2020 saw more gun deaths in the US than any year in over two decades, showing even a pandemic couldn’t stop the violence

gun violence
New York Police Department installs tape around crime scene on August 16, 2020, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn where fatal shooting occurred.

  • There were a record number of gun violence deaths in 2020: 19,379.
  • This represents a huge leap from recent years, and the highest number in over two decades.
  • By one definition, there were also 611 mass shootings in 2020.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Last year saw the highest number of gun violence deaths in the US in more than 20 years, even as the pandemic coincided with a relative absence of high-profile mass shootings on the scale of recent incidents in Atlanta and Boulder.

There were 19,379 gun violence deaths in the US in 2020, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. This statistic excludes suicides involving guns, which consistently account for a majority (roughly two-thirds) of annual US gun deaths. In 2020, Gun Violence Archive found there were 24,090 gun suicides.

Since Gun Violence Archive started tracking firearm violence in 2013, annual gun violence deaths generally fluctuated between 12,000 and 15,000. The next highest year after 2020 was 2017, when there were 15,718 gun violence deaths.

The recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado, which both occured less than a week apart, led many on social media to suggest that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and gradual return to normalcy would translate into a spike in mass shootings in 2021.

Former President Barack Obama, for example, in a statement responding to the Atlanta and Boulder shootings said, “A once-in-a-century pandemic cannot be the only thing that slows mass shootings in this country.”

But mass shootings actually increased in 2020 as compared to 2019, according to Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as four or more people being shot or killed in a single incident (excluding the shooter). There were 611 mass shootings in 2020, up from 417 in 2019.

That said, there is not a universally agreed upon definition of mass shootings. Gun Violence Archive’s standard is fairly broad compared to those used by other databases that define mass shootings as an incident in which four or more are fatally shot, not including the shooter.

But many experts say that defining mass shootings based on how many are shot rather than the number killed offers a fuller picture of the scale of gun violence in the US. It also helps highlight incidents that generally don’t make headlines and disproportionately impact Black Americans and people of color. Public mass shootings also account for just a fraction of total gun deaths in the US, and focusing on them can lead to myopic perspectives on gun violence.

“The difference between a fatality and a survivor might be simply a matter of marksmanship,” Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, recently told ABC News. “There’s no such thing as an insignificant life. We pay extra attention when a bunch of lives are lost all at once in a single event. We’re less aware of all the people who die or are shot or survive one at a time.”

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Obama says his ideal group text of world leaders would include the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and Angela Merkel

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Pope Francis pictured on November 22, 2020.

  • Obama said his ideal group text of world leaders would include some of his closest presidential allies.
  • Obama told the Skimm it would have the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and Angela Merkel.
  • He also said he may include Queen Elizabeth II due to her dry sense of humor.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former President Barack Obama says his ideal hypothetical group chat of world leaders would include Pope Francis, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“The Dalai Lama, I love that guy, Pope Francis, a genuinely good man,” Obama said in an interview with the Skimm. Obama also said that he would maybe include Queen Elizabeth II “because she has a drier sense of humor than people think.”

Obama met with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, multiple times during and after his presidency, including welcoming him to the White House in 2015 and meeting with him in 2016 over the Chinese government’s objections. The Dalai Lama lives in exile in India.

The former president hosted Pope Francis at the White House in 2015, a visit to Washington where the Pope also made a rare address to a joint session of the United States Congress.

“I was just commenting that I noticed that all of you are much better-behaved than usual,” Obama joked to the White House press corps in the Oval Office while sitting aside the Pope.

Obama had a close diplomatic relationship with Merkel, who shared his cerebral approach to issues and largely level-headed disposition, in contrast to the far rockier and more tense relationship Merkel brokered with former President Donald Trump.

During Obama’s presidency, the US and Germany worked together on important global issues – including responding to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, tackling ISIS and the refugee crisis, and recovering from the global financial meltdown.

“You have been a trusted partner throughout my entire presidency – longer than any world leader – and I value your judgment,” Obama told Merkel in April 2016 towards the end of his presidency. “I thank you for your commitment to our alliance and to the values and human rights for which we stand. And I’m grateful for our personal friendship.”

Obama also carried on the US’ “special relationship” with the Royal Family.

In 2009, Obama gifted the Queen an iPod with historical video footage of her previous visits to the US going back to the 1950s, as well as his 2009 inaugural address and 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

And in her 2018 memoir “Becoming,” former First Lady Michelle Obama described accidentally violating royal protocol by putting her arm around the queen as a show of affection and support. She said, however, that Her Majesty didn’t seem offended and reciprocated the gesture back.

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Every living former president has urged Americans to get vaccinated in a new ad series – apart from Trump who is demanding credit for the vaccine

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama seen in an Ad Council public service announcement released March 11, 2021.

  • Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Carter appeared in a vaccine PSA released early Thursday.
  • Trump didn’t take part in the campaign, though it’s not clear if he was asked.
  • He also issued a statement saying “I hope everyone remembers” the vaccine wouldn’t exist without him.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Every living former US president has appeared in an ad campaign telling Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, apart from Donald Trump, who has instead released a statement demanding credit for the vaccine.

On Thursday, the nonprofit Ad Council released a public service advertisement starring Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter.

“This vaccine means hope,” Obama said in the video. “It will protect you and those you love from this dangerous and deadly disease.”

Trump was noticeably absent, though it’s not clear if he was asked to join the campaign.

Hours before the campaign went live, however, Trump’s personal office in Florida released a statement in which he claimed responsibility for the vaccines’ existence.

“I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) vaccine, that if I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers!” he said, using a derogatory term for the novel coronavirus, which was first found in China.

When asked by Insider whether it had asked Trump to join the PSA, an Ad Council said the project with the former presidents started last December. The spokesperson did not say whether the Ad Council had approached Trump, who at the time was an outgoing president.

The spokesperson added that some of the ads were shot at President Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration, which Trump did not attend, having flown to his resort in Palm Beach that morning.

Trump said last year he would get the vaccine, but did not say when, and did not say whether he would follow the likes of Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence and get his shot live on TV.

However, it was reported earlier this month that Trump and first lady Melania Trump quietly got the vaccine in the White House in January.

Trump vaccine Operation Warp Speed
President Donald Trump speaks during an “Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit” on the White House complex, December 8, 2020.

Trump has long claimed responsibility for securing a vaccine for the US, despite his Operation Warp Speed vaccine-development scheme deemed a failure that was beset with issues and widely criticized.

Members of the Biden administration has said that they inherited no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan from Trump White House, with a source telling CNN they had to “build everything from scratch.”

Days before Biden’s inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Operation Warp Speed would continue in the Biden administration, but that there was an “urgent need to address the failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution.”

Biden later called the vaccine rollout under Trump “a dismal failure.”

Trump missed his administration’s target of administering 20 million doses by the end of 2020 and Biden is aiming to administer 100 million doses of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office, or by April 30.

Biden’s plan appears to be on track and the vaccine rollout is well underway, prompting states like Texas and Mississippi to abandon mandatory mask wearing.

However, Biden said the move was premature and an example of “Neanderthal thinking.”

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Not a single Republican in either chamber of Congress voted for Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package

GettyImages mitch mcconnell
  • No Congressional Republican voted in favor of the Biden rescue plan.
  • The vote reflects the widening gulf between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
  • It may signal early difficulties for Biden if he moves to attract GOP support for legislative proposals in 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Not a single Republican lawmaker in either chamber voted in favor of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic aid package, reflecting their fierce opposition to an early Democratic legislative priority.

The House voted 220-211 to approve the relief package in mostly party-line vote. The legislation encountered a brick wall of GOP opposition as every House Republican opposed it. Only one Democrat voted against it.

The bill’s path through the House and Senate starkly illustrates the widening gulf between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Nearly a decade ago, President Barack Obama pushed through an $800 billion stimulus package aimed at preventing the freefall of the American economy after the financial crisis.

That measure drew some GOP support. Every House Republican voted against the bill in February 2009. However, it garnered the support of three Republican senators in the upper chamber as Democrats at the time pressed to keep the bill’s price tag in check.

Still, right-leaning experts argue now that Republicans were cut out of the negotiating process by Biden along with Congressional Democrats. Biden rejected a $618 billion stimulus counteroffer put forward by a group of 10 Senate Republicans in February.

“They were completely ignored,” Brian Riedl, a budget expert at the libertarian-leaning Manhattan Institute, said in an interview. “Democrats put out a $1.9 trillion bill barely moved an inch and there was no attempt at compromise.”

He added: “Republicans are more concerned about drawing a line in the sand, and spending money more smartly in the recession.”

Others say that Republicans are less willing to negotiate a middle ground with Democrats.

“It’s the latest indication of how polarized the Republican Party has become, despite the fact it’s overwhelmingly popular with the American people,” Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic aide, told Insider. “They were prepared to vote no.”

Democrats pushed through the legislation using a maneuver known as budget reconciliation. It allows bills to be approved in the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes instead of crossing a 60-vote threshold.

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Michelle Obama tells People Magazine she’s ‘moving toward retirement’

barack obama michelle obama
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama arrive to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

  • Former First Lady Michelle Obama says she’s looking toward retiring from public life.
  • Obama told People Magazine she’s “[selectively] picking projects and chasing summer.”
  • Since leaving office, the Obamas have been busy with entertainment projects and book deals.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama says she is mulling retiring from public life four years after leaving the White House and becoming a private citizen.

Obama told People Magazine in an interview published Wednesday that she’s “[selectively] picking projects and chasing summer.”

“Barack and I never want to experience winter again,” Obama, a native of Chicago, Illinois, told the magazine. “We’re building the foundation for somebody else to continue the work so we can retire and be with each other – and Barack can golf too much, and I can tease him about golfing too much because he’s got nothing else to do.”

After leaving the White House, the Obamas relocated to the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC, purchased another home on Martha’s Vineyard, and kept busy with numerous advocacy, literary, and entertainment ventures.

They’ve both written memoirs (the first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs, “A Promised Land,” was released in late 2020), and completed film and podcast projects through their production company, Higher Ground, with more projects in the pipeline. “The Michelle Obama Podcast” debuted in 2020 and the former president recently did a Spotify podcast project with Bruce Springsteen titled “Renegades: Born in the USA.”

The former first lady also has a new Netflix children’s show, “Waffles and Mochi,” that will debut soon and a special edition of her wildly successful 2018 memoir “Becoming” is being released for young readers.

In the near future, the Obamas will also celebrate the opening of the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago, which is currently under construction.

They most recently made an appearance at the January 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden, who previously served as Obama’s vice president.

Obama told People that during the pandemic, she struggled with “low-grade depression” compounded by the civil unrest over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans over the summer. Jury selection in the trial of one of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, is currently underway.

She said she coped with 2020 by getting into knitting and swimming while being home with her two daughters Malia and Sasha, students at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, respectively, who spent months doing remote learning.

“Knitting is a forever proposition You don’t master knitting, because once you make a scarf, there’s the blanket. And once you do the blanket, you’ve got to do the hat, the socks … I could go on about knitting!” Obama told People.

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Obama says he punched a friend in the face and broke his nose for calling him a racial slur when they were kids

Barack Obama
Former President Barack Obama waves while wearing a “Vote” mask as he campaigns on behalf of Joe Biden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 21, 2020.

  • Obama revealed in his new podcast that he once punched a school friend who called him a racial slur.
  • Obama shared the story with Bruce Springsteen on an episode of “Renegades: Born in the USA.”
  • He also explained how people use racial epithets to assert power over others. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Former President Barack Obama revealed in his new podcast with musician Bruce Springsteen that he once punched a school friend who called him a racial slur when they were kids. 

Obama told the story during an episode of “Renegades: Born in the USA” focusing on race and explained how people use racial epithets to make themselves feel more important and assert power over others. 

“When I was in school, I had a friend. We played basketball together,” Obama said. “And one time we got into a fight and he called me a c—.” 

Obama went on to say: “And I remember I popped him in the face and broke his nose. And we were in the locker room.”

“Well done,” Springsteen replied.

Obama said he told the kid, “Don’t you ever call me something like that.” 

The former president said there’s a similar psychology behind using a racial slurs and dehumanizing people in other ways. 

“What it comes down to is an assertion of status over the other. The claim is made that, ‘No matter what I am – I may be poor. I may be ignorant. I may be mean. I may be ugly. I may not like myself. I may be unhappy. But you know what I’m not? I’m not you,'” Obama said. “That basic psychology that then gets institutionalized is used to justify dehumanizing somebody, taking advantage of ’em, cheatin’ ’em, stealin’ from ’em, killin’ ’em, raping ’em.”

The name of the podcast is a nod to Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA” and perhaps also a play on one of the most pervasive racist attacks on Obama: Donald Trump and other critics’ false claim that the first Black president might not have been born in the US. 

https://open.spotify.com/episode/3ba69iXo04u9XoRsHsX9N0?go=1&utm_source=embed_v3&t=211442&nd=1
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Spotify just announced a slew of new podcasts and a higher-quality streaming subscription for audiophiles.

Spotify offices, employee
A Spotify employee.

  • Spotify announced a slew of updates during its virtual “Stream On” event Monday.
  • The platform will soon launch new podcasts from Warner Bros, Ava DuVernay, Barack Obama, and more.
  • The company also announced subscription service for higher quality audio and new tools for creators.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Spotify announced new podcast partnerships and a subscription service for high-quality streaming on Monday during a virtual event called “Stream On.”

The production was filled with updates about new creator tools, podcast partnerships, and advertising options. It also highlighted several Spotify accomplishments, most notably the upcoming expansion into over 80 new markets and 36 new languages.

Take a look at some of the big highlights from Spotify’s “Stream On,” which helped bump its shares up 6% in trading Monday:

Audio updates

spotify app headphones
Spotify.

Monday’s updates mostly focused on Spotify’s podcasting segment and creators. But if you’re a Spotify traditionalist that only streams music on the app, you’re still in luck.

Spotify is expanding its customized playlists by adding new Daily Mixes. And later this year, the platform will begin offering “Spotify HiFi,” a subscription service that will offer listeners “CD-quality” audio. According to Spotify, this higher quality audio option has been a hotly requested add-on.

A suite of new podcasts

DC Spotify Cover Art.™ & © DC
Spotify’s DC cover art.

Spotify has been spearheading the podcasting world head on through notable acquisitions. This includes Megaphone, a podcast advertising company, and networks like Gimlet and The Ringer in recent months. The streaming platform has also penned podcast deals with notable figures like Joe Rogan and Michelle Obama.

Now, Spotify is looking to accelerate its podcast growth even more through a list of newly announced partnerships that span a variety of genres, from narrated superhero tales to stories that amplify Muslim voices.

Last year, Spotify announced a multi-year partnership with Warner Bros and DC to bring beloved comic book characters like Superman, Harley Quinn, and Cat Woman into the podcasting universe. The partnership’s first project, “Batman Unburied,” will be released later this year, Spotify said

Spotify is also now working with AGBO, an entertainment production company founded by Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers behind hits like “Avengers: End Game” and “Captain America: Civil War.” Now, they’ll be bringing their ideas from the big screen to Spotify’s podcasts through several years and series.

Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay.

Spotify’s new podcasting partnerships also accommodate non-fiction fans.

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama may be busy with their Higher Ground Productions partnership with Netflix, but that’s not stopping the couple and their production company from launching the second season of the podcast “Tell Them, I Am.”

The podcast, hosted by Misha Euceph, a Pakistani-American, amplifies Muslim voices across all fields, from activists to athletes. The new season will debut the first day of Ramadan.

Higher Ground and Spotify will also be releasing an eight-part series with Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. The podcast will focus on their discussions about overarching life topics like personal relationships and the country.

Spotify’s Gimlet has also partnered with filmmaker Ava DuVernay to create a suite of both scripted and unscripted podcasts through DuVernay’s multiplatform group focusing on social causes, Array.

The first series – based on Array’s Law Enforcement Accountability Project – will take a look at cases of police brutality against Black people in the United States, DuVernay said at the event. The podcast will discuss a new case every week by taking a deep dive into the “lack of repercussions and accountability” among police officers.

In other podcasting news, Spotify has also announced the renewal of its “Motherhacker” series. Furthermore, the platform will be globally expanding its podcasts from The Ringer, and will be bringing its Sound Up initiative supporting small podcast creators to 14 countries, up from six.

Updates for creators

Audience Network spotify
A graphic showcasing Spotify’s audience network.

Spotify also announced several new initiatives aimed at creators of both podcasts and music. 

Spotify and Anchor, a podcast management system, have partnered with WordPress to turn written posts into Spotify podcasts. The streaming platform will also allow some of its podcast creators to integrate features like videos, polls, and question-and-answer forums.

In non-podcasting updates, more music creators will be able to access smaller programs like Canvas and Marquee. Spotify has also been testing the option to allow artists to post videos onto the app.

The platform also announced several advertising-related initiatives, including the Spotify Audience Network. When the network is complete, it will serve as a “marketplace” for advertisers to access more listeners tuning in to different types of content, including Spotify Originals and Exclusives, podcasts using Megaphone and Anchor, and “ad-supported” music.

Spotify will also be rolling out its Streaming Ad Insertion, which provides Megaphone and Anchor podcast creators with data and metrics for podcast advertising. In line with this big push in podcast advertising, the platform’s Spotify Ad Studio is now testing ad buying for podcasts as well.

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There have been zero reported US drone strikes since Joe Biden took office

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A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a US drone on December 13, 2013 in the capital Sanaa.

  • Since Joe Biden took office, there have no reports of US drone strikes or civilian casualties.
  • This comes after Trump carried out more strikes in Somalia and Yemen than all other presidents combined.
  • “If there is a pause in airstrikes overall, we hope it’s due to a reassessment of the United States’ strategy,” said Amnesty International’s Daphne Eviator.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

It’s a dark trend for new, post-9/11 US heads of state: Usually, within the first weekend, the new president, having inherited a global war on terror, orders the military or an intelligence agency to end someone’s life with an airstrike. To adversaries, it demonstrates resolve; to allies as well as critics, it demonstrates that there will be continuity, no matter which party controls the White House.

President Joe Biden, it appears, has been different. Under his watch, there has been just one declared US airstrike: a February 9 attack in Iraq that, the military claims, “resulted in the deaths of two Daesh terrorists.”

And in stark contrast to his immediate predecessors, there have been no immediate reports of civilian casualties – this, following months of escalated US attacks, from Central Asia to Africa, during his predecessor’s last couple months in office.

Clandestine operations, by their nature, cannot be ruled out. What we know for sure, though, is that “there have been zero local or official reports of US drone or other strikes in Somalia, Libya, Yemen, or Pakistan so far under Biden,” Chris Woods, director of the monitoring group Airwars.org, told Insider.

Biden’s forerunners, Republican and Democrat alike, both carried out US military operations that were both well-publicized and fraught, the demonstration of American power resulting in the death of innocents.

Former President Barack Obama ordered his first drone strike within 72 hours of taking office; that attack, aimed at the Taliban and carried out by the CIA, missed its mark, killing three Pakistani civilians and gravely wounding a child. The tactic would come to define Obama’s legacy, boots on the ground replaced by unmanned aerial vehicles, American lives protected at a cost borne by others.

Former President Donald Trump oversaw his first drone strike on January 20, 2017, the day he was inaugurated. A spree of attacks took place in Yemen, culminating a week later in a botched raid that killed an 8-year-old girl and other civilians. Over the next four years, Trump would go on to bomb the country more often than any of his predecessors combined – not counting ramped up US support, just rescinded, for the Saudi-led war against the nation’s Houthi militants.

Biden is no peacenik. In the US Senate, he backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And there is no reason to believe a lull amid a pandemic and other domestic crises will evolve into a policy of unilateral disarmament.

Nicholas Grossman, a professor of international relations at the University of Illinois and author of a book on drone warfare, wonders if the apparent pause in most US military operations is the aftermath of his predecessor’s outgoing escalations.

“Under Trump, the US ramped up drone strikes in Somalia, though that escalation was already happening in Obama’s final year,” Grossman told Insider. According to data from the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, there were 43 airstrikes in Somalia targeting the extremist group al-Shabaab, during Obama’s two terms in his office, including 16 in his last year. During Trump’s single four-year term, where a focus on rhetoric led many falsely to label him a principled isolationist, there were 208 such airstrikes, including 14 in his final six months.

There have been previous gaps in US strikes, Grossman noted; a lot or a little can happen in three weeks. It’s also possible, he said, that this is something more: “the Biden administration is pausing while reviewing the strategy.” Relatedly, “it’s possible the US military and intelligence agencies launched a few strikes at the end of Trump’s term in anticipation of that pause.”

Alternatively, “it’s also possible that those January strikes did real damage to al-Shabaab as intended, and for that reason there either isn’t a need or a good opportunity at the moment,” Grossman said.

Critics of the US-led war on terror hope the apparent moratorium signals something greater.

“If there is a pause in airstrikes overall, we hope it’s due to a reassessment of the United States’ strategy,” Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International, told Insider, “and a recognition that past strikes have not succeeded in ending attacks by armed groups, but have instead killed and injured thousands of civilians.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Michelle Obama’s stylist and 12 Black professionals on the former First Lady’s fashion legacy and the art of power dressing

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama

  • Throughout the years, Michelle Obama has become a style icon. 
  • Her stylist, Meredith Koop, has helped Obama become the noted fashion icon she is today. 
  • Koop and Black professionals weighed in on the lasting impact of Obama’s style and what it says about power dressing. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Daniella Carter said if she’s learned one thing from Michelle Obama’s style, it’s what an unapologetic Black successful woman looks like “even when there are people in the world spewing hate.” 

Carter is a Black trans activist and founder of the eponymous “Guest Book” which highlights creators of color. 

She grew up in foster care but said seeing Obama “suited-and-booted” made her always remember that though she may not have had a mother who looked like her, she would learn to carry herself so that she and her future daughter could both grow up to be unapologetic Black, successful women. 

She’s not the only one who feels this way. 

Meredith Koop
Meredith Koop

After Obama’s 2021 inauguration look that left the internet in a daze, Insider reached out to her stylist, Meredith Koop, as well as ten Black professionals to talk about how Obama’s style has influenced them.  Koop helped craft the image of how a Black woman looks co-hosting a state dinner, visiting the Queen of England, going on a book tour, and, most recently, at President Biden’s inauguration.

 “She’s incredible at what she says, what she does, how much she cares. We all know this, and most of us agree,” Koop told Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. The clothing is that extra element that is transcendent in nonverbal communication.” 

What a powerful Black woman looks like

“When I saw Mrs. Obama show up to the inauguration for President Biden, I was in awe – her hair was laid and her dress slayed – even in a mask,” DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of the Black media streaming service KweliTV, told Insider. 

Spencer said Obama has come to exemplify what a “powerful Black woman looks like.”

Sandrine Charles, a consultant, and cofounder of the Black in Fashion Council, told Insider the inauguration look was also one of her all-time favorites. “She always has had a presence of royalty,” Charles said of Mrs. Obama. 

Eric Darnell Pritchard, fashion historian and Brown Chair in English literacy at the University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is inextricably linked with her accomplishments, and “many Black people appreciate that self-authorship.”

“The ‘Forever First Lady‘ designation people bestow upon her is more than a term of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is a testament to how valuable her representation has been to the Black community.” 

Michelle Obama
Pritchard said authenticity is probably for which Mrs. Obama will be remembered.

Koop styled Obama with tactical precision 

There was no blueprint for how a Black First Lady should look. There had never been one before. 

Styling the former First Lady was – and still is – a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking good, but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overpower her voice, Koop said. 

Even with Obama long out of the White House, Koop still anticipates what people will say – how a dress was too loose-fitting, or how a color scheme didn’t match. Koop figures she probably wouldn’t have to incorporate such styling precision if Obama was white. 

“It’s just obvious,” Koop said. “The way that the press in particular, and the media and different individuals construed her appearance into something negative – that was happening right from the beginning.” 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing a Tracy Reese dress

Fashion designer Tracy Reese, who has worked with Koop and dressed Obama on numerous occasions, told Insider she noticed there was always a very clear vision for how Obama would look.

“In the public consciousness the First Lady is always either in a suit or something very conservative,” Reese said. “Mrs. Obama really broke the mold in terms of how she chose to dress.” 

She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear beautiful dresses, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism, and color. “We hadn’t seen that in the White House, probably ever,” she said.  

Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The model Shavone Charles, known as SHAVONE. and also director of communications and creative partnerships at image-sharing app VSCO, called Koop and Obama the last decade’s “most dynamic duo.” 

“For me and many other Black women, we look at Mrs. Obama and we see ourselves,” she said and pointed to the white Tom Ford gown Mrs. Obama wore to the state banquet at Buckingham palace in 2011 as one of her favorites.

Michelle Obama
L-R) Queen Elizabeth II, US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace on May 24, 2011 in London, England. (

That inauguration look exuded power 

Nearly everyone Insider spoke with had a favorite outfit. Koop loves the rose-colored Atelier Versace gown Obama wore to her last state dinner as First Lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan of the black Vera Wang mermaid gown she wore to the 2015 China state dinner. 

Then, of course, there’s that inauguration look, designed by Sergio Hudson, a Black designer from New York. Haitian American photographer Geraldine Jeannot called the look a moment of style and grace. 

Black people are always “placed in a box” and judged heavily on their appearances, Jeannot said. “That day, Mrs. Obama was power walking into the room.” 

michelle obama inauguration
Former US President Barack Obama and Former US First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Koop broke down for Insider the wineberry plum outfit, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway collections. Hudson did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.  

Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look.  She requested some changes to the original ensemble: pants instead of a skirt and a less-shiny coat lining. A matte lining deflected camera flashes and made the belt stand out. The sweater turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back, so Obama didn’t have to pull it over her head, the boots were Stuart Weitzman, the matching gloves and mask were by tailor Christy Rilling

Producer and former stock trader Lauren Simmons knows what it’s like to occupy historically white spaces. 

She was the second African American woman to become a full-time trader at the New York Stock Exchange and said the way Obama uses style to exude power inspires her and is something she seeks to emulate.

“There have been many women throughout history who have had impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a Black woman do it fearlessly, and graciously is power in itself.” 

High-profile women using clothing to start conversations

Simmons and SHAVONE. said that Obama’s style helped usher in the era of powerful women wearing clothes to be both seen and heard. Simmons agreed with this sentiment and pointed to Meghan Markle as an example of a high-profile woman using clothing to start conversations

Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians has also adopted this. Women, now more than ever, are bracing authenticity. 

Even during the White House years, Koop would work closely with designers to craft what a modern First Lady looks like. Some would already come with ideas in mind, but many of those ideas had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

“She was a white woman from a certain background, and Michelle is a Black woman from a different background,” Koop said. “I felt like the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of Michelle in her own right.” 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing head-to-toe Balenciaga.

That meant Jason Wu gowns, lots of J. Crew, and, after the White House, custom Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics, there was a heavy blueprint in how women, especially, were supposed to look. 

“Mrs. Obama certainly inspires how I dress,” Illinois Congresswoman Lauren Underwood told Insider. At the age of 34, she is currently the youngest Black woman serving in Congress. 

“Her influence is most pronounced as I prepare for the rare formal events that I’ve attended as a member of Congress. It’s so difficult to be modest and still stylish and Mrs. Obama always nailed it.” 

Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons, said Koop styled Obama in a way that celebrated the “female aesthetic” and felt she never sought to hide her height or athleticism, and instead, selected clothes that accentuated those attributes. 

“What Meredith and Michelle have done together is show the world what millions of Black women and men have known for years,” Lacy continued. “That the Black silhouette is not confined to the borders of Eurocentric misconceptions”

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama. Spencer, who has been wearing her hair naturally for over a decade, said it makes her feel product when Mrs. Obama wears her naturally curly hair in such public spaces.

Carter and Pritchard expressed similar sentiments. Carter added that before, the only Black bodies deemed to be powerful were those of entertainers, and that “it felt revolutionary to see someone not playing a character, sending a message to our communities and culture that Black chic, sexy, smart, and beautiful women are not just Hollywood roles.”

Underwood says Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest in a generation of powerful women freely expressing themselves using any colors, patterns, textures, designers, and hairstyles they want.

“No matter whether the clothing came off the clearance rack or if it’s a one-of-a-kind custom design,” she continued. “She shows us how to bring our full selves to the world stage, one incredibly accessible ensemble at a time.” 

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Democratic presidents keep having to save the US economy after Republican presidents run it into the ground

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President Joe Biden greets former President Barack Obama for the inauguration of Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Since the 1990s, GOP presidents keep running the US economy into recessions.
  • And then Democratic presidents come in and save the economy.
  • Democrats should remind voters of this every chance they get.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  •  
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Repeat after me: The last three Republican presidencies ended in economic turmoil. And their Democratic successors had to clean up the mess. Voters need to be reminded – again and again – that putting Republicans in the White House puts our country in recession.

Republican recessions

It seems quaint compared to 2008 or our current crisis, but President George H. W. Bush ended his one term in office in recession. After what was then the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in US history, in July 1990 the country entered a recession that saw unemployment rise to a peak of 7.8% in June 1992.

His challenger Bill Clinton made the economic pain that families were feeling the mantra of his campaign and handily beat Bush, who came across as out of touch with working Americans.

One of Clinton’s first legislative achievements was an economic recovery bill that, among other things, put a greater tax burden on the wealthy and increased tax credits and wage subsidies for the working poor. As a result, during his eight years in office, Clinton oversaw economic growth that averaged 3.5% annual GDP growth but topped 4% throughout his second term. Unemployment fell from 7.4% to 3.9%, and the labor market added an average of 2.9 million jobs per year.

Cut to President George W. Bush and his policies that cut taxes for the rich, grew our national debt and trade deficit to record levels, left the US dollar severely weakened, decreased regulation of Wall Street, and ultimately helped bring about the Great Recession. 

The Great Recession was man-made, caused by reckless lending by financial institutions – not the result of the natural cycles of our economy. The devastation was – and continues to be – enormous, with America more unequal, less productive, and poorer because of the severity of the crisis.

President Barack Obama came to office needing to help bail out entire industries that our country runs on. The depth of the decline was the worst in 80 years, and the recovery Obama initiated was slow – but effective. 

After taking over in early 2017, former-President Donald Trump maintained the Obama recovery in some ways – but in other ways economic disparity grew deeper. Then, he treated the pandemic more like a political issue than a health issue, and the economy went into freefall on every metric. Millions of jobs were lost – some for good. Unemployment still sits at 6.7% despite some improvement in recent months, with communities of color hit hardest.

Now, as part of the promise of President Joe Biden, we will get through the pandemic and renew our economic strength in turn: another Democrat fixing a Republican mess.

Carter boomerang

Older voters will recall that President Jimmy Carter became the favorite Republican punching bag after his four years in office ended in economic calamity. So many negatives for the economy became associated with Carter – malaise, stagflation, the misery index – that Republicans held onto the White House for 12 years straight, the longest continuous streak in nearly 70 years. The fear of going back to the Carter years kept voters on edge and Republicans in power. 

But it’s been almost 50 years since Carter took office, and despite their superior record Democrats have failed to capitalize sufficiently on the economic strength they repeatedly ushered in and make it synonymous with their brand.

Much like the GOP did with Carter, Democrats need to make the Bushes and particularly Trump their punching bag for the next generation. The Democrats need to make it clear that they are the stewards of steady, strong economic growth and are always cleaning up after the GOP.

In most election years, voters think first about the economy and their own pocketbooks. That is the primary driver of most elections at most levels. Every Democrat needs to make the contrast in economic success their mantra – for the sake of the party and the country.

Repeat after me: The last three Republican presidencies ended in economic turmoil.

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