
prominence in the automotive industry. VW is not only Germany’s largest
automaker; in the first half of 2015, it briefly surpassed Toyota to become the
largest automaker in the world, a position it might have maintained if not for
the scandal. VW’s nearly 600,000 employees produce about 41,000 vehicles a
day. VW owns 12 subsidiaries, including such renowned and high-profile
names as Audi, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Ducati, and Porsche.
The scandal highlights two broader problems. The first involves automakers
that have lagged behind their rivals in developing electric and hybrid cars and
in adjusting to global concerns about air pollution and climate change.
German car manufacturers have long been leaders in diesel engines, which
can generate high levels of pollution. Even as other automakers developed
hybrids in the 1990s and early 2000s, the German automakers stuck with what
they knew best. Instead of developing cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars,
they produced ever more powerful engines and focused exclusively on
growth. This was the context of VW’s deception: The company doubled down
on diesel and sought to evade environmental regulation rather than take on
the challenges of innovation in an environmentally conscious age.
The second issue highlighted by the scandal has to do with regulatory
enforcement. Like other regulatory agencies, the EPA has faced budget cuts
that have affected its enforcement capabilities; VW’s deception came to light
only as a result of a privately funded research project. This is a story not just
about an incidental failure to enforce environmental standards, but about the
vulnerability of regulatory agencies to deliberate and systematic corporate
VOLKSWAGEN'S STORY HAS an infamous beginning: The company
originated as the brainchild of Adolf Hitler and made extensive use of slave
labor during World War II. Very few Germans owned cars in 1934, when
Hitler hired Ferdinand Porsche to design a small and inexpensive “people’s
car” for the masses. Porsche designed a streamlined, rear-engine, air-cooled
small car that was forward-thinking, fuel-efficient, and inexpensive to
produce. However, the completion of the factory, located in present-day
Wolfsburg, coincided with Germany’s invasion of its neighbors and the start of
World War II, so very few VW passenger cars were actually produced (Hitler
received one of the few made as a gift on his 50th birthday). The factory
instead turned to producing military vehicles and would eventually depend on
a workforce of more than 15,000 slave laborers from Nazi concentration
camps. In response to a lawsuit from survivors in 1998, VW set up a $12
million restitution fund.
In the late 1940s, VW emerged from the ashes of the Third Reich to launch the
Porsche-designed VW Beetle. Over 21 million of the cleverly marketed and
beloved original Beetles would be sold by the time it was taken off the market
in 2003, making it the bestselling car in the world. As Volkswagen grew, it
absorbed other companies and brands. This focus on growth and global
market share increased in the last decade as VW set its sights on surpassing
Toyota to become the largest automaker in the world. One barrier to VW’s
global ambition was its trouble selling vehicles in the United States, then the
world’s most lucrative car market.
The problem, says John Voelcker, an industry analyst and senior editor for
Internet Brands Automotive Group, is that Volkswagen didn’t dedicate the
time and resources to strategizing how to best design cars to fit the needs and
desires of the U.S. consumer. VW largely ignored America’s love affair with
minivans and SUVs, and until recently scoffed at the burgeoning interest in
hybrids and electric cars. Instead, Volkswagen wanted U.S. consumers to buy
the same kind of cars it was so successful selling in Europe, namely diesels. In
Europe, half the new cars sold are diesels and much of that market belongs to
The diesel engine, which relies upon compression instead of spark plugs for
ignition, appeals to Europeans because it gets excellent mileage while
providing sporty performance. In many European Union countries such as
One barrier to VW’s global ambition was its trouble selling vehicles in the United States
England and Germany, diesels also benefit from government incentives and
subsidies. In the United States, diesel has had a much harder time capturing
the interest of passenger-car buyers, though it’s popular with truck buyers.
Cheap gas prices and a generally tepid interest in fuel economy have been a
big part of the problem. Diesel was also dealt a setback by General Motors’
misguided foray into diesel-engine production in the late 1970s and early
1980s. GM produced such notable flops as the diesel Oldsmobile Cutlass and
the diesel Cadillac Eldorado, which cemented in many minds a stereotype of
diesels as being unreliable, underpowered, and smoky.
Thanks to technological advances in the 1990s, however, many foreign
manufacturers such as VW, Volvo, and Mercedes began to make modest
inroads into the U.S. market with their diesel passenger cars. The
incorporation of turbochargers and direct rail injection significantly enhanced
performance and efficiency and overcame the major consumer complaints
about earlier diesel cars. The main problem with diesels, especially for well-
regulated and emission-sensitive markets like the United States, is that they
can create more local pollution than their gasoline-powered equivalents.
While diesel engines have lower CO2 emissions, diesel’s efficiencies at
combusting fuel rely on high combustion temperatures and high engine
compression ratios that also create excessive amounts of certain pollutants,
especially nitrogen oxides (NOx). NOx contributes to smog and ground-level
ozone; diesels also emit fine particulate matter, which is linked to lung disease
and cancer. According to the EPA, exposure to these pollutants can cause
respiratory illness, especially in children, as well as premature death.
PUBLIC CONCERN ABOUT
The main problem with diesels, especially for well-regulated and emission-sensitive markets like the United States, is that they can create more local pollution than their gasoline-powered equivalents.
AIR quality and tailpipe emissions
first emerged as a public issue in
California. In the years after World
War II, Los Angeles began to suffer
from periods of dense smog as car
ownership soared and the
metropolitan region became heavily
suburbanized. National concerns
about air pollution grew in the 1960s, resulting in the passage of the Clean Air
Act of 1963. A strengthened Clean Air Act in 1970 and the establishment of the
EPA the same year further empowered the federal government to regulate air
pollution. By 1975, federal exhaust emission standards required carmakers to
install catalytic converters. California had even tougher standards. The
California Air Resources Board, established in 1967, had its own program to
regulate tailpipe emissions, and the federal government gave the state a
recurring waiver to enforce stricter emissions standards than those dictated
by federal law.
Regulations aimed at controlling air pollution have proven to be effective at
protecting public health. Reductions in airborne pollutants from cars, trucks,
power plants, and factories have extended life expectancy, preventing
hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and cases of bronchitis and other
diseases since 1970. Requirements for lead-free gasoline, which the EPA began
imposing in 1978, are one of the greatest success stories of public health,
responsible for dramatic reductions in blood lead levels known to cause brain,
kidney, and cardiovascular damage. The improvements in air quality are most
stark in large cities. In Los Angeles, smog-causing pollutants have been
reduced by 98 percent since 1960 despite a tripling of fuel consumption. The
bulk of the gain in air quality comes from cleaner cars. If nothing had been
done about auto emissions, many major metropolitan areas in the United
States would now have third-world levels of air pollution rivaling Manila or
even Delhi, the most polluted city in the world.
More stringent U.S. air pollution regulation began to affect German
automakers in 1994, when the EPA had phased in significantly reduced
permissible levels of emissions for cars and trucks. The agency phased in even
stricter standards from 2004 to 2009. The new regulations significantly
increased diesel emission standards. These far exceeded existing European
standards, and required the passenger diesel manufacturers such as BMW,
Mercedes, and VW to add new and potentially expensive exhaust treatment
systems to their diesel vehicles. In fact, all new diesels were pulled off the
market in 2008 because they couldn’t be certified, but the next year, the
German automakers began reintroducing passenger diesels outfitted with new
regulation-compliant emission controls.
The emission system used by both BMW and Mercedes is called a selective
catalytic reduction system, or SCR. This system, which requires a fair amount
of plumbing and bulky hardware, reduces NOx by squirting automotive-grade
urea, otherwise known as diesel exhaust fluid, into the exhaust stream. An
effective and proven process, this method can remove up to 90 percent of NOx
while reducing the level of other pollutants as well. The downside of SCR is
that it is expensive, takes up trunk space, and requires a separate tank for the
diesel exhaust fluid. The inconvenience of making a trip to the dealer to refill
this separate tank is regarded as a big negative for many consumers who
might otherwise consider diesel. Refilling the tank is not optional; if the tank
runs dry, the car will not operate. This equipment can be engineered to fit in
larger sedans such as those produced by BMW and Mercedes, but it poses a
bigger challenge for compact cars.
Initially, VW opted for a different system called a lean NOx trap. It’s a compact,
inexpensive system that uses an exhaust trap combined with complicated
adjustments to the fuel mixture to reduce NOx emissions. VW asserted that its
cutting-edge engineering had created an entirely new combustion process that
solved its diesel emissions challenges while maintaining fuel efficiency and
performance. Other automakers, car magazines, and industry analysts were
generally impressed, though a little baffled.
“None of the other automakers could figure out how Volkswagen did it,” says
“None of the other automakers could figure out how Volkswagen did it,” says John Voelcker.
John Voelcker. “Infiniti, Subaru, and Honda were all looking to launch diesels.
None of those makers could get their diesels to comply and still provide
suitable acceleration, performance, and fuel economy. So basically for eight
years, engineers at other companies scratched their heads and finally said,
‘You know, Volkswagen must just have really good engineers.’”
Impressed by the achievement, Green Car Journal named the 2009 VW Jetta
TDI Green Car of the Year, the first time a diesel had garnered that honor. VW
parlayed this recognition into a successful marketing campaign that branded
VW as an innovator leading the way with its self-proclaimed “Clean Diesel”
technology. The company’s ads focused on redefining diesel as clean; one ad
featured three presumptive “old wives” arguing about diesel. The ad
dismissively labeled the idea of diesel being dirty as an old wives’ tale.” VW
also waged an online campaign through their interactive site
tditruthordare.com, which challenged consumers on their “misconceptions”
about diesels as being polluters and pitted VW diesels in an “eco-conscious car
showdown” against cars such as the Prius.
Although diesel cars remained a small niche market in the United States,
Volkswagen soon dominated it. VW’s overall U.S. sales did very well, too; it
doubled its vehicle sales from 2009 to 2012 and seemed like it might be on
track to meet its ambitious goal of selling a million cars a year in the United
States by 2018. Volks-wagen’s aggressive and often clever marketing
campaigns were successful in both raising its brand profile and attracting a
specific type of car buyer for its diesel line of cars equipped with
turbocharged direct injection. VW’s diesels appealed to a segment of the
market as an iconoclastic kind of anti-Prius, a very sporty but environmentally
responsible car that boasted not only great performance but also enviable gas
mileage. In 2009, as a further incentive, VW’s diesels each qualified for an
advanced lean-burn federal tax credit of $1,300.
VW'S DECEIT BEGAN TO collapse in the fall of 2013 with a study of diesel cars
by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a nonprofit
organization that supports cleaner and more efficient vehicles. The purpose of
the study, according to Drew Kodjak, the executive director, was relatively
simple and straightforward.
“It started in Europe, where half of the vehicles sold are diesels,” says Kodjak.
“A variety of different testing sources showed that passenger diesel vehicles in
Europe were emitting many times the legal limits. We decided to do some
testing in the U.S. on light-duty vehicles in order to demonstrate that it was
possible to achieve low emissions not only on the test cycle but also under
normal operating conditions.”
ICCT contracted with West Virginia University to do the actual road tests,
which were anticipated to provide data on how diesels can be both fuel-
efficient and low-emitting. The West Virginia researchers chose California as
the testing site for the cars because the state has a large proportion of all the
diesels in the United States as well as a wide variety of terrains and conditions
to test car performance. Three diesel passenger vehicles were tested: a VW
Jetta, which used a lean NOx trap to treat its emissions, and a BMW X5 and VW
Passat, both of which used selective catalytic reduction exhaust systems. The
California Air Resources Board provided lab testing equipment. Before road
testing, all three cars passed emissions tests at a state testing facility.
The researchers then fitted the cars with portable emissions monitors and
drove them extensively over a number of days on changing terrain and in a
wide variety of driving conditions. Although vehicles are expected and
allowed by regulators to perform differently under changing driving
conditions, a disturbing pattern soon emerged for both Volkswagens. Even
when the Passat and Jetta were in optimal conditions for low emissions, such
as steady highway speeds, both VWs unexpectedly emitted a huge amount of
NOx tailpipe pollution. The emissions were so high as to be virtually
“A vehicle manufacturer is not required to meet any on-road emissions
standards, but you shouldn’t see such a magnitude of difference between what
is being performed on the test cycle and on the road,” explains Arvind
Thiruvengadam, an assistant professor at West Virginia University and a
member of the research team. “The magnitudes we observed, such as 30 times
or 40 times [the legal limit], were alarming.”
This problem applied only to the VW diesels. The diesel BMW, which used the
same SCR emission system as the VW Passat, showed only the expected
emissions variation between its test cycle and real-world testing. When ICCT
published its report in May 2014, the dominoes suddenly began to fall. The
EPA and the California Air Resources Board began doggedly to investigate the
problem on their own and to demand answers from VW. A year later,
discussions between the regulators and VW became heated, and the EPA
pushed VW to come clean about what had happened.
On September 22, 2015, VW’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, declared in
a video statement that he was “endlessly sorry we betrayed the trust of
customers” and that “the irregularities with these engines contradict
everything for which Volkswagen stands. To make it very clear: Manipulation
at VW must never happen again.” Winterkorn also promised swift action and
full transparency. That a company as huge and important as VW would design
its cars to cheat on emission standards stunned and outraged not only
consumers but regulators and the automotive industry as well. VW’s mea
culpa was a very unusual move; it’s virtually unprecedented for a major
corporation to admit full culpability in its immediate response to a huge
“As any good American businessman knows, you never admit anything, you
never apologize for anything,” says Steve Lehto, a consumer protection
attorney. “You can’t take that back. Nobody will believe you.”
Nonetheless, VW tried to do precisely that. Winterkorn resigned soon after his
statement to be replaced by Matthias Mueller. In January, when Mueller
That a company as huge and important as VW would design its cars to cheat on emission standards stunned and outraged not only consumers but regulators and the automotive industry as well.
visited the Detroit Auto Show, he did little to endear himself to American
consumers or address their concerns about the scandal. Instead, when
interviewed by NPR, Mueller denied that VW had lied to the EPA and instead
implausibly insisted VW had simply misunderstood American emissions
“It’s very interesting at the very beginning of this that they owned the problem
when it came to light,” says Mark Stevenson, an auto analyst and managing
editor at The Truth About Cars. “Ever since that moment, they’ve been trying
to find legal ways to get out of doing things. They had this amazing
opportunity where they could have said, ‘Yes we did it, and in two months we
are going to tell you exactly what we are going to do about it.’”
To fend off its steadily mounting legal challenges, VW has hired Kirkland &
Ellis, the U.S. law firm that defended BP against criminal charges resulting
from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. In a goodwill gesture, VW has
offered a $500 Visa prepaid gift card as well as a $500 VW dealership gift card
to owners of the affected diesels. VW hasn’t yet offered a clear explanation of
why it installed the cheatware, who made the decision, and who knew about
Most important, VW has also failed to announce a sufficient technical fix for
any of the implicated 2009–2015 diesels, probably because the technical
solution is likely to prove very thorny from an engineering as well as a
logistical standpoint, and will no doubt be financially punishing for the
company. Two versions of VW’s diesel engines are under stop-sale. The first is
the larger 3.0-liter TDI diesel, which can be found in VW, Audi, and Porsche
SUVs and affects around 85,000 vehicles. These vehicles violate EPA
regulations because they contain software that was not disclosed as is
To fend o! its steadily mounting legal challenges, VW has hired Kirkland & Ellis, the U.S. law firm that defended BP against criminal charges resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
required by law. These should be fixable by a software tweak.
VW’s more prevalent 2.0-liter TDI diesel engines from the model years 2012 to
2015 are equipped with an SCR system. They should be able to pass emissions
tests once the offending cheatware is removed. The first generation of diesels
sold from 2009 to 2011 poses the biggest dilemma for VW. Unfortunately for
VW, this engine comprises the bulk of the 2.0-liter engines in question, an
estimated 365,000 of the roughly 485,000 problem passenger cars. These
earlier cars have a NOx trap emissions system as opposed to the SCR system.
An SCR system would probably have to be retrofitted to make the cars
“It’s a nightmare,” says John
Voelcker. “You’re effectively talking
about retrofitting into 365,000 old
cars something that they were never
designed to have. It’s easily several
thousand dollars a car if you can
even get the plan signed off on.”
Each model of car would likely
require a separate and specific
engineering fix, and each model
would also have to be retested and approved by the federal government.
Another looming issue for VW is how it would incentivize customers to bring
their cars back in for a “fix” that would likely negatively affect performance
and gas mileage. Further, except for California and a few other states, most
states don’t require car owners to comply with vehicle recalls to maintain
vehicle registration; as Rachel Cohen has shown in the Prospect, millions of
cars recalled as a result of safety defects remain on the road. Low consumer
compliance with recalls raises the specter that even if VW provides a fix, many
of its cars will remain on the road and continue to pollute at high levels. Some
countries, such as Germany, mandate that owners fix vehicles under recall;
the U.S. ought to move toward a similar policy on both public-safety and
The other option for VW, and perhaps the cheaper and certainly simpler
alternative, is to just cut its losses and buy back the earlier diesels that would
need hardware retrofitting. Then the troubling question arises about what VW
would do with the unsalable bought-back cars. Would the company crush
them or re-sell them in a less-regulated market like Mexico, where they can
continue to spew out pollutants?
As daunting and expensive as the technical fixes may be, the legal issues
facing Volkswagen may prove even more cataclysmic for the company.
Ironically, VW’s short-lived burst of honesty and integrity may deny it the
familiar corporate course of plausible denial or of scapegoating one or more
low-level malefactors before settling with the concerned parties. Indeed, the
scale and duration of VW’s law-breaking as well as the apparent forethought
and effort put into perpetrating the fraud seem to indicate that the
malfeasance may have had high-level approval, either tacit or explicit.
Regardless of who thought up, engineered, or approved the fraud, VW’s post-
scandal behavior hasn’t sat well with regulators, nor will it work to its
advantage as the company tries to fend off the rising number of class-action
suits. These lawsuits stem primarily from diesel-car owners but include
investors as well. VW fought to have the cases consolidated and heard in
Detroit, a city generally friendly to car manufacturers. Instead, the cases will
be heard in California, where judges and juries are not expected to be
Only time will tell how financially damaging those civil lawsuits will
ultimately be. The legal outcome on the civil side pivots in large part on how
VW decides to deal with the existing problem diesels. If VW is capable of
fixing all the diesels concerned, even the earlier models, the damages any
individual owner can claim will likely be very limited. Even if the aftermarket
application of new emission-control equipment or another fix reduces gas
mileage, owners will be entitled only to damages they suffered—in this case,
the money they would lose at the pump over the remaining lifetime of the
vehicle. For any individual, this might not amount to much money, maybe not
even enough to fight over, though in a class-action suit it could still be
significant. If the company can’t or won’t fix the problem, the story changes
and the door opens to potentially much wider damages.
The criminal charges Volkswagen is facing are another matter entirely. Even if
Volkswagen somehow manages to fix every one of its problem diesels, the
criminal charges are not going to go away. As a company, VW has admitted to
breaking federal law by violating the Clean Air Act, and in a suit filed by the
Department of Justice in January, VW faces a fine of up to $37,500 per vehicle
as well as additional fines that could total $48 billion. VW also violated
California state law as well as the laws of other states that follow California’s
emission standards, although it’s less clear what fines it is facing for those
violations. VW continues to submit proposals to both the EPA and the
California Air Resources Board, but as of this writing, all the proposed fixes
have been rejected as being insufficient. If that weren’t enough bad news for
VW, it is also being investigated by the Senate for falsifying emissions claims
and unjustly benefitting from more than $50 million in federal tax credits.
The clock is ticking for VW. Enormous damage has been done to VW’s brand
and credibility, and every day that VW postpones decisive action its 2016
diesels sit unsold and unsellable on dealers’ lots. The burden of all the
unresolved legal and technical issues, not to mention the mounting anger and
frustration of those who bought a car under false pretenses, will continue to
drive potential customers away.
As severe as the damage is that VW has inflicted on itself as well as on VW
owners, dealerships, and investors, there are two other big losers in this
scandal as well. The first is the concept of diesel engines as being a greener or
better alternative to gasoline engines. Europeans adopted diesel in the 1990s
partly as a way to combat greenhouse emissions since diesels emit less
CO2 than gas engines. More recently, however, there has been growing alarm
in Europe about the level of smog and particulate matter in large cities; in fact,
Paris and London may ban diesels. Even though VW denies violating Europe’s
laxer emission regulations, the scandal accentuates public concerns about the
high levels of diesel-generated pollutants in the continent’s large cities and
Even if Volkswagen somehow manages to fix every one of its problem diesels, the criminal charges are not going to go away.
may well change how European governments and consumers make decisions
In the United States, the future of diesel is not in debate. Barring a miracle, the
diesel passenger car in America is dead, except for a small number of high-
end Mercedes and BMWs. VW was the only seller and proponent of mid-level
diesel cars, and without its market presence, diesel now lacks both a major
sales platform and an advocate. Many environmentalists see the collapse of
diesel as a positive development, potentially accelerating the trend away from
combustion engines to hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles. Elon Musk,
founder of the electric car company Tesla Motors, has proposed that California
not fine VW but instead require it to ramp up the rollout of zero-emission cars.
The writing may be on the wall for not just diesel engines but combustion
engines in general. Although hybrid and electric cars currently account for
only a fraction of new-car sales in the United States, new standards mandate
that automakers meet a fleet average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025. To
achieve these numbers, automakers will have to commit to selling many more
low- or zero-emission automobiles.
Some companies are meeting the challenge head-on; BMW recently
announced that by 2025, its entire line of vehicles will be plug-in hybrids or
electric. In the wake of the scandal, VW said it will move away from diesel
toward hybrids and plug-in electrics. However, given its late start, VW faces
an uphill battle to catch up with the Japanese and U.S. automakers that
currently dominate the market.
The public is the other big loser in this scandal. It’s difficult to attach a hard
number to VW’s misdeeds, but estimates put the excess pollution created by
the outlaw diesels annually at between 10,000 and 40,000 extra tons of NOx in
the United States alone. EPA studies have priced the health burden of NOx
emitted from vehicles at $7,300 per ton, which puts a low-end value of $100
million a year in health-related damages from the excess emissions. These
numbers rise drastically when calculating the global environmental damage.
The Guardian estimates the 11 million cars affected globally will create up to
an additional 948,691 tons of NOx emissions annually. Behind those numbers
is the human cost of more cases of lung disease, cancer, and premature death.
It’s clearly urgent for VW to find a fix for its polluting diesels as quickly as
possible before more damage is done.
The VW scandal also reveals limits in the enforcement of federal and state
emissions regulations. For years, VW was able to get away with brazen
cheating; its misdeeds were discovered accidentally by a third party, not a
regulatory agency. Since Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, the
EPA’s budget has been slashed by more than 20 percent; as a result, the
agency’s staff level is now the lowest it has been since 1989. Unable to do
complete testing and enforcement of emissions standards and other rules, the
EPA and other agencies have increasingly relied on self-certification by
“Our system has been based on a certain level of trust,” says John Swanton, a
communications specialist at the California Air Resources Board. “When
you’re deliberately trying to get around things and fool people, that throws the
whole process into question.”
In the wake of the scandal, both the EPA and the California board announced
that they will do more road-testing and spot-checking of vehicles to make sure
that they are compliant under real-world conditions. New enforcement
measures by the EPA will likely require additional appropriations, which may
be hard to come by if Republicans hold power over the budget.
If there is a silver lining to the VW scandal, it may be to persuade other
corporations that skirting governmental regulations isn’t worth the short-run
gain and that doubling down on old fossil-fuel technology could boomerang
and prove financially disastrous. Through their duplicity and lust for profits
and growth at any cost, Volkswagen’s leaders killed the thing they wanted
most: a growing and lucrative American market for their cars.
The VW scandal also reveals limits in the enforcement of federal and state emissions regulations.
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__MACOSX/Articles/._6 Volkswagen's Big Lie.pdf
Articles/3 Poll Finds Huge Gap in How GOP, Dems View the Media's Watchdog Role - NBC News.pdf
POLITICS MAY 10 2017, 10:16 AM ET
Poll Finds Huge Gap in How GOP, Dems View the Media’s Watchdog Role There was a time when Republicans and Democrats could agree about at least one thing when it comes to journalism: The media’s criticism of the nation’s leaders helps to keep the politically powerful in line.
Now, no more.
While a new survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center shows that a majority of all Americans support the idea of the media functioning as a watchdog, there’s a sharp — and sudden —divide in how both parties view the role of journalists.
Nearly nine-in-ten Democrats — 89 percent — told pollsters that criticism from news organizations “keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.” Only 42 percent of Republicans say the same, with the majority of Republican adults — 56 percent — saying that such criticism “keeps political leaders from doing their job.”
The nearly 50-point gap is even more striking because it has developed within the last year.
As recently as February 2016, an almost identical percentage of Republicans and Democrats embraced the media’s watchdog role, with 77 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats saying the media functions to “keep political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.”
The new survey comes as President Donald Trump assails the "fake news" almost daily, regularly dismissing negative coverage as false and lambasting individual journalists by name.
The notion of a watchful media "keeping political leaders from doing their job" is also a frequent refrain among Trump aides.
In the wake of Trump's stunning dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, for example, Trump aide Kellyanne Conway suggested Wednesday that journalists' questions about the president's decision are "inappropriate."
"You want to question the timing of when he fires, when he hires," Conway told CNN. "It’s inappropriate. He’ll do it when he wants to."
It’s not entirely unusual for the party out of power to advocate for more active muckraking. The Pew Research Center has asked the same question about the media’s role since 1985, finding that the party that is shut out of the White House tends to be more enthusiastic about journalists holding political leaders accountable.
But previous differences in views of the news media’s watchdog role pale in comparison to the 47- point chasm between Republicans and Democrats today. (Pew notes that the surveys in 2016 and 2017 were conducted online, while previous polls were done by phone, but the 2017 gap remains a record even if modal effects are taken into account.)
A partisan gap has also grown when it comes to the media’s job approval ratings, although that change has been far less drastic.
And, regardless of party, most Americans say that national journalists are doing a lousy job.
Last year, only 28 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of Republicans said that the national media does “very well” at keeping them informed. In the latest poll, Republican job approval of the media has ticked down to 18 percent, while Democrats’ has ticked up to 33 percent.
__MACOSX/Articles/._3 Poll Finds Huge Gap in How GOP, Dems View the Media's Watchdog Role - NBC News.pdf
Articles/2 Unhappy Meals | Michael Pollan.pdf
Unhappy Meals By Michael Pollan , January 28, 2007
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words. I’ll try to resist but will go ahead and add a couple more details to flesh out the advice. Like: A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat ”food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Uh-oh. Things are suddenly sounding a little more complicated, aren’t they? Sorry. But that’s how it goes as soon as you try to get to the bottom of the whole vexing question of food and health. Before long, a dense cloud bank of confusion moves in. Sooner or later, everything solid you thought you knew about the links between diet and health gets blown away in the gust of the latest study.
Last winter came the news that a low-fat diet, long believed to protect against breast cancer, may do no such thing — this from the monumental, federally
financed Women’s Health Initiative, which has also found no link between a low-fat diet and rates of coronary disease. The year before we learned that dietary fiber might not, as we had been confidently told, help prevent colon cancer. Just last fall two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time presented us with strikingly different conclusions. While the Institute of Medicine stated that ”it is uncertain how much these omega-3s contribute to improving health” (and they might do the opposite if you get them from mercury-contaminated fish), a Harvard study declared that simply by eating a couple of servings of fish each week (or by downing enough fish oil), you could cut your risk of dying from a heart attack by more than a third — a stunningly hopeful piece of news. It’s no wonder that omega-3 fatty acids are poised to become the oat bran of 2007, as food scientists micro- encapsulate fish oil and algae oil and blast them into such formerly all- terrestrial foods as bread and tortillas, milk and yogurt and cheese, all of which will soon, you can be sure, sprout fishy new health claims. (Remember the rule?)
By now you’re probably registering the cognitive dissonance of the supermarket shopper or science-section reader, as well as some nostalgia for the simplicity and solidity of the first few sentences of this essay. Which I’m still prepared to defend against the shifting winds of nutritional science and food-industry marketing. But before I do that, it might be useful to figure out how we arrived at our present state of nutritional confusion and anxiety.
The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that
matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, ”Eat more fruits and vegetables”?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.
FROM FOODS TO NUTRIENTS It was in the 1980s that food began disappearing from the American supermarket, gradually to be replaced by ”nutrients,” which are not the same thing. Where once the familiar names of recognizable comestibles — things like eggs or breakfast cereal or cookies — claimed pride of place on the brightly colored packages crowding the aisles, now new terms like ”fiber” and ”cholesterol” and ”saturated fat” rose to large-type prominence. More important than mere foods, the presence or absence of these invisible substances was now generally believed to confer health benefits on their eaters. Foods by comparison were coarse, old-fashioned and decidedly unscientific things — who could say what was in them, really? But nutrients — those chemical compounds and minerals in foods that nutritionists have deemed important to health — gleamed with the promise of scientific certainty; eat more of the right ones, fewer of the wrong, and you would live longer and avoid chronic diseases.
Nutrients themselves had been around, as a concept, since the early 19th century, when the English doctor and chemist William Prout identified what came to be called the ”macronutrients”: protein, fat and carbohydrates. It was thought that that was pretty much all there was going on in food, until doctors noticed that an adequate supply of the big three did not necessarily keep people nourished. At the end of the 19th century, British doctors were puzzled by the fact that Chinese laborers in the Malay states were dying of a disease called beriberi, which didn’t seem to afflict Tamils or native Malays. The mystery was solved when someone pointed out that the Chinese ate ”polished,” or white, rice, while the others ate rice that hadn’t been
mechanically milled. A few years later, Casimir Funk, a Polish chemist, discovered the ”essential nutrient” in rice husks that protected against beriberi and called it a ”vitamine,” the first micronutrient. Vitamins brought a kind of glamour to the science of nutrition, and though certain sectors of the population began to eat by its expert lights, it really wasn’t until late in the 20th century that nutrients managed to push food aside in the popular imagination of what it means to eat.
No single event marked the shift from eating food to eating nutrients, though in retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called ”Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.
Naively putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually ”reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: ”Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”
A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to ”eat less” of a particular food has been deep- sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called ”saturated fat.”
The linguistic capitulation did nothing to rescue McGovern from his blunder; the very next election, in 1980, the beef lobby helped rusticate the three-term senator, sending an unmistakable warning to anyone who would challenge the American diet, and in particular the big chunk of animal protein sitting in the middle of its plate. Henceforth, government dietary guidelines would shun plain talk about whole foods, each of which has its trade association on Capitol Hill, and would instead arrive clothed in scientific euphemism and speaking of nutrients, entities that few Americans really understood but that lack powerful lobbies in Washington. This was precisely the tack taken by the National Academy of Sciences when it issued its landmark report on diet and cancer in 1982. Organized nutrient by nutrient in a way guaranteed to offend no food group, it codified the official new dietary language. Industry and media followed suit, and terms like polyunsaturated, cholesterol, monounsaturated, carbohydrate, fiber, polyphenols, amino acids and carotenes soon colonized much of the cultural space previously occupied by the tangible substance formerly known as food. The Age of Nutritionism had arrived.
THE RISE OF NUTRITIONISM The first thing to understand about nutritionism — I first encountered the term in the work of an Australian sociologist of science named Gyorgy Scrinis — is that it is not quite the same as nutrition. As the ”ism” suggests, it is not a
scientific subject but an ideology. Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions. This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s exerting its hold on your culture. A reigning ideology is a little like the weather, all pervasive and virtually inescapable. Still, we can try.
In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. From this basic premise flow several others. Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to the scientists (and to the journalists through whom the scientists speak) to explain the hidden reality of foods to us. To enter a world in which you dine on unseen nutrients, you need lots of expert help.
But expert help to do what, exactly? This brings us to another unexamined assumption: that the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health. Hippocrates’s famous injunction to ”let food be thy medicine” is ritually invoked to support this notion. I’ll leave the premise alone for now, except to point out that it is not shared by all cultures and that the experience of these other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, viewing food as being about things other than bodily health — like pleasure, say, or socializing — makes people no less healthy; indeed, there’s some reason to believe that it may make them more healthy. This is what we usually have in mind when we speak of the ”French paradox” — the fact that a population that eats all sorts of unhealthful nutrients is in many ways healthier than we Americans are. So there is at least a question as to whether nutritionism is actually any good for you.
Another potentially serious weakness of nutritionist ideology is that it has trouble discerning qualitative distinctions between foods. So fish, beef and chicken through the nutritionists’ lens become mere delivery systems for varying quantities of fats and proteins and whatever other nutrients are on their scope. Similarly, any qualitative distinctions between processed foods
and whole foods disappear when your focus is on quantifying the nutrients they contain (or, more precisely, the known nutrients).
This is a great boon for manufacturers of processed food, and it helps explain why they have been so happy to get with the nutritionism program. In the years following McGovern’s capitulation and the 1982 National Academy report, the food industry set about re-engineering thousands of popular food products to contain more of the nutrients that science and government had deemed the good ones and less of the bad, and by the late ’80s a golden era of food science was upon us. The Year of Eating Oat Bran — also known as 1988 — served as a kind of coming-out party for the food scientists, who succeeded in getting the material into nearly every processed food sold in America. Oat bran’s moment on the dietary stage didn’t last long, but the pattern had been established, and every few years since then a new oat bran has taken its turn under the marketing lights. (Here comes omega-3!)
By comparison, the typical real food has more trouble competing under the rules of nutritionism, if only because something like a banana or an avocado can’t easily change its nutritional stripes (though rest assured the genetic engineers are hard at work on the problem). So far, at least, you can’t put oat bran in a banana. So depending on the reigning nutritional orthodoxy, the avocado might be either a high-fat food to be avoided (Old Think) or a food high in monounsaturated fat to be embraced (New Think). The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.
Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are
screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
EAT RIGHT, GET FATTER So nutritionism is good for business. But is it good for us? You might think that a national fixation on nutrients would lead to measurable improvements in the public health. But for that to happen, the underlying nutritional science, as well as the policy recommendations (and the journalism) based on that science, would have to be sound. This has seldom been the case.
Consider what happened immediately after the 1977 ”Dietary Goals” — McGovern’s masterpiece of politico-nutritionist compromise. In the wake of the panel’s recommendation that we cut down on saturated fat, a recommendation seconded by the 1982 National Academy report on cancer, Americans did indeed change their diets, endeavoring for a quarter-century to do what they had been told. Well, kind of. The industrial food supply was promptly reformulated to reflect the official advice, giving us low-fat pork, low-fat Snackwell’s and all the low-fat pasta and high-fructose (yet low-fat!) corn syrup we could consume. Which turned out to be quite a lot. Oddly, America got really fat on its new low-fat diet — indeed, many date the current obesity and diabetes epidemic to the late 1970s, when Americans began binging on carbohydrates, ostensibly as a way to avoid the evils of fat.
This story has been told before, notably in these pages (”What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” by Gary Taubes, July 7, 2002), but it’s a little more complicated than the official version suggests. In that version, which inspired the most recent Atkins craze, we were told that America got fat when, responding to bad scientific advice, it shifted its diet from fats to carbs, suggesting that a re-evaluation of the two nutrients is in order: fat doesn’t make you fat; carbs do. (Why this should have come as news is a mystery: as long as people have been raising animals for food, they have fattened them on carbs.)
But there are a couple of problems with this revisionist picture. First, while it is true that Americans post-1977 did begin binging on carbs, and that fat as a
percentage of total calories in the American diet declined, we never did in fact cut down on our consumption of fat. Meat consumption actually climbed. We just heaped a bunch more carbs onto our plates, obscuring perhaps, but not replacing, the expanding chunk of animal protein squatting in the center.
How did that happen? I would submit that the ideology of nutritionism deserves as much of the blame as the carbohydrates themselves do — that and human nature. By framing dietary advice in terms of good and bad nutrients, and by burying the recommendation that we should eat less of any particular food, it was easy for the take-home message of the 1977 and 1982 dietary guidelines to be simplified as follows: Eat more low-fat foods. And that is what we did. We’re always happy to receive a dispensation to eat more of something (with the possible exception of oat bran), and one of the things nutritionism reliably gives us is some such dispensation: low-fat cookies then, low-carb beer now. It’s hard to imagine the low-fat craze taking off as it did if McGovern’s original food-based recommendations had stood: eat fewer meat and dairy products. For how do you get from that stark counsel to the idea that another case of Snackwell’s is just what the doctor ordered?
BAD SCIENCE But if nutritionism leads to a kind of false consciousness in the mind of the eater, the ideology can just as easily mislead the scientist. Most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time, an approach that even nutritionists who do it will tell you is deeply flawed. ”The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science,” points out Marion Nestle, the New York University nutritionist, ”is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.”
If nutritional scientists know this, why do they do it anyway? Because a nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which
exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if you’re a nutritional scientist, you do the only thing you can do, given the tools at your disposal: break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring complex interactions and contexts, as well as the fact that the whole may be more than, or just different from, the sum of its parts. This is what we mean by reductionist science.
Scientific reductionism is an undeniably powerful tool, but it can mislead us too, especially when applied to something as complex as, on the one side, a food, and on the other, a human eater. It encourages us to take a mechanistic view of that transaction: put in this nutrient; get out that physiological result. Yet people differ in important ways. Some populations can metabolize sugars better than others; depending on your evolutionary heritage, you may or may not be able to digest the lactose in milk. The specific ecology of your intestines helps determine how efficiently you digest what you eat, so that the same input of 100 calories may yield more or less energy depending on the proportion of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes living in your gut. There is nothing very machinelike about the human eater, and so to think of food as simply fuel is wrong.
Also, people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the
whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Big oops.
What’s going on here? We don’t know. It could be the vagaries of human digestion. Maybe the fiber (or some other component) in a carrot protects the antioxidant molecules from destruction by stomach acids early in the digestive process. Or it could be that we isolated the wrong antioxidant. Beta is just one of a whole slew of carotenes found in common vegetables; maybe we focused on the wrong one. Or maybe beta carotene works as an antioxidant only in concert with some other plant chemical or process; under other circumstances, it may behave as a pro-oxidant.
Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in garden-variety thyme: 4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isochlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.
This is what you’re ingesting when you eat food flavored with thyme. Some of these chemicals are broken down by your digestion, but others are going on to do undetermined things to your body: turning some gene’s expression on or off, perhaps, or heading off a free radical before it disturbs a strand of DNA deep in some cell. It would be great to know how this all works, but in the meantime we can enjoy thyme in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t do any harm (since people have been eating it forever) and that it may actually do some good (since people have been eating it forever) and that even if it
does nothing, we like the way it tastes.
It’s also important to remind ourselves that what reductive science can manage to perceive well enough to isolate and study is subject to change, and that we have a tendency to assume that what we can see is all there is to see. When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients, scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?
The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating food as compared with nutrients: you don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity to reap its benefits.
The case of the antioxidants points up the dangers in taking a nutrient out of the context of food; as Nestle suggests, scientists make a second, related error when they study the food out of the context of the diet. We don’t eat just one thing, and when we are eating any one thing, we’re not eating another. We also eat foods in combinations and in orders that can affect how they’re absorbed. Drink coffee with your steak, and your body won’t be able to fully absorb the iron in the meat. The trace of limestone in the corn tortilla unlocks essential amino acids in the corn that would otherwise remain unavailable. Some of those compounds in that sprig of thyme may well affect my digestion of the dish I add it to, helping to break down one compound or possibly stimulate production of an enzyme to detoxify another. We have barely begun to understand the relationships among foods in a cuisine.
But we do understand some of the simplest relationships, like the zero-sum relationship: that if you eat a lot of meat you’re probably not eating a lot of vegetables. This simple fact may explain why populations that eat diets high in meat have higher rates of coronary heart disease and cancer than those that don’t. Yet nutritionism encourages us to look elsewhere for the
explanation: deep within the meat itself, to the culpable nutrient, which scientists have long assumed to be the saturated fat. So they are baffled when large-population studies, like the Women’s Health Initiative, fail to find that reducing fat intake significantly reduces the incidence of heart disease or cancer.
Of course thanks to the low-fat fad (inspired by the very same reductionist fat hypothesis), it is entirely possible to reduce your intake of saturated fat without significantly reducing your consumption of animal protein: just drink the low-fat milk and order the skinless chicken breast or the turkey bacon. So maybe the culprit nutrient in meat and dairy is the animal protein itself, as some researchers now hypothesize. (The Cornell nutritionist T. Colin Campbell argues as much in his recent book, ”The China Study.”) Or, as the Harvard epidemiologist Walter C. Willett suggests, it could be the steroid hormones typically present in the milk and meat; these hormones (which occur naturally in meat and milk but are often augmented in industrial production) are known to promote certain cancers.
But people worried about their health needn’t wait for scientists to settle this question before deciding that it might be wise to eat more plants and less meat. This is of course precisely what the McGovern committee was trying to tell us.
Nestle also cautions against taking the diet out of the context of the lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet is widely believed to be one of the most healthful ways to eat, yet much of what we know about it is based on studies of people living on the island of Crete in the 1950s, who in many respects lived lives very different from our own. Yes, they ate lots of olive oil and little meat. But they also did more physical labor. They fasted regularly. They ate a lot of wild greens — weeds. And, perhaps most important, they consumed far fewer total calories than we do. Similarly, much of what we know about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet is based on studies of Seventh Day Adventists, who muddy the nutritional picture by drinking absolutely no alcohol and
never smoking. These extraneous but unavoidable factors are called, aptly, ”confounders.” One last example: People who take supplements are healthier than the population at large, but their health probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the supplements they take — which recent studies have suggested are worthless. Supplement-takers are better-educated, more- affluent people who, almost by definition, take a greater-than-normal interest in personal health — confounding factors that probably account for their superior health.
But if confounding factors of lifestyle bedevil comparative studies of different populations, the supposedly more rigorous ”prospective” studies of large American populations suffer from their own arguably even more disabling flaws. In these studies — of which the Women’s Health Initiative is the best known — a large population is divided into two groups. The intervention group changes its diet in some prescribed manner, while the control group does not. The two groups are then tracked over many years to learn whether the intervention affects relative rates of chronic disease.
When it comes to studying nutrition, this sort of extensive, long-term clinical trial is supposed to be the gold standard. It certainly sounds sound. In the case of the Women’s Health Initiative, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the eating habits and health outcomes of nearly 49,000 women (ages 50 to 79 at the beginning of the study) were tracked for eight years. One group of the women were told to reduce their consumption of fat to 20 percent of total calories. The results were announced early last year, producing front-page headlines of which the one in this newspaper was typical: ”Low-Fat Diet Does Not Cut Health Risks, Study Finds.” And the cloud of nutritional confusion over the country darkened.
But even a cursory analysis of the study’s methods makes you wonder why anyone would take such a finding seriously, let alone order a Quarter Pounder With Cheese to celebrate it, as many newspaper readers no doubt promptly went out and did. Even the beginner student of nutritionism will immediately
spot several flaws: the focus was on ”fat,” rather than on any particular food, like meat or dairy. So women could comply simply by switching to lower-fat animal products. Also, no distinctions were made between types of fat: women getting their allowable portion of fat from olive oil or fish were lumped together with woman getting their fat from low-fat cheese or chicken breasts or margarine. Why? Because when the study was designed 16 years ago, the whole notion of ”good fats” was not yet on the scientific scope. Scientists study what scientists can see.
But perhaps the biggest flaw in this study, and other studies like it, is that we have no idea what these women were really eating because, like most people when asked about their diet, they lied about it. How do we know this? Deduction. Consider: When the study began, the average participant weighed in at 170 pounds and claimed to be eating 1,800 calories a day. It would take an unusual metabolism to maintain that weight on so little food. And it would take an even freakier metabolism to drop only one or two pounds after getting down to a diet of 1,400 to 1,500 calories a day — as the women on the ”low- fat” regimen claimed to have done. Sorry, ladies, but I just don’t buy it.
In fact, nobody buys it. Even the scientists who conduct this sort of research conduct it in the knowledge that people lie about their food intake all the time. They even have scientific figures for the magnitude of the lie. Dietary trials like the Women’s Health Initiative rely on ”food-frequency questionnaires,” and studies suggest that people on average eat between a fifth and a third more than they claim to on the questionnaires. How do the researchers know that? By comparing what people report on questionnaires with interviews about their dietary intake over the previous 24 hours, thought to be somewhat more reliable. In fact, the magnitude of the lie could be much greater, judging by the huge disparity between the total number of food calories produced every day for each American (3,900 calories) and the average number of those calories Americans own up to chomping: 2,000. (Waste accounts for some of the disparity, but nowhere near all of it.) All we really know about how much people actually eat is that the real number lies
somewhere between those two figures.
To try to fill out the food-frequency questionnaire used by the Women’s Health Initiative, as I recently did, is to realize just how shaky the data on which such trials rely really are. The survey, which took about 45 minutes to complete, started off with some relatively easy questions: ”Did you eat chicken or turkey during the last three months?” Having answered yes, I was then asked, ”When you ate chicken or turkey, how often did you eat the skin?” But the survey soon became harder, as when it asked me to think back over the past three months to recall whether when I ate okra, squash or yams, they were fried, and if so, were they fried in stick margarine, tub margarine, butter, ”shortening” (in which category they inexplicably lump together hydrogenated vegetable oil and lard), olive or canola oil or nonstick spray? I honestly didn’t remember, and in the case of any okra eaten in a restaurant, even a hypnotist could not get out of me what sort of fat it was fried in. In the meat section, the portion sizes specified haven’t been seen in America since the Hoover administration. If a four-ounce portion of steak is considered ”medium,” was I really going to admit that the steak I enjoyed on an unrecallable number of occasions during the past three months was probably the equivalent of two or three (or, in the case of a steakhouse steak, no less than four) of these portions? I think not. In fact, most of the ”medium serving sizes” to which I was asked to compare my own consumption made me feel piggish enough to want to shave a few ounces here, a few there. (I mean, I wasn’t under oath or anything, was I?)
This is the sort of data on which the largest questions of diet and health are being decided in America today.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM In the end, the biggest, most ambitious and widely reported studies of diet and health leave more or less undisturbed the main features of the Western diet: lots of meat and processed foods, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything — except fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In keeping with the
nutritionism paradigm and the limits of reductionist science, the researchers fiddle with single nutrients as best they can, but the populations they recruit and study are typical American eaters doing what typical American eaters do: trying to eat a little less of this nutrient, a little more of that, depending on the latest thinking. (One problem with the control groups in these studies is that they too are exposed to nutritional fads in the culture, so over time their eating habits come to more closely resemble the habits of the intervention group.) It should not surprise us that the findings of such research would be so equivocal and confusing.
But what about the elephant in the room — the Western diet? It might be useful, in the midst of our deepening confusion about nutrition, to review what we do know about diet and health. What we know is that people who eat the way we do in America today suffer much higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than people eating more traditional diets. (Four of the 10 leading killers in America are linked to diet.) Further, we know that simply by moving to America, people from nations with low rates of these ”diseases of affluence” will quickly acquire them. Nutritionism by and large takes the Western diet as a given, seeking to moderate its most deleterious effects by isolating the bad nutrients in it — things like fat, sugar, salt — and encouraging the public and the food industry to limit them. But after several decades of nutrient-based health advice, rates of cancer and heart disease in the U.S. have declined only slightly (mortality from heart disease is down since the ’50s, but this is mainly because of improved treatment), and rates of obesity and diabetes have soared.
No one likes to admit that his or her best efforts at understanding and solving a problem have actually made the problem worse, but that’s exactly what has happened in the case of nutritionism. Scientists operating with the best of intentions, using the best tools at their disposal, have taught us to look at food in a way that has diminished our pleasure in eating it while doing little or nothing to improve our health. Perhaps what we need now is a broader, less reductive view of what food is, one that is at once more ecological and
cultural. What would happen, for example, if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?
In nature, that is of course precisely what eating has always been: relationships among species in what we call food chains, or webs, that reach all the way down to the soil. Species co-evolve with the other species they eat, and very often a relationship of interdependence develops: I’ll feed you if you spread around my genes. A gradual process of mutual adaptation transforms something like an apple or a squash into a nutritious and tasty food for a hungry animal. Over time and through trial and error, the plant becomes tastier (and often more conspicuous) in order to gratify the animal’s needs and desires, while the animal gradually acquires whatever digestive tools (enzymes, etc.) are needed to make optimal use of the plant. Similarly, cow’s milk did not start out as a nutritious food for humans; in fact, it made them sick until humans who lived around cows evolved the ability to digest lactose as adults. This development proved much to the advantage of both the milk drinkers and the cows.
”Health” is, among other things, the byproduct of being involved in these sorts of relationships in a food chain — involved in a great many of them, in the case of an omnivorous creature like us. Further, when the health of one link of the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all the creatures in it. When the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk. Or, as the English agronomist Sir Albert Howard put it in 1945 in ”The Soil and Health” (a founding text of organic agriculture), we would do well to regard ”the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.” Our personal health is inextricably bound up with the health of the entire food web.
In many cases, long familiarity between foods and their eaters leads to elaborate systems of communications up and down the food chain, so that a creature’s senses come to recognize foods as suitable by taste and smell and
color, and our bodies learn what to do with these foods after they pass the test of the senses, producing in anticipation the chemicals necessary to break them down. Health depends on knowing how to read these biological signals: this smells spoiled; this looks ripe; that’s one good-looking cow. This is easier to do when a creature has long experience of a food, and much harder when a food has been designed expressly to deceive its senses — with artificial flavors, say, or synthetic sweeteners.
Note that these ecological relationships are between eaters and whole foods, not nutrients. Even though the foods in question eventually get broken down in our bodies into simple nutrients, as corn is reduced to simple sugars, the qualities of the whole food are not unimportant — they govern such things as the speed at which the sugars will be released and absorbed, which we’re coming to see as critical to insulin metabolism. Put another way, our bodies have a longstanding and sustainable relationship to corn that we do not have to high-fructose corn syrup. Such a relationship with corn syrup might develop someday (as people evolve superhuman insulin systems to cope with regular floods of fructose and glucose), but for now the relationship leads to ill health because our bodies don’t know how to handle these biological novelties. In much the same way, human bodies that can cope with chewing coca leaves — a longstanding relationship between native people and the coca plant in South America — cannot cope with cocaine or crack, even though the same ”active ingredients” are present in all three. Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice can lead to problems.
Looking at eating through this ecological lens opens a whole new perspective on exactly what the Western diet is: a radical and rapid change not just in our foodstuffs over the course of the 20th century but also in our food relationships, all the way from the soil to the meal. The ideology of nutritionism is itself part of that change. To get a firmer grip on the nature of those changes is to begin to know how we might make our relationships to food healthier. These changes have been numerous and far-reaching, but
consider as a start these four large-scale ones:
From Whole Foods to Refined. The case of corn points up one of the key features of the modern diet: a shift toward increasingly refined foods, especially carbohydrates. Call it applied reductionism. Humans have been refining grains since at least the Industrial Revolution, favoring white flour (and white rice) even at the price of lost nutrients. Refining grains extends their shelf life (precisely because it renders them less nutritious to pests) and makes them easier to digest, by removing the fiber that ordinarily slows the release of their sugars. Much industrial food production involves an extension and intensification of this practice, as food processors find ways to deliver glucose — the brain’s preferred fuel — ever more swiftly and efficiently. Sometimes this is precisely the point, as when corn is refined into corn syrup; other times it is an unfortunate byproduct of food processing, as when freezing food destroys the fiber that would slow sugar absorption.
So fast food is fast in this other sense too: it is to a considerable extent predigested, in effect, and therefore more readily absorbed by the body. But while the widespread acceleration of the Western diet offers us the instant gratification of sugar, in many people (and especially those newly exposed to it) the ”speediness” of this food overwhelms the insulin response and leads to Type II diabetes. As one nutrition expert put it to me, we’re in the middle of ”a national experiment in mainlining glucose.” To encounter such a diet for the first time, as when people accustomed to a more traditional diet come to America, or when fast food comes to their countries, delivers a shock to the system. Public-health experts call it ”the nutrition transition,” and it can be deadly.
From Complexity to Simplicity. If there is one word that covers nearly all the changes industrialization has made to the food chain, it would be simplification. Chemical fertilizers simplify the chemistry of the soil, which in turn appears to simplify the chemistry of the food grown in that soil. Since the widespread adoption of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in the 1950s, the
nutritional quality of produce in America has, according to U.S.D.A. figures, declined significantly. Some researchers blame the quality of the soil for the decline; others cite the tendency of modern plant breeding to select for industrial qualities like yield rather than nutritional quality. Whichever it is, the trend toward simplification of our food continues on up the chain. Processing foods depletes them of many nutrients, a few of which are then added back in through ”fortification”: folic acid in refined flour, vitamins and minerals in breakfast cereal. But food scientists can add back only the nutrients food scientists recognize as important. What are they overlooking?
Simplification has occurred at the level of species diversity, too. The astounding variety of foods on offer in the modern supermarket obscures the fact that the actual number of species in the modern diet is shrinking. For reasons of economics, the food industry prefers to tease its myriad processed offerings from a tiny group of plant species, corn and soybeans chief among them. Today, a mere four crops account for two-thirds of the calories humans eat. When you consider that humankind has historically consumed some 80,000 edible species, and that 3,000 of these have been in widespread use, this represents a radical simplification of the food web. Why should this matter? Because humans are omnivores, requiring somewhere between 50 and 100 different chemical compounds and elements to be healthy. It’s hard to believe that we can get everything we need from a diet consisting largely of processed corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.
From Leaves to Seeds. It’s no coincidence that most of the plants we have come to rely on are grains; these crops are exceptionally efficient at transforming sunlight into macronutrients — carbs, fats and proteins. These macronutrients in turn can be profitably transformed into animal protein (by feeding them to animals) and processed foods of every description. Also, the fact that grains are durable seeds that can be stored for long periods means they can function as commodities as well as food, making these plants particularly well suited to the needs of industrial capitalism.
The needs of the human eater are another matter. An oversupply of macronutrients, as we now have, itself represents a serious threat to our health, as evidenced by soaring rates of obesity and diabetes. But the undersupply of micronutrients may constitute a threat just as serious. Put in the simplest terms, we’re eating a lot more seeds and a lot fewer leaves, a tectonic dietary shift the full implications of which we are just beginning to glimpse. If I may borrow the nutritionist’s reductionist vocabulary for a moment, there are a host of critical micronutrients that are harder to get from a diet of refined seeds than from a diet of leaves. There are the antioxidants and all the other newly discovered phytochemicals (remember that sprig of thyme?); there is the fiber, and then there are the healthy omega-3 fats found in leafy green plants, which may turn out to be most important benefit of all.
Most people associate omega-3 fatty acids with fish, but fish get them from green plants (specifically algae), which is where they all originate. Plant leaves produce these essential fatty acids (”essential” because our bodies can’t produce them on their own) as part of photosynthesis. Seeds contain more of another essential fatty acid: omega-6. Without delving too deeply into the biochemistry, the two fats perform very different functions, in the plant as well as the plant eater. Omega-3s appear to play an important role in neurological development and processing, the permeability of cell walls, the metabolism of glucose and the calming of inflammation. Omega-6s are involved in fat storage (which is what they do for the plant), the rigidity of cell walls, clotting and the inflammation response. (Think of omega-3s as fleet and flexible, omega-6s as sturdy and slow.) Since the two lipids compete with each other for the attention of important enzymes, the ratio between omega- 3s and omega-6s may matter more than the absolute quantity of either fat. Thus too much omega-6 may be just as much a problem as too little omega-3.
And that might well be a problem for people eating a Western diet. As we’ve shifted from leaves to seeds, the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in our bodies has shifted, too. At the same time, modern food-production practices have further diminished the omega-3s in our diet. Omega-3s, being less stable than
omega-6s, spoil more readily, so we have selected for plants that produce fewer of them; further, when we partly hydrogenate oils to render them more stable, omega-3s are eliminated. Industrial meat, raised on seeds rather than leaves, has fewer omega-3s and more omega-6s than preindustrial meat used to have. And official dietary advice since the 1970s has promoted the consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oils, most of which are high in omega-6s (corn and soy, especially). Thus, without realizing what we were doing, we significantly altered the ratio of these two essential fats in our diets and bodies, with the result that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the typical American today stands at more than 10 to 1; before the widespread introduction of seed oils at the turn of the last century, it was closer to 1 to 1.
The role of these lipids is not completely understood, but many researchers say that these historically low levels of omega-3 (or, conversely, high levels of omega-6) bear responsibility for many of the chronic diseases associated with the Western diet, especially heart disease and diabetes. (Some researchers implicate omega-3 deficiency in rising rates of depression and learning disabilities as well.) To remedy this deficiency, nutritionism classically argues for taking omega-3 supplements or fortifying food products, but because of the complex, competitive relationship between omega-3 and omega-6, adding more omega-3s to the diet may not do much good unless you also reduce your intake of omega-6.
From Food Culture to Food Science. The last important change wrought by the Western diet is not, strictly speaking, ecological. But the industrialization of our food that we call the Western diet is systematically destroying traditional food cultures. Before the modern food era — and before nutritionism — people relied for guidance about what to eat on their national or ethnic or regional cultures. We think of culture as a set of beliefs and practices to help mediate our relationship to other people, but of course culture (at least before the rise of science) has also played a critical role in helping mediate people’s relationship to nature. Eating being a big part of that relationship, cultures have had a great deal to say about what and how
and why and when and how much we should eat. Of course when it comes to food, culture is really just a fancy word for Mom, the figure who typically passes on the food ways of the group — food ways that, although they were never ”designed” to optimize health (we have many reasons to eat the way we do), would not have endured if they did not keep eaters alive and well.
The sheer novelty and glamour of the Western diet, with its 17,000 new food products introduced every year, and the marketing muscle used to sell these products, has overwhelmed the force of tradition and left us where we now find ourselves: relying on science and journalism and marketing to help us decide questions about what to eat. Nutritionism, which arose to help us better deal with the problems of the Western diet, has largely been co-opted by it, used by the industry to sell more food and to undermine the authority of traditional ways of eating. You would not have read this far into this article if your food culture were intact and healthy; you would simply eat the way your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents taught you to eat. The question is, Are we better off with these new authorities than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted? The answer by now should be clear.
It might be argued that, at this point in history, we should simply accept that fast food is our food culture. Over time, people will get used to eating this way and our health will improve. But for natural selection to help populations adapt to the Western diet, we’d have to be prepared to let those whom it sickens die. That’s not what we’re doing. Rather, we’re turning to the health- care industry to help us ”adapt.” Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes. Capitalism is itself marvelously adaptive, able to turn the problems it creates into lucrative business opportunities: diet pills, heart-bypass operations, insulin pumps, bariatric surgery. But while fast food may be good business for the health-care industry, surely the cost to society — estimated at more than $200 billion a year in diet-related health-care costs — is
BEYOND NUTRITIONISM To medicalize the diet problem is of course perfectly consistent with nutritionism. So what might a more ecological or cultural approach to the problem recommend? How might we plot our escape from nutritionism and, in turn, from the deleterious effects of the modern diet? In theory nothing could be simpler — stop thinking and eating that way — but this is somewhat harder to do in practice, given the food environment we now inhabit and the loss of sharp cultural tools to guide us through it. Still, I do think escape is possible, to which end I can now revisit — and elaborate on, but just a little — the simple principles of healthy eating I proposed at the beginning of this essay, several thousand words ago. So try these few (flagrantly unscientific) rules of thumb, collected in the course of my nutritional odyssey, and see if they don’t at least point us in the right direction.
1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.
2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. When Kellogg’s can boast about its Healthy Heart Strawberry Vanilla cereal bars, health claims have become hopelessly compromised. (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.) Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.
3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.
4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high- fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great- grandmother would have recognized as food.
5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costsmore, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown.
”Eat less” is the most unwelcome advice of all, but in fact the scientific case for eating a lot less than we currently do is compelling. ”Calorie restriction” has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and many researchers (including Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist) believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention. Food abundance is a problem, but culture has helped here, too, by promoting the idea of
moderation. Once one of the longest-lived people on earth, the Okinawans practiced a principle they called ”Hara Hachi Bu”: eat until you are 80 percent full. To make the ”eat less” message a bit more palatable, consider that quality may have a bearing on quantity: I don’t know about you, but the better the quality of the food I eat, the less of it I need to feel satisfied. All tomatoes are not created equal.
6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants — the antioxidants? Fiber? Omega-3s? — but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods (except seeds) are typically less ”energy dense” than the other things you might eat. Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores, but near vegetarians (”flexitarians”) are as healthy as vegetarians. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat more as a flavoring than a food.
7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.
8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food
should be cheap and easy; that food is fuel and not communion. The culture of the kitchen, as embodied in those enduring traditions we call cuisines, contains more wisdom about diet and health than you are apt to find in any nutrition journal or journalism. Plus, the food you grow yourself contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. So you might want to think about putting down this article now and picking up a spatula or hoe.
9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases. That of course is an argument from nutritionism, but there is a better one, one that takes a broader view of ”health.” Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected, which is another way of saying that your health isn’t bordered by your body and that what’s good for the soil is probably good for you, too.
__MACOSX/Articles/._2 Unhappy Meals | Michael Pollan.pdf
Articles/6 Why Do Americans Distrust the Media? - The Atlantic.pdf
Why Do Americans Distrust the Media? Donald Trump, anti-elite sentiment, and the dark side of media abundance Derek Thompson Sep 16, 2016
Do Americans “trust” “the media”? The question is often asked and often answered. But, to be fair, it’s not a very precise question.
Trust is a slippery measuring stick. Do I “trust” technology? Well, I trust strangers on Uber to be on time, but don’t trust my cable company to arrive within a four-hour window; I trust my iPhone to not explode, but don’t trust my email to be unhackable. Asking whether I trust “technology,” yes or no, is asking for an non-summarizable opinion of a diverse group of products and people, which fall along a continuum of confidence.
“The media,” like “technology,” is not a single tangible object, but rather an information galaxy, a vast and complex star system composed of diverse and opposing organizations, which are themselves composed of a motley group of people, each of whom are neither all good nor all bad, but mostly flawed media merchants, with individual strengths, weaknesses, biases, and blindspots. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are almost 200,000 Americans working for broadcast television and cable programming, 197,000 employed in digital publishing and broadcasting, 183,000 working for newspapers, 99,000 working for magazines, 86,000 in radio, and 64,000 employed in the editing and production of books. Asking survey respondents to briefly summarize their feelings about the daily work of one million strangers is asking for an impossible, and potentially meaningless, oversimplification, like, “Do you think food is too raw?” or “Is clothing red?"
With these enormous caveats out of the way, the fact remains that Americans’ “trust” in “the media” is falling steadily, according to Gallup. Even if the precise definitions of these terms is debatable, the overall decline is clear and noteworthy.
This collapse in trust is not evenly spread across all demographics. The drop has been most dramatic among young and middle-aged respondents and, most recently, within the GOP. Together, it seems reasonable to conclude that the recent decline in media trust has been concentrated among middle-aged Republicans, a key part of the Trump constituency.
What is behind this collapse? Here are four somewhat overlapping hypotheses.
1. It’s the media’s fault.
Certainly, when some people read the headline that trust in the media is falling, their response might be, "yes, and deservedly so."
Although a great deal of excellent journalism is produced every week, it is never hard to find the low-lights. This is hardly a new phenomenon. Twenty years ago in The Atlantic, James Fallows criticized newspaper reporters and the television shows for treating politics like a partisan tug-of-war in which policy issues were reduced to playing the part of the oft-forgotten rope. “The discussion shows that are supposed to enhance public understanding may actually reduce it, by hammering home the message that issues don't matter except as items for politicians to fight over,” he wrote.
Two decades later, many of Fallows’ observations are so fresh they could be auto-tweeted each morning. The last few months, in particular, have seen a
bonanza of false equivalence and theater criticism masquerading as political analysis during the election. Beyond the moral rot at the head of Fox News and Trump’s embrace of Breitbart (the Internet’s most crowded den of race- baiting conspiracy theories), even many major newspapers failing to properly cover the candidates’ many flaws. If public trust in the press has gone up in flames, there are more than enough media organizations to be held liable for the arson.
2. It’s the elections’ fault.
As the first graph indicates, American trust in mass media seems to decline around presidential elections. It fell in 2004, and again in 2008, and again in 2012, and now it's collapsed in 2016. Perhaps the hyper-politization of elections, which cleaves the electorate and entrenches two opposing viewpoints on a single national story, erodes public faith that “the media” can be fair to both camps.
This election campaign, however, is exceptional for the fact that Trump routinely so denounces the media for being unfair to him. This would explain why faith in the mainstream press has collapsed among middle-aged Republicans. Trump has even questioned conservative staples like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, which would explain why we’re seeing an unprecedented drop in faith among the GOP in this election.
3. It’s modernity’s fault.
It would be easier to blame the press exclusively if faith in the media were declining at a time when trust in the rest of the nation’s institutions were rising or holding steady. But the opposite is happening.
Fewer than half of Americans now say they trust the church, the medical system, the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, organized labor, the criminal justice system, big business, and Congress. Public faith in each of these institutions has fallen this decade.
There are several reasons why trust in so many elite institutions might be declining at the same time. Fareed Zakaria, in his book The Future of Freedom, blamed the “death of authority” on the uber-democratization of American institutions, pointing out that Americans have historically put more faith in organizations that hover above the fray and the news cycle (like the Supreme Court, or the military) while reserving their contempt for institutions that respond to public whims (like the U.S. Congress). Chris Hayes, in his book The Twilight of the Elites, argued that elite institutions were failing due to a collapse of competent oversight across many sectors of American life, from the military, to big business and the press.
But declining trust in institutions is not strictly an American trend. Since the 1960s, “public trust in government and political institutions has been decreasing in all of the advanced industrial democracies,” according to one United Nations report. “Although the pattern and the pace of the decrease are dissimilar across countries, the downward trend is ubiquitous.”
4. When it’s easier to find news sources that confirm people’s biases, it’s also easier to find news stories that inflame their outrage.
Competition among media organizations is healthy. But the race for readers and ratings carries the risk of reducing trust in “the media” because so many media organizations often distinguish themselves by demonstrating their superiority over mainstream news. The term “mainstream media” is a dirty word on Fox News. Popular shows like Bill Maher’s Real Time and The Daily Show make a living by skewering the hyperbolism of cable coverage. It’s as if every media organization is also a media critic.
Today’s journalists are more comfortable taking strong positions on partisan issues than they used to be. This is often a good thing. But the increased partisanship of large news outlets might feed a public perception that neutral objectivity doesn’t exist, and therefore, people are entitled to scream “partisanship!” about any viewpoint that they disagree with. The Pittsburgh- Tribune Review recently asked Donald Trump Jr., how he felt that the
Pulitzer Prize-winning team at PolitiFact found that 70 percent of his father’s claims were false, more than twice the ratio of Hillary Clinton. Trump’s response: “I would argue that PolitiFact is a very liberal organization.” The shocking thing about this claim is that it’s not shocking, at all. It has become acceptably normal for a politician to call a Pulitzer-Prize winning organization “very biased” if it disagrees with him. There is also no risk in saying so.
What role does Facebook (or Twitter, or Reddit) play in this? Many argue that these sites seal audiences’ ideological echo chambers, organizing the world of information so that some readers only see news that they are likely to agree with. Another outcome of a media diet dominated by “shareable” news is that people might be more likely to see news whose purpose is to provoke outrage. Projecting moral outrage has a specific psychological purpose: It signals the noble morality of the outraged sharer at the expense of the news source. When Facebook and Twitter users share news coverage for the purpose of highlighting the most outrageously bad journalism, it has the effect of making the majority of journalism seem outrageously bad.
And so, it may be inevitable that a competitive digital media environment will foster a hate-Congress-but-love-your-Congressman attitude toward the press. If there are enough outlets for every American to read that their biases are right, there are enough outlets for readers to get the impression that most people, and most media, is wrong.
__MACOSX/Articles/._6 Why Do Americans Distrust the Media? - The Atlantic.pdf
Articles/1 There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies %E2%80%93 Mother Jones.pdf
8/10/2017 There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies – Mother Jones
Irrigation water appears to be a major loophole in the USDA's organic food safety program. <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]�8533552645/in/photolist-e15FU2-pseDWM-r2skYW�6pVLTL-dQbDJs- dQb2dy-e15KdH-e1tFtZ-e1tFrn-hRB9UC-jYkLzr-hEHCN7-e1bo2Q-e1bnyf-e1bnDh-e1bo2S-e1bp21-e1boWG-e15GuT-e1bovY- e1boey-e1bopf-e15Gct-e1boHq-e15FjT-jYk1zV-h57cb9-hybGX7-hEHCGL-hEHkqa-hEJG1V-e1bm9U-e15FbD-e1bmKo-e15FEX- e15J8g-e1bq5o-e1bpdb-e1bpmw-e1bqhW-e15JxX-e11q39-e15JoR-eDxUbf-e1zmyy-gg8RYM-e1tFSk-dZULrM�7PJPDX- e11idU">Daniel Jones</a>/Flickr
The US Department of Agriculture’s organics standards, written 15 years ago, strictly ban petroleum-
derived fertilizers commonly used in conventional agriculture. But the same rules do not prohibit farmers
There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies J O S H H A R K I N S O N AU G . 2 0 , 2 0 1 5 1 0 � 0 0 A M
8/10/2017 There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies – Mother Jones
derived fertilizers commonly used in conventional agriculture. But the same rules do not prohibit farmers
from irrigating their crops with petroleum-laced wastewater obtained from oil and gas wells—a practice
that is increasingly common in drought-stricken Southern California.
As I reported last month, oil companies last year
supplied half the water that went to the 45,000 acres of
farmland in Kern County’s Cawelo Water District,
farmland that is owned, in part, by Sunview, a company
that sells certified organic raisins and grapes. Food
watchdog groups are concerned that the state hasn’t
required oil companies to disclose all the chemicals
they use in oil drilling and fracking operations, much
less set safety limits for all those chemicals in irrigation water.
A spokesman for the USDA’s National Organics Program confirmed that it has little to say on the matter.
“The USDA organic regulations do not directly address the use of irrigation water on organic farms,” said
the spokesman, who asked to be quoted on background, “but organic operations must generally maintain
or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. USDA organic regulations do not require farms to perform water
quality tests, and irrigation water is not evaluated as an input by the Organic Materials Review Institute,
which vets products used on organic farms. Calls placed to California Certified Organic Farmers, which
certifies organic farms in California, were not returned.
Irrigation water appears to be a major loophole in a food safety program that otherwise strictly controls
what farmers can apply to their land. Notably, the organics program does prohibit the use of sewage
sludge-based fertilizer, a product widely used on nonorganic farms that sometimes contains chemicals
such as flame retardants and pharmaceuticals.
On Monday, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Democrat from Glendale, introduced a bill that
would require crops irrigated with wastewater from oil and gas operations to be labeled as such. “No one
expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater,” he explained in a press
That’s especially true if their lettuce is labeled “organic,” adds Adam Scow, the California director of the
environmental group Food and Water Watch: “I think most people’s logic would tell them that’s not a
practice consistent with organic standards.”
GET THE SCOOP, STRAIGHT FROM MOTHER JONES.
“No one expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater.”
8/10/2017 There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies – Mother Jones
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8/10/2017 There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies – Mother Jones
__MACOSX/Articles/._1 There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies %E2%80%93 Mother Jones.pdf
Articles/1 The Spy Who Fired Me.pdf
HARPER’S MAGAZINE/MARCH 2015 $6.99
A GRAND JUROR SPEAKS The Inside Story of How Prosecutors Always Get Their Way
by gideon lewis-kraus
GIVING UP THE GHOST The Eternal Allure of Life After Death
by leslie jamison
THE SPY WHO FIRED ME The human costs of workplace monitoring
BY esTHer kaPlan
A Lost Story by Vladimir Nabokov
Garry Wills on the Future of Catholicism
William T. Vollmann Visits Fukushima
R E P O R T
THE SPY WHO FIRED ME The human costs of workplace monitoring
By Esther Kaplan
Last March, Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC’s Mad Money, devoted part of his show to a company called Cornerstone OnDemand. Corner- stone, Cramer shouted at the camera, is “a cloud-based-software- as-a-service play” in the “talent- management” field. Companies that use its platform can quickly assess an em- ployee’s performance by analyzing his or her on- line interactions, in- cluding emails, instant messages, and Web use. “We’ve been manag- ing people exactly the same way for the last hundred and fi f ty years,” Cornerstone’s CEO, Adam Miller, told Cramer. With the rise of the global workforce, the re- mote workforce, the smartphone and the tablet, it’s time to “manage people differently.” Clients include Virgin Media, Barclays, and Starwood Hotels.
Cornerstone, as Miller likes to tell investors, is positioning itself to be “on
the vanguard of big data in the cloud” and a leader in the “gamification of per- formance management.” To be assessed by Cornerstone is to have your collab- orative partnerships scored as assets and your brainstorms rewarded with elec- tronic badges (genius idea!). It is to have scads of information swept up about what you do each day, whom you com- municate with, and what you communi- cate about. Cornerstone converts that
data into metrics to be factored in to your per- formance reviews and decisions about how much you’ll be paid.
Miller’s company is part of an $11 billion industry that also includes workforce- management systems such as Kronos and “enterprise social” plat- forms such as Micro- soft’s Yammer, Sales- force’s Chatter, and, soon, Facebook at Work. Every aspect of an office worker’s life can now be measured, and an increasing number of corporations and institutions—from cosmetics companies to car-rental agencies— are using that informa- tion to make hiring and firing decisions.
Cramer, for one, is bullish on the idea: investing in companies like Corner- stone, he said, “can make you boatloads of money literally year after year!”
A survey from the American Management Association found that 66 percent of employers moni- tor the Internet use of their employ- ees, 45 percent track employee key- strokes, and 43 percent monitor employee email. Only two states,
Esther Kaplan is the editor of the Investiga- tive Fund at the Nation Institute and was a 2013–2014 Alicia Patterson Fellow.
Illustrations by John Ritter
32 HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MARCH 2015
Delaware and Connecticut, require companies to inform their employ- ees that such monitoring is taking place. According to Marc Smith, a sociologist with the Social Media Research Foundation, “Anything you do with a piece of hardware that’s provided to you by the em- ployer, every keystroke, is the prop- erty of the employer. Personal calls, private photos—if you put it on the company laptop, your company owns it. They may analyze any elec- tronic record at any time for any purpose. It’s not your data.”
With the advent of wireless con- nectivity, along with a steep drop in the price of computer processors, electronic sensors, GPS devices, and radio-frequency identification tags, monitoring has become common- place. Many retail workers now clock in with a thumb scan. Nurses wear badges that track how often they wash their hands. Warehouse workers carry devices that assign them their next task and give them a time by which they must complete it. Some may soon be outfitted with augmented- reality devices to more efficiently locate products.
In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expen- sive, high-tech effort to squeeze ev- ery last drop of productivity from corporate workforces, an effort that pushes employees to their mental, emotional, and physical limits; claims control over their working and nonworking hours; and com- pensates them as little as possible, even at the risk of violating labor laws. In some cases, these new sys- tems produce impressive results for the bottom line: after Unified Gro- cers, a large wholesaler, implement- ed an electronic tasking system for its warehouse workers, the firm was able to cut payroll expenses by 25 percent while increasing sales by 36 percent. A 2013 study of five chain restaurants found that elec- tronic monitoring decreased em- ployee theft and increased hourly sales. In other cases, however, the return on investment isn’t so clear. As one Cornerstone report says of corporate social- networking tools, “There is no generally accepted model for their implementation or
standard set of metrics for measuring R.O.I.” Yet this has hardly slowed adoption.I first got interested in the data- driven workforce not long after I moved from a dilapidated apartment in Brooklyn that had a live-in super to a slightly more solid walk-up that does not. I began to notice something frus- trating about my UPS deliveries. They never arrived. When I wasn’t home, I’d leave a note asking for packages to be left at the laundromat on the cor- ner. I’d get an attempted- delivery note instead. The same thing sometimes happened even when I was home—I’d find an attempted-delivery note, but no one had rung my doorbell. Packag- es were routinely returned to sender. Then I learned about UPS’s use of something called telematics.
Telematics is a neologism coined f rom two other neologisms— tele communications and informatics— to describe technologies that wire- lessly transmit data from remote sensors and GPS devices to computers for analysis. The telematics system that now governs the working life of a driv- er for UPS includes handheld DIADs, or delivery- information acquisition devices, as well as more than 200 sen- sors on each delivery truck that track everything from backup speeds to stop times to seat-belt use. When a driver stops and scans a package for delivery, the system records the time and loca- tion; it records these details again when a customer signs for the package. Much of this information flows to a supervisor in real time. The Teamsters, the union that represents UPS employ- ees, won contract language that says drivers can’t be fired based solely on the numbers in their telematics re- ports, but supervisors have found work- arounds, and telematics- related firings have become routine.
One warm day last fall I met with a man I’ll call Jeff Rose, who for the past fifteen years has driven a UPS delivery route in a working-class neighborhood in one of New York City’s outer boroughs. He was taking his two o’clock lunch break at a din- er on the corner of a modest com- mercial strip and a leafy residential street. Rose, who asked that I not use his real name, said that telematics
was introduced as a safety measure when it was rolled out in New York six or seven years ago. Lists were posted at distribution centers to shame the biggest seat-belt scofflaws. But safety is not the reason given for telematics on UPS investor calls. On those, executives speak instead about the potential for telematics to save the firm $100 million in operating efficiencies, including reductions in fuel, maintenance, and labor.
Indeed, around the time telematics was being introduced in New York, UPS began to increase the number of stops on each route. At morning meet- ings at the distribution center, Rose told me, supervisors would announce, “Hey, your stop count is going up by ten.” As recently as a decade ago, a driver’s stop count might be eighty-five, but in re- cent years it rose to ninety-five, then a hundred. These numbers are reflected in UPS corporate filings, which show that daily domestic package deliveries grew by 1.4 million between 2009 and 2013, the years in which telematics was being rolled out—and these addition- al packages were delivered by a thou- sand fewer drivers. Total domestic employees shrank during the same period by 22,000.
These days, on an average shift, Rose makes 110 stops and delivers 400 pack- ages. He leaves his house at seven in the morning and seldom gets home before nine-thirty at night, when he is so ex- hausted that he rarely makes it to bed— he grabs dinner and passes out on the couch. “If you go to one of these UPS facilities at shift-change time, you’d think you were at a football game, the way people are limping, bent over, with shoulder injuries, neck injuries, knee injuries,” said David Levin, an orga- nizer with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform caucus within the Teamsters. “It’s fifteen years of rushing, rushing, rushing, working when you’re exhausted, working those long days, running up and down stairs with boxes.”
Rose told me he knows at least ten drivers at his facility who have had knee or shoulder surgery. He suffers from chronic back pain, but a sur- geon told him there was no point in operating—he has so many different injuries that surgery won’t help. UPS coaches drivers to follow eight rules for safe lifting, which Rose rattled off
by heart: “Get close to the object; have your feet shoulder-width apart; bend your knees; test the package for shifting weight; grab at opposite cor- ners; lift in one fluid motion; keep it within your power zone; pivot, don’t twist.” But, he said, “if I did those eight things for each box, how pro- ductive would I be?”
Thanks to telematics, Rose’s super- visor can answer that question min- ute by minute. For every driver with- in his purview, he can monitor a neighborhood map with the driver’s route traced in teal and the stops marked and numbered. Another win- dow shows a complete list of address- es on the route and the number of packages per address. A third window shows the driver’s speed, whether the engine is off or on, whether the
bulkhead—the massive, rolling rear door—is open or closed, whether the seat belt is engaged, whether the driver is backing up, and more. In the center of the screen, a fourth window shows the number of minutes allotted per stop and whether the driver is under or over that target.
I saw a video capture of a telematics report from a facility in Queens that made clear just how unrealistic those allotments are. Every few stops the driver beats his time by a second, or by nineteen seconds, or even by a minute. But more often than not, the driver goes over, by three minutes, or four, or even ten. As I watched, the driver’s cumula- tive over/under number kept creeping up, until it was north of four hours over. At the same time, safety measures, like seat-belt use, got spotty. A printout of
the data from a single driver’s shift can be up to forty pages long. There might be a page dedicated to backing-up events, another for stop times, and so on. But sprinting to an apartment and slapping a delivery- attempt notice on the door without ringing the bell or waiting for someone to make it down a three-story walk-up—well, that’s a shortcut UPS’s telematics system would have no way of catching.
After lunch, I trailed Rose on his route for a few hours. He told me that he refuses to sprint anymore—“This job is the long haul”—but from the moment he swung into his seat, he was con- stantly in motion. I lost him im- mediately, on the way to his first stop, when he zipped through an intersection just before the light turned. At his third stop, he pulled a small box from the front of the truck; once he was buzzed in, he bounced up a steep flight of stairs. At the next stop, the boxes were larger, so he had to come around back, pull up the heavy bulkhead, and use a hand truck.
At another stop, Rose had to make multiple trips, with a mix of small and large packages. We were nearing rush hour, and many of the cars around us were honking aggressively. With each new batch of boxes, Rose jaywalked across the street; walking to the corner and crossing at the light would have
cost far too much time. It was a balmy day, with a clear sky. I tried to imag- ine him doing this when the streets were icy and the gutters running with slush. I recalled one driver I’d read about who’d been hit by a car while making deliveries during the 2012 holiday rush and ended up in a ten-day coma.In recent years, many companies have followed UPS’s lead: telematics is expected to become a $30 billion industry by 2018. David Cozzens is the CEO of Telogis, a company that provides telematics to commercial- trucking fleets, including those of AT&T and Coca-Cola. He recalled the thrill he felt entering the field only seven years ago: “It was big data. It was the Internet of things. It was
34 HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MARCH 2015
cloud computing; it was mobile; it was really a new market, with low penetration.” He champions the technology as a way to boost work- force productivity while also being environmentally friendly. UPS claims that in 2010 telematics saved 1.7 mil- lion driving miles, 15 million minutes of idling time, and 103,000 gallons of gas. (Total daily gas usage in the United States is 368 million gallons.) Cozzens said some Telogis clients have realized efficiencies that al- lowed them to eliminate as many as 10 percent of their vehicles. “Project that on a broad scale. Those are big numbers in terms of sustainability.”
A Telogis system plugs into a vehi- cle’s electronic control system, where it pulls information on everything from braking time to windshield-wiper use; this is combined with GPS and weather data, current and historical traffic information, and specific no- tices about, say, tunnel height or washed-out bridges that are collected from the 140,000 vehicles using the company’s navigation software. Some Telogis clients use the systems to save fuel, by reducing idling time and op- timizing routes; others seek to maxi- mize use of their fleet. Still others are looking for productivity improve- ments from their drivers. Industry adoption of telematics, a Telogis spokeswoman estimates, is around 20 percent to date. “Now it’s starting to be, ‘I have to have it,’ ” Cozzens said. “ ‘How are we going to harness this data? We’re not going to be suc- cessful if we don’t do it, because our competitors are going to.’ ”
In workshops at a National Associ- ation of Fleet Administrators confer- ence in Minneapolis last spring, the rush to adopt telematics was apparent. Firms that had already installed the systems had done it so quickly that managers were struggling with imple- mentation. Forty-four telematics ven- dors were exhibitors at the expo, and there were entire workshops devoted to “K.P.I.’s”—key per formance indicators—in which fleet managers gathered in the hope of learning how to adapt to these new systems. “You can’t manage what you can’t mea- sure,” a slide in one workshop ex- plained. After a list of dozens of po- tential K.P.I.’s flashed on the screen,
the presenter said, “As you can see, there are a lot.” Another presenter said that managers are exerting “more pressure for more detail. More, more, more!” Someone expressed a wish for a “killer K.P.I.,” a supermetric that could boil all of the data down into a single big, shiny, decisive number.
At one point the conversation shifted to drivers’ reactions to the new technology, which surveys have shown to be overwhelmingly nega- tive. One poll of fleet managers in the U.K. found that almost 80 per- cent had experienced resistance when implementing telematics; half of them had experienced a “signifi- cant amount.” I spoke with one wom- an at the conference who was a fleet manager for a firm that supplies hos- pitals with rental equipment such as ventilators. When she introduced telematics to her fleet, she said, driv- ers worried that they’d get fired for going to the bathroom or stopping for lunch or speeding. Many were. Some supervisors, who were now able to see real-time data on speed and idle time, “probably watched it more than they needed to,” she said, and responded “with a harshness.”
Another woman told a workshop that at her firm, drivers got paid by how many jobs they delivered. “So we’re telling them to produce as much as you can—but don’t speed. It’s a catch-22.” Steve Jastrow, a con- sultant at GE Capital Fleet Services, advised managers to descr ibe telematics as a safety initiative, just as UPS had done. “How you present it to the driver may be different than how you present it to senior manage- ment,” he said.
“The important thing is where the power lies,” said Zingha Lucien, an- other fleet consultant. “Drivers might not be happy being measured, but in the end they will yield.”
Jeff Rose saw evidence of this in a Daily Recap I obtained from a UPS center in New York. The document contains a summary of each driver’s metrics. He pointed out that all of the drivers were over their allotted times by at least an hour or two, ex- cept for a handful of trainees, some of whom came in as much as two hours under. Rose told me that there’s no way drivers could be beat-
ing their time quotas by that much without sprinting the entire day and recklessly cutting corners on safety.
A UPS spokesperson told me that telematics has improved safety over- all and lifted seat-belt compliance to an “almost perfect” 98.8 percent. But UPS drivers tell a different story. One wrote on an online forum about a new hire who was beating his quota by an hour and a half to two hours every day. “This guy has literally told me he will buckle the seat belt be- hind him and not wear it,” he wrote, saying the driver also has high back- ing speeds, an “absurd amount of bulkhead door events”—driving with the back door open—and many mis- delivered packages.
“People get intimidated and they work faster,” Rose told me. “It’s like when they whip animals. But this is a mental whip.”Whenever you drive up to a McDonald’s window, or push your grocery cart to a Stop & Shop checkout line, or head to the register at Uniqlo with a blue lambswool sweater in hand, you, too, are about to be swept up into a detailed system of metrics. A point-of-sale (P.O.S.) system connected to the cash register captures the length of time between the end of the last customer’s trans- action and the beginning of yours, how quickly the cashier rings up your order, and whether she has sold you on the new Jalapeño Double. It re- cords how quickly a cashier scans each carton of milk and box of cere- al, how many times she has to rescan an item, and how long it takes her to initiate the next sale. This data is being tracked at the employee level: some chains even post scan rates like scorecards in the break room; others have a cap on how many mistakes an employee can make before he or she is put on probation.
Until recently, most retail and fast-food schedules were handmade by managers who were familiar with the strengths of their staff and their scheduling needs. Now an algorithm takes the P.O.S. data and spits out schedules that are typically pro- grammed to fit store traffic, not em- ployees’ lives. Scheduling software systems, some built in-house, some
by third-party firms, analyze histori- cal data (how many sales there were on this day last year, how rain or a Yankees game affects revenue) as well as moment-by-moment updates on the number of customers in the store or the number of sweaters sold in the past hour or the pay rate of each employee on the clock—what Kronos, one of the leading suppliers of these systems, calls “oceans of valuable workforce data.” In the world of retail, all of this information points toward one killer K.P.I.: labor cost as a percentage of revenue.
In postwar America, many retail- ers sought to increase profits by max- imizing sales, a strategy that pushed stores to overstaff so that every cus- tomer received assistance, and by of- fering generous bonuses to star sales- people with st rong customer relationships. Now the trend is to keep staffing as lean as possible, to treat employees as temporary and re- placeable, and to schedule them ex- actly and only when needed. Charles DeWitt, a vice president at Kronos, calls it “the era of cost.”
Workforce-management technolo- gies make productivity visible and measurable, allowing employers to distinguish between labor time that generates profits and labor time— down to the minute—that does not. Kronos systems promise to “optimize the workforce” to deliver “the lowest cost schedule.” The system doesn’t necessarily lead to clients cutting employees’ hours, DeWitt told me. “If they don’t have these tools, they’ll understaff, which will lead to customer dissatisfaction. It only takes two to three bad experiences for a customer to leave a brand for- ever.” But he said that overstaffing can be a bigger problem: “If you have chronic overstaffing, you’re just not going to be competitive and you’ll drive yourself out of business.” A large company can easily pay $1 million a year for a third-party service. Kronos, whose client roster includes retail giants such as Star- bucks, Stop & Shop, and Payless, brought in $1 billion last year. Occa- sionally such software systems are customized: at Macy’s it is My Schedule Plus; at McDonald’s it is called R2D2.
Carrie Gleason, a former union organizer who now runs a national campaign called the Fair Workweek Initiative, recalled that back in 2005, when she first began organizing retail workers, employees at stores like JCPenney were still mostly full-time, and many had health insurance. “Over the years I heard more and more workers talk about how they weren’t getting enough hours,” she said, “and how their managers ignored their availability.” The news filtered in from the retail workers she spoke with: the Gap was scheduling four- hour shifts; DSW salespeople were getting only twelve hours of work a week; at some stores Zara was chang- ing employees’ schedules without no- tice, leading many to snap photos of posted schedules to avoid getting dis- ciplined for missing a shift they weren’t aware they had; Abercrombie & Fitch employees started receiving entire schedules composed of on-call shifts that never materialized. Face- book pages began to crop up for work- ers desperate to pick up extra hours— or to get someone to cover a shift they’d been saddled with on little or no notice. Employees were slowly be- ing turned into day laborers. The fed- eral Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the number of retail employees involuntarily working part- time more than doubled between 2006 and 2010, from 644,000 to 1.6 million.
The experience of Allison Santana, a mother of four in Chester, Pennsyl- vania, illustrates the new normal. She was hired as a Starbucks barista two years ago. The starting wage was low—$7.60 an hour—but she thought she could scrape by with the twenty- eight to thirty-eight hours a week she was promised. She got far fewer, how- ever, usually eighteen hours, made up entirely of four- or five-hour shifts. “Instead of having four people work seven a.m. to three p.m., like at a regu- lar job, it would be me and someone else opening the store at four a.m., then at six another person, then may- be at seven-thirty another person comes in. And most of them wouldn’t stay till three,” she said. “It’s cutting that labor, saving that labor, that’s the whole deal of the software.”
Santana supplemented her Star- bucks earnings by working nights at a
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hotel. Her manager knew about the job, but that didn’t stop the software from spitting out shifts that started while she was still at the hotel. She used state-subsidized day care for her children, but the facility required her to specify her schedule in advance, and Starbucks rarely gave her enough notice to do so. Plus the day care was only open Monday to Friday, and Star- bucks mostly gave her weekend hours. She lost her spot at the facility and ended up leaving her kids with her mom, who was juggling three young children of her own. Santana’s child- care troubles were not considered an acceptable excuse for missing a shift. Her manager wouldn’t even excuse co-workers who missed work for a child’s graduation or a loss in the fam- ily. In exchange for twenty hours of low-wage work each week, staffers gave up control over their lives. (Last Au- gust, in the wake of a New York Times exposé, Starbucks announced a new policy that will give employees a week’s notice of their schedules; mean- while, Santana has been promoted and her hours have stabilized. A spokesperson said that company poli- cy allows up to four days of bereave- ment leave and that store managers “work hard to give partners the hours they want.”)A 2010 management survey led by Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago found that 62 percent of retail jobs are now part-time and that two thirds of retail managers prefer to maintain a large workforce, to maxi- mize scheduling flexibility, rather than increase hours for individual workers. In 2012, a study of retail workers conducted by the Retail Ac- tion Project and Stephanie Luce of the City University of New York found that unstable scheduling, with radical changes from week to week, was common, as was extremely short notice. Only 17 percent of surveyed workers—and just 10 percent of those who were part-time—had a set sched- ule; only 30 percent received their schedule more than a week in ad- vance. Schedules often had set start times, but many shifts ended abruptly as soon as business declined. One in five workers had to keep her schedule free for “call-in” shifts that rarely ma-
terialized. An employee at Club Mo- naco told researchers that if sales weren’t high enough, managers would give workers a single guaranteed shift each week—plus four on-call shifts. A third of the employees in the study had dependent children and were forced, like Santana, to piece togeth- er child care to cover their increas- ingly erratic working lives.
Most low-wage workers juggle two to three jobs just to get by, said Allen Mayne, director of collective bar- gaining at R.W.D.S.U., a retail work- ers’ union that helped found the Re- tail Action Project. But it’s almost impossible to get a second job if you’ve already promised away a claim on each of your waking hours. I asked Mayne whether an employee could get fired for missing a shift that she was given at the last minute. “In a nonunion environment?” he said. “Oh, yeah. Fine. See you.”
Labor costs have long been a pres- sure point in retail, but the impact of data-driven software systems is dra- matic. In August 2013, less than two weeks after the teen-fashion chain Forever 21 began using Kronos, hun- dreds of full-time workers were noti- fied that they’d be switched to part- time and that their health benefits would be terminated. Something similar happened last year at Centu- ry 21, the high-fashion retailer in New York to which people make pil- grimages for discount Versace, Kate Spade, and Burberry. I spoke with two saleswomen who had worked at the flagship store near the World Trade Center for a combined forty- four years. They said they had always had consistent and full-time sched- ules until the chain expanded and implemented a Kronos system. With- in the space of a day, Colleen Gib- son’s regular schedule went up in smoke. She’d been selling watches from seven in the morning to three- thirty in the afternoon to accommo- date evening classes, but when that availability was punched in to Kro- nos, the system no longer recognized her as full-time. Now she was getting no more than twenty-five hours a week, and her shifts were erratic. “They said if you want full hours, you have to say you’re flexible,” she told me.
Larry Mentzer, Century 21’s chief revenue officer, said such problems were rare. “We’re a big believer in the Kronos electronic scheduling system,” he told me. “We had a few small glitches when we rolled it out, and by a few I mean you could count them on your two hands. But we fixed it and we’re very happy with it.” Max Bruny, president of U.F.C.W. Local 888, which represents Century 21 workers, told me the problems were more widespread: “With Kronos, they organize it in terms of buckets. They ask for your availability. Say you have one hundred percent availability, they put you in the bucket of thirty-five to forty hours. If you say you can’t work weekends, you’re put in another buck- et, where you get maybe twenty-five to thirty hours. And that was the nightmare. So people who used to get forty hours —because you have re- strictions, now you’re not.” Bruny’s union filed several grievances in the first year Kronos was implemented and even filed charges with the Na- tional Labor Relations Board. Under pressure from the union, Gibson’s manager overrode the Kronos sched- uler and gave her back her old hours, and the union ultimately won the right to a fixed forty-hour schedule for anyone with at least ten years’ seniori- ty. But most shops where Kronos has been implemented—including Star- bucks and the Gap—are not union- ized, which makes it far more difficult for employees to push back. “We took a different path from other stores,” Mentzer said, “because we chose to retain our workforce.”
Lisa Disselkamp, a consultant with Deloitte, is the author of three manuals on workforce-management technology. “I think it’s natural that it will start to change behaviors,” she said of the scheduling software. “It focuses people on a metric. And there’s a fear, right? I need to make that number. But if you meet that number, and only that number, what does it cost?”
Kronos’s promotional videos em- phasize the risk of time theft by employ ees—“In a few minutes late? Taking a few extra minutes on a break? It adds up”—and some of the firm’s most invasive systems, which require employees to clock in with
a finger scan, are meant to prevent “buddy punching,” when an em- ployee clocks in a co-worker who hasn’t yet arrived.
John Durkalski, an attorney who has represented union workers with wage and schedule complaints against Kroger, Safeway, and Super- valu, said that time theft by employ- ees is far less common than wage theft by employers. “Store managers change time sheets, lop off overtime, tell people to clock out and keep working, and fine, if you don’t, you’ll be on the manager’s bad side,” he told me. If the software subtracts thirty minutes for an unpaid meal break regardless of whether a worker took one or not, or fails to properly account for paid sick leave, it can be extremely difficult for an employee to detect. The scheduling systems also increase the pressure on supervisors to break the rules, Durkalski said. “That pressure is that buzzer that goes, ‘Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, you’ve hit your costs!’ If you hit your costs on the twenty-first day of the month and you’ve got nine days left, what are you going to do? The pres- sure is to cook the books or get the employees to work off the clock.” In industries where workers typically work three- or four-hour shifts, he said, “if you can get everyone to work fifteen minutes off the clock, you’re gaining almost a whole shift! Over the course of the week that will real- ly keep costs down.”
Last March, workers filed class- action lawsuits against McDonald’s stores in California, Michigan, and New York, alleging systematic wage theft. Some of the practices listed in the legal complaints are closely linked to the stores’ in-house data- collection systems. The software it- self was not telling managers to vio- late the law, said David Dean, the lead attorney in the Michigan suit. But every fifteen minutes, the soft- ware calculates labor costs as a per- centage of revenue—the “labor num- ber”—and reports whether you’re under or over your target. “The vio- lations result from managers being told, ‘You have to get your labor costs under control: you’re over, you’re over,’ ” he said. “The problem is, if they send somebody home and
business picks up in a half hour, they’re screwed.” According to the plaintiffs, McDonald’s managers would routinely tell employees to clock out and wait in the break room for minutes or hours without pay, un- til revenue picked up enough for the workers to clock back in. Or manag- ers would tell employees to clock out before the end of their shifts but in- sist they finish certain tasks before going home. (A company spokes- person told me, “When McDonald’s learns of pay concerns in restau- rants which we own and operate, we review the concerns and take ap- propriate action to resolve them. . . . [W]e caution against drawing broad conclusions based on a small num- ber of lawsuits.”)
Though the plaintif fs in the McDonald’s cases are not talking to the press, Larika Harris, a McDonald’s employee who lives in Memphis, Ten- nessee, described a similar work ex- perience. Harris was typically as- signed to the overnight shift, when there’s just one person at the win- dow and one person on the grill. “We couldn’t take breaks,” she said, not even to run to the bathroom, “but the breaks got put in.” She was often paid only for her official eight- hour shift, even when her supervisor didn’t let her leave on time. If she was scheduled for seven in the eve- ning to three in the morning, she was rarely out of the door till three- thirty; on her eight-to-four overnight shifts, she was usually not allowed to leave until five-thirty. One pay- check, she said, was missing eleven hours of compensation. With an in- fant and a toddler at home, she had to pay her babysitter for those extra hours even though McDonald’s wasn’t paying her.
“You’re told to ‘manage the labor,’ ” said Kwanza Brooks, a former shift manager who worked at several McDonald’s restaurants in Baltimore and in Charlotte, North Carolina, over twelve years. “Your labor, that’s what McDonald’s calls it, is your main focus.” Managers are supposed to give out unpaid thirty-minute breaks, Brooks said, but the staffing is too lean to make that possible. After she’d been at McDonald’s about five years, an assistant manager showed Brooks
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38 HARPER’S MAGAZINE / MARCH 2015
how he fixed that problem. He no- ticed that her labor number for one shift was high, 23 or 24, rather than 17 or 18. So he said to go in and man- ually add in breaks, and showed her how to scroll down the list of employ- ees and add “break in” and “break out” times for each one. When one employee challenged the practice and started asking for a printout of her hours at the end of each shift, Brooks was instructed not to release any more printouts.
I asked Brooks about other methods managers used to hit their numbers. “Say you’re supposed to come in at four o’clock and you get there early. They might tell you to help but not clock in. Or they might clock you out on a break but keep you working. Or they might say, ‘I’ll send you home,’ and then there’s a rush, and they’re going to make sure you help get those customers out whether you are on the clock or not.” Managers, she said, “might have half the people working for free.” They don’t just want a low labor number, she said, “they want their number to be the lowest and best in their area.” A 2014 survey of fast-food workers by Hart Research found that 89 percent said they had been victims of some form of wage theft.John Aiello of Rutgers Universi- ty is a veteran of the small academ- ic community that researches the electronic monitoring of workers. He started studying call-center workers in the early 1990s, after numbers began to appear at the bottom of their screens to count how many seconds they’d been on the line, along with the call-time quotas they had to meet. Aiello asked the workers, “How do you cheat to get to your goals?” He learned that many of them would hang up whenever a call got too long; the computer couldn’t tell whether they’d ended the call or the customer had. Aiello was inter- ested in the potential productivity gains of monitoring, as well as the workarounds it inspired—like the seat-belt-avoidance techniques at UPS. He also wondered whether it increased stress. “In virtually every study it was the case that people felt greater stress in a monitored environ-
ment than not,” he said. “And the more closely they were monitored, the greater the stress.” As far back as 1990, a major study by the Commu- nications Workers of America found that electronic performance monitor- ing was associated with anxiety, de- pression, anger, severe fatigue, head- aches, and musculoskeletal injuries.
Another effect was the evapora- tion of collegiality. “If you monitor someone very closely, and previously they had the feeling that you trusted them, they may no longer have that feeling,” he said. Managers who were once able to supervise employee per- formance in a way that was per- ceived as positive “now spend half their time monitoring.” Aiello also found that if a task being monitored was difficult or complex—such as, say, a UPS driver navigating heavily trafficked streets—employees “actu- ally show, under monitoring, impair- ment of performance, because a bit of their attention is diverted to the fact that someone is watching them.” Finally, Aiello’s studies suggest that electronic monitoring is often associ- ated with work speedup. Once em- ployers have metrics, managers use them to increase the goals—and they keep doing so even after the in- creases become unrealistic.
Aiello’s most recent research fo- cuses on telecommuters. There are some 3 million Americans who tele- commute full-time, and a far larger number who work remotely one or two days a week. Usually, Aiello said, a company computer is sent home with the teleworker, and su- pervisors “have the opportunity to look in on it anytime they want.” He said companies typically use moni- toring software at least part of the time, simply because they can. “There are no federal laws that gov- ern this,” he pointed out. “The orga- nization can pretty much do whatev- er it wants.” Studies show that people tend to work more hours at home than when they’re in the of- fice, he said, but watching their em- ployees work gives managers “a sense of security.”
This sense of security is one of the features on offer at oDesk, which merged with Elance last year to form the world’s largest online
freelance marketplace. The site links 9.7 million freelance computer programmers, marketers, graphic designers, copywriters, and transla- tors with 3.8 million businesses looking for part-time employees. According to a September survey commissioned by Elance-oDesk and the Freelancers Union, 53 million American workers, a third of the U.S. workforce, are now engaged in contract, temporary, or freelance work. Gary Swart, the former CEO of oDesk, calls the company part of a “profound revolution in the work- place” resulting from the rise of out- sourcing and remote work. “In this economy, buyers are looking for more cost-ef fective ways to get things done,” Swart said in 2010. “They have to do more with less.” That year, he said, while hiring at American companies was stagnant, oDesk job postings nearly quintu- pled; the firm’s freelancers earned $900 million in 2014.
The signature feature of oDesk is what it calls the Work Diary. If you, as a f reelancer, agree to work hourly—as opposed to on a project basis—and to have your hours tracked in the Work Diary, oDesk will guarantee payment. “It’s really about building trust on both sides,” Rich Pearson, a senior vice president at oDesk, told me. For workers scrap- ing by on irregular freelance in- come, who can spend months trying to collect on an invoice, oDesk’s guarantee is well worth the 10 per- cent fee it costs to use the site. But to get that guarantee, you must al- low the company deep inside your personal computer.
Pearson described the Work Diary as “the equivalent of being able to walk up to someone’s desk and see how they’re doing.” But it is much more than that. Once every ten minutes while you’re logged in, the program takes a snapshot of your computer’s desktop. It’s a detailed image that shows, for example, all the tabs open on your Web browser. The program also records minute-by- minute keystroke and mouse data, along with a productivity rating. The exact timing of the snapshot is unpredictable. It could happen at the moment you open iTunes to
start a new playlist. Or when your boyfriend sends you an instant mes- sage. An icon pops up on your screen whenever a screenshot is cap- tured, and you can review them and delete any troubling images. “The application is not a surveillance sys- tem,” oDesk’s online Help Center says. “You have full control over what it records . . . deleting those [screen- shots] you choose not to share with your client.” But the Help Center fails to note that for each screenshot you delete, you sacrifice ten minutes of guaranteed pay.
I spoke to a few high-volume oDesk freelancers to find out what it was like to work inside what looks, indeed, like a surveillance system. A man I’ll call Sean Nolan, a graphic designer and illustrator based in up- state New York, has been freelancing for nine years, his entire working life. (He asked that I not use his real name for this article.) Over the past year oDesk has become the primary way he finds clients. He got his B.F.A. at a small art school in Vir- ginia and said he’s told all his class- mates about oDesk because he loves it so much. But he described the Work Diary as “something akin to the devil.”
“Being a creative, so much of my work is not in front of the computer,” he said. “So I had a really tough time getting used to it. It feels like some- one is always looking over your shoulder. You can’t really produce good work that way. Part of my mind is worried about how people are go- ing to perceive the work I’m doing. A lot of the work I’m doing is messy; it’s not client-ready, and knowing that someone’s watching the process, it’s harder to take risks.” He also misses taking his sketchbook out to the park for inspiration.
When Nolan goes to the bathroom or to get a cup of coffee, he said, he gets an inactivity alert. The same happens whenever he does work in the nondigital world, like taking a moment to leaf through a book of photographs. Nolan said that “oDesk makes the business aspect incredibly easy. But you lose all of the freedom that comes with being a work-at- home, self-employed freelance artist.” He said he tries to move his clients
over to project-based fees as soon as possible, to escape the Work Diary’s watchful eye.
The Work Diary poses a real risk of wage theft too. If no screenshot is taken, you don’t get credit for that work increment. “This isn’t a prob- lem on a small scale,” he said, “but over the course of a week it can be a big problem. If I do a five-minute fix for six different clients, then I’m not getting paid for a half hour of work.” If Nolan thinks something’s going to take only five minutes, he often won’t bother logging in. And then it takes fifteen. Last summer he kept a stopwatch on his desk to see how many hours he was really working— mainly on oDesk jobs—versus how many he was billing. By week’s end there was a ten-hour gap.
I decided to try oDesk myself and posted that I needed some transcrip- tion work for this article. Within a day, I got several responses, from freelancers in India, Serbia, Saint Lucia, the Philippines, and through- out the United States. I hired a woman from Texas with a five-star rating, who had logged 1,300 hours of oDesk work. We had a quick email exchange about the deadline and her rate before I uploaded sever- al audio files to Dropbox.
Then I began to spy on her. The first time I opened her Work
Diary, it was empty. But the follow- ing evening, sitting in bed with my laptop, I opened it again, and there it was: a series of eight screenshots, snapped between 8:41 and 10:12 p.m. As I clicked on each image, it filled my screen. I could watch the tran- scription unfold, from a few lines to a full page and beyond. For each screenshot, her activity level was rat- ed by a green bar on a scale of one to ten. She had almost all tens.
I was reminded, uncomfortably, of a not very proud night some years ago when I clicked through the open email account of a boy- friend I suspected of cheating. Now I clicked on the Work Diary’s green bar, which showed me my tran- scriber’s keyboard strokes and mouse clicks in one-minute incre- ments: from 8:42 to 8:43, 256 key- strokes, no mouse clicks. 8:43 to 8:44, 226 keystrokes. 8:44 to 8:45,
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264 keystrokes. It was eerie. I could see her desktop background, I could see the transcription program with its volume setting, I could see the open Word document, and I could see a list of her other oDesk clients. I was pricked by feelings of guilt, but monitoring her became addic- tive. For the next few days, until she finished the job, I’d find myself pulling up the Work Diary every few hours.
In academic papers about big data and electronic monitoring, Mi- chel Foucault’s metaphor of the panopticon, from Discipline and Punish, often comes up, and I thought of it again here. “He is seen, but does not see; he is the ob- ject of information, never a subject in communication.” My transcriber, like the inmate in the panopticon, was potentially observable at all times. I suppose that put me in the position of the prison guard.
After the job was done and I’d closed the account, I emailed the transcriber to ask her about oDesk. Katrina—she asked that I use only her first name—used to work in re- tail, but she moved around a lot be- cause her husband was a defense contractor. She had trained as a transcriber so that she wouldn’t have to quit her job every time they moved. When I asked about the Work Diary, whether she found the experience of being so minutely ob- served strange, she shrugged it off. “I don’t have a problem with it whatso- ever,” she said, “because I don’t have anything to hide.”
But as we spoke it became clear why she had nothing to hide, and why her activity meter almost al- ways posted a ten: any work that scored low on the metrics she sim- ply did off the clock. Katrina said that when you log in to the Work Diary, the first screenshot is always taken before a full ten minutes have elapsed, so the activity meter associated with that slot registers lower productivity. “I always delete that,” she said. This means that ev- ery time she sits down to work—and with four kids at home, she usually works in short increments—she starts by sacrificing as many as nine minutes of pay.
Whenever Katrina finishes a transcript, she proofreads it without logging in to oDesk. She figures that when she’s proofing, her key- board activity is so minimal the tracker would probably log her out for inactivity anyway. So she typi- cally takes four hours to transcribe an hour of audio, which she does on the clock, and about an hour and ten minutes to proofread it, which she does on her own time. She says that while her $15-an-hour rate doesn’t compensate her for off-the- clock hours, “it saves any misunder- standings, which is important.” It also keeps her competitive with freelancers from Pakistan and the Philippines who are ready to work for less than minimum wage.
“It ’s an optional prog ram,” oDesk’s Rich Pearson says about the Work Diary, which is true: freelanc- ers can opt for manual time sheets if they’re willing to work for a stranger halfway around the world with no guarantee that they’ll be paid. Technically, Katrina volunteered to be surveilled, and then, to optimize her metrics, she chose to steal her own time.
She said that oDesk recently selected her as an “all- star” freelancer.The current mythology of big data,” according to Kate Crawford, who holds research positions at MIT, NYU, and Microsoft, “is that with more data comes greater accuracy and truth.” Big data in the workplace holds out the promise of true equality of opportunity, in which Moneyball- style analytics unearth hidden talent. Yet Kronos’s metrics-based hiring soft- ware is currently under investigation by the Equal Employment Opportu- nity Commission for discriminating against people with disabilities. Even the knowledge-sharing metrics used by companies like Cornerstone to as- sess elite knowledge workers may re- produce inequity. As Marc Smith, the sociologist from the Social Media Research Foundation, pointed out, “The diversity of your connections is a proxy for your wealth.” In other words, firms that reward their opti- mally networked employees risk fur- ther increasing inequality.
But these systems are still new; their biases may not be locked in yet. Susan Lambert, the retail- industry researcher, told me that the most so- phisticated software- scheduling sys- tems have the capacity to reduce, rather than exacerbate, volatility in the lives of retail workers. These sys- tems use elaborate regression equa- tions that predict sales volume for any hour of the day on any day of the year, as well as how much staff- ing will be required. Store managers often get those numbers several days before the start of the month, she said, yet they’re often afraid to fully assign the hours because they might get adjustments from their regional manager based on actual foot traf- fic. To play it safe, managers keep workers on call, send workers home the moment there’s a lull, or wait till the last moment to announce their employees’ schedules.
Lambert’s most recent study in- volves a national chain of women’s clothing stores that gave her complete access to payroll data for eighty stores. When her team looked at the adjust- ments made to the initial labor alloca- tions, they were minuscule—two to three staff hours per store per week. The algorithms, they discovered, were predicting labor needs with 90 percent accuracy, yet that 10 percent variation was driving enormous instability in workers’ lives. “We’re trying to say, ‘Just look at those original predic- tions,’ ” she said.
As Zeynep Ton wrote in the Har- vard Business Review, companies such as Costco and Trader Joe’s that invest in higher pay, more training, and more convenient schedules bring in far more revenue per employee than competitors that do not. Both companies are Kronos clients. Charles DeWitt, the Kronos execu- tive, said that retailers are better served when they see employees as potential profit centers, and not just as “a big bucket of costs” to be cut. Still, the dominant paradigm re- mains what Lisa Disselkamp, the Deloitte consultant, calls “the high- ly optimized system,” one organized around minimizing labor costs. Per- haps you can’t manage what you can’t measure. But the measuring has taken on a life of its own. n
__MACOSX/Articles/._1 The Spy Who Fired Me.pdf
Articles/4 Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity.pdf
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Home > Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity
Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity By Courtney E. Martin  / AlterNet  May 23, 2007, 9:00 PM GMT
Feminist theorist Susan Bordo once wrote, "People used to try to develop a better self and act out all the projects of transcendence, transformation and purification in the context of community or religious work. Now they go to seminars with diet gurus." If dieting has become the new religion, then we are not only financially daft but spiritually bankrupt. The good news is that there is a growing movement trying to wake us up from our calorie-counting hypnosis and target the fat-pocketed CEOs behind the swinging crystal.
The pathetic success rate of diets isn't news, but what is groundbreaking is the growing awareness of just how unethical the $34 billion-a-year (some estimate as high as $50 billion) diet industry is. Organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance  and books like Laura Fraser's "Losing It: America's Obsession with Weight and the Industry That Feeds It" and the just published "Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss -- and the Myths and Realities of Dieting" by New York Times health writer Gina Kolata, reinforce that it is not a lack of willpower that is standing between the average American dieter and her perfect body but a corrupt industry that keeps so many of us -- women in particular -- unsatisfied, obsessed and misinformed.
Separating fact from fiction in the age of obesity If you've just emerged from an ashram or a remote cave, let me fill you in: The last few years have seen a wild spike in the media coverage and public conversation of all things fat. The obesity epidemic became the topic du jour for every nightly news program, sending America racing off to Weight Watchers meetings and downing diet teas in terrified droves.
Most of the diet industry big-hitters toe the party line between quick-results dieting and long-term lifestyle change (Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.), but there is a whole underbelly of the industry chock-full of dangerous schemes. These fast-fix pills, exercise and diet plans promise rapid weight loss -- sometimes at medically unsafe levels -- to desperate consumers.
There have been two dozen deaths from ephedra-based products in the last decade. Americans take 6 billion doses of PPA (what Fraser calls a "close chemical cousin" to amphetamines) every year even though it can causes a rise in blood pressure, anxiety and stroke; it is a common ingredient in diet pills like Dexatrim, Acutrim, Thinz and Appedrine. Many of the makers of these drugs have profited from the seemingly ubiquitous public conversation about fat in America.
J. Eric Oliver, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, asserts that the advent of the obesity epidemic story was less about fact and more about funding. In "Obesity: The Making of an American Epidemic," he explains that the hullabaloo was the result of "a relatively small group of scientists and doctors, many directly funded by the weight-loss industry, [who] have created an arbitrary and unscientific definition of overweight and obesity. They have inflated claims and distorted statistics on the consequences of our growing weights,
and they have largely ignored the complicated health realities associated with being fat."
Instead of talking about the food industry, genetic predisposition, or sedentary, fast-food lifestyles, nightly newscasts featured fat, headless B-roll edited with voiceover from the nation's doomsday celebrity nutritionists spreading fear and misinformation. Being slightly overweight raises risk of death! Life expectancy plummets for the first time in two centuries!
Thanks to books like Oliver's -- and "The Obesity Myth," by Paul F. Campos -- public hysteria over the obesity epidemic seems to have finally come to a more sober summit. The truth is that many of us are overweight -- according to Scientific American, six out of every 10 of us, in fact. After decades of speculation, and let's face it, downright discrimination when it comes to fat Americans, researchers are finally finding out how genetics, environment, and psychology play into our overweight millions. And they are finally asking the question that women, pulling on waistbands and frowning in mirrors, have been asking for years: "Why doesn't my diet ever work?"
The set point makes diets obsolete The world's largest study of weight loss by a group of researchers at the University of California has proven that two-thirds of those who diet gain the weight back. The study confirms what many researchers have already postulated -- that rapid weight loss and gain is actually more unhealthy than simply being overweight. Yo-yo dieting puts women at risk for a range of scary side effects -- like heart attack, stroke, diabetes and eating disorders.
A host of studies covered in Kolata's new book indicate that, in part, diets don't work because they can't override the body's innate "set point." Dr. Susan Albers, author of "Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating & Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food," explains: "According to the 'set point' theory ... your body has a genetically predetermined weight range. Your body tries to keep your weight within that range and will automatically adjust your metabolism and food storage capacity to keep you from losing or gaining weight outside of that range or set point."
The set point theory was thought to be just that -- a theory -- until now. Too many studies prove its legitimacy. For example, Dr. Ethan Sims of the University of Vermont found that a group of svelte prisoners who increased their weight by at least 20 percent over six months also saw their metabolism increase (by 50 percent!), making it impossible for them to continue to put on weight even with their whopping 10,000- calorie-a-day consumption. Flip the coin and you get the same results: Rockefeller researchers found that genetically fat patients who were put on strict diets actually went into psychological and physiological starvation mode even though their body weight was still technically very safe.
In our extreme makeover culture where women are led to believe they could look like Halle Berry if they just had enough will power or money, this is a powerful conclusion. Your body is genetically predisposed to exist in a certain range of weight. Your range might be higher than Paris Hilton's, or your next door neighbor's, or even your sister's, for that matter, but it doesn't mean anything about your character. In fact, you can diet with utmost determination and your body will continue to adjust your metabolism to fit its genetically determined size.
The frightening power within Americans have poured themselves into dieting for decades. From Atkins to South Beach to Fat Busters, we've actually spent the gross national product of Ireland each year on trying to slim down. It turns out, it was free all along.
Susan Levin, a registered dietitian at the Physicians for Social Responsibility , explains: "What nobody talks about is that being healthy is not a matter of dieting, it is a matter of changing your life forever, eating healthy forever, moving your body, everyday, forever. No one wants to talk about that because it scares people to have that much control."
Levin recommends rejecting the pharmaceutical therapies and unhealthy diet plans (cutting out whole food groups, she asserts, is undeniably unhealthy) and seeing food as medicine instead. She described a patient with a stomachache who arrived at his doctor's office begging for a pill to make it better. In typical American quick-fix fashion, the patient hadn't even considered what food he had put in that stomach to make it ache in the first place.
Medical schools, it turns out, aren't much help either, as most of them don't require any kind of curriculum on nutrition. So the average American is not only being bombarded with false advertising and hyperbolic weight- loss claims in magazines, on television, radio, the internet and billboards, but often faces a similar fate at his or her own doctor. The "expert" may have little training in talking about weight loss without plugging a pill. Worst-case scenario, that doctor may even be paid to testify to its effectiveness by the pharmaceutical company that makes it.
With the potential of manipulation at every turn, where does the American look for the truth about health? Of all places, inward. "Let's talk about eating that makes good, intuitive sense," Levin insists. "Let's look at countries that eat high plant-based diets like Japan and Greece. These are the healthiest people on the planet, and they don't portion control or calorie count. They eat a natural, close-to-the-earth kind of diet."
The notion that we have everything we need to be healthy (or in diet industry parlance, "lose weight") within renders an entire industry impotent. If only we could believe it. Levin says, "People are afraid. They ask, 'So you're telling me I have that much power?'"
Feminists vs. the diet industry It is hard to believe that the power to be healthy is so simple and internal, after decades of complex, contradictory, and profit-driven messaging on the part of multimillion-dollar corporations.
The dominant script of diet industry parlance is that, first and foremost, we are inadequate, and only they have the unique cure for our inadequacies. Commercials preach the gospel of thinness and equate it with success, happiness and love -- the thin girl waltzes through a sunny day with a handsome man on her arm and stacks of her own money in the bank, all a not-so-subtle result of her recent weight loss. The chance to slim down becomes more than a dwindling number on the scale in the world of weight-loss marketing. It becomes an answer to all of life's problems.
The obsession and self-hatred that the diet industry engenders has long topped feminist academics and psychologists' list of evils. Clinicians like Catherine Baker-Pitts, LCSW, and her colleagues at the New York and London-based Women's Therapy Centre Institute, encourage patients to look at the ways that "eating problems" are both internally (upbringing, personality) and externally (media, patriarchy) shaped. Baker explains: "Obviously the morality surrounding women's appetites is entirely loaded and connected to female identity -- messages to be less powerful, less emotional, less hungry, and to assume less space in the world."
Efforts to reclaim the beauty of the natural body have been numerous. Love Your Body Day now occupies a celebrated space on most college campuses in late October, as do feminist theory classes on body image year- round. Off-Broadway theaters have recently become a hot spot of plays -- like "Beginner at Life" and "Beauty
on the Vine" -- both pushing audience members to come to terms with their inner critics and participate in dialogues afterward (ala Eve Ensler's "The Good Body.")
A wealth of literature, ranging from the academic (Susan Bordo) to the talk show-oriented (Jessica Weiner), urges women to stop pouring their critical time, energy and money into dieting. (Note: I have recently published a book that deals with many of these issues, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body.) But for all of our go-girling, expose-writing and finger-pointing, the diet industry marches on as lucrative and deadly as ever.
Some feminists are considering taking the rallying cry against dieting out of the classrooms and into the courts. Given recent research that proves the ineffectiveness of diets as a whole and the inaccuracies, therefore, littered throughout diet advertising -- are there legal grounds to take down the industry? Can the diet industry be prosecuted into warning labels and public education efforts the way the tobacco industry has been?
Prosecuting the magic pill makers Susie Orbach would like to think so. The British psychologist and author of the 1978 classic "Fat is a Feminist Issue" has been threatening to sue 40-year-old company Weight Watchers International, which she views as merely a symbol of the diet industry as a whole. She explains, "Dieting has a 97 percent recidivism rate. Where does that appear in the advertising? The failure rate is crucial for the profits of the diet industry. If it worked, there would not be return customers and no profit. It surely contravenes the Trade Descriptions Act."
The Act Orbach referred to prevents manufacturers, retailers or service industry providers in the United Kingdom from misleading consumers as to what they are spending their money on. It empowers the judiciary to punish companies who make false claims as a strict liability offense.
Here in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission recommends a "healthy portion of skepticism" to those evaluating weight-loss products, but has done little since 1990 and 1992, when congressional hearings on the diet industry led to a spurt of crackdowns on outlandish weight-loss claims. Around the same time, the Food and Drug Administration created a list of 111 ingredients used in over-the-counter diet aids that were ineffective or unsafe. In 1992, a National Institutes of Health task force declared that diets don't work.
Since then fraudulent weight-loss schemes have flourished. The Dietary Supplements Act of 1994 put the burden on the FDA to prove that a product is fraudulent -- as opposed to on the manufacturer -- so most diet drugs simply slip through the cracks due to a deluge of undone paperwork. And consumers' rights groups appear to do little when it comes to exposing diet rip-offs.
It does seem like class-action lawsuits -- ala the tobacco industry takedown -- may be the most effective answer. In recent years the number of lawsuits against drug companies, in particular, have skyrocketed. Dr. Phil's reputation was sufficiently tarnished when he was sued three times over his bogus diet supplements. Before Anna Nicole Smith's untimely death, she and TrimSpa were the target of a lawsuit alleging their marketing of the weight-loss pill was false or misleading.
These individual cries for restitution and truth are chipping away at the industry, but it remains to be seen if fed-up physicians, feminists and anti-diet activists can band together to demolish the whole glittering mirage. Courtney E. Martin is the author of "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body ." You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com .
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__MACOSX/Articles/._4 Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity.pdf
Articles/5 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider.pdf
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America
ASHLEY LUTZ JUN. 14, 2012, 9:49 AM
This infographic created by Jason at Frugal Dad shows that almost all media comes from the same six sources.
That's consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.
NOTE: This infographic is from last year and is missing some key transactions. GE does not own NBC (or Comcast or any media) anymore. So that 6th company is now Comcast. And Time Warner doesn't own AOL, so Huffington Post isn't affiliated with them.
But the fact that a few companies own everything demonstrates "the illusion of choice," Frugal Dad says. While some big sites, like Digg and Reddit aren't owned by any of the corporations, Time Warner owns news sites read by millions of Americans every year.
Here's the graphic:
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
8/10/2017 These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America - Business Insider
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Articles/5 Why Women Still Can’t Have It All - The Atlantic.pdf
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EIGHTEEN MONTHS INTO my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous
Why Women Still Can’t Have It All It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER | JULY/AUGUST 2012 ISSUE | U.S.
A debate on career and family See full coverage
reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.
As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House. She has two sons exactly my sons’ ages, but she had chosen to move them from California to D.C. when she got her job, which meant her husband commuted back to California regularly. I told her how difficult I was finding it to be away from my son when he clearly needed me. Then I said, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”
She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women. By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet. I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while
my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved. But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could.
A rude epiphany hit me soon after I got there. When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible. I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book. But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).
The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped. All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law- school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to
blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).
VIDEO: Anne-Marie Slaughter talks with Hanna Rosin about the struggles of working mothers.
Last spring, I flew to Oxford to give a public lecture. At the request of a young Rhodes Scholar I know, I’d agreed to talk to the Rhodes community about “work-family balance.” I ended up speaking to a group of about 40 men and women in their mid-20s. What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington). I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home. The audience was rapt, and asked many thoughtful questions. One of the
first was from a young woman who began by thanking me for “not giving just one more fatuous ‘You can have it all’ talk.” Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way. But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.
The striking gap between the responses I heard from those young women (and others like them) and the responses I heard from my peers and associates prompted me to write this article. Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating “you can have it all” is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.
I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.
BEFORE MY SERVICE in government, I’d spent my career in academia: as a law professor and then as the dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Both were demanding jobs, but I had the ability to set my own schedule most of the time. I could be with my kids when I needed to be, and still get the work done. I had to travel frequently, but I found I could make up for that with an extended period at home or a family vacation.
I knew that I was lucky in my career choice, but I had no idea how lucky until I spent two years in Washington within a rigid bureaucracy, even with bosses as understanding as Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. My workweek started at 4:20 on Monday morning, when I got up to get the 5:30
train from Trenton to Washington. It ended late on Friday, with the train home. In between, the days were crammed with meetings, and when the meetings stopped, the writing work began—a never-ending stream of memos, reports, and comments on other people’s drafts. For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children’s sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home).
In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.
I am hardly alone in this realization. Michèle Flournoy stepped down after three years as undersecretary of defense for policy, the third-highest job in the department, to spend more time at home with her three children, two of whom are teenagers. Karen Hughes left her position as the counselor to President George W. Bush after a year and a half in Washington to go home to Texas for the sake of her family. Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters, wrote: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”
Yet the decision to step down from a position of power—to value family over professional advancement, even for a time—is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, “leaving to spend time with your family” is a euphemism for being fired. This understanding is so ingrained that when Flournoy announced her resignation last December, TheNew York Times covered her decision as follows:
Ms. Flournoy’s announcement surprised friends and a number of Pentagon officials, but all said they took her reason for resignation at face value and not as a standard Washington excuse for an official who has in reality been forced out. “I can absolutely and unequivocally state that her decision to step down has nothing to do with anything other than her commitment to her family,” said Doug Wilson, a top Pentagon spokesman. “She has loved this job and people here love her.
Think about what this “standard Washington excuse” implies: it is so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that this must be a cover for something else. How could anyone voluntarily leave the circles of power for the responsibilities of parenthood? Depending on one’s vantage point, it is either ironic or maddening that this view abides in the nation’s capital, despite the ritual commitments to “family values” that are part of every political campaign. Regardless, this sentiment makes true work-life balance exceptionally difficult. But it cannot change unless top women speak out.
Only recently have I begun to appreciate the extent to which many young
professional women feel under assault by women my age and older. After I gave a recent speech in New York, several women in their late 60s or early 70s came up to tell me how glad and proud they were to see me speaking as a foreign- policy expert. A couple of them went on, however, to contrast my career with the path being traveled by “younger women today.” One expressed dismay that many younger women “are just not willing to get out there and do it.” Said another, unaware of the circumstances of my recent job change: “They think they have to choose between having a career and having a family.”
A similar assumption underlies Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s widely publicized 2011 commencement speech at Barnard, and her earlier TED talk, in which she lamented the dismally small number of women at the top and advised young women not to “leave before you leave.” When a woman starts thinking about having children, Sandberg said, “she doesn’t raise her hand anymore … She starts leaning back.” Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach. We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: “What’s the matter with you?”
They have an answer that we don’t want to hear. After the speech I gave in New York, I went to dinner with a group of 30-somethings. I sat across from two vibrant women, one of whom worked at the UN and the other at a big New York law firm. As nearly always happens in these situations, they soon began asking me about work-life balance. When I told them I was writing this article, the lawyer said, “I look for role models and can’t find any.” She said the women in her firm who had become partners and taken on management positions had made tremendous sacrifices, “many of which they don’t even seem to realize … They take two years off when their kids are young but then work like crazy to get back on track professionally, which means that they see their kids when they are toddlers but not teenagers, or really barely at all.” Her friend nodded, mentioning the top professional women she knew, all of whom essentially relied
on round-the-clock nannies. Both were very clear that they did not want that life, but could not figure out how to combine professional success and satisfaction with a real commitment to family.
I realize that I am blessed to have been born in the late 1950s instead of the early 1930s, as my mother was, or the beginning of the 20th century, as my grandmothers were. My mother built a successful and rewarding career as a professional artist largely in the years after my brothers and I left home—and after being told in her 20s that she could not go to medical school, as her father had done and her brother would go on to do, because, of course, she was going to get married. I owe my own freedoms and opportunities to the pioneering generation of women ahead of me—the women now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who faced overt sexism of a kind I see only when watching Mad Men, and who knew that the only way to make it as a woman was to act exactly like a man. To admit to, much less act on, maternal longings would have been fatal to their careers.
But precisely thanks to their progress, a different kind of conversation is now possible. It is time for women in leadership positions to recognize that although we are still blazing trails and breaking ceilings, many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination. As Kerry Rubin and Lia Macko, the authors of Midlife Crisis at 30, their cri de coeur for Gen-X and Gen-Y women, put it:
What we discovered in our research is that while the empowerment part of the equation has been loudly celebrated, there has been very little honest discussion among women of our age about the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited.
I am well aware that the majority of American women face problems far greater than any discussed in this article. I am writing for my demographic—highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place. We may not have choices about whether to do paid work, as dual incomes have become indispensable. But we have choices about the type and tempo of the work we do. We are the women who could be leading, and who should be equally represented in the leadership ranks.
Millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. Some are single mothers; many struggle to find any job; others support husbands who cannot find jobs. Many cope with a work life in which good day care is either unavailable or very expensive; school schedules do not match work schedules; and schools themselves are failing to educate their children. Many of these women are worrying not about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have. And although women as a group have made substantial gains in wages, educational attainment, and prestige over the past three decades, the economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson have shown that women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men.
The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing what Wolfers and Stevenson call a “new gender gap”—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.
The Half-Truths We Hold Dear
Let’s briefly examine the stories we tell ourselves, the clichés that I and many other women typically fall back on when younger women ask us how we have
managed to “have it all.” They are not necessarily lies, but at best partial truths. We must clear them out of the way to make room for a more honest and productive discussion about real solutions to the problems faced by professional women.
It’s possible if you are just committed enough.
Our usual starting point, whether we say it explicitly or not, is that having it all depends primarily on the depth and intensity of a woman’s commitment to her career. That is precisely the sentiment behind the dismay so many older career women feel about the younger generation. They are not committed enough, we say, to make the trade-offs and sacrifices that the women ahead of them made.
Yet instead of chiding, perhaps we should face some basic facts. Very few women reach leadership positions. The pool of female candidates for any top job is small, and will only grow smaller if the women who come after us decide to take time out, or drop out of professional competition altogether, to raise children. That is exactly what has Sheryl Sandberg so upset, and rightly so. In her words, “Women are not making it to the top. A hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, [the share of] women at the top—C-level jobs, board seats—tops out at 15, 16 percent.”
Can “insufficient commitment” even plausibly explain these numbers? To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. Consider the number of women recently in the top ranks in Washington—Susan Rice, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Michelle Gavin, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle—who are Rhodes Scholars. Samantha Power, another senior White House official, won a Pulitzer Prize at age 32. Or consider Sandberg herself, who graduated with the prize given to Harvard’s top student of economics. These women cannot possibly be
the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.
What’s more, among those who have made it to the top, a balanced life still is more elusive for women than it is for men. A simple measure is how many women in top positions have children compared with their male colleagues. Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.
The line of high-level women appointees in the Obama administration is one woman deep. Virtually all of us who have stepped down have been succeeded by men; searches for women to succeed men in similar positions come up empty. Just about every woman who could plausibly be tapped is already in government. The rest of the foreign-policy world is not much better; Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently surveyed the best data he could find across the government, the military, the academy, and think tanks, and found that women hold fewer than 30 percent of the senior foreign-policy positions in each of these institutions.
These numbers are all the more striking when we look back to the 1980s, when women now in their late 40s and 50s were coming out of graduate school, and remember that our classes were nearly 50-50 men and women. We were sure then that by now, we would be living in a 50-50 world. Something derailed that dream.
Sandberg thinks that “something” is an “ambition gap”—that women do not dream big enough. I am all for encouraging young women to reach for the stars. But I fear that the obstacles that keep women from reaching the top are rather
more prosaic than the scope of their ambition. My longtime and invaluable assistant, who has a doctorate and juggles many balls as the mother of teenage twins, e-mailed me while I was working on this article: “You know what would help the vast majority of women with work/family balance? MAKE SCHOOL SCHEDULES MATCH WORK SCHEDULES.” The present system, she noted, is based on a society that no longer exists—one in which farming was a major occupation and stay-at-home moms were the norm. Yet the system hasn’t changed.
Consider some of the responses of women interviewed by Zenko about why “women are significantly underrepresented in foreign policy and national security positions in government, academia, and think tanks.” Juliette Kayyem, who served as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2011 and now writes a foreign-policy and national-security column for The Boston Globe, told Zenko that among other reasons,
the basic truth is also this: the travel sucks. As my youngest of three children is now 6, I can look back at the years when they were all young and realize just how disruptive all the travel was. There were also trips I couldn’t take because I was pregnant or on leave, the conferences I couldn’t attend because (note to conference organizers: weekends are a bad choice) kids would be home from school, and the various excursions that were offered but just couldn’t be managed.
Jolynn Shoemaker, the director of Women in International Security, agreed: “Inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel, and constant pressure to be in the office are common features of these jobs.”
These “mundane” issues—the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts
between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office—cannot be solved by exhortations to close the ambition gap. I would hope to see commencement speeches that finger America’s social and business policies, rather than women’s level of ambition, in explaining the dearth of women at the top. But changing these policies requires much more than speeches. It means fighting the mundane battles—every day, every year—in individual workplaces, in legislatures, and in the media.
It’s possible if you marry the right person.
Sandberg’s second message in her Barnard commencement address was: “The most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is.” Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, recently drove that message home to an audience of Princeton students and alumni gathered to hear her acceptance speech for the James Madison Medal. During the Q&A session, an audience member asked her how she managed her career and her family. She laughed and pointed to her husband in the front row, saying: “There’s my work-life balance.” I could never have had the career I have had without my husband, Andrew Moravcsik, who is a tenured professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton. Andy has spent more time with our sons than I have, not only on homework, but also on baseball, music lessons, photography, card games, and more. When each of them had to bring in a foreign dish for his fourth-grade class dinner, Andy made his grandmother’s Hungarian palacsinta; when our older son needed to memorize his lines for a lead role in a school play, he turned to Andy for help.
Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them.
In my experience, that is simply not the case.
Here I step onto treacherous ground, mined with stereotypes. From years of conversations and observations, however, I’ve come to believe that men and women respond quite differently when problems at home force them to recognize that their absence is hurting a child, or at least that their presence would likely help. I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.
Many factors determine this choice, of course. Men are still socialized to believe that their primary family obligation is to be the breadwinner; women, to believe that their primary family obligation is to be the caregiver. But it may be more than that. When I described the choice between my children and my job to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she said exactly what I felt: “There’s really no choice.” She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.
Men and women also seem to frame the choice differently. In Midlife Crisis at 30, Mary Matalin recalls her days working as President Bush’s assistant and Vice President Cheney’s counselor:
Even when the stress was overwhelming—those days when I’d cry in the car on the way to work, asking myself “Why am I doing this??”—I always knew the answer to that question: I believe in this president.
But Matalin goes on to describe her choice to leave in words that are again uncannily similar to the explanation I have given so many people since leaving
the State Department:
I finally asked myself, “Who needs me more?” And that’s when I realized, it’s somebody else’s turn to do this job. I’m indispensable to my kids, but I’m not close to indispensable to the White House.
To many men, however, the choice to spend more time with their children, instead of working long hours on issues that affect many lives, seems selfish. Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family. Yet their children, too, are trained to value public service over private responsibility. At the diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service, one of his sons told the audience that when he was a child, his father was often gone, not around to teach him to throw a ball or to watch his games. But as he grew older, he said, he realized that Holbrooke’s absence was the price of saving people around the world—a price worth paying.
It is not clear to me that this ethical framework makes sense for society. Why should we want leaders who fall short on personal responsibilities? Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices—on issues from war to welfare—take on private lives. (Kati Marton, Holbrooke’s widow and a noted author, says that although Holbrooke adored his children, he came to appreciate the full importance of family only in his 50s, at which point he became a very present parent and grandparent, while continuing to pursue an extraordinary public career.) Regardless, it is clear which set of choices society values more today. Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.
In sum, having a supportive mate may well be a necessary condition if women are to have it all, but it is not sufficient. If women feel deeply that turning down a promotion that would involve more travel, for instance, is the right thing to do, then they will continue to do that. Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.
It’s possible if you sequence it right.
Young women should be wary of the assertion “You can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.” This 21st-century addendum to the original line is now proffered by many senior women to their younger mentees. To the extent that it means, in the words of one working mother, “I’m going to do my best and I’m going to keep the long term in mind and know that it’s not always going to be this hard to balance,” it is sound advice. But to the extent that it means that women can have it all if they just find the right sequence of career and family, it’s cheerfully wrong.
The most important sequencing issue is when to have children. Many of the top women leaders of the generation just ahead of me—Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Patricia Wald, Nannerl Keohane—had their children in their 20s and early 30s, as was the norm in the 1950s through the 1970s. A child born when his mother is 25 will finish high school when his mother is 43, an age at which, with full-time immersion in a career, she still has plenty of time and energy for advancement.
Yet this sequence has fallen out of favor with many high-potential women, and understandably so. People tend to marry later now, and anyway, if you have
children earlier, you may have difficulty getting a graduate degree, a good first job, and opportunities for advancement in the crucial early years of your career. Making matters worse, you will also have less income while raising your children, and hence less ability to hire the help that can be indispensable to your juggling act.
When I was the dean, the Woodrow Wilson School created a program called Pathways to Public Service, aimed at advising women whose children were almost grown about how to go into public service, and many women still ask me about the best “on-ramps” to careers in their mid-40s. Honestly, I’m not sure what to tell most of them. Unlike the pioneering women who entered the workforce after having children in the 1970s, these women are competing with their younger selves. Government and NGO jobs are an option, but many careers are effectively closed off. Personally, I have never seen a woman in her 40s enter the academic market successfully, or enter a law firm as a junior associate, Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife notwithstanding.
These considerations are why so many career women of my generation chose to establish themselves in their careers first and have children in their mid-to-late 30s. But that raises the possibility of spending long, stressful years and a small fortune trying to have a baby. I lived that nightmare: for three years, beginning at age 35, I did everything possible to conceive and was frantic at the thought that I had simply left having a biological child until it was too late.
And when everything does work out? I had my first child at 38 (and counted myself blessed) and my second at 40. That means I will be 58 when both of my children are out of the house. What’s more, it means that many peak career opportunities are coinciding precisely with their teenage years, when, experienced parents advise, being available as a parent is just as important as in the first years of a child’s life.
Many women of my generation have found themselves, in the prime of their
careers, saying no to opportunities they once would have jumped at and hoping those chances come around again later. Many others who have decided to step back for a while, taking on consultant positions or part-time work that lets them spend more time with their children (or aging parents), are worrying about how long they can “stay out” before they lose the competitive edge they worked so hard to acquire.
Given the way our work culture is oriented today, I recommend establishing yourself in your career first but still trying to have kids before you are 35—or else freeze your eggs, whether you are married or not. You may well be a more mature and less frustrated parent in your 30s or 40s; you are also more likely to have found a lasting life partner. But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.
You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire. If more women could strike this balance, more women would reach leadership positions. And if more women were in leadership positions, they could make it easier for more women to stay in the workforce. The rest of this essay details how.
Changing the Culture of Face Time
Back in the Reagan administration, a New York Times story about the ferociously competitive budget director Dick Darman reported, “Mr. Darman sometimes managed to convey the impression that he was the last one working in the Reagan White House by leaving his suit coat on his chair and his office light burning after he left for home.” (Darman claimed that it was just easier to leave his suit jacket in the office so he could put it on again in the morning, but his record of psychological manipulation suggests otherwise.)
The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the
international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today. Nothing captures the belief that more time equals more value better than the cult of billable hours afflicting large law firms across the country and providing exactly the wrong incentives for employees who hope to integrate work and family. Yet even in industries that don’t explicitly reward sheer quantity of hours spent on the job, the pressure to arrive early, stay late, and be available, always, for in-person meetings at 11 a.m. on Saturdays can be intense. Indeed, by some measures, the problem has gotten worse over time: a study by the Center for American Progress reports that nationwide, the share of all professionals—women and men—working more than 50 hours a week has increased since the late 1970s.
But more time in the office does not always mean more “value added”—and it does not always add up to a more successful organization. In 2009, Sandra Pocharski, a senior female partner at Monitor Group and the head of the firm’s Leadership and Organization practice, commissioned a Harvard Business School professor to assess the factors that helped or hindered women’s effectiveness and advancement at Monitor. The study found that the company’s culture was characterized by an “always on” mode of working, often without due regard to the impact on employees. Pocharski observed:
Clients come first, always, and sometimes burning the midnight oil really does make the difference between success and failure. But sometimes we were just defaulting to behavior that overloaded our people without improving results much, if at all. We decided we needed managers to get better at distinguishing between these categories, and to recognize the hidden costs of assuming that “time is cheap.” When that time doesn’t add a lot of value and comes at a high cost to talented employees, who will leave when the personal cost becomes unsustainable—well, that is clearly a bad outcome for
I have worked very long hours and pulled plenty of all-nighters myself over the course of my career, including a few nights on my office couch during my two years in D.C. Being willing to put the time in when the job simply has to get done is rightfully a hallmark of a successful professional. But looking back, I have to admit that my assumption that I would stay late made me much less efficient over the course of the day than I might have been, and certainly less so than some of my colleagues, who managed to get the same amount of work done and go home at a decent hour. If Dick Darman had had a boss who clearly valued prioritization and time management, he might have found reason to turn out the lights and take his jacket home.
Long hours are one thing, and realistically, they are often unavoidable. But do they really need to be spent at the office? To be sure, being in the office some of the time is beneficial. In-person meetings can be far more efficient than phone or e-mail tag; trust and collegiality are much more easily built up around the same physical table; and spontaneous conversations often generate good ideas and lasting relationships. Still, armed with e-mail, instant messaging, phones, and videoconferencing technology, we should be able to move to a culture where the office is a base of operations more than the required locus of work.
Being able to work from home—in the evening after children are put to bed, or during their sick days or snow days, and at least some of the time on weekends— can be the key, for mothers, to carrying your full load versus letting a team down at crucial moments. State-of-the-art videoconferencing facilities can dramatically reduce the need for long business trips. These technologies are making inroads, and allowing easier integration of work and family life. According to the Women’s Business Center, 61 percent of women business owners use technology to “integrate the responsibilities of work and home”; 44
percent use technology to allow employees “to work off-site or to have flexible work schedules.” Yet our work culture still remains more office-centered than it needs to be, especially in light of technological advances.
One way to change that is by changing the “default rules” that govern office work —the baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done. As behavioral economists well know, these baselines can make an enormous difference in the way people act. It is one thing, for instance, for an organization to allow phone-ins to a meeting on an ad hoc basis, when parenting and work schedules collide—a system that’s better than nothing, but likely to engender guilt among those calling in, and possibly resentment among those in the room. It is quite another for that organization to declare that its policy will be to schedule in-person meetings, whenever possible, during the hours of the school day—a system that might normalize call-ins for those (rarer) meetings still held in the late afternoon.
One real-world example comes from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, a place most people are more likely to associate with distinguished gentlemen in pinstripes than with progressive thinking about work-family balance. Like so many other places, however, the FCO worries about losing talented members of two-career couples around the world, particularly women. So it recently changed its basic policy from a default rule that jobs have to be done on-site to one that assumes that some jobs might be done remotely, and invites workers to make the case for remote work. Kara Owen, a career foreign- service officer who was the FCO’s diversity director and will soon become the British deputy ambassador to France, writes that she has now done two remote jobs. Before her current maternity leave, she was working a London job from Dublin to be with her partner, using teleconferencing technology and timing her trips to London to coincide “with key meetings where I needed to be in the room (or chatting at the pre-meeting coffee) to have an impact, or to do intensive ‘network maintenance.’” In fact, she writes, “I have found the distance and quiet
to be a real advantage in a strategic role, providing I have put in the investment up front to develop very strong personal relationships with the game changers.” Owen recognizes that not every job can be done this way. But she says that for her part, she has been able to combine family requirements with her career.
Changes in default office rules should not advantage parents over other workers; indeed, done right, they can improve relations among co-workers by raising their awareness of each other’s circumstances and instilling a sense of fairness. Two years ago, the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts decided to replace its “parental leave” policy with a “family leave” policy that provides for as much as 12 weeks of leave not only for new parents, but also for employees who need to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. According to Director Carol Rose, “We wanted a policy that took into account the fact that even employees who do not have children have family obligations.” The policy was shaped by the belief that giving women “special treatment” can “backfire if the broader norms shaping the behavior of all employees do not change.” When I was the dean of the Wilson School, I managed with the mantra “Family comes first”—any family—and found that my employees were both productive and intensely loyal.
None of these changes will happen by themselves, and reasons to avoid them will seldom be hard to find. But obstacles and inertia are usually surmountable if leaders are open to changing their assumptions about the workplace. The use of technology in many high-level government jobs, for instance, is complicated by the need to have access to classified information. But in 2009, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who shares the parenting of his two young daughters equally with his wife, made getting such access at home an immediate priority so that he could leave the office at a reasonable hour and participate in important meetings via videoconferencing if necessary. I wonder how many women in similar positions would be afraid to ask, lest they be seen as insufficiently committed to their jobs.
Revaluing Family Values
While employers shouldn’t privilege parents over other workers, too often they end up doing the opposite, usually subtly, and usually in ways that make it harder for a primary caregiver to get ahead. Many people in positions of power seem to place a low value on child care in comparison with other outside activities. Consider the following proposition: An employer has two equally talented and productive employees. One trains for and runs marathons when he is not working. The other takes care of two children. What assumptions is the employer likely to make about the marathon runner? That he gets up in the dark every day and logs an hour or two running before even coming into the office, or drives himself to get out there even after a long day. That he is ferociously disciplined and willing to push himself through distraction, exhaustion, and days when nothing seems to go right in the service of a goal far in the distance. That he must manage his time exceptionally well to squeeze all of that in.
Be honest: Do you think the employer makes those same assumptions about the parent? Even though she likely rises in the dark hours before she needs to be at work, organizes her children’s day, makes breakfast, packs lunch, gets them off to school, figures out shopping and other errands even if she is lucky enough to have a housekeeper—and does much the same work at the end of the day. Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s indefatigable chief of staff, has twins in elementary school; even with a fully engaged husband, she famously gets up at four every morning to check and send e-mails before her kids wake up. Louise Richardson, now the vice chancellor of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, combined an assistant professorship in government at Harvard with mothering three young children. She organized her time so ruthlessly that she always keyed in 1:11 or 2:22 or 3:33 on the microwave rather than 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00, because hitting the same number three times took less time.
Elizabeth Warren, who is now running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, has
a similar story. When she had two young children and a part-time law practice, she struggled to find enough time to write the papers and articles that would help get her an academic position. In her words:
I needed a plan. I figured out that writing time was when Alex was asleep. So the minute I put him down for a nap or he fell asleep in the baby swing, I went to my desk and started working on something— footnotes, reading, outlining, writing … I learned to do everything else with a baby on my hip.
The discipline, organization, and sheer endurance it takes to succeed at top levels with young children at home is easily comparable to running 20 to 40 miles a week. But that’s rarely how employers see things, not only when making allowances, but when making promotions. Perhaps because people choose to have children? People also choose to run marathons.
One final example: I have worked with many Orthodox Jewish men who observed the Sabbath from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Jack Lew, the two-time director of the Office of Management and Budget, former deputy secretary of state for management and resources, and now White House chief of staff, is a case in point. Jack’s wife lived in New York when he worked in the State Department, so he would leave the office early enough on Friday afternoon to take the shuttle to New York and a taxi to his apartment before sundown. He would not work on Friday after sundown or all day Saturday. Everyone who knew him, including me, admired his commitment to his faith and his ability to carve out the time for it, even with an enormously demanding job.
It is hard to imagine, however, that we would have the same response if a mother
told us she was blocking out mid-Friday afternoon through the end of the day on Saturday, every week, to spend time with her children. I suspect this would be seen as unprofessional, an imposition of unnecessary costs on co-workers. In fact, of course, one of the great values of the Sabbath—whether Jewish or Christian—is precisely that it carves out a family oasis, with rituals and a mandatory setting-aside of work.
Our assumptions are just that: things we believe that are not necessarily so. Yet what we assume has an enormous impact on our perceptions and responses. Fortunately, changing our assumptions is up to us.
Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career
The American definition of a successful professional is someone who can climb the ladder the furthest in the shortest time, generally peaking between ages 45 and 55. It is a definition well suited to the mid-20th century, an era when people had kids in their 20s, stayed in one job, retired at 67, and were dead, on average, by age 71.
It makes far less sense today. Average life expectancy for people in their 20s has increased to 80; men and women in good health can easily work until they are 75. They can expect to have multiple jobs and even multiple careers throughout their working life. Couples marry later, have kids later, and can expect to live on two incomes. They may well retire earlier—the average retirement age has gone down from 67 to 63—but that is commonly “retirement” only in the sense of collecting retirement benefits. Many people go on to “encore” careers.
Assuming the priceless gifts of good health and good fortune, a professional woman can thus expect her working life to stretch some 50 years, from her early or mid-20s to her mid-70s. It is reasonable to assume that she will build her credentials and establish herself, at least in her first career, between 22 and 35; she will have children, if she wants them, sometime between 25 and 45; she’ll
want maximum flexibility and control over her time in the 10 years that her children are 8 to 18; and she should plan to take positions of maximum authority and demands on her time after her children are out of the house. Women who have children in their late 20s can expect to immerse themselves completely in their careers in their late 40s, with plenty of time still to rise to the top in their late 50s and early 60s. Women who make partner, managing director, or senior vice president; get tenure; or establish a medical practice before having children in their late 30s should be coming back on line for the most demanding jobs at almost exactly the same age.
Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years. I think of these plateaus as “investment intervals.” My husband and I took a sabbatical in Shanghai, from August 2007 to May 2008, right in the thick of an election year when many of my friends were advising various candidates on foreign-policy issues. We thought of the move in part as “putting money in the family bank,” taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a close year together in a foreign culture. But we were also investing in our children’s ability to learn Mandarin and in our own knowledge of Asia.
Peaking in your late 50s and early 60s rather than your late 40s and early 50s makes particular sense for women, who live longer than men. And many of the stereotypes about older workers simply do not hold. A 2006 survey of human- resources professionals shows that only 23 percent think older workers are less flexible than younger workers; only 11 percent think older workers require more training than younger workers; and only 7 percent think older workers have less drive than younger workers.
Whether women will really have the confidence to stair-step their careers, however, will again depend in part on perceptions. Slowing down the rate of promotions, taking time out periodically, pursuing an alternative path during crucial parenting or parent-care years—all have to become more visible and more noticeably accepted as a pause rather than an opt-out. (In an encouraging sign, Mass Career Customization, a 2007 book by Cathleen Benko and Anne Weisberg arguing that “today’s career is no longer a straight climb up the corporate ladder, but rather a combination of climbs, lateral moves, and planned descents,” was a Wall Street Journal best seller.)
Institutions can also take concrete steps to promote this acceptance. For instance, in 1970, Princeton established a tenure-extension policy that allowed female assistant professors expecting a child to request a one-year extension on their tenure clocks. This policy was later extended to men, and broadened to include adoptions. In the early 2000s, two reports on the status of female faculty discovered that only about 3 percent of assistant professors requested tenure extensions in a given year. And in response to a survey question, women were much more likely than men to think that a tenure extension would be detrimental to an assistant professor’s career.
So in 2005, under President Shirley Tilghman, Princeton changed the default rule. The administration announced that all assistant professors, female and male, who had a new child would automatically receive a one-year extension on the tenure clock, with no opt-outs allowed. Instead, assistant professors could request early consideration for tenure if they wished. The number of assistant professors who receive a tenure extension has tripled since the change.
One of the best ways to move social norms in this direction is to choose and celebrate different role models. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and I are poles apart politically, but he went way up in my estimation when he announced that one reason he decided against running for president in 2012 was the impact
his campaign would have had on his children. He reportedly made clear at a fund-raiser in Louisiana that he didn’t want to be away from his children for long periods of time; according to a Republican official at the event, he said that “his son [missed] him after being gone for the three days on the road, and that he needed to get back.” He may not get my vote if and when he does run for president, but he definitely gets my admiration (providing he doesn’t turn around and join the GOP ticket this fall).
If we are looking for high-profile female role models, we might begin with Michelle Obama. She started out with the same résumé as her husband, but has repeatedly made career decisions designed to let her do work she cared about and also be the kind of parent she wanted to be. She moved from a high-powered law firm first to Chicago city government and then to the University of Chicago shortly before her daughters were born, a move that let her work only 10 minutes away from home. She has spoken publicly and often about her initial concerns that her husband’s entry into politics would be bad for their family life, and about her determination to limit her participation in the presidential election campaign to have more time at home. Even as first lady, she has been adamant that she be able to balance her official duties with family time. We should see her as a full-time career woman, but one who is taking a very visible investment interval. We should celebrate her not only as a wife, mother, and champion of healthy eating, but also as a woman who has had the courage and judgment to invest in her daughters when they need her most. And we should expect a glittering career from her after she leaves the White House and her daughters leave for college.
Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness
One of the most complicated and surprising parts of my journey out of Washington was coming to grips with what I really wanted. I had opportunities to stay on, and I could have tried to work out an arrangement allowing me to spend
more time at home. I might have been able to get my family to join me in Washington for a year; I might have been able to get classified technology installed at my house the way Jim Steinberg did; I might have been able to commute only four days a week instead of five. (While this last change would have still left me very little time at home, given the intensity of my job, it might have made the job doable for another year or two.) But I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home. I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults. But also irreplaceable years for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of parenting—baseball games, piano recitals, waffle breakfasts, family trips, and goofy rituals. My older son is doing very well these days, but even when he gives us a hard time, as all teenagers do, being home to shape his choices and help him make good decisions is deeply satisfying.
The flip side of my realization is captured in Macko and Rubin’s ruminations on the importance of bringing the different parts of their lives together as 30-year- old women:
If we didn’t start to learn how to integrate our personal, social, and professional lives, we were about five years away from morphing into the angry woman on the other side of a mahogany desk who questions her staff’s work ethic after standard 12-hour workdays, before heading home to eat moo shoo pork in her lonely apartment.
Women have contributed to the fetish of the one-dimensional life, albeit by necessity. The pioneer generation of feminists walled off their personal lives from their professional personas to ensure that they could never be discriminated against for a lack of commitment to their work. When I was a law
student in the 1980s, many women who were then climbing the legal hierarchy in New York firms told me that they never admitted to taking time out for a child’s doctor appointment or school performance, but instead invented a much more neutral excuse.
Today, however, women in power can and should change that environment, although change is not easy. When I became dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, in 2002, I decided that one of the advantages of being a woman in power was that I could help change the norms by deliberately talking about my children and my desire to have a balanced life. Thus, I would end faculty meetings at 6 p.m. by saying that I had to go home for dinner; I would also make clear to all student organizations that I would not come to dinner with them, because I needed to be home from six to eight, but that I would often be willing to come back after eight for a meeting. I also once told the Dean’s Advisory Committee that the associate dean would chair the next session so I could go to a parent- teacher conference.
After a few months of this, several female assistant professors showed up in my office quite agitated. “You have to stop talking about your kids,” one said. “You are not showing the gravitas that people expect from a dean, which is particularly damaging precisely because you are the first woman dean of the school.” I told them that I was doing it deliberately and continued my practice, but it is interesting that gravitas and parenthood don’t seem to go together.
Ten years later, whenever I am introduced at a lecture or other speaking engagement, I insist that the person introducing me mention that I have two sons. It seems odd to me to list degrees, awards, positions, and interests and not include the dimension of my life that is most important to me—and takes an enormous amount of my time. As Secretary Clinton once said in a television interview in Beijing when the interviewer asked her about Chelsea’s upcoming wedding: “That’s my real life.” But I notice that my male introducers are
typically uncomfortable when I make the request. They frequently say things like “And she particularly wanted me to mention that she has two sons”—thereby drawing attention to the unusual nature of my request, when my entire purpose is to make family references routine and normal in professional life.
This does not mean that you should insist that your colleagues spend time cooing over pictures of your baby or listening to the prodigious accomplishments of your kindergartner. It does mean that if you are late coming in one week, because it is your turn to drive the kids to school, that you be honest about what you are doing. Indeed, Sheryl Sandberg recently acknowledged not only that she leaves work at 5:30 to have dinner with her family, but also that for many years she did not dare make this admission, even though she would of course make up the work time later in the evening. Her willingness to speak out now is a strong step in the right direction.
Seeking out a more balanced life is not a women’s issue; balance would be better for us all. Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger who worked for years in palliative care and is the author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that the regret she heard most often was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second-most-common regret was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” She writes: “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.”
Juliette Kayyem, who several years ago left the Department of Homeland Security soon after her husband, David Barron, left a high position in the Justice Department, says their joint decision to leave Washington and return to Boston sprang from their desire to work on the “happiness project,” meaning quality time with their three children. (She borrowed the term from her friend Gretchen Rubin, who wrote a best-selling book and now runs a blog with that name.)
It’s time to embrace a national happiness project. As a daughter of
Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the university he founded, I grew up with the Declaration of Independence in my blood. Last I checked, he did not declare American independence in the name of life, liberty, and professional success. Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home.
As I write this, I can hear the reaction of some readers to many of the proposals in this essay: It’s all fine and well for a tenured professor to write about flexible working hours, investment intervals, and family-comes-first management. But what about the real world? Most American women cannot demand these things, particularly in a bad economy, and their employers have little incentive to grant them voluntarily. Indeed, the most frequent reaction I get in putting forth these ideas is that when the choice is whether to hire a man who will work whenever and wherever needed, or a woman who needs more flexibility, choosing the man will add more value to the company.
In fact, while many of these issues are hard to quantify and measure precisely, the statistics seem to tell a different story. A seminal study of 527 U.S. companies, published in the Academy of Management Journal in 2000, suggests that “organizations with more extensive work-family policies have higher perceived firm-level performance” among their industry peers. These findings accorded with a 2003 study conducted by Michelle Arthur at the University of New Mexico. Examining 130 announcements of family-friendly policies in The Wall Street Journal, Arthur found that the announcements alone significantly improved share prices. In 2011, a study on flexibility in the workplace by Ellen Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, and Tyler Wigton of the Families and Work Institute showed that increased flexibility correlates positively with job engagement, job satisfaction, employee retention, and employee health.
This is only a small sampling from a large and growing literature trying to pin
down the relationship between family-friendly policies and economic performance. Other scholars have concluded that good family policies attract better talent, which in turn raises productivity, but that the policies themselves have no impact on productivity. Still others argue that results attributed to these policies are actually a function of good management overall. What is evident, however, is that many firms that recruit and train well-educated professional women are aware that when a woman leaves because of bad work-family balance, they are losing the money and time they invested in her.
Even the legal industry, built around the billable hour, is taking notice. Deborah Epstein Henry, a former big-firm litigator, is now the president of Flex-Time Lawyers, a national consulting firm focused partly on strategies for the retention of female attorneys. In her book Law and Reorder, published by the American Bar Association in 2010, she describes a legal profession “where the billable hour no longer works”; where attorneys, judges, recruiters, and academics all agree that this system of compensation has perverted the industry, leading to brutal work hours, massive inefficiency, and highly inflated costs. The answer—already being deployed in different corners of the industry—is a combination of alternative fee structures, virtual firms, women-owned firms, and the outsourcing of discrete legal jobs to other jurisdictions. Women, and Generation X and Y lawyers more generally, are pushing for these changes on the supply side; clients determined to reduce legal fees and increase flexible service are pulling on the demand side. Slowly, change is happening.
At the core of all this is self-interest. Losing smart and motivated women not only diminishes a company’s talent pool; it also reduces the return on its investment in training and mentoring. In trying to address these issues, some firms are finding out that women’s ways of working may just be better ways of working, for employees and clients alike.
Experts on creativity and innovation emphasize the value of encouraging
nonlinear thinking and cultivating randomness by taking long walks or looking at your environment from unusual angles. In their new book, A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, the innovation gurus John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas write, “We believe that connecting play and imagination may be the single most important step in unleashing the new culture of learning.”
Space for play and imagination is exactly what emerges when rigid work schedules and hierarchies loosen up. Skeptics should consider the “California effect.” California is the cradle of American innovation—in technology, entertainment, sports, food, and lifestyles. It is also a place where people take leisure as seriously as they take work; where companies like Google deliberately encourage play, with Ping-Pong tables, light sabers, and policies that require employees to spend one day a week working on whatever they wish. Charles Baudelaire wrote: “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.” Google apparently has taken note.
No parent would mistake child care for childhood. Still, seeing the world anew through a child’s eyes can be a powerful source of stimulation. When the Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling wrote The Strateg y of Conflict, a classic text applying game theory to conflicts among nations, he frequently drew on child-rearing for examples of when deterrence might succeed or fail. “It may be easier to articulate the peculiar difficulty of constraining [a ruler] by the use of threats,” he wrote, “when one is fresh from a vain attempt at using threats to keep a small child from hurting a dog or a small dog from hurting a child.”
The books I’ve read with my children, the silly movies I’ve watched, the games I’ve played, questions I’ve answered, and people I’ve met while parenting have broadened my world. Another axiom of the literature on innovation is that the more often people with different perspectives come together, the more likely creative ideas are to emerge. Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-
work lives with their work—whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning—will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas.
Perhaps the most encouraging news of all for achieving the sorts of changes that I have proposed is that men are joining the cause. In commenting on a draft of this article, Martha Minow, the dean of the Harvard Law School, wrote me that one change she has observed during 30 years of teaching law at Harvard is that today many young men are asking questions about how they can manage a work- life balance. And more systematic research on Generation Y confirms that many more men than in the past are asking questions about how they are going to integrate active parenthood with their professional lives.
Abstract aspirations are easier than concrete trade-offs, of course. These young men have not yet faced the question of whether they are prepared to give up that more prestigious clerkship or fellowship, decline a promotion, or delay their professional goals to spend more time with their children and to support their partner’s career.
Yet once work practices and work culture begin to evolve, those changes are likely to carry their own momentum. Kara Owen, the British foreign-service officer who worked a London job from Dublin, wrote me in an e-mail:
I think the culture on flexible working started to change the minute the Board of Management (who were all men at the time) started to work flexibly—quite a few of them started working one day a week from home.
Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple
of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family. It is noteworthy that both James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, and William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, stepped down two years into the Obama administration so that they could spend more time with their children (for real).
Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand “supporting their families” to mean more than earning money.
I HAVE BEEN BLESSED to work with and be mentored by some extraordinary women. Watching Hillary Clinton in action makes me incredibly proud—of her intelligence, expertise, professionalism, charisma, and command of any audience. I get a similar rush when I see a front-page picture of Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, deep in conversation about some of the most important issues on the world stage; or of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, standing up forcefully for the Syrian people in the Security Council.
These women are extraordinary role models. If I had a daughter, I would encourage her to look to them, and I want a world in which they are extraordinary but not unusual. Yet I also want a world in which, in Lisa Jackson’s words, “to be a strong woman, you don’t have to give up on the things that define you as a woman.” That means respecting, enabling, and indeed celebrating the full range of women’s choices. “Empowering yourself,” Jackson said in her speech at Princeton, “doesn’t have to mean rejecting motherhood, or eliminating the nurturing or feminine aspects of who you are.”
I gave a speech at Vassar last November and arrived in time to wander the
campus on a lovely fall afternoon. It is a place infused with a spirit of community and generosity, filled with benches, walkways, public art, and quiet places donated by alumnae seeking to encourage contemplation and connection. Turning the pages of the alumni magazine (Vassar is now coed), I was struck by the entries of older alumnae, who greeted their classmates with Salve (Latin for “hello”) and wrote witty remembrances sprinkled with literary allusions. Theirs was a world in which women wore their learning lightly; their news is mostly of their children’s accomplishments. Many of us look back on that earlier era as a time when it was fine to joke that women went to college to get an “M.R.S.” And many women of my generation abandoned the Seven Sisters as soon as the formerly all-male Ivy League universities became coed. I would never return to the world of segregated sexes and rampant discrimination. But now is the time to revisit the assumption that women must rush to adapt to the “man’s world” that our mothers and mentors warned us about.
I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women—to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.
We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER is the president of the New America Foundation and the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
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Articles/7 Taking on the Drug Profiteers.pdf
and left partners in crime.
The Financial Page October 12, 2015 Issue
Taking on the Drug Profiteers By James Surowiecki
What with a former peanut-companyowner, Stewart Parnell, being sent to prison for knowingly selling salmonella- tainted peanut butter, and Volkswagen’s C.E.O., Martin Winterkorn, resigning after revelations about the cheat software in the !rm’s diesel-powered cars, it took a special magnitude of corporate misbehavior to make the business-news headlines in the past couple of weeks. But Martin Shkreli, the C.E.O. of Turing Pharmaceuticals, managed it when his company said it was raising the price of a sixty-two-year-old lifesaving drug from $13.50 to seven hundred and !fty dollars a pill. The move quickly became a major scandal; Shkreli was called “the most hated man in America.” Yet the true scandal of Turing’s pro!teering scheme was that it was entirely legal.
Daraprim—which is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a condition that afflicts AIDS patients, among others—!rst came on the market back in 1953, so it has long since gone off patent. But what Shkreli recognized was that, even with a generic drug, regulatory barriers and a lack of competition can make big price hikes possible. In Daraprim’s case, only one company had regulatory approval to sell the drug in the United States. So, in August, Turing bought those rights. Shkreli knew that, in principle, other companies could produce their own versions of Daraprim. But it seemed a fair bet that none of them would try. The market for Daraprim is small—eight to twelve thousand prescriptions a year in the U.S.—and any company that wanted to enter the market would have to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of getting F.D.A. approval. As it happens, several companies already make and sell a generic version of Daraprim abroad, but they weren’t a worry, either, because they, too, would have to jump through the F.D.A.’s hoops to sell it here. Turing loaded the deck even further in its own favor by insisting on a model of “closed distribution” for the
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drug, restricting access to patients, doctors, and a limited number of distributors and pharmacies. In the unlikely event that another company wanted to produce Daraprim, it would be hard to buy enough of the drug to reverse-engineer.
Essentially, Shkreli is exploiting rules devised to protect consumer safety in order to create a virtual monopoly and then charge whatever he wants. Monopolies are inherent to the drug industry in the U.S.: patents, in effect, are temporary monopolies. But we have patents because they give drug companies an incentive to invest in developing new drugs. There’s no such justi!cation in the case of Daraprim. Turing’s price gouging does not reward innovation and it doesn’t re$ect the cost of production. In the United Kingdom, Daraprim sells for less than a dollar a pill.
Turing’s business model is a quintessential example of rent seeking: increasing pro!ts not by adding real value for customers but by exploiting loopholes. And, unfortunately, Turing is not alone. Last year, another company run by Shkreli acquired the rights to a kidney-disease drug called Thiola and raised the drug’s price twentyfold. In 2011, K-V Pharmaceutical got F.D.A. approval to market a synthetic hormone that had been used for decades to prevent preterm births. Once K-V got approval and exclusive rights, it raised the price from around !fteen dollars to !fteen hundred dollars an injection. There have also been alarming increases in the prices of common drugs like doxycycline. Generic- drug makers have been merging with each other, leaving fewer competitors. “Without price competition, the generic model fails,” Gerard Anderson, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins, told me. “Without competition, there are no market forces that limit price increases.”
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. In place of closed distribution, the F.D.A. can require companies to make samples of their drugs available to competitors. The F.T.C., as Anderson argues, should be more aggressive in limiting mergers among generic-drug makers. And the U.S. and other developed countries should also adopt an arrangement known as regulatory reciprocity: if a drug maker has approval to sell a drug abroad, it should be able to sell that drug here, and vice versa. Safety concerns may rule out importing drugs from just anywhere, but there is no good reason for a company selling a drug in, say, Germany to have to spend time and money to get the right to sell it here. Foreign competition has played a central role in holding down retail prices in industries ranging from automobiles to consumer electronics. It’s time
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drug prices were subject to the same rules. Shkreli has said, since the backlash, that Turing will roll back the Daraprim price increase. But the fate of toxoplasmosis sufferers shouldn’t depend on the egomaniacal whims of a “pharma bro.”
Of course, these kinds of measures would make drug companies anxious, but they should be doing all they can to encourage competition, if only out of self- interest. If market forces and smarter regulations can’t limit price gouging, then drug makers could be subject to more drastic measures, like price controls or compulsory licensing—a system that compels companies to license drugs to other manufacturers. The Turing scandal has shown just how vulnerable drug pricing is to exploitative, rent-seeking behavior. It’s fair enough to excoriate Martin Shkreli for greed and indifference. The real problem, however, is not the man but the system that has let him thrive. ♦
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The U.S. Media’s Problems Are Much Bigger than Fake News and Filter Bubbles by Bharat N. Anand
JANUARY 05, 2017
The U.S. media has come under intense scrutiny, with analysts, politicians, and even
journalists themselves accusing it of bias and sensationalism — of having failed us — in its
coverage of the presidential election. Critics across the political spectrum have said that fake
news and cyberattacks played a big role in determining the course of events. The prevailing
logic has an “if only” tenor: If only the media had been less swayed by shocking stories, if
only bias in the media had been purged, and if only fake news had been eliminated and
cyberattacks curtailed, the outcome would have been different. The presidential transition
has been marked by the same attitude: if only the media were less distractible and headlines
Thinking that way is tempting, but it misses the mark. The media did exactly what it was
designed to do, given the incentives that govern it. It’s not that the media sets out to be
sensationalist; its business model leads it in that direction. Charges of bias don’t make the
bias real; it often lies in the eye of the beholder. Fake news and cyberattacks are triggers, not
causes. The issues that confront us are structural.
To the question, If the media were to cover the election again, with the benefit of hindsight,
could we expect anything different? my answer is a sobering no. This is for two reasons: the
way news is produced and amplified (the supply side) and the way consumers process news
(the demand side).
A caveat is in order. The analysis here is not concerned with which candidate deserved to
win or whose message was “better.” It is concerned with examining the media and its
coverage, identifying its root causes, and understanding what we should expect going
The Supply Side I: Connectedness Matters More than Content or Money Political campaigns are marketing campaigns, messages aimed at selling a product. Like
marketers, politicians obsess over messaging (what journalists would call “content”) and a
few key metrics that historically have determined success: amount of television advertising,
number of “foot soldiers,” intensity of get-out-the-vote operations, and voter
How Focusing on Content Leads the Media Astray STRATEGY AUDIO by Sarah Green Carmichael
Bharat Anand, author of The Content Trap and
professor at Harvard Business School, talks about
the strategic challenges facing digital businesses.
demographics. But in the last two contests in which Hillary Clinton has participated, the
2008 primary and the 2016 election, she won on most of these metrics — and lost the
Two developments bear noting. First, and most obvious, traditional media is no longer the
only way to spread the word. Any candidate can communicate directly and instantly with
millions of people. Media companies are experiencing an extreme form of competition that
comes with digital technologies: Everyone is a media company today.
Second, and even more significant, social media is distinct from traditional media in that it
connects users to each other. This means that messages can spread far more easily and
quickly (compare how often you share a TV ad and a tweet).
The implications are threefold:
The best product doesn’t always win. Even if
you have the best product or candidate, if you
run a hub-and-spokes campaign, you’ll attract
followers one by one. Create a product or
candidate that connects users, and your
message — and advantage — will spread
rapidly. Apple learned this the hard way. For
20 years, starting in 1984, the Macintosh was
superior to any PC. Yet by 2004 its market
share was down to 3%. Apple had a great
product, but Microsoft had a network of
connected users. Because more people used
PCs, and wrote software for
them, they became the default choice for
Many organizations and entrepreneurs miss this lesson. Focus only on creating the best
content or product, and you can lose because of untapped user connections — a
phenomenon I call the “content trap.” It explains why firms that have anchored their
strategies to content have ceded digital leadership to those that have focused on
Consider the Scandinavian media firm Schibsted, which engineered an impressive digital
transformation through a philosophy of connectedness. It focused its efforts on earning a
majority share of Europe’s digital classified advertising market (a product that connects
buyers and sellers). It then shifted its news focus from great content to content rooted in the
question “Can we help readers help each other?” During the volcanic ash crisis of 2010,
what it offered wasn’t prize-winning stories about the roots of the eruption or its health
implications, but an app (Hitchhiker’s Central) that allowed readers to share travel plans and
offer rides to each other. Similarly, during the 2016 election, many American voters found
journalistic content less relevant than what they were experiencing in their own lives.
Bigger marketing budgets may not pay off. In a digital world full of product clutter, the best
marketing campaigns spend nearly nothing. JC Penney spent no money on television
advertising during the 2015 Super Bowl, yet its “mittens” campaign was one of the most
watched. The campaign relied solely on Twitter and went viral by virtue of intentional
spelling mistakes. Once a “connected” product draws in users, those users effectively
become the sales force. Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb are all examples of this. Donald Trump
spent only half of what Clinton did during the campaign.
Expectations matter. In connected worlds, expectations about future growth affect what
current users choose; people want to be on a winning platform. This has led to a strategy
known as vaporware, a term for when firms announce strengths they may not possess or
supposedly imminent product launches to draw users. Consider Trump’s first words in the
June 2015 announcement of his candidacy: “Wow. Whoa. That is some group of people.
Thousands.…This is beyond anybody’s expectations. There’s been no crowd like this.” This
wasn’t just a campaign message; it was an effort to shape expectations and trigger
The Supply Side II: Ratings Determine Which Messages Get Amplified The first phase of a marketing campaign is deciding how and where to spend your marketing
dollars. The second is influencing how your message gets amplified. One of the most
important mechanisms for this is traditional media — so-called “earned media coverage.”
You can spend a lot in the first phase and get little amplification in the second, or vice versa.
Recycling the same message won’t earn amplification. And in today’s media environment,
even “normal” news doesn’t break through information clutter; big, surprising events do.
The media’s bias toward big events stems from three features of its economics:
Fixed costs. The cost of covering a golf tournament doesn’t depend on whether Tiger Woods
plays. But if he does, ratings — and revenue — double. The same phenomenon affects
decisions about covering news stories or political rallies.
An advertising-based model. Advertising (and other indirect charges like cable operator
fees) are central to the economics of most news media, and this creates a bias whereby the
number of viewers is more important than whether viewers like the coverage. (What
matters is that you watch news coverage, not whether you are ready to throw a chair at it
out of disgust.) Fixed costs have always been central to the economics of media. Advertising
came later — and when it did, in the early 20th century, news became more sensational.
That’s hardly surprising: The main metric by which news outlets are judged is the ratings
they command, the page views they get, or the copies they sell.
Spillovers. A big event in media and entertainment doesn’t just draw viewers to the event
itself; it also entices viewers to consume follow-on or related products (and a company’s
previous products, too). People who watch a television program are far more likely to watch
the next program on that channel, for example.
Each of these factors, individually, means that ratings or page views — the size of the
audience — matter a lot for media firms. Together, they lead to a fixation on ratings to the
exclusion of almost anything else. Competition further reinforces this dynamic, making
audience size the metric by which media firms are measured. The outcome is a “ratings
bubble” within which companies operate.
Big-event bias is even more pronounced in entertainment worlds, where getting noticed has
gotten increasingly hard over time. This explains the trend toward spinoffs, sequels, and
franchises in broadcast television and movies (viewers are already familiar with the basic
story) and big-name authors in books (they generate publicity) and why successful sports
franchises tend to get even more successful over time (they draw lots of viewers, which
allows them to spend more on star players, who draw even more viewers). Success might
have more to do with awareness than with quality. When the pseudonymous Robert
Galbraith published A Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013, the novel sold about 1,500 copies in the first
month. After the author was revealed to be Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, sales rose to
over one million.
Piggybacking on big events has allowed certain media companies to grow over time. Fox
News, for instance, entered the seemingly mature cable market in 1996 and experienced
notable upticks in viewers after “big news” events — the 2000 election, the 9/11 terrorist
attacks, and the start of the war in Iraq. When an event drew viewers to cable news in
general, Fox’s ratings grew along with the other networks’. But more of the viewers who
tuned into Fox stayed with it after the event had passed when they realized the network’s
coverage was different.
In political campaigns, big events arise in one of three ways. The first is sporadically and
unpredictably, as with the San Bernardino shooting or the Access Hollywood tape. The
timing of such surprises can be particularly fortuitous or damaging (see: James Comey). The
second is through name recognition. Events become more newsworthy if they’re
accompanied by a big name. The third is by being created. Steve Jobs understood this more
than most technology executives, which is why he elevated product launches to an art form:
Every media firm had to cover a new Apple release. And Trump understood this more than
any other candidate: Every time he made a provocative comment on a new subject, the
news outlets covered it.
These forces help explain why Trump got so much more media coverage than, say, Bernie
Sanders, who touted a similarly antiestablishment, populist message. Populism and
inequality aren’t news; calling Mexican immigrants rapists and vowing to build a wall are. So
Sanders’s brand of populism wasn’t news; Trump’s was. The reason was rooted in media
economics, not in the effort or preferences of journalists and programming executives. A
combination of fixed costs, an advertising-reliant model, and spillovers produced a
staggering difference in earned media coverage during the primaries: $2 billion for Trump
and $300 million for Sanders. Television advertising, where Clinton had a huge leg up on
both, hardly seemed to matter at all.
Competition Can Backfire Competition and private firms operating in their self-interest typically lead to well-
functioning markets. But that’s not always what happens. A well-known exception occurs
when externalities exist — side effects on other people or firms that aren’t usually accounted
for by private actors. (Canonical examples are cigarette smoking or pollution, or a store
manager in a large retail chain pursuing actions that benefit his individual store but damage
the parent company’s brand.) In situations like these, following your self-interest (in this
case, as a media firm) doesn’t necessarily further the collective good, or even your own.
In 2009 Netflix needed high-quality content to grow its streaming business. It could get that
content only from Hollywood studios. The studios had seen Netflix grow its DVD business
for a decade, and now, with a stronger bargaining position in the streaming market — the
first-sale doctrine that allowed any DVD owner to resell did not apply to streaming — they
could have chosen not to license to Netflix and nipped it in the bud. But they granted
licenses, and Netflix soon became the giant they hadn’t wanted to see arise. Why did the
studios act against their own interests?
If they could have collectively agreed not to license to Netflix, the result would have been
different. But they couldn’t. At first only Viacom relented, licensing archived Beavis and
Butt-head episodes. One show, it reasoned, could not a streaming giant make. But then
everyone followed that logic.
It wasn’t that the content providers didn’t see what was happening; it was that they couldn’t
coordinate. It’s why newspapers let Google crawl their content for Google News. It’s why
they handed content to Facebook for its Instant Articles format last year.
So, too, with the recent political campaign. If every media outlet had ignored Trump’s rallies
and rhetoric, it would have paid handsomely for one outlet to cover them. But once one did
cover them, no others could afford not to.
These events coalesced dramatically toward the end of the campaign, when Trump
announced a press conference in which he would ostensibly make a major announcement
about President Obama’s birth certificate (a lie that he had prolonged that had found
traction in media coverage several years back). Nearly every media outlet showed up. How
could they not cover a major announcement by a presidential candidate? But it was a sham
— there was no real announcement, other than that there would be no more announcements
on the subject.
This is the prisoner’s dilemma of reporting amid competition: Following your self-interest
does not always further the collective good. The situation generated one of the most
dispiritingly candid statements ever from a media executive: Early in 2016, when the head
of CBS was asked about the disproportionate attention given to Trump, he quipped, “It may
not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
The network wasn’t alone. Cable news outlets enjoyed similar gains in 2016, marking it as
their best year ever. Meanwhile, public trust in the press reached its lowest level in history.
The Demand Side: Consumers Consume What They Want To One of the longest-standing debates in marketing is not whether advertising works, but how
it does. One view is that marketing persuades consumers to purchase. Hear a song once, and
you may not like it; hear it repeatedly, and you’ll start to, regardless of how good or bad it is
(hence the phrase “all publicity is good publicity”). Others argue that marketing merely
increases awareness without altering beliefs. By this reasoning, repeated exposure to a song
that doesn’t match your taste might make you less likely to buy it.
Does media reporting change what we believe, or do our preferences shape what media we
choose to watch in the first place?
Most research indicates that the latter is central: Our preexisting preferences largely
determine what media we watch. One of the most reliable findings in the study of television
entertainment is that viewers watch programs whose characters are like themselves. Older
people watch shows featuring older characters, younger viewers watch shows featuring
younger ones; the same goes for gender, ethnicity, and income. A similar effect is seen in
news: We watch outlets whose reporting is consistent with our beliefs. Viewers who identify
with the right are more likely to watch Fox, while left-leaning people are more likely to
watch MSNBC. Similar differences apply to intra-network program choices, since programs
on the same network can differ in their positioning.
These patterns in news-watching would be puzzling if all that news providers did was
provide verifiably objective information. But like entertainment programs, news programs
and channels differ in their positioning, in the way they report information (often referred
to as slant), and in what information they report (agenda setting). News positioning matters
— viewers watch news programs and channels whose positions match their tastes and
This pattern of sorting on beliefs is amplified over time by various additional factors. The
first is competition among media, which has increased as digital technologies have led to a
vast number of new media outlets, each catering to more-niche tastes. The second is
viewers’ confirmation bias, which leads us to reject valid information that is not consistent
with our beliefs. Confirmation bias is deeply rooted in human behavior. It affects not just
how we process information but who we associate with, creating “filter bubbles.” These
bubbles are further reinforced by website algorithms designed to personalize the
information we receive based on our past behaviors. Persuasive effects of the media also
serve to solidify these bubbles. (And even small persuasive effects can have large effects in
Each factor increases viewer polarization, which on certain measures has reached
unprecedented levels. Together, they shape how we respond to bias in the media. Consider
the debate over left and right media bias, which goes back several decades and has grown in
intensity over time. Part of what makes discussions of bias so thorny is that we almost never
agree on what bias is. Both the debate and studies tend to focus on what the media reports —
on content. But studies show that content is not the only place where bias lives. In
experiments, when two people with different beliefs view exactly the same content, their
perceptions of bias differ.
Add it all up, and the implications are profound.
First, we watch what we believe, but what we don’t watch, we don’t believe. This is the
effect of sorting based on beliefs.
Second, negative coverage can have unintended consequences. Hear a source you don’t
trust, and when it reports something inconsistent with your beliefs, you’ll discount that
thing even more. (The rare exception is when events are incontrovertibly verifiable — for
example, the question of who said what on the Access Hollywood tape.) During the election
season, more newspapers endorsed Clinton than any presidential candidate in U.S history.
Papers with a tradition of endorsing Republicans endorsed her; papers with a tradition of
not endorsing a candidate did, too. But none of it mattered; editorial content was essentially
Third, and for the same reason, charges of media bias can actually help an outlet. The more
your favorite channel is alleged to be biased by people you disagree with, the more you’ll
watch it. Trump wasn’t the first to see this phenomenon: In Fox News’s early days, senior
executives often acknowledged that charges of bias appeared to help them. And it isn’t
specific to right-leaning voters. After the election, when Trump tweeted complaints about
the New York Times and Vanity Fair, both outlets saw a rise in subscriptions. Charges of bias
harden beliefs and reinforce polarization.
Particularly sobering is that all this has nothing do with the much-lamented problem of fake
news. Get rid of all verifiably fake news, as Facebook and others certainly should, and filter
bubbles, polarization, and charges of media bias will remain.
Where Does This Leave Us? Three forces combine to create the media coverage of political campaigns we observe today:
connected media, which spreads messages faster than traditional media; fixed costs and
advertising-reliant business models in traditional media, which amplify sensational
messages; and viewers’ news consumption patterns, which leads to people sorting across
media outlets based on their beliefs and makes messages they already agree with far more
effective. Each reinforces the others. Without these enabling factors, even the best
marketing campaign would go nowhere, and fake news or leaked information from
cyberattacks would have little effect.
Fair questions have been raised about the lack of investigative journalism early in the
campaign, false equivalencies in reporting, and the use of paid campaign operatives as
experts on television news. But digital technology and business incentives exerted more
influence over the media coverage than editorial decisions and missing voices did. The
ratings bubble had as much impact as filter bubbles did. The forces at work here — the
search for profitability, competition, and self-interest — are things we embrace as
Competition in the media leads to efficiency as well as to checks and balances — all good
things. But it fails to internalize the externalities from profitable but sensational coverage. It
leads to differentiation and more voices (also good, and what’s been the focus of regulatory
efforts) but also to fragmentation, polarization, and less-penetrable filter bubbles
It’s tempting to stretch the analysis between marketing and politics too far. They are
different in important respects. Most notable, in marketing you can win through strategies
that exploit the big-event bias of media (through attention-grabbing rhetoric) and the beliefs
of consumers (through allegations that discredit your competitors). These strategies draw in
consumers who are right for your brand. But in presidential politics, the same approach is
incredibly risky because when you win, you serve everyone, not just those who “purchased
your product.” Despite these differences, the same economics of information supply-and-
demand that shape digital strategies in business are doing so in politics.
Which leads to my conclusion: Even if we could somehow push “reset,” we would have
to expect the same sort of coverage that we got. The problems are too deep and structural
for anything else.
What’s the way forward? There are no easy answers to the question. This analysis mainly
points to solutions that won’t work. Voluntary efforts at restraint by well-meaning
journalists won’t work, because of advertising-based business models and competition.
Eliminating fake news won’t change the fact that voters ignore ideas contrary to their
beliefs. And it won’t solve the media’s structural challenges or change its incentives. Media
companies, their regulators, and their customers — all of us — have to look for ways to
confront these challenges. The stakes could not be higher.
Bharat N. Anand is the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School in
Boston, and the faculty chair of HBX.
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lucy derbyshire 4 months ago
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Articles/3 The Only One.docx
The Only One: Being Black in the White Working World
In fourth grade I sat in the back of the class with the other girls in our pressed plaid uniforms. We passed notes and giggled, while our teacher droned on and on at the front of the room, a ruler in one hand and a Kleenex in the other. One spring day, Mrs. Shapiro began a new chapter in our history book, the one on slavery. I'd been dreading this chapter. I knew it was coming, and I knew about slavery; my parents had told me. One by one, as Mrs. Shapiro spoke, everyone in the class turned eyes away from her to peer at me, sheepishly -- as though they were seeing me for the first time, as if I hadn't played tag and done homework and taken the bus with these kids all year. Mrs. Shapiro snapped her fingers. Their little heads whipped back into place, facing forward. I was the Only One. The first black person some of them had ever had a chance to get to know up close. It was the first time I was aware that others were aware that I was the only black kid in the middle school. I was the point of reference. Some of them liked me because I was black. Some of them didn't like me because I was black. For some of them, it didn't even matter. Not much has changed as I write this. I am still the Only One. I am the lone black employee in my workplace, in a city full of ethnic culture and diversity. At my last job, where close to 300 employees worked, I was one of a few African-Americans, excluding the janitorial staff. None of us worked together. I looked forward to making photocopies so I could chat for five minutes with Dorothy at the front desk. When we spoke it was briefly, and in hushed tones. We were hyper-aware of our positions. At large department meetings, I was the only black person, sometimes the only person of color, in the room. In every position I've held, I've felt valued for my qualifications, and highly prized for being black in a sea of whiteness. I've sometimes felt like what James Baldwin once described as the fly in the buttermilk. Token and expendable. I am constantly aware of my loneness, of how I am being treated, of how I am treating others and how I am perceived. There are others like me, white-collar and blue-collar workers who are single-handedly diversifying our workplaces and classrooms. The receptionist at the law firm, the executive shot-caller, the teacher at a predominantly white school, the school administrator, the surgeon. I talked recently with several black women who are also "Only Ones" in workplaces taking baby steps toward diversification. I discovered that being the "Only One" is a balancing act that takes practice. Being an "Only One" leaves you without a witness if anything racist happens. Back in the day, being an Only One was more likely to get you killed, or at least framed. These days, being an Only One may be considered a diversity success. But it leaves us "Only Ones" with a challenge: We must integrate without compromising ourselves or our beliefs. We must retain our cultural selves and run the risk of scaring the white folks we work with and for. We must constantly filter our experiences, screening for racism in each moment, while still being a team player. We must be able to culturally navigate both worlds, working side-by-side with folks who are only vested in their own white world. We must teach tolerance or suffer being misunderstood. We must put up with ignorant comments, always picking our battles. We must reach out to other people of color for reality checks. We must prove that we are more than a dark body the white company brings in to sit behind a desk. And we must perform twice as well as our peers and look twice as good doing it. Always with a smile and always with flair. No exceptions. I'm used to being the Only One, so at this point in my professional life it's almost second nature. Still, it often leaves me feeling numb, defeated. I go home at times exhausted from the effort. I feel cheated out of being who I am in my workplace, where I spend nearly half my waking life. Other "Only Ones" experience being "Only Ones" a little differently. Teresa Younger, executive director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, is one of a handful of black executive directors in the nationwide organization. Younger grew up as an "only" in North Dakota before heading East. "I've never had a person of color more senior than me" in the workplace, she says. She recognizes when she is the Only One at a meeting or in the room right away. "I definitely scan the room when I walk in," she says. "If there's another black face in the room I will introduce myself. When there's a multitude, I'm impressed." That happens rarely, she says, and usually it's a church function or an event geared to urban dwellers. Sarah (not her real name) is the only African-American administrator at a local arts organization. She knows she was brought in to diversify, and she's been tapped to sit on a number of committees that seek to diversify the larger arts community. She's connected to a small network of "Only Ones" in the area. "There are some triumphs and some tragedies," she says. Ife Michelle Gardin works for a regional theater company. An artist, she wears materials that flow with an Afrocentric theme, carrying herself with a regal air. She sits on local arts committees. She's often the Only One, too. Sociologist Dena Wallerson is a top college administrator. She remembers her 10 years as one of a few African-Americans in the graduate sociology program at a state university. She wrote a paper there titled "Minority Among Minorities," which examined how women of color cope in a white-dominated workplace. She found that it was important for the women to network with other people of color outside of their workplace. In these networks, the women could let down their guard and strip themselves of the mask. Wearing the Mask While the folks here at my alternative newsweekly are pretty progressive, I often feel like that lone black kid who was Photoshopped onto the cover of his Midwest college's recruitment brochure. As at the other places I've worked, here I teach about my culture and my place in society. Here, I've encountered ignorance and fear. I've had a co-worker lean over during lunch and tell me that Haitians reek of body odor. Here, I've been frustrated by how I am perceived. But each day, I take a deep breath and don the mask as I leave my black world and merge. The mask gives you more access to the white world. It is that corporate, professional thing you take off when you get home, put your feet up, pick up the phone, and say, "Girl you wouldn't believe the kind of day I've had. *" It can change daily, depending on who will see it. What doesn't change is how heavy it is. It weighs so much, it's numbing. We get used to the transition -- on and off, on and off. I used to date a guy who was an insurance salesman by day, thugged-out rapper by night. Tattooed biceps and all. I called him at work one day and listened to his voice mail -- he sounded like a straight-up white guy. His deep voice was nasal, his words crisper than normal. With this voice, his co-workers probably had no idea who he really was. I didn't either. When I worked in a more corporate environment, I remember feeling exhausted at the end of the day from continuously putting on the front. Jealous that my white co-workers could let loose and blow off steam while I fronted 'til the end. Some days I was relieved just to make it to my car where I could finally breathe and play my soul music, returning to my black world. "It's part of playing the game -- you wear the game face," Wallerson says. Right. Without the mask, I couldn't do my job well. It keeps me in check so that I don't go off when the owner of a diner I've written about tells me, over the phone, that "sometimes colored people are a problem." The mask helped me keep my composure a couple of jobs ago when one of my company's partners greeted me in the morning with, "What's up, my sister?" and a fist. Or the time another partner invited me to a luncheon meeting to pull me aside and profess his attraction to black women. The mask allows me to react seamlessly, but it's still me underneath. Instead of talking black, I speak the Queen's English. I don't drop verb endings. I speak slow, enunciate. I am extra clear. I don't use the full range of facial expressions black folks rely on for meaning because my white co-workers won't get it. I don't hold back my thoughts, but I finesse my response, making myself more palatable. I surprise myself with how well I wear it. Without it, I would have been fired many times over. I'm resentful. It hides my frustration at fearing that my white bosses think I never work hard or long enough. But at least I can still take the mask off. Some black folks can't. Some refuse to put it on. Arts administrator Sarah totally refuses to front. "My work is Afrocentric, even in the midst of Eurocentricity," she says. Some black folks get hung up on the duality and leave their jobs because they can't handle it, she says. "Give [white co-workers] who you are because they give you who they are," she says. "It's not like it's not me that goes to work," says Younger of her game face. For her, the mask is that internal strength that you muster when it's time to perform, just before you walk into the room and all eyes are on you. Although she maintains a front, no matter if she's heading a meeting with white colleagues or addressing a crowd at a NAACP conference, she says she doesn't conform. Distance The slings and arrows of racism can't get you if you're not emotionally present. In addition to the mask, tuning out white co-workers is one way of coping. That black woman in your office who isn't so friendly? The one who doesn't hang out with the rest of the gang? The one who doesn't join in on the water-cooler talk? She's most likely using the only tool she knows to deal with being the Only One. She's keeping a safe distance and double-checking her work. She knows that if something goes wrong, she'll be blamed and fulfill a stereotype of the shiftless Negro. By keeping low profiles, we can inadvertently become part of the problem. Wallerson worked at a school that was actively trying to recruit more minority students. The black students at the school didn't want to have their photos taken for the brochure cover. However, their parents would complain about the lack of diversity in the school. Sarah breaks down the way black students sit with each other in cafeterias. "What's interesting is that they don't realize they're all white," she says of the people who complain about blacks seeking each other out. "Stop looking at the black table and turn around and start looking at all the other tables." We hear about the black table all the time because we are visibly identifiable. But, adds Sarah, there is an Italian table, a Jewish table, an Irish table. A friend remembers a white professor using slurs to describe her and another student of color. One nudged the other; neither knew how to respond. Ultimately they each had to suck it up for the rest of the semester. They needed the credit. The Only Spokesperson At this job and other jobs, I've had to suck it up. During meetings, I've had well-meaning white folks jump at the chance to rephrase or translate my ideas before I've had a chance to finish my thought. It feels like they have a need to come to my rescue. Somehow, in ways I still don't understand, it seems like the other white folks at the table understand each other better than me, no matter how "articulate" they say I am. Younger can relate. "They'll say to me, 'I'm not sure you're saying that the way you mean it.'" She attributes this to the white males in her arena having a hard time working with strong black females. "Males need to take care [of somebody]," she explains, "but black people have a strength that's undefined. We don't need our professional counterparts to take care of us." One time, Younger confronted the white male president of a company where she used to work. The man had been shirking management duties; Younger had been picking up the slack. "One day I marched into his office and told him that some things were going to have to change," she says, her voice taking on an executive tone. She detailed the changes, then she announced that she would be leaving the company. The boss walked on eggshells around her until her parting date. To her, it was a victory to flip the status quo in her favor. "I try not to be overly aggressive because it is a teaching experience," she says. One thing she has had to "teach" white folks is that being black and middle class should not be confused with the upper-class lifestyles blacks portray in popular culture. Buppies are not drinking Cristal and attending designer fashion shows on the weekends. But they probably own a home and mow the lawn. Another big problem for "Only Ones": being the spokesperson for the race. We're not a monolithic group. Black folks come from as many different backgrounds as white people. Within the community, we are more attuned to the differences, but white folks have a tendency to just see black and make general assumptions. It's tiring being the teacher all the time, but Younger believes it is an integral part of black professionalism. The more black professionals there are, the less isolated we are, and the more diversity there is, the less each one has to teach. Those white folks with little to no exposure to people of color, who are over eager to seem "down," need to be taught a lot. In an effort to seem cool and supportive of the black cause, they adopt urban slang, expressions, manners of dress and style. Then they shuffle it off on the only black person in the office with an exaggerated "What's up?" or by regularly calling us "sister" or "girlfriend." It's a transparent act. A white person may have the best intentions of helping "the Only One" feel more comfortable. But when black folks work hard to maintain a professional front, it feels condescending when coworkers call you "homegirl." It's never a good idea, but especially not in the workplace. Wallerson describes the practice of "trying on race" -- when white folks test out black colloquialisms on black folk to see if they're authenticated. "Next it's going to be, 'You my nigga.'" Strategies For Preserving Your Sanity (Or: How Not to Lose It) If you're an "Only One," you probably have already figured out a strategy for those times when you need support. I know of one young woman who keeps a powerful piece of black history on her desk -- shackles. Seeing them each day renews her purpose. Younger keeps quotes and books of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her office to remind her of her goals and what has been overcome. Networking helps. "I think the good news is that we have e-mail," says Wallerson of the small network of sociologists of color she communicates with regularly. Younger, too, has developed a network of black professionals. In her last job, Sarah was an "Only One" in her department, but there were a handful of black females scattered throughout the company. None of them worked with each other. Yet they maintained a network, met socially and knew each others' families. When one of them was suffering from work-related problems, they provided a support network, meeting for lunch. And when the company unfairly criticized one of the women, they all lobbied on her behalf, helping each other write responses to Human Resources. They eventually all left. The group still occasionally gets together. Sarah enjoys the sisterhood networking. She finds that "bonding is minimal and forced [with white folks]. It shouldn't be. There are more things that tie people together than color." Camille Jackson ([email protected]) is a staff writer at the New Haven Advocate.
__MACOSX/Articles/._3 The Only One.docx
Articles/2 Want to Keep Your Millennial Employees.docx
Want to Keep Your Millennial Employees? You Have to Be Willing to Offer Them This 1 Thing
Pretty soon, this will be the standard.
By Nicolas Cole
Companies and their senior leadership are asking the wrong question. It's not about how to hire or attract Millennial talent. And it's not even about how you keep them engaged. The real question is: What can you offer them that they can't get anywhere else? What can you do to nurture loyalty--and how does that ladder up to solving tangential issues like employee engagement?
A 2016 survey by Jobvite cited that in the entire work force, 18 percent of the total changes jobs every one to three years. For Millennials, it's 42 percent.
This means that by the time you get Millennial employees trained and actively providing value for your team and company, they're on to the next one. They're looking for the next job, which typically comes with a promotion, a pay raise, a new blend of benefits, and (they hope) a more attractive day-to-day routine.
Here's the truth of the matter: It's really not about Millennials at all. It's about people: human-to-human interaction, and the underlying issues with running a business that tend to run opposite of personal development. It's just that Millennials are the most vocal generation thus far, unafraid to speak up along the way about what they're feeling.
Managers want productivity; Millennials want to be judged on results, not hours clocked. Older business owners want them to follow their rules, their way; Millennials want to change how things are done to be more efficient, through using and interacting with technology. The list goes on and on.
What has happened is that the entire Millennial generation seems to have been chalked up as a bunch of kids who just need some new toys to keep them entertained. Which has led to the installation of ridiculous props in the workplace to make it seem like the work environment is something that it's not: an arcade machine in the corner, a bar and barista by the far wall, big chalkboards or dry erase boards around the office for Millennial employees to write inspirational quotes on. And sure, all those things are great. They can certainly make a work environment feel more playful. But how impactful is an arcade machine, really, when the manager you report to every day continues to operate like an hour-chasing conductor?
Companies need to start asking themselves how they can impact every employee's personal development
It's astounding to me how many people, business leaders included, seem to have "pinpointed" the issues plaguing the Millennial generation. I am a Millennial myself, and here's what I have been reduced to: impatient, entitled, naive to the way the world works, uninterested in paying my dues, expecting everything to happen overnight, and most of all, filled with a false sense of confidence because I "received too many participation awards growing up."
And yet the irony is that after all the conviction backing these sweeping generalizations of the Millennial generation, the proposed solutions have been to order a few Ping-Pong tables for the office, put together a Frisbee team, and serve beer on Fridays.
How, in any capacity, does that address the underlying issues (and coinciding reasons) for Millennials to seem to be job hopping like crazy?
They don't--and that's why so many companies are struggling to keep their Millennial employees engaged. And not just engaged, but keep them at all.
If you want to keep your Millennial employees over the long term, you have to be willing to offer them this one thing
You say Millennials are impatient? How many of you--whether you're the business owner or the vice president or even just a middle manager--make the time to nurture and mentor that Millennial you call so impatient?
You say Millennials are entitled? How many of you make an effort to listen and understand where that perceived entitlement is coming from?
You say Millennials expect everything to happen overnight? How many of you see that as a positive opportunity to play the mentor and give them some guidance as to life's journey?
Not very many. And that's the root of the root, the real reason so many companies struggle with loyalty. Because loyalty isn't found in a Ping-Pong table, or at the bottom of a red Solo cup on a Friday afternoon.
Loyalty is the way you treat, nurture, and help someone else grow--friend, significant other, or, dare we say, employee.
Loyalty is the impact you have, as a person, on someone else, with the awareness that the other person has his or her own life, desires, hopes, and aspirations.
Loyalty is the exchange that happens beyond the paycheck. The conversations you have and the guidance you provide employees, teaching them, empowering them, showing them not just how to perform their jobs better but how to be the best they can be in life.
"What are Millennials searching for?" you ask.
They're searching for that.
Someone willing to show them the way, but give them enough freedom to also figure things out on their own.
The moment you start thinking of your Millennial employees as mentees, people you can teach and impact as a human being, is the moment you begin to build real loyalty and longevity.
It's just, most people don't want to do that.
And buying a Ping-Pong table is a whole lot easier.
__MACOSX/Articles/._2 Want to Keep Your Millennial Employees.docx
Articles/1 Consumerism and its discontents.pdf
Consumerism and its discontents Materialistic values may stem from early insecurities and are linked to lower life satisfaction, psychologists find. Accruing more wealth may provide only a partial fix. By TORI DeANGELIS June 2004, Vol 35, No. 6 Print version: page 52
Compared with Americans in 1957, today we own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often and enjoy endless other commodities that weren't around then--big-screen TVs, microwave ovens, SUVs and handheld wireless devices, to name a few. But are we any happier?
Certainly, happiness is difficult to pin down, let alone measure. But a recent literature review suggests we're no more contented than we were then--in fact, maybe less so.
"Compared with their grandparents, today's young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology," notes Hope College psychologist David G. Myers, PhD, author of the article, which appeared in the American Psychologist (/pubs/journals/amp/index.aspx) (Vol. 55, No. 1). "Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well- being."
These findings emerge at a time when the consumer culture has reached a fever pitch, comments Myers, also the author of "The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty" (Yale University Press, 2000).
So what does psychologists' research say about possible effects of this consumer culture on people's mental well-being? Based on the literature to date, it would be too simplistic to say that desire for material wealth unequivocally means discontent. Although the least materialistic people report the most life satisfaction, some studies indicate that materialists can be almost as contented if they've got the money and their acquisitive lifestyle doesn't conflict with more soul-satisfying pursuits. But for materialists with less money and other conflicting desires--a more common situation--unhappiness emerges, researchers are finding.
"There's a narrowing of the gap between materialists and nonmaterialists in life satisfaction as materialists' income rises," notes Edward Diener, PhD, a well-known researcher of subjective well- being and materialism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "So if you're poor, it's very
bad to be a materialist; and if you're rich, it doesn't make you happier than nonmaterialists, but you almost catch up."
Why are materialists unhappy?
As with all things psychological, the relationship between mental state and materialism is complex: Indeed, researchers are still trying to ascertain whether materialism stokes unhappiness, unhappiness fuels materialism, or both. Diener suggests that several factors may help explain the apparent toll of pursuit of wealth. In simple terms, a strong consumerist bent--what William Wordsworth in 1807 called "getting and spending"--can promote unhappiness because it takes time away from the things that can nurture happiness, including relationships with family and friends, research shows.
"It's not absolutely necessary that chasing after material wealth will interfere with your social life," Diener says. "But it can, and if it does, it probably has a net negative payoff in terms of life satisfaction and well-being."
People with strong materialistic values appear to have goal orientations that may lead to poorer well- being, adds Knox College psychologist Tim Kasser, PhD, who with Berkeley, Calif., psychotherapist Allen Kanner, PhD, co-edited a new APA book, "Psychology and Consumer Culture (/pubs/books/4317024.aspx) " (APA, 2004), featuring experts' research and views on the links between consumerism, well-being and environmental and social factors.
In Kasser's own book, "The High Price of Materialism" (MIT Press, 2002), Kasser describes his and others' research showing that when people organize their lives around extrinsic goals such as product acquisition, they report greater unhappiness in relationships, poorer moods and more psychological problems. Kasser distinguishes extrinsic goals--which tend to focus on possessions, image, status and receiving rewards and praise--from intrinsic ones, which aim at outcomes like personal growth and community connection and are satisfying in and of themselves.
Relatedly, a not-yet-published study by University of Missouri social psychologist Marsha Richins, PhD, finds that materialists place unrealistically high expectations on what consumer goods can do for them in terms of relationships, autonomy and happiness.
"They think that having these things is going to change their lives in every possible way you can think of," she says. One man in Richins's study, for example, said he desperately wanted a swimming pool so he could improve his relationship with his moody 13-year-old daughter.
The roots of materialism
Given that we all experience the same consumeristic culture, why do some of us develop strongly materialistic values and others don't? A line of research suggests that insecurity--both financial and emotional--lies at the heart of consumeristic cravings (/monitor/oct02/doubt.aspx) . Indeed, it's not money per se, but the striving for it, that's linked to unhappiness, find Diener and others.
"Research suggests that when people grow up in unfortunate social situations--where they're not treated very nicely by their parents or when they experience poverty or even the threat of death," says Kasser, "they become more materialistic as a way to adapt."
A 1995 paper in Developmental Psychology (/pubs/journals/dev/index.aspx)
(Vol. 31, No. 6) by Kasser and colleagues was the first to demonstrate this. Teens who reported having higher materialistic attitudes tended to be poorer and to have less nurturing mothers than those with lower materialism scores, the team found. Similarly, a 1997 study in the Journal of Consumer Research (Vol. 23, No. 4) headed up by Aric Rindfleisch, PhD, then a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now an associate professor of marketing there, found that young people whose parents were undergoing or had undergone divorce or separation (/topics/divorce/index.aspx) were more prone to developing materialistic values later in life than those from intact homes. And in the first direct experimental test of the point, Kasser and University of Missouri social psychologist Kenneth Sheldon, PhD, reported in a 2000 article in Psychological Science (Vol. 11, No. 4), that when provoked with thoughts of the most extreme uncertainty of them all--death (/topics/death/index.aspx) --people reported more materialistic leanings.
More money=greater happiness?
The ill effects of materialism appear subject to modification, other research finds. In a longitudinal study reported in the November 2003 issue of Psychological Science (Vol. 14, No. 6), psychologists Carol Nickerson, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Norbert Schwarz, PhD, of the University of Michigan, Diener, and Daniel Kahnemann, PhD, of Princeton University, examined two linked data sets collected 19 years apart on 12,000 people who had attended elite colleges and universities in the 1970s--one drawn in 1976 when they were freshmen, the other in 1995.
On average, those who had initially expressed stronger financial aspirations reported lower life satisfaction two decades later than those expressing lower monetary desires. But as the income of the higher-aspiration participants rose, so did their reported life satisfaction, the team found.
James E. Burroughs, PhD, assistant professor of commerce at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, and the University of Wisconsin's Rindfleisch conclude that the unhappiest materialists are those whose materialistic and higher-order values are most conflicted. In a 2002 paper in the Journal of Consumer Research (Vol. 29, No. 3), the team first gauged people's levels of stress (/topics/stress/index.aspx) , materialistic values and prosocial values in the domains of family, religion and community--in keeping with the theory of psychologist Shalom Schwartz, PhD, that some values unavoidably conflict with one another. Then in an experimental study, they ascertained the degree of conflict people felt when making a decision between the two value domains.
The unhappiest people were those with the most conflict--those who reported high prosocial and high materialistic values, says Burroughs. The other three groups--those low in materialism and high in prosocial values, those low in prosocial values and high in materialism, and those lukewarm in both arenas--reported similar, but lower levels of life stress.
His findings square with those of others: that the differences in life satisfaction between more and less materialistic people are relatively small, says Burroughs. And most researchers in the area agree that these values lie along a continuum, he adds.
"Material things are neither bad nor good," Burroughs comments. "It is the role and status they are accorded in one's life that can be problematic. The key is to find a balance: to appreciate what you have, but not at the expense of the things that really matter--your family, community and spirituality."
The bigger picture
Find this article at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents.aspx
Even if some materialists swim through life with little distress, however, consumerism carries larger costs that are worth worrying about, others say. "There are consequences of materialism that can affect the quality of other people's and other species' lives," says Kasser.
To that end, he and others are beginning to study links between materialistic values and attitudes toward the environment, and to write about the way consumerism has come to affect our collective psyche. Psychotherapist Kanner, who co-edited "Psychology and Consumer Culture" with Kasser, cites examples as minor as parents who "outsource" parental activities like driving their children to school and those as big as international corporations leading people in poor countries to crave products they can ill afford.
Indeed, consumerism is an example of an area where psychology needs to stretch from its focus on the individual and examine the wider impact of the phenomenon, Kanner believes.
"Corporate-driven consumerism is having massive psychological effects, not just on people, but on our planet as well," he says. "Too often, psychology over-individualizes social problems. In so doing, we end up blaming the victim, in this instance by locating materialism primarily in the person while ignoring the huge corporate culture that's invading so much of our lives (/monitor/2009/01/consumerism.aspx) ."
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.
__MACOSX/Articles/._1 Consumerism and its discontents.pdf
Articles/7 The Worst Companies to work for 2016.pdf
8/10/2017 24/7 Wall St. » Blog Archive The Worst Companies to Work For «
The Worst Companies to Work For June 10, 2016 by Evan Comen
Keeping employees happy can only improve a company’s bottom line. Employee satisfaction can significantly impact the productivity, sales, and reputation of any company. Despite its importance, many companies struggle to keep their employees content. While some companies have policies specifically designed to boost employee morale, others seem to prioritize it far less.
For the fifth consecutive year, 24/7 Wall St. identified the nation’s worst companies to work for. 24/7 Wall St. analyzed thousands of employee reviews from jobs and career website Glassdoor. The site maintains a growing database of more than 8 million employee reviews for more than 540,000 companies worldwide.
The worst rating any U.S. company received is 2.5 stars out of five, significantly lower than the 3.2 average company rating on Glassdoor. Three companies — Family Dollar Stores, Express Scripts and Forever 21 — received this lowest rating and top the list of the worst companies to work for.
Click here to see the worst companies to work for.
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Scott Dobroski, a Glassdoor spokesperson, explained that the three leading drivers of long-term employee satisfaction include: “culture and values, career opportunities, and trust in senior leadership.” For Dobroski, any company can improve these features by listening to employee feedback and addressing them in a timely manner.
8/10/2017 24/7 Wall St. » Blog Archive The Worst Companies to Work For «
Many complaints about the companies with the lowest ratings concern the lack of those leading drivers. According to some employee reviews of RadioShack, for example, sales associates believe upper management is out of touch; they see little room for professional growth; and they are unimpressed by the company’s culture.
Many employees at the worst companies to work for also cite poor work-life balance, low pay, and poor leadership as major reasons for their discontent. By contrast, technology companies such as Google and Facebook, which are some of the best rated companies, are notorious for high pay and generous perks.
Tech companies are not the only ones that manage to take care of their employees. Wholesale grocery store Costco, for example, has some of the best employee reviews of any company. There are numerous highly rated companies such as Costco where pay is by no means the only factor in employee satisfaction.
However, most of the worst-rated companies are customer-facing, low-paying businesses with high employee turnover rates. For nine of the 10 companies, the most commonly reported annual compensation on Glassdoor is lower than the national average annual wage of $48,320. The majority of these 10 companies operate in the retail trade sector, which has an above-average turnover rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The high turnover rates at these companies suggest employers treat employees as easily replaceable. With low- skilled workers readily available, employees at some of these companies may indeed be disposable. However, many companies with the lowest employee satisfaction are also not doing especially well financially, which may suggest that low employee satisfaction is but a symptom of poor management overall. The Employment Policy Foundation also estimates it costs a company an average of $15,000 each time a an employee leaves
Just as employee satisfaction can impact profits, a company’s financial performance can impact employee satisfaction. Many major retailers are losing ground to online giants such as Amazon.com, and their in-store sales are falling. As a result, employees working on commission may find it more difficult to earn commission wages. Similarly, as many of these businesses close stores and implement other cost cutting measures, employees may be assigned shorter shifts and consequently earn less. In Kmart, for example, where cashiers frequently complain about the difficulty of working on commission at a failing retailer, all full-time positions were recently switched to part-time.
To identify the 10 worst companies to work for, 24/7 Wall St. independently examined employee reviews on Glassdoor — this is not a Glassdoor.com commissioned report. To be considered, a company needed to have a minimum of 1,500 reviews and be currently operating and headquartered in the United States. Employee counts are from the most recent financial documents for each company. For subsidiaries, head counts are for the parent company.
These are the 10 worst companies to work for.
10. Kraft Heinz Company (NASDAQ: KHC) >Rating: 2.6
> CEO approval rating: 24% > Employees: 42,000
> Industry: Food manufacturer
Kraft Heinz produces some of the most popular consumer brands in the country, including Kraft, Heinz, Oscar Mayer, Jell-O, Planters, and Lunchables. The company was formed in 2015 as the result of a merger between Kraft Foods Group and H.J Heinz Holding Corporation.
Many employees cite the merger as having had a negative impact on the company’s culture. The merger resulted in numerous layoffs and plant closures across the United States. Employees also commonly complain about the company’s cost cutting measures and their difficulty in maintaining work-life balance. One former employee from Pennsylvania echoed many other complaints by writing “corporate leaders don’t truly respect or care about their employees. They only care about making money off of them.”
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The average employee rating of Kraft Heinz is 2.6 stars out of five, tied for the second lowest rating of any U.S. company.
9. Dillard’s (NYSE: DDS) > Rating: 2.6
> CEO approval rating: 37% > Employees: 40,000
> Industry: Department stores
Founded in 1938 by William T. Dillard, Dillard’s department store chain has nearly 300 locations across 29 states. Despite going public in 1969, Dillard’s is still something of a family business. Currently, four of CEO Bill Dillard II’s siblings work as company executive officers, and William Dillard III, the CEO’s son, is a senior vice president.
While the Dillard family may be happy with their jobs, the typical Dillard’s employee is not. With a 2.6 job satisfaction rating on Glassdoor, for the fifth consecutive year, Dillard’s ranks among the worst companies to work for. Dissatisfied workers frequently cite unrealistic sales quotas and poor management practices. Not only is employee morale suffering at Dillard’s, but it seems business is as well. In keeping with a nationwide trend among department stores, profits are down. The company posted net income of $269.4 million in its fiscal 2015, down from $331.9 million the previous year.
8. RadioShack > Rating: 2.6
> CEO approval rating: 40% > Employees: N/A
> Industry: Consumer electronics retail
After filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2015, RadioShack announced plans to close about half of its stores and lay off thousands of employees. Many complaints about the company are the result of its decline. As in- store sales fell over the past few years, numerous sales associates found it more difficult to earn commission. Many employees have reported working shifts without a single customer entering the store. Employees frequently cite low pay and incompetent upper management as major drawbacks of working at the company.
After the bankruptcy, most of RadioShack’s stores were salvaged through a deal to co-brand locations with cellular phone provider Sprint. While the deal saved thousands of jobs, however, it has not meaningfully improved employee satisfaction. One of the most common complaints from employees is the heavy pressure to sell cell phones.
7. DISH (NASDAQ: DISH) > Rating: 2.6
> CEO approval rating: 42% > Employees: 18,000
> Industry: CATV systems
As is the case with many of the worst companies to work for, a large share of jobs at DISH are customer service oriented. Also similar to many companies on the list, dissatisfied employees at the company regularly cite long hours and poor work-life balance as the reason for their discontent.
The subscription television service industry is notorious for poor customer relations. The customer experience of DISH’s 13 million-plus subscribers is not likely helped by low employee morale.
Low employee morale may also be having an impact on the company’s bottom line as well as investor relations. The company’s stock price has fallen by roughly 25% in the past year, significantly underperforming the market. In addition, net income is down to $769.3 million in 2015 from $928.9 million the previous year.
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6. Kmart (NASDAQ: SHLD) > Rating: 2.6
> CEO approval rating: 20% > Employees: 178,000 (including Sears employees)
> Industry: Department stores
Kmart is another retailer with declining sales and low employee satisfaction. The chain is owned by Sears Holdings Corporation, which also owns Sears — also among the worst companies to work for. Kmart’s sales have fallen drastically over the past decade and a half, and lower sales mean lower wages for cashiers working on commission. On Glassdoor, employees often complain about low pay, long hours, and out of touch management.
Like many other department stores, Kmart is hurting, and the number of store locations is dwindling. The number of U.S. Kmart locations fell from 1,152 at the end of fiscal 2013 to 941 at the end of fiscal 2015.
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5. Xerox (NYSE: XRX)
> Rating: 2.6 > CEO approval rating: 36%
> Employees: 143,600 > Industry: Information technology services
Xerox employees are far more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs than employees at most other major U.S. companies. Frequent employee complaints include stagnant pay and poor management. CEO Ursula Burns, who worked her way up from an intern position with the company 36 years ago and is the first African American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company, is approved of by only 36% of employees.
In addition to low employee morale and a lack of confidence in company leadership among employees, Xerox sales have declined in recent years. Annual revenue is down to $18.0 billion from $19.5 billion the year before and from $20.0 billion in 2013.
Earlier this year, Xerox announced it would split into two distinct companies, one for business processes, including accounting and customer care, and another for document processing. The split is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016, and has already spurred thousands of layoffs.
4. Sears (NASDAQ: SHLD) > Rating: 2.6
> CEO approval rating: 19% > Employees: 178,000 (including Kmart employees)
> Industry: Department stores
A large share of Sears Holdings Corporation’s 178,000 employees work at one of 705 Sears department store locations spread across all 50 states. For the second year in a row, department store chain Sears ranks as one of the worst companies to work for. A disproportionate number of company workers complain about earning minimum wage and frequently declining commission rates. The company’s CEO, Edward Lampert, is also among the least popular in the country. Less than one in five Sears employees approve of Lampert — and likely with good reason. The company has posted a net loss of at least $1.1 billion every year since he took over in 2013.
Low employee morale is likely affecting customers’ shopping experience. According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Sears ranks as the second worst department store for customer satisfaction. Sears Holdings also
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owns Kmart, an equally unpopular company to work for.
3. Family Dollar Stores (NYSE: FDO) > Rating: 2.5
> CEO approval rating: 36% > Employees: 60,000
> Industry: Discount stores
With 8,042 stores in 46 states, Family Dollar is nearly ubiquitous across the nation. It also ranks among the worst U.S. companies to work for. The majority of positions at the company are in customer service, which many employees cite as the best part of their job. The customer service aspect of working at Family Dollar is also often part of negative employee reviews, however. Unqualified managers and poor work-life balance are the most commonly cited complaints on Glassdoor. One Family Dollar worker in Michigan complained succinctly, “low pay, long hours, unrealistic expectations.”
Family Dollar was acquired by its former competitor Dollar Tree in July 2015. After the transaction, Gary Philbin was named CEO of Family Dollar, replacing Howard Levine. So far Philbin has not made a great impression on his employees, receiving an approval rating of just 36% on Glassdoor.
2. Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX) > Rating: 2.5
> CEO approval rating: 79% > Employees: 25,900
> Industry: Health care plans
Express Scripts is a third-party administrator of prescription drugs for various commercial and government health plans, and is the largest pharmacy benefit management company in the country. The average employee rating of Express Scripts is 2.5 stars out of five, tied for the lowest rating of any U.S. company. Employees commonly cite incompetent management, difficulty maintaining work-life balance, and long hours as major drawbacks for working at the company. Many employees report working 10-hour days.
Though this is not the first time Express Scripts has ranked among the worst companies to work for, the company may be trying to turn things around. Earlier this year, Tim Wentworth took over as CEO. Chief executives can have an outsized impact on company culture, and some negative employee sentiment may have left with former CEO George Paz.
1. Forever 21 > Rating: 2.5 > CEO approval rating: 30%
> Employees: 30,000 > Industry: Retail apparel
The average employee rating of Forever 21 is just 2.5 stars out of five, tied for the lowest rating of any company based in the United States. Many employees cite inadequate benefits and strict company policies as drawbacks to working at Forever 21.
Over the years, the store has been hit with several high profile lawsuits, including several filed by employees. In 2012, five Forever 21 employees filed a class action lawsuit against the company. The plaintiffs claimed that they and their co-workers were routinely detained in the store during lunch breaks and after their shifts without overtime pay so managers could search their bags for stolen merchandise — a part of the company’s former loss-prevention policy. Indeed, many employees on Glassdoor complain of not getting to leave the store until 2:00 a.m. or later, hours after the stores close, often receiving no overtime pay for the extra hours.
Tags: Dillard's, Inc. (NYSE:DDS), DISH Network Corporation (NASDAQ:DISH), Express Scripts (NASDAQ:ESRX), Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO), Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD), Xerox Corp
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The Sorry Lives and Confusing Times of Today’s Young Men
Sandy HingstonFebruary 20, 2012
THE WOMEN ARE IRATE. The women are talking about men, young men, the men they’d like to date and marry, and are they ever pissed. Here’s what they’re saying:
“All they want is sex. They don’t care about relationships.”
“They’re so lazy.”
“All they do is play video games.”
“They aren’t men. They’re boys.”
The women are a little bewildered. They’re good girls. They followed the script: did well in high school, got into college, worked hard there, got out, got jobs, started looking around for someone special to share life with, and …
“I met a guy the other night. Good-looking, smart. Twenty-eight years old. He still lives at home. With his mom.” Young men are now nearly twice as likely as young women to live with their parents; 59 percent of guys ages 18 to 24 and 19 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds live at home. Based on those Census Bureau stats, 64,000 young Philly men have returned to or never left the nest—and they all have mothers, ex-girlfriends, grandmothers, dads and other friends and relations worrying about their plight.
The women know what everybody’s saying: It’s the economy, stupid. Young men have been whacked particularly hard in this “mancession.” The statistics are scary: From 1960 to 2009, the number of working-age men with full-time jobs fell from 83 percent to 66 percent. In Philadelphia, half of all young adults are unemployed. But three in 10 young men ages 25 to 34 had stopped looking for work before the recession hit. So it’s not just the economy. There’s something more at play.
Sociologists cite five “markers” or “milestones” that have traditionally defined our notion of adulthood: finishing school, moving away from the parental home, becoming financially independent, getting married, and having a child. In 1960, 65 percent of men had ticked off all five by age 30; by 2000, only a third had. The experts have plenty of explanations for what’s come to be called “extended adolescence” or “emerging adulthood”—or what New York Times columnist David Brooks calls the “Odyssey Years.” They blame helicopter parents, the burden of student loan debt, much higher poverty rates among young people (nearly half of all Americans ages 25 to 34 live below the national level), and a dearth of vo-tech training and manufacturing jobs. Almost 60 percent of parents are now giving money to their grown kids—an average of $38,340 per child in the years between ages 18 and 34. Whatever happened to the son looking after his mom?
But those are the grousings of an older generation. We’ve always complained that those following after us are shiftless, goal-less, unmotivated. Remember walking 10 miles to school, uphill both ways? What’s different now is that half of one generation is complaining about the other half.
“The majority of the guys my age that I meet are immature,” says Jessica Claremon, a blunt, outspoken 24-year-old who grew up in Fort Washington and now lives in New York City, where she works for Nickelodeon. “I would never call them ‘men.’” Bruno Mars seems to have articulated an entire gender’s worldview in last summer’s hit “The Lazy Song”:
Today I don’t feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don’t feel like picking up my phone
So leave a message at the tone
’Cause today I swear I’m not doing anything
Why has doing anything become so difficult for today’s young men?
Connor, 24, graduated from Penn State in May of last year. It took him five years instead of four to finish his journalism degree, so he has about a hundred thou in student loans. “Scholarship was the ball I dropped more often than work or my social life,” he says. When I spoke to him late last year, he was living at home with his parents, working part-time—30 hours a week—as a blogger. It wasn’t enough to live on, and he didn’t get health benefits. He was sure he could get a different job: “If I wanted to support myself, I would. But I’m lucky enough to have parents who are well off. We’re all just waiting it out for a while.”
The move from Happy Valley back to his childhood bedroom wasn’t entirely smooth. “My dad struggles to get it a little,” Connor says. “He’s an engineer. He went to a military academy. He had a wife and kid by the time he was my age.” When Connor took an unpaid internship a few years back, “He was like, ‘What is the plan?’ I said, ‘I know what the plan is. You just don’t like the plan.’” The unpaid internship grew into a part-time job. If it hadn’t, “I would have gotten a job as a waiter somewhere. I wasn’t going to take something I didn’t want to do.”
Connor rides the train home every workday from the city to his parents’ house in West Chester. He’ll have dinner with Mom and Dad, watch TV with them. West Chester nightlife doesn’t really cut it for him now: “I’m a Farmers’ Cabinet guy. I have expensive tastes.” He doesn’t pay rent or buy groceries, but he does his own laundry. “It’s not like they’re giving me $10 for the movies,” he says.
There are challenges. “I have no option but celibacy,” says Connor, who’s outgoing and athletic and handsome. “I don’t really approach women, even. I’m not going to take someone home and sleep with her in my parents’ house.” He gets away to visit friends on weekends every chance he can. His mom, he says, wants him to text her when he arrives safely. He doesn’t. “I’m 24 years old. I shouldn’t have to check in with Mommy.”
When Connor was still in school, sometimes he’d encounter friends of his parents who’d press their business cards on him: “They’d say, ‘I’m in insurance—call me when you get out of school.’” Connor threw the cards away. He says he’d rather wait tables for the rest of his life than work in sales. Besides, he has a buddy from college who’s made it in L.A., in films. The buddy’s success validates Connor’s approach to life: “You have to have faith in your intangible abilities.”
CONNOR’S A CLASSIC ALL-AMERICAN GUY, CIRCA 2012. He’s also a prime example of the attributes that experts say are crippling him and his peers. He hasn’t proven particularly successful, yet he’s absolutely sure he will be successful. He’s got more than enough self-esteem. And he’s living with his mom.
“I’m astonished, just astonished, that kids are moving back home,” says Barry Schwartz, a longtime psychology professor at Swarthmore College who studies happiness and satisfaction. “My kids never came home once they left. They would have seen coming home to live as an absolute failure—the worst thing in the world.” But it’s part of a continuum, he says: “It’s also astonishing to me that kids are in touch with their parents five times a day on their cell phones.” Those parents, he says, have cocooned their children all their lives. They’re too eager to be their kids’ friends and too reluctant to exert authority. As a result, “They don’t do much to nudge fledglings out of the nest.” Connor can see that in his mom: “She’d like me to leave, but not because she wants me to leave.” He thinks she’d pretty much be cool with him living with her for the rest of his life.
And why wouldn’t he want to? We’ve made home so comfortable. “When you had six or seven kids in a family,” says Kathleen Bogle, a sociology professor at La Salle and author of the campus-sex book Hooking Up, “young people were dying to have their own place. Now they’re living in a big house, not paying any rent, and they can come and go as they please.” Sex is awkward, sure, but young men are having bromances with their guy friends instead, modeling themselves on Entourage, Jersey Shore and The Hangover. “Popular culture in general values singlehood,” says Bogle. “In the 1950s, the stigma was not getting married. Now it’s reversed.”
Bogle mentions the “unintended consequences of inventions” and posits that extended adolescence may be the accidental offspring of the Pill. The upper-class norm now, she says, is not to have kids until you’re in your 30s. The median age of male marriage keeps getting pushed further back—more than three years (which is an eon to sociologists) since 1980, to 28.2. That leaves young men with a long, long stretch of sowing wild oats—while young women tap their feet impatiently. (And not nearly as many people are marrying at all; in 1960, more than half of all 18-to-29-year-olds were wed; today, it’s around 20 percent.)
Bogle thinks Facebook may also be contributing to perpetual boyhood. Prior generations of men, she says, would leave their tight-knit communities of college friends, move to new cities, and become isolated. That made relationships with women more attractive, since women typically organized social life. “Now, Facebook makes it so easy to keep in touch with your old friends, to make plans and coordinate,” Bogle says. Guys can actually do it themselves.
Speaking of do-it-yourself, more than one academic cites porn as a reason young men are content to climb back into the family nest. “When I was a boy,” says Shaun Harper, a professor at Penn’s Graduate School of Education who studies how young men live and learn, “you had to work to find porn. And hide it! It was only available in an underground way.” Today, it’s as close as any website ending in .xxx. Researchers conducting a recent large study on porn and prostitution had trouble finding non-users to serve as a control group. An article in New York magazine last year described how young men have come to expect the “Porn Star Experience” from women, and find themselves faking orgasms when the real thing proves less satisfactory than the video version. No less than rock god John Mayer, whose girlfriends have included Jessica Simpson, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift, told Playboy that he prefers masturbation to “real” sex: “Once I have to deal with someone else’s desires, I cut and run.” If you don’t even have to leave the house to find sexual gratification—much less put on a tie, make small talk and pay for dinner—why would you bother? That this forces young women to compete for men’s attention not just with one another but also with Jesse Jane and Lexi Belle explains a lot of contemporary evening wear.
*Names, but nothing else, have been changed.
“I CAME TO WIN,” RIHANNA SINGS in “Fly,” her recent hit with Nicki Minaj: “To fight, to conquer, to thrive; I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise. … ” She doesn’t exactly sound like Bruno Mars’s dream date, does she?
“Men are lagging behind young women in the push forward,” says Barbara Ray, co-author of a book, Not Quite Adults, based on research conducted by the MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. “Women are surpassing men in a lot of indicators of success.” Men, the network’s research suggests, have become marginalized: The skills women have—they’re better listeners, they work better in teams—are what’s needed in the modern work-world. “Women see a clearer fit for themselves,” says Ray, “and employers do, too.”
When Barry Schwartz started teaching at Swarthmore in the ’70s and would pose a question to a class, “Someone was always interrupting before the question was finished,” he recalls, “and it was always a male.” Now, he says, guys aren’t doing that. A lot of observers say male disengagement in colleges and schools is a result of the “feminization” of our educational system: Boys are told to sit down, shut up and drill to the test; if they can’t, we put them on Adderall.
“Women are really motivated by the idea of school achievement,” says Bogle. “They’ll say, ‘I’ll get a master’s degree next!’ They want to climb that ladder.” But men who are into school are seen as wimpy and nerdy. That helps explain why current college enrollment nationwide is about 60 percent female and only 40 percent male. “Young men are having trouble at institutions of higher learning and in the labor force,” says Temple psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, who just published an updated third edition of his classic You and Your Adolescent: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25—with the age range extended from 20 in the prior edition. “There’s more competition from women.” What happens when women outperform men? Men withdraw from the field. Women, Schwartz says, are invested in economic success, but it doesn’t define them: “The stakes are still higher for men. If you lose your job, you’re a failure.” And what if you can’t get a job in the first place, like so many young men?
“The world tells us that white American men are extremely powerful,” says Harper. “Statistics show they are disproportionately advantaged in all sorts of ways. But individual white men don’t feel privileged or advantaged. People pay more attention to women, to minorities, and white men feel, ‘Nobody is paying attention to me.’”
That’s where video games come in. Like porn, they provide a sense of mastery. Research shows males prefer games in which they feel “emotions that sustain dominant masculine identity”—in which they drive fast, blow things up, kill things, and sometimes batter women. But it’s not the content that’s the biggest problem; it’s the time commitment. Half of all college students say video games keep them from studying “some” or “a lot.” A few years back, a disgruntled co-ed told the New York Times she’d sworn off gamers for good because “they’re choosing to do something that wastes their time and sucks the life out of them.”
Something, it seems, is sucking the life out of guys quite literally. One-third of male college students say they’ve experienced erectile dysfunction. Leonard Sax, a family physician for nearly 20 years who authored the book Boys Adrift, saw more and more of them in his Maryland office, asking for Viagra and Cialis. Constant access to porn has desensitized them; they can’t get it up with live girls. “We’re seeing the replacement of penile sex with oral sex,” says Sax, “with the girl on her knees, servicing the boy. Boys and girls both end up losers.” One in five men ages 18 to 25 are now classified as “sub-fertile” because of low sperm count and quality, both of which have been dropping in the developed world for the past 50 years. Curiously, 50 years ago, around 64 percent of all college students were male.
You’d think boys would be feeling bad about their lack of puissance. They’re not, especially, because we’ve painstakingly taught them never to be judgmental. When the authors of the book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood polled young adults, 47 percent agreed that “morals are relative, there are not definite rights and wrongs for everybody.” If you want to lie in bed all day and beat up virtual hookers—dude, hey, that’s cool.
Irvin Schorsch is the founder of Jenkintown’s Pennsylvania Capital Management, which provides investment advice for 160 wealthy families. More and more of those families have offspring who are failing to launch into successful lives. He worries about the ramifications: “The most important asset any investor has is time. If you want to save a million dollars, I can make that happen—with enough time.” With no head start, the men—and families—of tomorrow will always be playing catch-up. Schorsch takes a hard-core approach to emptying the nest. Many of his clients have children who are in their 50s and still living at home: “People say, ‘It’s for their own good. I can afford it.’ But has that child done well?”
RESEARCHERS AT CORNELL UNIVERSITY not long ago asked 20,000 young men and women across the United States how they self-identified sexually. Of the men in the sample, 5.6 percent said they were gay or bisexual. Of the women, 14.4 percent did. Leonard Sax offers a possible explanation for why three times as many young women as young men now say they’re gay: The guys they know are losers.
James graduated a decade ago from a big state college out West. “I was not the greatest student in high school,” he admits, “so my options weren’t Ivy League. I decided to go for the weather.” He majored in business. Why? “I got to a point where I just wanted to get out, and that’s what I chose.”
When he graduated, he worked for an Internet software company, then at a magazine owned by a guy he knew in college. The magazine work was hard, and his parents, he says, “definitely saw some lack of motivation.” He moved back East to take a job in the family business: “Looking back is always 20/20, but you should not take a job because it’s family.” He broke up with the girlfriend he’d had for a decade. It was the start of the recession. “She was spoiled,” James says. “She wanted things. It was a difficult time.” Two years ago, he moved back home. He’s trying to start up an energy consulting firm.
Living at home in Penn Valley wasn’t so bad at first. He spent much of the first summer at his grandfather’s place down the Shore. He met a girl, a teacher his age, and she had an apartment. But he broke up with her after a year and a half: “I came to realize she cared for me more than I would ever be able to return.”
Now, life with his parents is wearing on him. “If you want to watch TV, there’s just the den,” he says. “And they’re in there.” I ask whether he thinks his parents might have imagined themselves doing something at this point in their lives other than sharing their home with him. “They’re not really doing anything,” he says, sounding a little surprised. “They enjoy me being there.”
James is 31. He always figured he’d be married at 31. He certainly thought he’d have a place of his own. He doesn’t have a plan for the future: “Plans change, and the plan has to change really quick.” His outlook on life has become simpler: “I like being near my family, near my friends. I don’t need to make $10 million. I’d like to be successful, have a house, have kids. But how I get there … ”
I ask if, looking back, he would have done anything differently. “You want to say no,” he says, “that you have no regrets. But I could have tried harder in school. It would have built up a work ethic, you know? I felt I was okay not doing any work. But that carries over into life.”
James has a new girlfriend now: “I guess I’m kind of a catch.” She just graduated from college. The teacher he broke up with? “I didn’t want a girl who was getting older and pressuring to get married. I’m not at that point in my life.”
Leonard Sax writes and lectures on how to change the American education system so boys will become more engaged. But for guys like James, from here on out? Sax offers an analogy: If you’re baking a cake and you just put it in the oven and realize you forgot to add the vanilla, you can still pull the cake out and stir some in. Pouring vanilla extract over a cake that’s already baked isn’t going to make it better, though. “When a family calls and says their 30-year-old son spends his days watching porn and playing video games,” Sax says, “my response is, ‘I have nothing to offer you.’”
A 30-year-old man is baked.
THERE ARE MEN—AND WOMEN, TOO—who say the sorry state of American men is women’s fault: Screech all that feminist propaganda long enough, and of course you’ll wind up with low-sperm-count losers trolling the Internet for porn. And there are, mostly, women who are celebrating what journalist and Philly native Kay S. Hymowitz has anointed “the New Girl Order.” Even Hymowitz, though, called the guys out in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece:
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man.
An article by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic, “The End of Men,” postulated that modern, post-industrial society is simply more suited to women than it is to men. As my 22-year-old daughter puts it, “Maybe it’s just our time.”
But while they’re perfectly willing to rule the world, women still yearn to get married and have babies. Kathleen Bogle says that when she asks young women when they want to marry, they’ll frame their response as “no later than” and give an age. Ask men, and they say not before a certain age.
Despite their sturdy self-esteem, young men sense that they’re not exactly cutting it. “To say my ego is large is kind of obvious,” says Connor. “But it’s … emasculating to be home. Is that the word?” Patrick, who’s 27 and moved home almost five years ago, says, “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. It still carries a little bit of shame.”
The sad fact is, women may have doomed their own hopes by being so successful. Gender identity, sociologists say, is developed oppositionally. If boys see girls behaving in a certain way—working hard and excelling in school—they define masculinity in opposite terms: A real man doesn’t work hard at school or get good grades. The more that women try to set an example of responsible adult behavior, the more the guys shout along with the band Deer Tick: “We’re full-grown men but we act like kids!”
SHAUN HARPER’S NEW BOOK, College Men and Masculinities, is an entry in the relatively recent field of men’s studies. “For many years,” says Harper, “the term ‘gender’ was synonymous with ‘women.’” Just about every college has a women’s center and courses in women’s studies, but there are two genders, and there are problems and difficulties that seem inherent to being male. Suicide, Harper points out, is four times more common among young men than young women. In campus and high-school shoot-outs, the culprits are always male. Men are far more likely to be involved in campus judicial procedures. And yet, he says, “Colleges don’t commit their time to troubled masculinities. There are four awful words—‘Boys will be boys’—that people use for making sense of what’s happening.” And the “boys” keep getting older and older.
When Harper interviews college men, they readily talk about their drinking, the homophobic jokes they make, their sexual conquests. But they also say to him: “You know, that’s not really who I am. That’s just what guys at college do.” Gender, Harper says, is performative: Young men are simply following a script, doing what they think they’re supposed to. Take Patrick. For a guy, he’s unusually attuned to matters of gender. He’s volunteered for years at a shelter for battered women. “It’s damaging to just follow the archetypes you’ve been taught,” he says. And yet one night after a committee meeting for the shelter’s fund-raiser, he found himself in the kitchen with two fellow Penn State grads: “It was pretty amazing how quickly we fell back into the way guys talk—into that very stereotypical male vibe.”
Partly because of feminism, partly because of moral relativism, partly because of Clint Eastwood, 21st-century America has defined masculinity in negative ways: Real men don’t drink pumpkin lattes; real men don’t ask for directions; real men don’t cry. What, though, do real men do?
In Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax says American men have gone astray because we’ve failed to provide them with a social construction of masculinity—an answer to the question “What makes a man a man?” That construction can be intellectual, as for Orthodox Jews, or more physical, as for Maasai warriors. But manhood can’t just be something you age into. It has to be seen as an achievement, and aspired to. In the absence of such a construct, young men will provide their own—via street gangs or college frats or the eternal guyland of plasma TVs and fantasy football pools.
Before we as a society can offer that social construction, we have to decide: What exactly does make a man a man? Time magazine recently reported a trend in romance novels away from otherworldly vampire and werewolf heroes toward old-school firemen, cops and Special Forces veterans. It’s understandable that women long to be taken care of in a perilous economy. But William Bennett’s 2011 The Book of Man, intended to lay out a road map to masculinity with its prescribed doses of Tennyson and Longfellow and Poe (“Annabel Lee”? Really, Bill? “Annabel Lee”?), seems impossibly corny in these cynical, post-ironical times.
Shaun Harper’s had a smart idea. There are young men out there, he says, who manage somehow to navigate the harrowing voyage through American culture and come out as “good guys”—men who drink responsibly, respect women, and behave in anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic ways. So he’s studying them: “We have a national study of mostly white, heterosexual men at large, mostly white universities with large fraternity systems”—schools like Penn State. He’s looking at how these “good men” develop and perform their masculinities in a culture where bad behavior is rewarded and admired. If he can identify what they share, he says, we can work to replicate it.
Sax, meanwhile, offers a shorthand definition of masculinity that seems pretty bulletproof: Real men stand up for the weak and disempowered. Imagine the changes that would wreak in Washington, D.C. But he’s not holding his breath—and he’s helping his five-year-old daughter learn to speak Spanish. “I don’t fear for the human spirit,” he says, “but I’m not optimistic for American men.”
__MACOSX/Articles/._4 The Sorry Lives and Confusing Times of Today’s Young Men.docx
Articles/5 Wells Fargo's phony-account scandal, explained.pdf
Wells Fargo's phony-account scandal, explained Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The smartest insight and analysis, from all perspectives, rounded up from around the web:
Wells Fargo has long portrayed itself as a "bank for Main Street," far removed from the excesses of Wall Street's wheeler-dealers, said Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times. That carefully crafted image "evaporated" last week, with the revelation that the San Francisco–based bank had fired some 5,300 employees — roughly 1 percent of its workforce — for signing up customers for checking accounts and credit cards without their knowledge. Authorities said about 2 million sham accounts were opened going back to 2011, complete with forged signatures, phony email addresses, and fake PIN numbers — all created by employees who were hounded by supervisors to meet daily account quotas. The bank then charged customers at least $1.5 million in fees for the bogus accounts. "When politicians talk about Wall Street as a 'criminal enterprise,' this is exactly what they are talking about."
"Will anyone go to jail for this?" asked Jesse Singal at New York magazine. Unlikely. Wells Fargo has been ordered to pay $185 million in fines, but that's a pittance compared with the $5.6 billion the bank earned in just the second quarter of this year. Meanwhile, the bank's victims weren't just nickel-and- dimed with overdraft and maintenance fees. Many of them took "significant hits" to their credit scores for not staying current on accounts they didn't even know about. "They'll likely have difficulty securing home and car loans at reasonable rates for years to come, simply because their bank decided to defraud them." Wells Fargo's woes originated in its aggressive cross-selling approach, which encouraged salespeople to sign customers up for multiple bank products, said Helaine Olen at Slate. Someone with a savings account
would be pressed to also open a checking account, get a credit card, and perhaps even take out a mortgage. Employees who missed sales quotas would have to work weekends or stay late. But so far none of the bank's executives has been fired, even though "they bear as much — if not more — responsibility as the low-level employees who got caught holding the bag."
"If bank regulation were doing its job," Wells executives wouldn't have allowed such risk taking, said Adam Davidson at New Yorker. As it happens, the fine levied against Wells is "just a tiny fraction" of what it likely earned from its sales tactics. Over the past 13 years, the bank increased the average number of products per customer from four to more than six. At a bank with 70 million customers, that translates into tens of billions of dollars. Until executives face meaningful penalties, the message is clear: Do what it takes to make money, "even if it leads to some fraud." You can be sure that Wells execs "directly benefited" from the scam, said David Dayen at The Fiscal Times. The bank proudly touted its account growth to investors, which helped the bank's stock double in value between 2011 and 2015. Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw the banking division responsible for the fake accounts, just left in July with a $125 million retirement package. It's figures like that that help "explain the anger and frustration Americans feel about a rigged system."
__MACOSX/Articles/._5 Wells Fargo's phony-account scandal, explained.pdf
Articles/6 The Best and Worst Countries for Work-Life Balance (The U.S. Doesn't Rank Well).pdf
The Best and Worst Countries for Work-Life Balance (The U.S. Doesn't Rank Well) Matt Connolly
America needs to take a break.
According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that ranked its 34 member countries on work-life balance, the United States comes in 29th in the category, which the report attributes to long work hours and a lack of social activities.
Take a look:
The biannual report measures work-life balance by looking at the proportion of employees who work 50 hours a week or more and the amount of time workers spend "devoted to leisure and personal care" per day.
The United States has been on the low end of the scale for years. In 2012, the OECD chided the U.S. for poor investment in child welfare and for being "the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave policy." (Although, as the Atlantic's Derek Thompson points out, this has more to do with the fact that welfare is run through the tax code, meaning "we have to work for our welfare.")
How did the rest of the world do? Denmark, where people spend five to six hours a day on leisure, comes in first. Turkey, where more than 45% of workers have work weeks of longer than 50 hours, comes in last.
There's more than a country imbalance. The report highlights gender inequality as another indicator of a poor work-life balance — while men across the world work more hours than women, they also have more leisure
time, largely because women tend to do more unpaid work around the house.
For Americans, this poor work-life balance has plenty of real-world financial and social effects. While American workers have been getting more productive in the past few decades, wages haven't increased all that much. If median household income had kept pace with our economic output, according to Mother Jones, it would be $92,000, nearly twice what it is now.
And that's just the macro view. On a personal level, working too much can have drastic health effects. Being deskbound for long hours makes you heavier, hurts your back and neck and puts you at a greater risk for heart disease and other organ problems. Not to mention, there's a mental toll, as stressful work can double your risk of depression.
So while people work longer and longer hours, slowly wrecking their bodies in the process, the only ones who benefit are those at the top. It should be more than enough to make you want to push over your desk and take a vacation to Denmark. And then maybe stay there for good.
__MACOSX/Articles/._6 The Best and Worst Countries for Work-Life Balance (The U.S. Doesn't Rank Well).pdf
Articles/4 My Beef With Big Media.pdf
My Beef With Big Media How government protects big media — and shuts out upstarts like me. Ted Turner
In the late 1960s, when Turner Communications was a business of billboards and radio stations and I was spending much of my energy ocean racing, a UHF-TV station came up for sale in Atlanta. It was losing $50,000 a month and its programs were viewed by fewer than 5 percent of the market.
I acquired it.
When I moved to buy a second station in Charlotte–this one worse than the first–my accountant quit in protest, and the company’s board vetoed the deal. So I mortgaged my house and bought it myself. The Atlanta purchase turned into the Superstation; the Charlotte purchase–when I sold it 10 years later– gave me the capital to launch CNN.
Both purchases played a role in revolutionizing television. Both required a streak of independence and a taste for risk. And neither could happen today. In the current climate of consolidation, independent broadcasters simply don’t survive for long. That’s why we haven’t seen a new generation of people like me or even Rupert Murdoch–independent television upstarts who challenge the big boys and force the whole industry to compete and change.
It’s not that there aren’t entrepreneurs eager to make their names and fortunes in broadcasting if given the chance. If nothing else, the 1990s dot- com boom showed that the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in America, with plenty of investors willing to put real money into new media ventures. The difference is that Washington has changed the rules of the
game. When I was getting into the television business, lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took seriously the commission’s mandate to promote diversity, localism, and competition in the media marketplace. They wanted to make sure that the big, established networks– CBS, ABC, NBC–wouldn’t forever dominate what the American public could watch on TV. They wanted independent producers to thrive. They wanted more people to be able to own TV stations. They believed in the value of competition.
So when the FCC received a glut of applications for new television stations after World War II, the agency set aside dozens of channels on the new UHF spectrum so independents could get a foothold in television. That helped me get my start 35 years ago. Congress also passed a law in 1962 requiring that TVs be equipped to receive both UHF and VHF channels. That’s how I was able to compete as a UHF station, although it was never easy. (I used to tell potential advertisers that our UHF viewers were smarter than the rest, because you had to be a genius just to figure out how to tune us in.) And in 1972, the FCC ruled that cable TV operators could import distant signals. That’s how we were able to beam our Atlanta station to homes throughout the South. Five years later, with the help of an RCA satellite, we were sending our signal across the nation, and the Superstation was born.
That was then.
Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox–fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.
In this environment, most independent media firms either get gobbled up by one of the big companies or driven out of business altogether. Yet instead of balancing the rules to give independent broadcasters a fair chance in the market, Washington continues to tilt the playing field to favor the biggest players. Last summer, the FCC passed another round of sweeping pro- consolidation rules that, among other things, further raised the cap on the number of TV stations a company can own.
In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can’t compete by imitating the big guys–they have to innovate, so they’re less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It’s called capitalism.
But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what’s happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it’s expensive, and they push national programming because it’s cheap–even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they’re afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.
Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see–and what we don’t see–will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life. Let me be clear: As a business proposition,
consolidation makes sense. The moguls behind the mergers are acting in their corporate interests and playing by the rules. We just shouldn’t have those rules. They make sense for a corporation. But for a society, it’s like over- fishing the oceans. When the independent businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? We have to do more than keep media giants from growing larger; they’re already too big. We need a new set of rules that will break these huge companies to pieces.
The big squeeze
In the 1970s, I became convinced that a 24-hour all-news network could make money, and perhaps even change the world. But when I invited two large media corporations to invest in the launch of CNN, they turned me down. I couldn’t believe it. Together we could have launched the network for a fraction of what it would have taken me alone; they had all the infrastructure, contacts, experience, knowledge. When no one would go in with me, I risked my personal wealth to start CNN.
Soon after our launch in 1980, our expenses were twice what we had expected and revenues half what we had projected. Our losses were so high that our loans were called in. I refinanced at 18 percent interest, up from 9, and stayed just a step ahead of the bankers. Eventually, we not only became profitable, but also changed the nature of news–from watching something that happened to watching it as it happened.
But even as CNN was getting its start, the climate for independent broadcasting was turning hostile. This trend began in 1984, when the FCC raised the number of stations a single entity could own from seven–where it had been capped since the 1950s–to 12. A year later, it revised its rule again, adding a national audience-reach cap of 25 percent to the 12 station limit– meaning media companies were prohibited from owning TV stations that together reached more than 25 percent of the national audience. In 1996, the FCC did away with numerical caps altogether and raised the audience-reach cap to 35 percent. This wasn’t necessarily bad for Turner Broadcasting; we
had already achieved scale. But seeing these rules changed was like watching someone knock down the ladder I had already climbed.
Meanwhile, the forces of consolidation focused their attention on another rule, one that restricted ownership of content. Throughout the 1980s, network lobbyists worked to overturn the so-called Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, or fin-syn, which had been put in place in 1970, after federal officials became alarmed at the networks’ growing control over programming. As the FCC wrote in the fin-syn decision: “The power to determine form and content rests only in the three networks and is exercised extensively and exclusively by them, hourly and daily.” In 1957, the commission pointed out, independent companies had produced a third of all network shows; by 1968, that number had dropped to 4 percent. The rules essentially forbade networks from profiting from reselling programs that they had already aired.
This had the result of forcing networks to sell off their syndication arms, as CBS did with Viacom in 1973. Once networks no longer produced their own content, new competition was launched, creating fresh opportunities for independents.
For a time, Hollywood and its production studios were politically strong enough to keep the fin-syn rules in place. But by the early 1990s, the networks began arguing that their dominance had been undercut by the rise of independent broadcasters, cable networks, and even videocassettes, which they claimed gave viewers enough choice to make fin-syn unnecessary. The FCC ultimately agreed–and suddenly the broadcast networks could tell independent production studios, “We won’t air it unless we own it.” The networks then bought up the weakened studios or were bought out by their own syndication arms, the way Viacom turned the tables on CBS, buying the network in 2000. This silenced the major political opponents of consolidation.
Even before the repeal of fin-syn, I could see that the trend toward
consolidation spelled trouble for independents like me. In a climate of consolidation, there would be only one sure way to win: bring a broadcast network, production studios, and cable and satellite systems under one roof. If you didn’t have it inside, you’d have to get it outside–and that meant, increasingly, from a large corporation that was competing with you. It’s difficult to survive when your suppliers are owned by your competitors. I had tried and failed to buy a major broadcast network, but the repeal of fin-syn turned up the pressure. Since I couldn’t buy a network, I bought MGM to bring more content in-house, and I kept looking for other ways to gain scale. In the end, I found the only way to stay competitive was to merge with Time Warner and relinquish control of my companies.
Today, the only way for media companies to survive is to own everything up and down the media chain–from broadcast and cable networks to the sitcoms, movies, and news broadcasts you see on those stations; to the production studios that make them; to the cable, satellite, and broadcast systems that bring the programs to your television set; to the Web sites you visit to read about those programs; to the way you log on to the Internet to view those pages. Big media today wants to own the faucet, pipeline, water, and the reservoir. The rain clouds come next.
Throughout the 1990s, media mergers were celebrated in the press and otherwise seemingly ignored by the American public. So, it was easy to assume that media consolidation was neither controversial nor problematic. But then a funny thing happened.
In the summer of 2003, the FCC raised the national audience-reach cap from 35 percent to 45 percent. The FCC also allowed corporations to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market and permitted corporations to own three TV stations in the largest markets, up from two, and two stations in medium-sized markets, up from one. Unexpectedly, the public rebelled. Hundreds of thousands of citizens complained to the FCC. Groups from the
National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association demanded that Congress reverse the ruling. And like-minded lawmakers, including many long-time opponents of media consolidation, took action, pushing the cap back down to 35, until–under strong White House pressure– it was revised back up to 39 percent. This June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out the rules that would have allowed corporations to own more television and radio stations in a single market, let stand the higher 39 percent cap, and also upheld the rule permitting a corporation to own a TV station and a newspaper in the same market; then, it sent the issues back to the same FCC that had pushed through the pro-consolidation rules in the first place.
In reaching its 2003 decision, the FCC did not argue that its policies would advance its core objectives of diversity, competition, and localism. Instead, it justified its decision by saying that there was already a lot of diversity, competition, and localism in the media–so it wouldn’t hurt if the rules were changed to allow more consolidation. Their decision reads: “Our current rules inadequately account for the competitive presence of cable, ignore the diversity-enhancing value of the Internet, and lack any sound bases for a national audience reach cap.” Let’s pick that assertion apart.
First, the “competitive presence of cable” is a mirage. Broadcast networks have for years pointed to their loss of prime-time viewers to cable networks– but they are losing viewers to cable networks that they themselves own. Ninety percent of the top 50 cable TV stations are owned by the same parent companies that own the broadcast networks. Yes, Disney’s ABC network has lost viewers to cable networks. But it’s losing viewers to cable networks like Disney’s ESPN, Disney’s ESPN2, and Disney’s Disney Channel. The media giants are getting a deal from Congress and the FCC because their broadcast networks are losing share to their own cable networks. It’s a scam.
Second, the decision cites the “diversity-enhancing value of the Internet.” The FCC is confusing diversity with variety. The top 20 Internet news sites are
owned by the same media conglomerates that control the broadcast and cable networks. Sure, a hundred-person choir gives you a choice of voices, but they’re all singing the same song.
The FCC says that we have more media choices than ever before. But only a few corporations decide what we can choose. That is not choice. That’s like a dictator deciding what candidates are allowed to stand for parliamentary elections, and then claiming that the people choose their leaders. Different voices do not mean different viewpoints, and these huge corporations all have the same viewpoint–they want to shape government policy in a way that helps them maximize profits, drive out competition, and keep getting bigger.
Because the new technologies have not fundamentally changed the market, it’s wrong for the FCC to say that there are no “sound bases for a national audience-reach cap.” The rationale for such a cap is the same as it has always been. If there is a limit to the number of TV stations a corporation can own, then the chance exists that after all the corporations have reached this limit, there may still be some stations left over to be bought and run by independents. A lower limit would encourage the entry of independents and promote competition. A higher limit does the opposite.
The loss of independent operators hurts both the media business and its citizen-customers. When the ownership of these firms passes to people under pressure to show quick financial results in order to justify the purchase, the corporate emphasis instantly shifts from taking risks to taking profits. When that happens, quality suffers, localism suffers, and democracy itself suffers.
Loss of Quality The Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans exerts a negative influence on society, because it discourages people who want to climb up the list from giving more money to charity. The Nielsen ratings are dangerous in a similar way–because they scare companies away from good shows that don’t produce
immediate blockbuster ratings. The producer Norman Lear once asked, “You know what ruined television?” His answer: when The New York Times began publishing the Nielsen ratings. “That list every week became all anyone cared about.”
When all companies are quarterly earnings-obsessed, the market starts punishing companies that aren’t yielding an instant return. This not only creates a big incentive for bogus accounting, but also it inhibits the kind of investment that builds economic value. America used to know this. We used to be a nation of farmers. You can’t plant something today and harvest tomorrow. Had Turner Communications been required to show earnings growth every quarter, we never would have purchased those first two TV stations.
When CNN reported to me, if we needed more money for Kosovo or Baghdad, we’d find it. If we had to bust the budget, we busted the budget. We put journalism first, and that’s how we built CNN into something the world wanted to watch. I had the power to make these budget decisions because they were my companies. I was an independent entrepreneur who controlled the majority of the votes and could run my company for the long term. Top managers in these huge media conglomerates run their companies for the short term. After we sold Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner, we came under such earnings pressure that we had to cut our promotion budget every year at CNN to make our numbers. Media mega-mergers inevitably lead to an overemphasis on short-term earnings.
You can see this overemphasis in the spread of reality television. Shows like “Fear Factor” cost little to produce–there are no actors to pay and no sets to maintain–and they get big ratings. Thus, American television has moved away from expensive sitcoms and on to cheap thrills. We’ve gone from “Father Knows Best” to “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?”, and from “My Three Sons” to “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance.”
The story of Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore’s production studio, MTM,
helps illustrate the point. When the company was founded in 1969, Tinker and Moore hired the best writers they could find and then left them alone– and were rewarded with some of the best shows of the 1970s. But eventually, MTM was bought by a company that imposed budget ceilings and laid off employees. That company was later purchased by Rev. Pat Robertson; then, he was bought out by Fox. Exit “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Enter “The Littlest Groom.”
Loss of localism Consolidation has also meant a decline in the local focus of both news and programming. After analyzing 23,000 stories on 172 news programs over five years, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that big media news organizations relied more on syndicated feeds and were more likely to air national stories with no local connection.
That’s not surprising. Local coverage is expensive, and thus will tend be a casualty in the quest for short-term earnings. In 2002, Fox Television bought Chicago’s Channel 50 and eliminated all of the station’s locally produced shows. One of the cancelled programs (which targeted pre-teens) had scored a perfect rating for educational content in a 1999 University of Pennsylvania study, according to The Chicago Tribune. That accolade wasn’t enough to save the program. Once the station’s ownership changed, so did its mission and programming.
Loss of localism also undercuts the public-service mission of the media, and this can have dangerous consequences. In early 2002, when a freight train derailed near Minot, N.D., releasing a cloud of anhydrous ammonia over the town, police tried to call local radio stations, six of which are owned by radio mammoth Clear Channel Communications. According to news reports, it took them over an hour to reach anyone–no one was answering the Clear Channel phone. By the next day, 300 people had been hospitalized, many partially blinded by the ammonia. Pets and livestock died. And Clear Channel continued beaming its signal from headquarters in San Antonio, Texas–some
1,600 miles away.
Loss of democratic debate When media companies dominate their markets, it undercuts our democracy. Justice Hugo Black, in a landmark media-ownership case in 1945, wrote: “The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”
These big companies are not antagonistic; they do billions of dollars in business with each other. They don’t compete; they cooperate to inhibit competition. You and I have both felt the impact. I felt it in 1981, when CBS, NBC, and ABC all came together to try to keep CNN from covering the White House. You’ve felt the impact over the past two years, as you saw little news from ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, or CNN on the FCC’s actions. In early 2003, the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans had heard “nothing at all” about the proposed FCC rule changes. Why? One never knows for sure, but it must have been clear to news directors that the more they covered this issue, the harder it would be for their corporate bosses to get the policy result they wanted.
A few media conglomerates now exercise a near-monopoly over television news. There is always a risk that news organizations can emphasize or ignore stories to serve their corporate purpose. But the risk is far greater when there are no independent competitors to air the side of the story the corporation wants to ignore.
More consolidation has often meant more news-sharing. But closing bureaus and downsizing staff have more than economic consequences. A smaller press is less capable of holding our leaders accountable. When Viacom merged two news stations it owned in Los Angeles, reports The American Journalism Review, “field reporters began carrying microphones labeled KCBS on one side and KCAL on the other.” This was no accident. As the Viacom executive in charge told The Los Angeles Business Journal: “In this duopoly, we should
be able to control the news in the marketplace.”
This ability to control the news is especially worrisome when a large media organization is itself the subject of a news story. Disney’s boss, after buying ABC in 1995, was quoted in LA Weekly as saying, “I would prefer ABC not cover Disney.” A few days later, ABC killed a “20/20” story critical of the parent company.
But networks have also been compromised when it comes to non-news programs which involve their corporate parent’s business interests. General Electric subsidiary NBC Sports raised eyebrows by apologizing to the Chinese government for Bob Costas’s reference to China’s “problems with human rights” during a telecast of the Atlanta Olympic Games. China, of course, is a huge market for GE products.
Consolidation has given big media companies new power over what is said not just on the air, but off it as well. Cumulus Media banned the Dixie Chicks on its 42 country music stations for 30 days after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush for the war in Iraq. It’s hard to imagine Cumulus would have been so bold if its listeners had more of a choice in country music stations. And Disney recently provoked an uproar when it prevented its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11. As a senior Disney executive told The New York Times: “It’s not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle.” Follow the logic, and you can see what lies ahead: If the only media companies are major corporations, controversial and dissenting views may not be aired at all.
Naturally, corporations say they would never suppress speech. But it’s not their intentions that matter; it’s their capabilities. Consolidation gives them more power to tilt the news and cut important ideas out of the public debate. And it’s precisely that power that the rules should prevent.
This is a fight about freedom–the freedom of independent entrepreneurs to start and run a media business, and the freedom of citizens to get news, information, and entertainment from a wide variety of sources, at least some of which are truly independent and not run by people facing the pressure of quarterly earnings reports. No one should underestimate the danger. Big media companies want to eliminate all ownership limits. With the removal of these limits, immense media power will pass into the hands of a very few corporations and individuals.
What will programming be like when it’s produced for no other purpose than profit? What will news be like when there are no independent news organizations to go after stories the big corporations avoid? Who really wants to find out? Safeguarding the welfare of the public cannot be the first concern of a large publicly traded media company. Its job is to seek profits. But if the government writes the rules in a way that encourages the entry into the market of entrepreneurs–men and women with big dreams, new ideas, and a willingness to take long-term risks–the economy will be stronger, and the country will be better off.
I freely admit: When I was in the media business, especially after the federal government changed the rules to favor large companies, I tried to sweep the board, and I came within one move of owning every link up and down the media chain. Yet I felt then, as I do now, that the government was not doing its job. The role of the government ought to be like the role of a referee in boxing, keeping the big guys from killing the little guys. If the little guy gets knocked down, the referee should send the big guy to his corner, count the little guy out, and then help him back up. But today the government has cast down its duty, and media competition is less like boxing and more like professional wrestling: The wrestler and the referee are both kicking the guy on the canvas.
At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging
companies, that there remains only one alternative: bust up the big conglomerates. We’ve done this before: to the railroad trusts in the first part of the 20th century, to Ma Bell more recently. Indeed, big media itself was cut down to size in the 1970s, and a period of staggering innovation and growth followed. Breaking up the reconstituted media conglomerates may seem like an impossible task when their grip on the policy-making process in Washington seems so sure. But the public’s broad and bipartisan rebellion against the FCC’s pro-consolidation decisions suggests something different. Politically, big media may again be on the wrong side of history–and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents.
Ted Turner is founder of CNN and chairman of Turner Enterprises.
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Articles/3 The Way We Eat Now.pdf
Nutrition.final 4/12/04 12:50 PM Page 50
L ast year, Morgan Spurlock decided to eat all his meals at McDonald’s for a month. For 30 straight days, everything he took in—breakfast, lunch, dinner, even his bottled water—came from McDonald’s. Spurlock recorded the results on camera for his film Super Size Me, which won the Best Director prize for documentaries at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Super Size Me is also a kind of shock/horror movie, as viewers see the 33-year-old Spurlock’s physical condition
collapse, day by day. “My body just basically falls apart over the course of this diet,” Spurlock told Newsweek. “I start to get tired, I start to get headaches; my liver basically starts to fill up with fat because there’s so much fat and sugar in this food. My blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up o≠ the charts, my blood pressure becomes completely unmanageable. The doctors were like, ‘You have to stop.’” In one month on the fast-food regime, he gained 25 pounds.
Spurlock’s total immersion in fast food was a one-subject re- search study, and his body’s response a warning about the way we eat now. “Super Size Me” could be a credo for the United States, where people, like their automobiles, have become gar- gantuan. “SUVs, big homes, penis enlargement, breast enlargement, bulking up with steroids— it’s a context of everything getting bigger,” says K. Dun Gi≠ord ’60, LL.B. ’66, president of the Oldways Preservation and Ex-
E hom also prid soci alre them sou thro only com our hun and wit
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We Eat Nownge Trust, a nonprofit organization specializing in food, diet, nutrition education. verywhere in the world, the richest people build the biggest es, but as the world’s wealthiest nation, the United States is building the biggest bodies. It’s hardly cause for patriotic e. “We’re leading a race we shouldn’t want to win,” says as- ate professor of pediatrics David Ludwig. Many foreigners ady view Americans as rich, greedy over-consumers, stu∞ng
selves with far more than their share of the planet’s re- rces, and obese American travelers waddling ugh international airports and hotel lobbies reinforce that image. Yet our fat problem is be- ing a global one as food corporations export sugary, salty, fatty diet: Beijing has more than a dred McDonald’s franchises, which advertise price the same food in the same way, and h the same level of success.
ent bodies collide with modern echnology to produce a flabby,
disease-ridden populace. by CRAIG LAMBERT
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:35 AM Page 51
Two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and half of these are obese. (Overweight means having a body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or greater, obese, 30 or greater: to calculate BMI, a widely used measure, take the square of your height in inches and then divide your weight, in pounds, by that number; then multiply the result by 703. Or calculate it on-line at www.- cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm.) Even adults in the upper end of the “normal” range, who have BMIs of 22 to 24, would generally live longer if they lost some fat; add in these people and it appears that “up to 80 percent of American adults should weigh less than they do,” says Walter C. Willett, M.D., D.P.H. ’80, Stare professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the School of Public Health.
The epidemic of obesity is a vast and growing public health problem. “Weight sits like a spider at the center of an intricate, tangled web of health and disease,” writes Willett in Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating, arguably the best and most scientifically sound book on nutrition for the general public. He notes that three aspects of weight—BMI, waist size, and weight gained after one’s early twenties—are linked to chances of having or dying from heart disease, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and several types of cancer, plus
su≠ering from arthritis, infertility, gallstones, asthma, and even snoring. “Weight is
much more important than serum cholesterol,” Willett asserts; as a
cause of premature, preventable deaths, he adds, excess weight and obesity rank a very close second to smoking, partly be- cause there are twice as many fat people as smokers. In fact, since smokers tend to be leaner, the decrease in smoking preva- lence has actually swelled the ranks of the fat.
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shing speed. After tens of thousands of generations of human ution, flab has become widespread only in the past 50 years, waistlines have ballooned exponentially in the last two ades. In 1980, 46 percent of U.S. adults were overweight; by 0, the figure was 64.5 percent: nearly a 1 percent annual in- se in the ranks of the fat. At this rate, by 2040, 100 percent of erican adults will be overweight and “it may happen more kly,” says John Foreyt of Baylor College of Medicine, who
ke at a conference organized by Gi≠ord’s Oldways group in 3. Foreyt noted that, 20 years ago, he rarely saw 300-pound ents; now they are common. Childhood obesity, also once , has mushroomed: 15 percent of children between ages six 19 are now overweight, and even 10 percent of those between and five. “This may be the first generation of children who die before their parents,” Foreyt says.
styles of the Rich and Gluttonous eight gain, loss, and regulation are mar- velously complex, but certain simple principles stand out. Like CICO: calories in, calories out. When the human body takes in more energy than it expends, it
es the excess as fat. Today, Americans eat 200 calories more energy per day than they did 10 years ago; that alone would
20 pounds annually to one’s bulk. All demographic segments fattening up, but the growth in adipose tissue isn’t random. e highly educated have only half the level of obesity of those h lower education,” Willett says. A recent paper in the Ameri- Journal of Clinical Nutrition argued that the poor tend toward ter obesity because eating energy-dense, highly palatable, ed foods is cheaper per calorie consumed than buying fish
fresh fruits and vegetables. At the Oldways conference, eyt noted that 80 percent of African-American females are weight, and that Hispanic women were the second-heaviest
up. “The last to fatten will be rich white women,” he ob- ed. ne explanation for our slide into overconsumption is that character of modern Americans is somehow inherently k and we are incapable of discipline,” says Ludwig. “The food stry would love to explain obesity as a problem of personal
esponsibility, since it takes the onus o≠ them for marketing fast food, soft drinks, and other high-calorie, low-quality
products.” Personal responsibility surely does play a
role, but we also live in a “toxic environment” that in many ways discourages healthy
eating, says Ludwig. “There’s the in-
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:35 AM Page 52
cessant advertising and marketing of the poorest quality foods imaginable. To address this epidemic, you’d want to make healthful foods widely available, inexpensive, and convenient, and unhealthful foods relatively less so. Instead, we’ve done the opposite.”
Never in human experience has food been available in the stag- gering profusion seen in North America today. We are awash in edibles shipped in from around the planet; seasonality has largely disappeared. Food obtrudes itself constantly, seductively, into our lives—on sidewalks, in airplanes, at gas stations and movie theaters. “Caloric intake is directly related to gross na- tional product per capita,” says Moore professor of biological an- thropology Richard Wrangham. “It’s very di∞cult to resist the temptation to take in more calories if they are available. People keep regarding it as an American problem, but it’s a global prob- lem as countries get richer.” Still, the lavish banquet’s first seat- ing is right here in the United States of America.
“The French explanation for why Americans are so big is sim- ple,” said Jody Adams, chef/partner of Rialto, a restaurant in Harvard Square, speaking at the Oldways conference. “We eat
lots of sugar, and we eat between meals. In France, no one gets so fat as to sue the restaurant!” Indeed, the national response to our glut of comestibles is apparently to eat only one meal a day—all day long. We eat everywhere and at all times: at work, at play, and in transit. “Japanese cars—the ones sold in Japan— don’t have drink holders,” New York Times health columnist Jane Brody said at the Oldways conference. “The Japanese don’t eat and drink in their cars.”
Steven Gortmaker, professor of society, human development, and health at the School of Public Health, observes that the con- venience-food culture is so ubiquitous that even conscientious parents have trouble steering their children away from junk food. “You let your kids go on a ‘play date,’” says the father of two, “and they come home and say, ‘We went to Burger King for lunch.’” (He notes that on any given day, 30 percent of American children aged four to 19 eat fast food, and older and wealthier ones eat even more. Overall, 7 percent of the U.S. population vis- its McDonald’s each day, and 20 to 25 percent eat in some kind of fast-food restaurant.) But taking the family to McDonald’s for, say, Chicken McNuggets, French fries, and a sugar-sweetened beverage—a meal loaded with calories, salt, trans fats (the most unhealthy, artery-clogging fats of all, typified in “partially hydro- genated” oils), fried foods, starch, and sugar—makes Gortmaker shake his head. “I can’t imagine a worse meal for kids,” he says. “They call this a ‘Happy Meal’?”
Humans can eat convenient, refined, highly processed food with great speed, enabling them to consume an astonishing caloric load—literally thousands of calories—in minutes. Gort- maker, Ludwig, and colleagues did research comparing caloric intake on days when children ate in a fast-food restaurant to days when they did not; they soaked up 126 calories more on fast- food days, which could translate into a weight gain of 13 pounds per year on fast food alone.
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52 May - June 2004
t of ingredients like sugar and water for a carbonated rivial, and customers perceive the larger amount as deliv- eater value. “When you have calories that are incredibly n a culture where ‘bigger is better,’ that’s a dangerous ation,” says Walter Willett. “The French aren’t so inter- the amount of food; they are more concerned with its
But feeling stu≠ed and loosening your belt has high value ican culture. We eat as if every meal is a festival.” Willet eeing neighboring French and German restaurants on a Basel, Switzerland, several years ago. “The German nt was piling big mountains of sausages and potatoes on es,” he says. “The French place had a delicately broiled d three beautifully presented spears of asparagus. In the States we have adopted the mainstream Anglo-German ulture: lots of meat and potatoes.” ermore, “Portion sizes have increased dramatically since s,” says Beatrice Lorge Rogers ’68, professor of economics d policy at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutri- ence and Policy. For proof, consider a 1950s advertising Pepsi-Cola hits the spot/12 full ounces, that’s a lot.” Well,
a lot any more. For decades, 12 ounces (itself a move up rlier 6.5- and 10-ounce bottles) was the standard serving soft drinks. But since the 1970s, soft drink bottles have o 20 and 24 ounces; today, even one-liter (33.8 ounce) bot-
marketed as “single servings.” It doesn’t stop there. The venience store chain o≠ers a Double Gulp cup filled with es of ice and soda: a half-gallon “serving.” Surely, the 128- allon Guzzle is on the horizon.
chnology of Appetite oft drinks are becoming America’s favorite breakfast beverage, and specialty sandwiches and burritos for break- fast are fast-growing items, part of the trend toward eat- ing out for all meals. The restaurant industry—which em- million workers (second only to government) and has d sales of $440.1 billion this year, according to its national ion—ranks among the nation’s largest businesses. Today, ns spend 49 cents of every food dollar on food eaten out- home, where, according to Rogers, they consume 30 per- their calories. That includes take-out food (which some the restaurant industry now style as “home meal replace-
represents a drastic change from the 1950s, when people ore of their meals at home, with their families, and at a
pace. “A hundred years ago there was no such thing as a ood—nothing you could pop open and overeat,” says Katzen, author of The Moosewood Cookbook and many oth- a consultant to Harvard Dining Services. “There were ts. Things took a long time to cook, and a meal was the
f someone’s labor.” 950s were also an era in which the kitchen—not the tele- oom—was the heart of the home. “In some ways, you can sity as the tip of the iceberg, sitting on top of huge soci- ues,” says Willett. “There are enormous pressures on
sity epidemic is television. “The tween smoking and lung cancer.”
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:36 AM Page 53
homes with both the husband and wife in the work force. One reason things need to be fast is that Mom is not at home prepar- ing meals and waiting for the kids to come home from school any more. She is out there in the o∞ce all day, commuting home, and maybe working extra hours at night. This means heating something in the microwave or hitting the drive-through at Mc- Donald’s. There really is a time issue—people do have less time. Yet, look at the number of hours spent watching television. Some- how we’ve lost an element of cre- ativity and control over our lives. All too many people have become passive.”
Technology may have en- trenched that passivity, while making food preparation easier and faster. Three Harvard econo- mists, professors of economics Edward Glaeser and David Cut- ler, and graduate student Jesse Shapiro, argued in a recent paper that improved technology has cut the time needed to prepare food, allowing us to eat more conveniently. For example, in 1978, they note, only 8 percent of homes had microwave ovens, but 83 percent do today. Food that once took hours to prepare is now “nuked” in minutes.
Technology can also change what we eat. Potatoes used to be baked, boiled, or mashed; the labor involved in peeling, cutting, and cooking French fries meant that few home cooks served them, the economists point out. But now factories prepare pota- toes for frying and ship them to fast-food outlets or freeze them for microwave cooking at home. Americans ate 30 percent more potatoes between 1977 and 1995, most of that increase coming in the form of French fries and potato chips. In general, technology has enabled the food indus- try to do more of the work of preparing and cooking what we eat, increasing the proportion of processed victuals in the na- tion’s diet. Frequently, processing also folds in more ingredients; russet potatoes, for example, contain no added salt or oil, though most potato chips do.
But the most powerful technology driving the obesity epi- demic is television. “The best single behavioral predictor of obe- sity in children and adults is the amount of television viewing,”
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says the School of Public Health’s Gortmaker. “The relationship is nearly as strong as what you see between smoking and lung cancer. Everybody thinks it’s because TV watching is sedentary, you’re just sitting there for hours—but that’s only about one- third of the e≠ect. Our guesstimate is that two-thirds is the ef- fect of advertising in changing what you eat.” Willett asserts, “You can’t expect three- and four-year-olds to make decisions about the long-term consequences of their food choices. But every year they are subjected to intensive and increasingly pol- ished messages promoting foods that are almost entirely junk.” (Furthermore, in some future year when the Internet merges
id Mediterranean staples like pasta and olive oil—which his Oldways thy eating—at Formaggio Kitchen, a specialty food store in Cambridge.
Harvard Magazine 53
Nutrition.final 4/12/04 10:53 AM Page 54
with broadband cable TV, advertisers will be able to target their messages far more precisely. “It won’t be just to kids,” Gortmaker says. “It’ll be to your kid.”)
Within our laissez-faire system of food supply, the food ven- dors’ actions aren’t illegal, or even inherently immoral. “The food industry’s major objective is to get us to intake more food,” says Gortmaker. “And the TV industry’s objective is to get us to watch more television, to be sedentary. Advertising is the action that keeps them both successful. So you’ve got two huge indus- tries being successful at what they are supposed to do: creating more intake and less activity. And since larger people require more food energy just to sustain themselves, the food industry is growing a larger market for itself.”
That industry spends billions of dollars on research, says Wil- lett. “They have carefully researched the exact levels of sweet- ness and saltiness that will make every food as attractive as pos- sible,” he explains. “Each company is putting out its bait, trying to make it more attractive than its competitors. Food industry
science is getting better, more refined, and more powerful as we go along. They do good science—they don’t throw their money down the drain. What we spend on nutrition education is only in the tens of millions of dollars annually. There’s a huge imbal- ance, and it tips more and more in favor of the food industry every year. Food executives like to say, ‘Just educate the con- sumer—when they create the demand for healthier food, we’ll supply it!’ That’s a bit disingenuous when you consider that they are already spending billions to ‘educate’ consumers.”
T he old order amish of Ontario, Canada, have escaped much of that advertising, and the TV viewing as well. They have an obesity rate of 4 percent, less than one-sev- enth the U.S. norm. Yet the Amish eat heartily, and not
all health food: pancakes, ham, cake, and milk—but also ample amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. It seems that the secret to the “Amish paradox” is their low-technology lifestyle, which en- tails vastly more physical activity than its modern correlate. David R. Bassett, a professor of exercise science at the University of Tennessee, gave pedometers to 98 of these Amish adults and found that the men averaged 18,000 steps per day, the women 14,000—about nine miles and seven miles, respectively. The Amish men averaged 10 hours a week of vigorous activities like shoveling or tossing bales of hay (women, 3.5 hours) and 43 hours of moderate exertion like gardening or doing laundry (women, 39 hours).
“The Amish are not freaks,” says professor of anthropology Daniel Lieberman, a skeletal biologist. “They are just anachro- nisms. Human beings are adapted for endurance exercise. We evolved to be long-distance runners—running a marathon is not a freak activity. We can outrun just about any other crea- ture.”
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n on Earth, for the first couple of million years of our s’ evolution—99.5 percent of the human experience—all
e sustained themselves by hunting animals and gathering rom wild plants. Agriculture arose only 10,000 to 12,000 ago, permitting more stable settlements and food supplies. r-gatherers spend much of every day traveling: “Who ever
of a sedentary hunter-gatherer?” asks Lieberman, laughing. e were a few sedentary hunter-gatherers, he notes—in the c Northwest where salmon ran plentifully.) But although ns are designed to be highly active, the chronic ailments of tary life and obesity, like diabetes and heart disease, typi- turn fatal only when people are past reproductive age. natural selection doesn’t weed out couch potatoes. ce the Industrial Revolution, and particularly in the last entury, technology has enabled us to conduct an increas- mmobile daily life. In Benjamin Franklin’s time, virtually all cans were farmers. Even a century later, before the inven- f the automobile, many farmed or at least used their bodies
usly every day. Walter Willett’s family has been involved in farming in Michigan for many generations, and he himself 4-H member who grew award-winning vegetables as a man. “At higher levels of activity, people seem to balance aloric intake and expenditure extremely well,” he says. “If andparents were farmers, they were moving all day long— gging for an hour, but staying active eight to 12 hours a day. ally, I’m very active myself, probably in the upper 5 percent, still very inactive compared with my grandfather.
e way we do our work has changed, and so has the way we our leisure time,” he continues. “The average number of sion hours watched per week is close to a full-time job! e used to go for walks and visit their neighbors. Much of gone as well.” Not only do many adults spend their work
n front of computer screens, but the design of public spaces e their o∞ces eliminates physical activity. In skyscrapers, ten hard to find the stairs; electronic sensors in public oms are eliminating even the most minimal actions of
ng toilets or turning faucets on and o≠. es are designed for automobiles, not for healthier ways of g about like walking or bicycling. “In fact, we’ve made it rous and unattractive to do so,” says Willett, recalling a osium on urban environments that the School of Public
held with the Graduate School of Design: “For the archi- designing spaces to encourage physical activity wasn’t even table.” (Even so, cities tend to have lower rates of obesity uburbs or rural areas. Few nts of Manhattan, for
hey ride to school on a ol backpacks on wheels because we
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:37 AM Page 55
example, own cars. The density of the urban landscape allows one to walk to the drug store, subway, or dry cleaner.)
Furthermore, modern children “don’t have to forage or walk long distances,” says Lieberman. “Kids today sit in front of a TV or computer. They ride to school on a school bus. We even have them rolling their school backpacks on wheels because we are afraid of them overloading their backbones.”
In sum, we no longer live like hunter-gatherers, but we still have hunter-gatherer genes. Humans evolved in a state of cease- less physical activity; they ate seasonally, since there was no other choice; and frequently there was nothing to eat at all. To get through hard winters and famines, the human body evolved a brilliant mechanism of storing energy in fat cells. The problem, for most of humanity’s time on Earth, has been a scarcity of calo- ries, not a surfeit. Our fat-storage mechanism worked beautifully until 50 to 100 years ago. But since then, “The speed of environ- mental change has far surpassed our ability to adapt,” says Dun Gi≠ord of Oldways. Our bodies were not designed to handle so much caloric input and so little energy outflow. “There are many forces,” Willett says, “and all are pushing in the wrong direction simultaneously.”
D ifferent scholars and popular writers have argued that human beings have “evolved” to be carnivores, her- bivores, frugivores, or omnivores, but anthropologist Richard Wrangham says we are “cookivores,”
grinning at the neologism. “We evolved to eat cooked foods,” he declares. “Raw food eating is never practiced systematically anywhere in the world.”
Wrangham spent fours years trying to disprove that last statement in a global in- vestigation of current and historical cultures. He looked for the most ex- treme examples of people eat- ing a pure raw-food diet, but failed to find any, “except for people in urban settings who were philosophi- cally committed to raw food,” he
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ne researcher studied several hundred German raw-food- ho had access to food of “astonishingly high quality” rela- wild raw foods, says Wrangham. Nonetheless, 25 percent group was chronically underweight, and 50 percent of the s “were so low in energy that they stopped having men-
periods,” he says. So even under exceptionally good condi- of superb year-round food availability, people had low y and were “biologically incapable of appropriate repro- n, ” says Wrangham. From an evolutionary point of view,
ty gets you bounced from the gene pool. genus Homo appeared about two million years ago, and the most skeptical archaeologist” will agree that fire was controlled in southern Europe between 300,000 and 0 years ago, says Wrangham. Sound evidence of fireplaces from 380,000 years ago exists, for example, at Terra Amata nce, near Nice; other sites have earth ovens dug into cave . “Many regard this as the first evidence of cooking,” he but to me, this is rather sophisticated stu≠, and is probably rliest evidence we have of something that very likely was on before.” angham takes an extreme position: he lates that cooking food over fires by about 1.6 million years ago, and n innovation so important that it al- the evolution of Homo erectus, the t hominid to resemble modern hu- ns (see “Primal Kitchens,” Novem- -December 2000, page 13). “Cooking bled these animals—the very earliest s—to acquire their food more e∞ciently and more of it,” he says. “A principal reason was made food softer.” ter food has many implications. Imagine a nonhuman, raw-food-eating primate chimpanzee consumes in one day. “It’s a big pile of leaves, seeds, and roots,” gham explains, gesturing with his to suggest a mound the size of a shrub. Humans, with generally
r bodies, nonetheless fuel themselves with a far
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:38 AM Page 56
smaller volume of food. “Compared with other primates, we are evolved to eat foods of high caloric density—meats, roots, seeds,” he says. Cooking makes this possible by changing the brittleness of collagen fiber, softening it and making meat far easier to chew. “People who think that meat dominated the diet of early Homo may well be right,” he says, “but they would have to have spent five hours a day just chewing. Raw meat is very hard to chew, and presumably raw wild meat is even harder.”
Consider again the chimpanzees, who spend as much time eat- ing as one would expect for primates of their size and weight (100 to 120 pounds). “In primates, there’s a nice relation between body weight and the amount of time spent eating,” Wrangham explains. Chimps spend about six hours a day chewing. Humans,
who typically weigh more than chimpanzees, should theoreti- cally eat more and spend even more time at it. Instead, data from 15 cross-cultural studies indicate that on average, human beings spend about one hour a day chewing food.
Chimps’ jaws and teeth are bigger than ours, and they like to eat meat—they will work hard to get it—“but they can’t chew meat at all fast,” Wrangham says. “The rate at which they chew and swallow meat is equivalent to the way they eat fruits: 300 to 400 calories per hour.” In contrast, humans eating cooked, soft- ened food of high caloric density can take in 2,000 calories during their daily hour of chewing and swallowing.
Cooking might be considered the first food-processing tech- nology, and like its successors, it has had profound e≠ects on the human body, as in the growth of bones. Various signals influence human growth; some come from genes, and others come from the environment, particularly for the musculo-skeletal system, whose job is engaging with the environment. Less chewing of cooked food, for example, has altered the anatomy of our skulls, jaws, faces, and teeth. “Chewing is a major activity that involves mus- cular forces,” says skeletal biologist Daniel Lieberman. “It has in- credible e≠ects on how the skull grows.” Chewing can transform anatomy rather quickly; in one study, in which Lieberman fed pigs a diet of softened food, in a matter of months their skulls de- veloped shorter and narrower dimensions and their snouts devel- oped thinner bones than those of pigs eating a hard-food diet.
The same thing happens with human beings. “Since the begin- ning of the fossil record, humans have become much more gracile,” Lieberman says. “Our bones have become thinner, our faces smaller, and our teeth smaller—especially permanent teeth—although we have the same number of teeth. More re- cently, with the Industrial Revolution, people have become more sedentary; they interact with their environment in a less forceful way. We load our bones less and the bones become thinner. Os- teoporosis is a disease of industrialism.”
In today’s world, where we not only cook but eat a great deal of processed food that has been ground up before it reaches our mouths, we don’t generate as much force when chewing. In fact, for millennia human food has been growing less tough, fibrous, and hard. “The size of the human face has gotten about 12 per- cent smaller since the Paleolithic,” Lieberman says, “particularly
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56 May - June 2004
d the oral cavity, due to the e≠ects of mechanical loading e size of the face. Fourteen thousand years ago, a much proportion of the face was between the bottom of the jaw he nostrils.” The size of teeth has not decreased as fast (ge- factors control more of their variation); hence, modern are actually too big for our mouths—wisdom teeth become ted and require extraction. health hazards of sedentary life seem like an adult prob- ut actually, the skeletal system is most responsive to load- hen it is immature. There is only one window for accumu- bone mass—during the first two decades of life. “Peak bone occurs at the end of adolescence,” Lieberman explains, “and se bone steadily thereafter. Kids who are active grow more
t bones. If you’re sedentary as a juvenile, you don’t grow as bone mass—so as you get older and lose bone mass, you below the threshold for osteoporosis.” Furthermore, females teoporosis more readily than men because they start with
dult bone mass; as life spans lengthen, says research fellow l biology Jennifer Sacheck, of Harvard Medical School, older
ill also begin showing symptoms of osteoporosis. ight-bearing exercise only slows the rate of bone loss for s; pre-adolescent bone growth is far more important to term skeletal strength. Hence, the sedentary lifestyles of ’s youngsters—and the cutbacks on school physical-educa- rograms—may be sowing the seeds of widespread skeletal down as their cohort matures.
t Tooth Bites the Hand That Feeds It he dramatic upsurge in consumption of carbonated soft drinks, paired with the simultaneous decline in milk drinking, may also weaken future bones. Both milk (lac- tose) and soda (sucrose, fructose) are sweet, but soda is
er, and today’s consumers are hooked on sugar. “We proba- olved our sense of sweetness to detect subtle amounts of hydrates in foods, because they provide energy,” says Wal- illett. “But now the expectations of sweetness have been
eted up. A product is not deemed attractive if it is not as as its competitor.” Sugars added to foods made up 11 per- f the calories in American diets in the late 1970s; today they percent. mans did not always have such a sweet tooth. Our hor- s and metabolism have remained essentially unchanged for ast 100,000 years, 90,000 of which were spent as hunter- rers. Grains, the source of products such as bread, baked , and corn syrup, did not become plentiful in the human ntil the establishment of agriculture. th agriculture, human health declined, says Lieberman, because farming is such hard work, and partly because it s higher population densities, in which infection spreads easily. “There was more disease, a decrease in body size, r mortality rates among juveniles, and more stress lines in and teeth,” Lieberman says. Cultivating grain also allowed rs to space their children more closely. Hunter-gatherers
rocessing technology, and like its man body, as in the growth of bones.
Harvard Magazine 57
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:38 AM Page 57
have long intervals between births, because they do not wean children until age four or five, when teeth are ready to chew hard foods. (“You can’t feed babies beef jerky,” jokes Lieberman.) Farmers, however, can make gruel—a high-calorie mush of roots or grains like millet, taro, or oats that doesn’t require chewing— and wean children much sooner.
So grain farming allowed bigger families and has changed the human situation in endless ways. But while people have eaten grains for a hundred centuries, until the last half-century, most grains consumed were not heavily processed. “In the last 50 years, the extent of processing has increased so much that pre- pared breakfast cereals—even without added sugar—act exactly like sugar itself,” says pediatrics specialist David Ludwig. ”As far as our hormones and metabolism are concerned, there’s no di≠erence between a bowl of unsweetened corn flakes and a bowl of table sugar. Starch is 100 percent glucose [table sugar is half glucose, half fructose] and our bodies can digest it into sugar instantly.
“We are not adapted to handle fast-acting carbohydrates,” Ludwig continues. “Glucose is the gold standard of energy me- tabolism. The brain is exquisitely dependent on having a contin- uous supply of glucose: too low a glucose level poses an immedi- ate threat to survival. [But] too high a level causes damage to tissues, as with diabetes. The body is designed to keep blood glu- cose within a tight range, and it does this beautifully, even with extreme nutrient ratios: we can survive indefinitely on a diet of
60 perc hydrat late a h
In 1 sity of which that ra body t tablish “compl ditiona ing of 8 appear
Eatin sudden insulin for me spike i bloods sulin. B “they a plains. blood mones, puts o stored
Surrounded by bits of primate anatomy, Richard Wrangham holds the skull of
ent carbohydrates and 20 percent fat, or 20 percent carbo- es and 60 percent fat. But we never [before] had to assimi- eavy dose of high-glycemic carbohydrates.” 981, David Jenkins, a professor of nutrition at the Univer- Toronto, led a team that tested various foods to determine were best for diabetics. They developed a “glycemic index” nked foods from 0 to 100, depending on how rapidly the urned them into glucose. This work overturned some es- ed bromides, such as the distinction between “simple” and ex” carbohydrates: a baked russet potato, for example, tra- lly defined as a complex carbohydrate, has a glycemic rat- 5 (± 12; studies vary) whereas a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola
s on some glycemic indices at 63. g high-glycemic foods dumps large amounts of glucose ly into the bloodstream, triggering the pancreas to secrete , the hormone that allows glucose to enter the body’s cells tabolism or storage. The pancreas over-responds to the n glucose—a more rapid rise than a hunter-gatherer’s tream was likely to encounter—and secretes lots of in- ut while high-glycemic foods raise blood sugar quickly, lso leave the gastrointestinal tract quickly,” Ludwig ex-
“The plug gets pulled.” With so much insulin circulating, sugar plummets. This triggers a second wave of hor- including stress hormones like epinephrine. “The body n the emergency brakes,” says Ludwig. “It releases any fuels—the liver starts releasing glucose. This raises blood
a chimpanzee. Note the size of the chimp’s jaws and teeth.
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:39 AM Page 58
sugar back into the normal range, but at a cost to the body.” One cost, documented by studies at the School of Public
Health, is that going through this kind of physiologic stress three to five times per day doubles the risk of heart attacks. Another cost is excess hunger. The precipitous drop in blood sugar trig- gers primal mechanisms in the brain: “The brain thinks the body is starving,” Ludwig explains. “It doesn’t care about the 30 pounds of fat socked away, so it sends you to the refrigerator to get a quick fix, like a can of soda.”
Glycemic spikes may underlie Ludwig and Gortmaker’s finding, published in the Lancet two years ago, that each addi- tional daily serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage multiplies the risk of obesity by 1.6. Some argue that people compensate for such sugary intake by eating less later on, to balance it out, but Ludwig asserts, “We don’t compensate well when calories come in liquid form. The meal has to go through your gut, where the brain gets satiety signals that slow you down. On the other hand, you could drink a 64-ounce soft drink before you knew what hit you.”
Since humans can take in large amounts of food in a short time, “we are adapted to receiving much higher glycemic loads than other primates,” says Richard Wrangham, speculating that nonhuman primates may be poor models for research on human diabetes because they have a di≠erent insulin system. The only component of the hunter-gatherer diet likely to cause extreme insulin spikes is honey, which Wrangham feels “is likely to have been very important, at least seasonally, for our ancestors. Chim- panzees love honey and modern hunter-gatherers take in tremendous amounts of it. People have been seen eating as much as four pounds at a sitting.”
We don’t know how often such honey binges occurred in the distant past; Ludwig opines that finding a beehive was “a very in- frequent event” for early humans. What is certain is that hunter- gatherers never experienced anything like the routine daily glu- cose-insulin cycles that characterize a modern diet loaded with refined sugars and starches. Constantly bu≠eted by these insulin surges, over time the body’s cells develop insulin resistance, a de- creased response to insulin’s signal to take in glucose. When the cells slam their doors shut, high levels of glucose keep circulating in the bloodstream, prompting the pancreas to secrete even more insulin. This syndrome can turn into an endocrine disorder called hyperinsulinemia that sets the stage for Type II, or adult-onset, diabetes, which has become epidemic in recent years.
A Chicken in Every Potbelly
I ronically, U.S. government agencies’ attempts to deal with obesity during the last three decades—encouraging people to eat less fat and more carbohydrates, for example—actu- ally may have exacerbated the problem. Take the Depart-
ment of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid, first pro- mulgated in 1992. The pyramid’s diagram of dietary rec-
omme ciden the “ mend food. carbo II dia entifi to eat
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Foo of the belon Schoo busin ment adds food— Unite gover The fo ernm
Co Healt zation ing to stead line-b recom no mo ceived ened millio
Cle influe tain f dies o grains Big M gover etable
What is certain is that hunter-gatherers neve the routine daily glucose-insulin cycles that c with refined sugars and starches. Constantly buf over time the body’s cells develop insulin resista
58 May - June 2004
ndations is a familiar sight on cereal boxes—hardly a coin- ce, since the guidelines suggest six to 11 servings daily from bread, cereal, rice, and pasta” group. The USDA recom- s eating more of these starches than any other category of Unfortunately, such starches are nearly all high-glycemic hydrates, which drive obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and Type betes. “At best, the USDA pyramid o≠ers wishy-washy, sci- cally unfounded advice on an absolutely vital topic—what ,” writes Willett in Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. “At worst, the
formation contributes to overweight, poor health, and un- sary early deaths.” te that the pyramid comes from the Department of Agricul- ot from an agency charged with promoting health, like the nal Institutes of Health or the Department of Health and n Services (DHHS). The USDA essentially promotes and tes commerce, and its pyramid (currently under revision; t a new version in 2005) was the focus of intensive lobbying olitical struggle by agribusinesses in the meat, sugar, dairy, ereal industries, among others. d is the most essential of all economic goods. Fifty percent world’s assets, employment, and consumer expenditures g to the food system, according to Harvard Business l’s Ray Goldberg, Mo≠ett professor of agriculture and
ess emeritus. (In the United States, 17 percent of employ- is in what Goldberg calls the “value-added food chain.”) He that “7 percent of the farmers produce 80 percent of the
and do it on one-third of the land in cultivation. In the d States, half the net income of farmers comes from the nment, in forms like price supports and land set-asides.” od industry is huge and exerts enormous influence on gov-
ent policy. nsider the flap that arose after the United Nations’ World h Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organi- issued a report in 2003 recommending guidelines for eat- improve world nutrition and prevent chronic diseases. In- of applauding the report, the DHHS issued a 28-page, y-line critique and tried to get WHO to quash it. WHO mended that people limit their intake of added sugars to re than 10 percent of calories eaten, a guideline poorly re- by the Sugar Association, a trade group that has threat-
to pressure Congress to challenge the United States’ $406 n contribution to WHO. arly, some food industries have for many years successfully nced the government in ways that keep the prices of cer- oods artificially low. David Ludwig questions farm subsi- f “billions to the lowest-quality foods”—for example, like corn (“for corn sweeteners and animal feed to make acs”) and wheat (“refined carbohydrates.”) Meanwhile, the nment does not subsidize far healthier items like fruits, veg- s, beans, and nuts. “It’s a perverse
r experienced anything like haracterize a modern diet loaded feted by these insulin surges, nce.
(please turn to page 98)
Nutrition.final 4/12/04 10:57 AM Page 98
situation,” he says. “The foods that are the worst for us have an artificially low price, and the best foods cost more. This is worse than a free market: we are creating a mirror-world here.”
Governmental policies like cutting school budgets by drop- ping physical education programs may also prove to be a false economy. “Supposedly, in the richest, most powerful nation on earth, we can’t a≠ord physical-education programs for our kids,” says Willett. “That’s really obscene. Instead, we’ll be spending $100 billion on the consequences. We simply have to make these investments.” Ludwig concurs. “There’s fast food sold in school
cafete and a are cu was o
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Ev porte let se and a that that i any e cups turer resta for pa moth apple don’t
“People tend to eat the same amount of bulk, no matter what the calories,” says research fellow in cell biology Jennifer Sacheck of Harvard Medical School. “They’ll fill their plate with the same amount of food. So if the foods are energy-dense, they take in more calories, but things that have a lot of water, air, and fiber in them, like fruits and fresh vegetables, fill you up more without the caloric load.” Because fat, at nine calories per gram, is the densest form of food energy we consume, it’s much easier to overeat on fat. Doing so tends to add body weight more readily, Sacheck says, “because fat is more e∞ciently stored.” (Storing 100 calories of protein, for example, takes nearly twice as much energy as storing 100 calories of fat.)
Not only food bulk, but hormonal response, a≠ects appetite. The hypothalamus seems to control body weight, triggering several homeostatic mechanisms to maintain weight at a fixed “set point.” “A lack of blood sugar stimulates secretion of hor- mones such as ghrelin [an appetite stimulant] and leptin [an appetite suppressant] that cascade to trigger a desire to eat,” Sacheck explains. “If you lose fat, leptin decreases and ghrelin increases, causing you to eat more—and you gain weight back. The body equilibrates. Hor- mones like leptin regulate the set point.”
The set point is linked to one’s basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the number of calories needed to maintain life in a resting individual. The brain’s continuous demand for glucose accounts for 20 to 21 percent of our BMR, Sacheck ex- plains; the liver takes up another 21 per- cent; the heart and kidneys each absorb nearly 10 percent; and digestion ac- counts for 7 to 10 percent of the BMR. Physical activity can account for 10 to 30 percent of calories burned daily, while BMR takes up 70 percent or more. Since BMR increases with lean body mass, activities that build and tone muscle will burn more calories and per- haps lower one’s set point as well.
THE WAY WE EAT NOW (continued from page 58)
Fish, poultry, eggs (0-2 time
Nuts (1-3 ti
Vegetables (in abundance)
Whole grain foods (at most meals)
Red meat, butter
Daily ex98 May - June 2004
rias, soft drinks and candies in school vending machines, dvertising in classrooms on Channel One. Meanwhile there tbacks in physical education, as if it were a luxury. What nce daily and mandatory is now infrequent and optional.”
g the Edible Complex he food industry itself has begun to make certain in- vestments in the direction of healthier eating. “In the future, I see a convergence between food and health,” says Goldberg. “The food industry has been warned of the
lash that could hit them, like it did tobacco.” He suggests the food industry will become more responsive to con- rs’ health concerns regarding issues like bioengineered in- ents in foodstu≠s. People “want a diversity of sources for food, and traceability of sources,” he says. “The bar code will
e a vehicle not just for pricing, but for describing and list- gredients.”
en fast-food chains are changing; in the past year, they re- d a 16 percent growth in servings of main-dish salads. Wil- es no reason why healthy eating should not be as delicious ttractive as junk food, and the franchisers may be headed
way as well. McDonald’s is currently testing an adult meal ncludes a pedometer and “Step With It” booklet along with ntrée salad. In its kids’ meals, Wendy’s is trying out fruit with melon slices instead of French fries. Yogurt manufac- Stonyfield Farm has launched a chain of healthful fast-food urants called O’Naturals. And Dun Gi≠ord has an answer rents who say, “My kids won’t eat anything but Doritos.” A er he knows puts out an after-school snack platter of sliced s, grapes, raisins, nuts, and tangerine sections. “The kids
complain at all,” he says. “Or even notice.” oritos themselves are getting healthier. Fitness expert Ken- th Cooper, M.P.H. ’62, founder of the Cooper Aerobics Cen- er in Dallas, has been working with PepsiCo’s CEO, Steven S. Reinemund, to develop new products and modify exist-
Not your familiar food pyramid. Walter Willett’s Healthy Eating Pyramid (left), described in his book Eat,
Drink, and Be Healthy, differs from the better known USDA pyramid in several crucial respects. Willett
identifies “daily exercise and weight control,” which the USDA pyramid does not mention, as the very
foundation of sound nutrition. The USDA draws no distinction, as Willett does, between whole-
grain foods and refined (i.e., white) bread, ce- real, rice, and pasta (the USDA recommends
a whopping six to 11 servings per day from this group, in which Willett includes pota-
toes and sweets). Willett also separates healthy fats (mono- and polyunsatu-
rated fats) from unhealthy (saturated and trans fats) ones, whereas the
USDA lumps all fats, oils, and even sweets into a single cate-
gory. In addition, the Healthy Eating Pyramid commends
nuts and legumes, giving them their own tier. It
also suggests multiple vitamins and moder-
ate alcohol intake, two other topics omitted by the USDA.
iry or supplement es a day)
s a day)
, legumes mes a day)
Fruits (2-3 times a day)
Plant oils, including olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower,
peanut, and other vegetable oils
ercise and weight control
es, refined hydrates
Harvard Magazine 99
Nutrition.final 4/8/04 11:42 AM Page 99
ing items in a healthier direction. The company’s Frito-Lay unit last year eliminated trans fats from its salty o≠erings. Frito-Lay introduced organic, healthier versions of Doritos and Cheetos under the Natural sub-brand. “As a result, 55 million pounds of trans fats will be removed from the American diet over the next 12 months,” Cooper says. “It cost $37 million to retool—and it was done without a price increase. PepsiCo is in 150 countries, and many of their healthier products will soon be promoted throughout the world. Physical fitness is good business for the individual and for the corporation.”
PepsiCo sells plenty of food and beverages from vending ma- chines, many of them in schools. “You don’t resolve the obesity problem in children by taking the vending machines out of schools,” Cooper declares. “Kids will still get what they want. Put better products in the machines and get physical education back in the schools.” Accordingly, PepsiCo is stocking some school machines with fruit juices from its Tropicana and Dole brands, Gatorade, and Aquafina bottled water; others o≠er Frito- Lay products that meet Cooper’s “Class I” standard: no trans fats and restricted amounts of calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
Parents need to create and enforce some Class I standards of their own. “We have got to stop being afraid of our children, and tell them what to eat,” said Washington Post writer Judith Weinraub at the 2003 Oldways conference. Steven Gortmaker, too, has some simple counsel for parents. First, limit children’s television viewing; the American Academy of Pediatrics recom- mends no more than two hours daily. Second, no TV in the
r d t e d
d o t t g t o
a i a t w p d “ c m i
Walter Willett with a vegetable salad at Sebastian's Café, at the School of P
oom where the kids sleep. “Sixty percent of American chil- ren—including 25 percent of those between birth and age wo—have televisions in their bedrooms, and they average an xtra daily hour of viewing there,” says Gortmaker. “Parents on’t control that viewing.” Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, the television and advertising in-
ustries, so much a part of the obesity problem, may also be part f its solution. “The business of advertising junk food is seduc- ion,” says Gi≠ord. “In beer and corn chip ads, you see beautiful, hin people playing volleyball on the beach. Even people who are rossly unfit, sitting on the couch eating those chips and drinking hat beer, see this as a positive thing. They’re having a good time n the beach, and that gets associated with chips and beer.
“There was once a very successful U.S. government program imed at changing eating habits,” he continues. “It happened dur- ng World War II, and it was called ‘food rationing.’ They made it patriotic thing to change the way you ate. The government hired he best people on Madison Avenue to come to Washington and ork for the War Department. It worked splendidly. To convince
eople to eat wisely, a determined, clever program could make a i≠erence.” Ludwig compares the obesity crisis to global warming. Is it 100 percent proven that we are in for an environmental alamity? Do we want to wait until Washington, D.C., is sub- erged by rising ocean levels to take action?” he asks. “The risks of
naction are much greater than the risks of action.”
raig A. Lambert ’69, Ph.D. ’78, is deputy editor of this magazine.
ublic Health. He advised the cafeteria on healthy choices for its menu.