We’re watching the implosion of the Supreme Court in real time

Supreme Court
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court building on April 23, 2021. Seated from left are Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor; Standing from left are Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

  • The reputation of the Supreme Court is sinking.
  • After decisions like the Texas abortion case, the impartiality of the Court is in doubt.
  • The hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.
  • 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.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett admitted that the Supreme Court is crumbling as an institution.

Earlier this month, the newest justice gave a speech lamenting how the Court is viewed as partisan and warning that her fellow justices must be “hyper vigilant to make sure they’re not letting personal biases creep into their decisions.” She must know something we don’t.

These remarks may seem like a surprise. After all, Barrett was confirmed to the Court in a hyper-partisan process and gave the aforementioned speech at an event celebrating Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the architect of the judicial system’s rightward turn. Despite the hypocrisy, or perhaps because of it, the comments struck a chord.

In an age of Republicans challenging legitimate election results because they lose or might lose, the credibility of the Court is the next hammer to fall in our democracy, the last bastion of hope for nonpartisan decision making.

But now the Court is rightfully losing public support as the veneer of impartiality slips, and the hyper-partisanship both at and around the Court is to blame.

Partisan justice

Even as recently as a few years ago, the Supreme Court wasn’t as partisan as it is now. Support certainly started eroding when McConnell and Senate Republicans refused to seat President Obama’s final nominee, current Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But there have been recent decisions that were, for lack of a better term, bipartisan. Justice Gorsuch joined four liberal justices to support Native American land claims in Oklahoma. In a 7-2 opinion, the Supreme Court kept the Affordable Care Act intact.

As recently as a few months ago, Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts helped keep the eviction moratorium in place in a 5-4 ruling (though this was overturned a few months later in a separate case). Roberts, the Chief Justice who many believe is trying to keep the court as nonpartisan as possible, has often found himself siding with the liberal justices.

But, on issues important to many Americans, this facade of bipartisanship seems to be disappearing. First, the Supreme Court threw out the eviction moratorium they had so recently upheld, throwing millions of struggling Americans into uncertainty.

Then the death knell came a few weeks ago, when the Supreme Court blatantly signaled a willingness to overturn Roe vs. Wade by allowing a strict Texas anti-abortion law to go into effect. Though Roberts voted with the liberals in this decision, the other Republican-appointed justices essentially overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent.

Given the 6-3 Republican majority, it’s safe to assume we will see more decisions like this in the coming years. Though Roberts can play nonpartisan as much as he wants, the conservatives have a five-justice majority even without him and can rule on cases as they wish.

Votes, not words

The Republican strategy over many decades to focus on the court has paid off. They have turned to the court to legitimize gerrymandering and gut the Voting Rights Act, and justices like Barrett and Roberts have supported them.

Both of those justices are right to worry about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. They just need to realize they’re part of the problem of the legitimacy crisis.

Democrats have proposed many solutions to this problem, from expanding the court to adding term limits. But with those ideas stalled, once unthinkable national changes emanating from the Court are very much in play.

The Texas abortion decision is just the beginning. Roe could be overturned in full later this year. Even if Democrats passed many of the landmark bills they are currently debating, there is nothing stopping the conservative court from simply striking them down, declaring them “unconstitutional” under the pretenses of their choice.

Maybe Barrett will join Roberts in making a real effort to strike a more bipartisan tone. If she’s truly worried about the perception of the Court and how some of her colleagues consider matters, she has the opportunity to do something about it. But she needs to follow Roberts with her actions and join him in crossing party lines.

It’s her votes, not her words, that count. I’m not holding my breath.

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Making fun of anti-vaxxers who died of COVID-19 is a dark indication that we’ve all surrendered to the disease

anti-vaxx placard
An anti-vaxx placard.

  • Anti-vaccine figures are dying of COVID and their deaths are being made light of.
  • This is a distraction and represents an acceptance of COVID’s death toll.
  • We don’t have to be nice to anti-vaxxers, but we should counter them to control infections.
  • Abdullah Shihipar is a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It has become a familiar narrative during this pandemic: a vocal anti mask and vaccine advocate ends up dying in the hospital with COVID-19. Most recently, it was 30-year-old Calleb Wallace of Texas who died after a month-long bout with the disease. Wallace, who organized anti-mask protests and founded the San Angelo Freedom Defenders, died after being placed on a ventilator. He left behind a pregnant wife and two children.

Other times, it is anti-vaccine social media posts that catch the ire of the headlines. Stephen Harmon, a man from Los Angeles, repeatedly mocked the vaccine, tweeting “Got 99 problems but a vax ain’t one,” in June, only to die of the virus in July.

This trend, becoming ever more frequent as the delta variant spreads rapidly across the country, has inspired a series of jokes and memes on social media. I myself have partaken in a few “how it’s started, how it’s going” jokes. But ultimately, no matter how vile the target of the memes are and no matter how tempting it is to participate in the schadenfreude, it is an unhelpful distraction that represents a dark reality: we’re okay with how many people are dying from COVID-19.

Making light of the dark

Before I go any further, let me say that this is not an argument for empathy for those who are fiercely anti-vaccine or an attempt to try to understand their perspective. Nor is this an argument to persuade anti-vaccine advocates. Some of them have unfortunately gone down a destructive rabbit hole that even their loved ones find it difficult to help them out of quickly. Being nicer won’t necessarily change that, but neither does making fun of them after they have died.

Eighteen months ago, when the virus first hit the shores of the United States, we were all terrified. People made runs on grocery stores as hospitals filled up with the dead, people spent time at home to “stop the spread” and flatten the curve. Every death was seen as a tragedy, a death we could prevent with collective action. After a few months, right wing governors and talking heads began promoting the idea that protecting oneself from a pandemic was an individual responsibility. If people wanted to go mask-less,, attend gatherings, or skip the vaccine – that’s on them, they thought, ignoring the fact that the virus spreads from person to person. Of course, one person’s behavior during a pandemic affects the health of others.

A year later, with the vaccines plentiful, some on the left have adopted the right’s framing. It’s now accepted that COVID deaths, predominantly amongst the unvaccinated, are a matter of individual fate. You could have chosen to get that vaccine, but you didn’t, and that’s not my problem, they are implying.

This framing effectively prevents us from taking broader action to control the spread of the virus through mask mandates, restrictions, and testings. The abandonment of a collective framing around COVID-19 puts children who are not vaccinated and the immunocompromised at risk. It’s also easy to forget that despite it all, there are still unvaccinated people who need to be reached; there are still people who need help getting a shot, still people who are deathly terrified of side effects, and still those who can’t take time off to get a shot.

The lines between the anti-vaccine crowd and the unvaccinated in general have become blurred, and we have seen that in headlines that highlight unvaccinated people who have died from the virus. Average folks who were too busy and didn’t get around to it, were scared of side effects, or wanted to wait and see its effects.

If we want to battle anti-vaccine sentiment, rather than adopting the individualist framing that Republicans proposed to begin with, we should counter them while they are alive. We should show up to outnumber them and state that we are in favor of mask mandates at school board and city council meetings. We should pressure and boycott advertisers that advertise on programs that promote misinformation,. We should push for accountability measures for Facebook, which has long tolerated anti-vaccine misinformation on its platforms.

And of course, we should push for measures that will stop the spread of the virus, including but not limited to: mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine sick leave, reducing prison populations and arrests (including immigration-related arrests), stopping evictions and getting real worker protections from OSHA. Instead, tangible actions have been abandoned for ridicule.

I have spoken to people who have lost family members to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. These people are increasingly isolated and are shells of themselves, often being hostile and aggressive to their own kin. Families feel like they have been torn apart forever.

We must remember that there are family members who are feeling two waves of pain when they’re loved ones die: the physical loss, and the knowledge that their death could have been easily prevented.

It’s not easy to hear, but making fun of these deaths effectively means we have stopped resisting mass death and have accepted its reality. It’s tempting to think that there is some cosmic justice when an anti-vaxxer dies, but it’s just the reality of how a virus spreads. Yes, anti-vaxxers are dying, but so are scores of other people.I don’t write this just to lecture others, but rather to hold myself accountable. Using humor like this is an easy distraction and a façade from the shame we should feel that this is where our country is at during such a late stage in the pandemic.

There will be more anti-vaccine people who die of this illness in the months to come, and I’m going to try to resist the urge to make light of it. The real joke is on us all.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US has blown over $21 trillion on the War on Terror instead of ideas like forgiving student debt or improved healthcare. Now t’s time to invest in making American lives better.

National Guard
The National Guard in Washington, DC in January 2021.

  • Since the 9/11 attacks, the US has spent $21 trillion on wars and militarism.
  • For less than half that, we could decarbonize the electric grid, deeply reduce child poverty, and more.
  • With US troops out of Afghanistan, it’s time to reinvest in these 20 years of missed opportunities.
  • Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s the lead author of the new report State of Insecurity: The Cost of Militarization Since 9/11.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the US marked the end of the war in Afghanistan, President Biden zeroed in on a critical question: “What have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?”

The president noted that we have spent $300 million a day in Afghanistan for 20 years. It’s a shocking figure, but it’s only part of the cost of the wide-ranging militarization the US has undertaken around the world and in our own country since 9/11.

Twenty years after 9/11, our thoroughly militarized foreign and domestic policies have come at a cost of $21 trillion over the last two decades, according to new research my coauthors and I published at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Those costs have included the wars, ballooning Pentagon budgets, and our massive global military presence. They also include punitive immigration and border enforcement and the reorientation of the FBI, DEA, and other law enforcement agencies around counterterrorism with newly expanded powers.

This spending has done massive damage in its own right.

US militarized spending since 9/11 has caused 900,000 deaths from the global war on terror and led to 5 million deportations from this country. It has put $1.8 billion worth of military equipment on city streets, singled out Black and Latinx people to be put behind bars for primarily nonviolent crimes, and fueled FBI programs that targeted people based on nothing more than their race, ethnicity or religion. And that’s just for starters.

It’s also, as the president suggested, money that simply hasn’t been spent on other things.

We’re still in the middle of a pandemic that has cost more than 600,000 lives in the US alone. Millions of Americans face homelessness now that most eviction moratoriums have ended. We have an ongoing opioid epidemic that costs almost 50,000 lives a year. Thousands of people in every part of the country have lost their homes or lives to fires and floods that were previously unthinkable, but have become common because of climate change.

Each of these crises is an emergency, but we still hear from too many in Congress that real solutions are just too expensive. But what if we spent even a portion of the $21 trillion we’ve sunk into militarism on those things instead?

Crisis solutions cost less than war

It turns out that many of the ambitious plans we hear are “too expensive” would cost just a fraction of the $21 trillion we’ve spent on militarism. It would cost less than a quarter of that – $4.5 trillion – to build an entirely renewable energy grid, decarbonizing electricity generation across the entire country.

It would cost just $1.7 trillion to forgive student debt.

For $2.3 trillion, we could create 5 million jobs paying $15 an hour with benefits – for 10 years.

For $449 billion – just 2% of our militarized spending – we could keep putting money in the pockets of families with children by expanding the Child Tax Credit another 10 years, helping people stay in their homes, giving kids a fair start in life, and tremendously reducing child poverty.

And it would cost just $25 billion – just one-tenth of 1% of $21 trillion – to vaccinate low-income countries against COVID, saving lives and stopping the spread of new coronavirus variants.

Even if we did all of those things, it still adds up to less than half what we’ve spent on militarism in the last 20 years.

Divest from militarization

We’re not saying we need to erase all of these expenses. We clearly need to take care of veterans who were put in harm’s way because of our policies, for example. But we can minimize these and other costs in the future by ending our reliance on militarization and war – which, as the ignominious end of our occupation of Afghanistan suggests, has proven a massive failure.

The fact that we’ve spent $21 trillion on militarism in 20 years proves one thing: When the country prioritizes something, we have both the money and the political will to make it happen.

But so far, Congress isn’t shifting priorities. On September 1, the House Armed Services Committee voted to add $25 billion – coincidentally, the same amount it would cost to vaccinate the rest of the planet against COVID-19 – to the already huge Pentagon budget for weapons military leaders didn’t even ask for. They’re out of step with Americans, the majority of whom said in a poll last year that they would rather cut the Pentagon budget by 10% to pay for other priorities.

At the end of the Cold War, the US cut back on Pentagon spending as part of a “peace dividend.” The US has finally withdrawn the last troops from Afghanistan. The end of this war can give us a peace dividend to reinvest at home, if Congress and President Biden are bold enough to claim it. After 20 years of missed opportunities for our infrastructure, our jobs, and our planet, we can’t afford not to.

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Private companies are exploiting international travelers with outrageous COVID-19 testing costs

Visitors at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, enter the state after the new pre-travel testing program launched.
Visitors at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, enter the state after the new pre-travel testing program launched.

  • Testing for my family of four to travel from the UK to Spain cost £550, or $762.
  • There is no reason that testing needs to cost this much, especially when there are free at-home tests available.
  • Private companies are jacking up prices, making overseas travel out of reach for many.
  • Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance writer, journalist and editor based in the UK.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

PCR testing has emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry, and the UK is the world’s second most expensive place for COVID travel tests, behind only the US. With extortionate prices for PCR tests, overseas holidays were pushed off-limits for many UK families this year, making trips abroad a luxury of the better off.

Determined to visit our ramshackle old farmhouse in the Andalusian mountains in Spain where myself, my husband, and our two boys lived for the better part of a decade, we had no choice but to pay the exorbitant expense of COVID travel testing.

The compulsory testing equated to an additional £550 ($762) on top of the cost of the holiday, and the sum would have been significantly higher if myself and my husband had not been fully vaccinated. The Spanish government requires all arrivals to Spain from Britain to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 prior to arrival, or proof of full vaccination – our unvaccinated teenage sons had to have a PCR test before leaving the UK at the cost of £70 ($97) each.

The majority of the COVID testing budget was spent on re-entering Britain, where a compulsory day two test administered by Randox – hailed as the UK’s largest COVID-19 PCR testing provider – cost us £240 ($332).

This was on top of the 160 euros we had to pay just a couple of days earlier to acquire a negative COVID antigen test certificate in order to leave Spain. This nasal swab test, like the rapid ‘self tests’ that are provided for free for domestic use in Britain, doesn’t have to be sent off to a laboratory and provides results within 30 minutes. The tests were administered by a doctor in a private clinic in our local Spanish town.

At one level, some may argue that charging for COVID testing to travel is not unreasonable. If people choose to travel abroad during these precarious times, they should be charged accordingly, and should bear in mind the additional cost of PCR tests before booking their holidays – a “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” attitude.

However, rather than merely being a matter of choice that comes with additional financial burden, excessive COVID travel costs symbolize escalating inequality in the wake of the pandemic. As many private firms enjoy a COVID windfall, making huge profits on testing, the less wealthy are forced to forgo holidays abroad as travel becomes something only the rich can afford.

The ‘cheaper’ tests are unavailable

Others who took the plunge and travelled overseas this summer cite similar grievances about the cost of testing. Paula Kowalska recently returned from travelling to an “amber” country – a nation sandwiched between the “safe” green countries that require no quarantine regardless of vaccination status and the “high-risk” red countries on the UK government’s travel traffic light system. Kowalska said she was shocked to find the tests she had bought less than a month ago for £35 were no longer available, replaced by ones that cost £60-£70.

“The government website advises the availability of £20 tests. However, these are so limited they are never available or are available by appointment only in certain locations, with 4 or 5 slots a day only,” she told me.

And yet, COVID testing for travel purposes in certain countries is significantly cheaper and, in some instances, free – indicating that there are bigger issues at play.

A friend of mine, who has dual Czech and British citizenship, recently travelled back to Britain from the Czech Republic. The COVID test she was required to take before leaving the Czech Republic and re-entering Britain was offered for free since she was a Czech citizen.

Some nations are even using COVID tests for travel as a political tool. France offered free COVID tests for tourists. However, as of July 7, 2021, the French government decided to make tourists pay for tests, stating it was about “reciprocity,” since French tourists are required to pay for tests abroad. When they want to, nations can and are providing free COVID testing for travellers, so what gives in the UK?

Blatant profiteering

To shed light on the contentious cost of COVID tests for travel, I spoke to Hussain Abdeh, director at Medicine Direct, a UK-based online pharmacy.

Abdeh explained how any medical product that is sold in the UK needs to meet certain regulatory standards.

“Simply put, all PCR tests that are available in the UK meet the same standards of accuracy regardless of the prices they are sold for,” Abdeh said.

He explained the possible origins of pricing differences, saying it could be due to different manufacturing costs or wholesale costs. But this is problematic given that, as Abdeh pointed out to me, usually we would see bigger brands like Boots and Lloyds offering the cheapest prices, due to their buying power and discounts. This, however, is not the case with PCR tests, as Boots seem to be one of the most expensive on the UK market, currently at £79.

“However, with that said, the UK is allowing travel from some countries that offer a free PCR testing service such as Germany and Italy. This tells me that the free PCR testing services being offered by those countries also meet the standards for PCR tests that have been implemented in the UK,” Abdeh told me.

The inconsistency in costs suggests an incentive of profiteering is at play.

The UK’s “test to travel” scheme has prompted concerns about Tory cronyism – whereby Conservative Party officials grant contracts to donors and connections so they can profit from the crisis.

Some of the private firms that are milking the PCR travel test market, like the Northern Ireland-based firm Randox, have links to members of the UK Conservative party. In April, Randox proudly asserted it was “supporting UK holidaymakers by reducing the cost of PCR tests to support travel to £60 per test” – again proving that the costs of tests don’t need to be as high as they are.

In November 2020, without any competition, the UK government awarded Randox, whose testing kits were recalled in the summer of 2020 because of concerns about contamination, a £347 million COVID testing contract.

Despite being awarded nearly half a billion pounds in taxpayer money, Randox continues to privately charge citizens from £86 for a travel test-at-home kit consisting of a pre-departure PCR test, a day two PCR test, and a travel certificate.

New rules confirm prices don’t need to be so high

When I reached out to the Department of Health and Social Care for commentary on the cost of COVID travel tests, they stated:

“Our top priority has always been protecting the public and the robust border and testing regime we have in place is helping minimise the risk of new variants coming into the UK.

We are reviewing all private providers to ensure they meet our robust standards and over 80 private travel testing companies have been issued a two-strike warning for inaccurate pricing and face removal from the gov.uk list if they do so again.”

On September 17, a major update on international travel rules in England was announced. New lighter testing requirements are being introduced as the government seeks to give the struggling travel sector a boost ahead of state support coming to an end this month. The overhaul means that as of October 4, people who have had two jabs will no longer need to take a COVID test before entering England. Later in October, the day two PCR tests will be able to be replaced with cheaper lateral flow tests.

For me, the scrapping of expensive test requirements and complicated travel arrangements, following months of outrage from the tourism sector and travelers, is yet more proof of the profiteering out of travel tests that has been going on for months.

It’s not like the changes are being made due to the virus shrinking. On the contrary, studies show that for some weeks now there has been a worrying waning of immunity as confirmed cases rise.

Choosing the scrap pricey tests after the summer holiday rush, as doctors warn that the country is heading to a “knife-edge” winter for the NHS, shows that the testing was fundamentally used as a means of profit from the start.

And, for families who had to forgo a holiday this year due to unfeasible additional costs, the costs are a stark exemplar at the new societal inequalities created by policy response to the pandemic.

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It’s never been more clear: companies should give up on back to office and let us all work remotely, permanently

Work from home
  • With the rise of the Delta Variant, companies should switch to all remote.
  • All-remote is better for workplace collaboration, the environment, and companies’ bottom lines.
  • Companies that switch to all-remote should be intentional about collaboration and technology.
  • Jeff Chow is SVP Product at InVision.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s time to go back to the office for good – the home office.

With the CDC’s recommendation that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of COVID-19, employees across industries are wondering what the new future of work looks like. As the possibility of another shelter-in-place order looms, companies are deciding whether moving to a hybrid situation – simultaneously in-person and remote – is worth it.

It’s not. Simply put, the concept of “forever remote” makes sense for numerous companies and industries. For many, America’s “back to work” isn’t a simple light switch, but many organizations are better off to shut the lights off at the traditional office. The switch to all remote will broaden a company’s talent pool and increase employee happiness and retention, while limiting a lease and lowering its carbon footprint.

There are benefits to becoming a fully-remote organization. A top example is that the talent pool now goes national, or even international. Organizations are no longer limited to recruiting employees from a given radius to their offices. Asynchronous work helps to open the door for employees to work across time zones to get projects and deliverables completed in time.

InVision, where I work, has been all-remote since its inception. We have the luxury of hiring people living across the US and in 25 countries.

Additionally, without the need for a large physical office presence, companies can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, on leasing office space or building an expansive campus.

There is also evidence that eliminating an office for all employees to work remotely is better for the environment. Eliminating a daily commute, whether it’s driving a vehicle or taking mass transit, helps cut down on emissions. This was initially noticed back in the spring and summer of 2020, when a decline in transportation due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 6.4% decrease in global carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of 2.3 billion tons. The United States had the largest drop in carbon emissions at 12%, followed by the entirety of the European Union at 11%.

In a June 2021 McKinsey survey of over 1,600 employed people, researchers found about one in three workers back in an office said returning to in-person work negatively impacted their mental health. Those surveyed also reported “COVID-19 safety and flexible work arrangements could help alleviate stress” of returning to the office. Not everyone who works for the same company is going to get along. In an all-remote environment, it is far easier for people who are at odds to simply avoid each other. HR won’t have to spend nearly as much time mediating between (or terminating) office Hatfields and McCoys.

So, how exactly do you quickly pivot to remote again and stick with it? The key is intentionality. Teach managers to make a point of celebrating wins and good work on group calls. Build encouraging collaboration into managers’ Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s. Take advantage of face-to-face opportunities by holding in-person, all-company all-hands meetings as a time to build culture, not a time to just do more work.

Treat working groups to dinner (use some of the money you saved on your lease!) and let them get to know each other as people. To be intentional, invest in new ways of working that are oftentimes better ways of working: reducing necessary meetings and adjusting more feedback sessions to asynchronous collaboration. Meetings that remain on calendars should be reserved for the purpose of being highly engaging and energizing moments for teams to brainstorm and do generative sessions.

Second is technology. By now, we’re all familiar with the likes of Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, but there are other products that can actively improve collaboration (full disclosure: I work for InVision, which makes one such digital collaboration tool, namely Freehand).

Take a thorough look with your IT team (and talk to your employees) to see what they need on a day-to-day basis. What tools does your accounting team need? Do they differ from what the marketing team needs (spoiler alert: they do). And don’t force everyone to use the same tools. If your accounting team loves Microsoft Excel, that’s fine for them. I can guarantee, however, that your product design team is not going to use it.

Finally, invest in your employees’ ability to make the transition (again).

GreenGen, which provides green energy solutions for businesses and infrastructure projects, had one of the most pioneering ideas. “We had our employees do a two-day work-from-home resiliency test. This was to ensure that everyone’s home Wi-Fi was adequate so that all of our documents and materials were easily accessible online, and that we could troubleshoot any potential problems preemptively,” said Bradford H. Dockser, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of GreenGen. “Ensuring that our team members got monitors, mice, and keyboards at home made the transition seamless.” With that sort of intentional stress test, GreenGen didn’t skip a beat.

Above all, the main key to returning to the home office for good lies within communication. Technology and innovative products have helped to bring colleagues closer together virtually, as people work from anywhere at any time. Initial shelter-in-place orders taught many businesses across industries that remote work can be just as effective, if not more so, than the traditional office model. Businesses should make the call to go all-remote permanently. Their employees, their investors, and the environment will all thank you.

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A Stanford professor explains how the government can encourage people to be less self-centered by regaining public trust

washington protest
Protesters rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on June 2020.

  • Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast with Nick Hanauer and David Goldstein.
  • They recently spoke with Stanford professor Margaret Levi about the ‘economic man’ and government distrust.
  • People are largely cooperative, Levi says, and want a government that will step up and deliver on its promises.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For most of the 20th century, the field of economics hinged on the idea that humans are rational and self-interested actors, and their economic decisions are similarly rational and self-interested. If you buy into this concept of homo economicus, or economic man, the economy becomes easy to predict and simple to understand.

People who believe in the idea of homo economicus tend to argue that government intrusion is unnecessary, and even harmful to the well-being of the economy. But as Nick Hanauer pointed out in a popular TED Talk, homo economicus is a ridiculous theory that bears no relationship to real life. Human beings don’t behave in purely rational and self-interested ways, and the market doesn’t self-regulate efficiently. The good news is that we’re largely cooperative and moral creatures. The bad news is that we don’t always act in our own rational best interests and bad actors can manipulate those impulses in very harmful ways.

In the latest episode of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast, Hanauer interviews Stanford political science professor Margaret Levi about her groundbreaking work in behavioral sciences. In books like “In the Interest of Others,” which she coauthored with John Ahlquist, Levi has deeply explored the bonds of trust that inspire people to think beyond mere material self-interest and instead work as part of an organization with larger and wider-reaching goals than any individual could attain.

What inspires people to do ‘the right thing’

Lately, Levi has been thinking and speaking on the subject of how and why citizens develop confidence in government.

“I started by thinking about compliance,” Levi said. Mere compliance is enough for a government to run: People pay their taxes and follow laws and so there’s enough stability for people to go to work and start families. But “a more effective state,” Levi said, “is one in which people prefer to comply because they think it’s the right thing to do. They think that they’re getting what they should from the government, and they’re willing to give some of their cooperation, even in extractive terms, in return.”

Levi’s work has shown that in large part, “people are very social. They’re not individualistic. They’re looking for connections, they’re looking for approval,” she said. “So reciprocity is an incredibly important piece of the story” that homo economicus doesn’t reflect at all. With a handful of sociopathic exceptions, people are happier when our peer groups are happy, and we’re eager to contribute to the health, prosperity, and happiness of our communities even if our actions don’t benefit us directly.

Scan the headlines on your favorite news site, though, and you’ll see that reciprocity isn’t necessarily the order of the day: A relatively small but decidedly vocal minority is refusing vaccines and masking guidelines, and political polarization (to say nothing of the radicalization of some right-wing groups) is at a generational high.

How governments can gain trust

What does Levi think our leaders can do to stem the tide of distrust in government and regain the people’s trust? The most important thing, she says, “really is stepping up to the plate and showing that the government can and will act to help people – and that it can and will deliver.”

Levi believes that President Biden is “more or less” succeeding at regaining people’s trust through programs like the Child Tax Credit on a federal level, but she thinks local leaders have to step up as well. “My prescription at the local level would, would be to focus on local policies and local programs to re-institute trust at the local level,” and the best way to do that is to “elect city council-people and state legislators who actually make people believe that democracy can work and that mobilization will matter.”

For what it’s worth, Levi said, “I’m hopeful.” She believes that harmful policies like the anti-voting laws and abortion ban that Texas passed “may get people onto the streets, and even more importantly, into the voting booths” to reclaim society for the people. In a reciprocal society, self-interest can get you pretty far – but downright anti-social behavior tends to be punished.

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SpaceX is launching its first all-civilian space mission tomorrow – here’s what the flight means for the future of space tourism

Inspiration4 Crew
The four members of the Inspiration4 crew will orbit around Earth for three days.

On Sept. 15, 2021, the next batch of space tourists are set to lift off aboard a SpaceX rocket. Organized and funded by entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, the Inspiration4 mission touts itself as “the first all-civilian mission to orbit” and represents a new type of space tourism.

The four crew members will not be the first space tourists this year. In the past few months, the world witnessed billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos launching themselves and a lucky few others into space on brief suborbital trips. While there are similarities between those launches and Inspiration4 – the mission is being paid for by one billionaire and is using a rocket built by another, Elon Musk – the differences are noteworthy. From my perspective as a space policy expert, the mission’s emphasis on public involvement and the fact that Inspiration4 will send regular people into orbit for three days make it a milestone in space tourism.

Why this mission is like no other mission in history

The biggest difference between Inspiration4 and the flights performed earlier this year is the destination.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic took, and in the future, will take – their passengers on suborbital launches. Their vehicles only go high enough to reach the beginning of space before returning to the ground a few minutes later. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and crew Dragon vehicle, however, are powerful enough to take the Inspiration4 crew all the way into orbit, where they will circle the Earth for three days.

The four-person crew is also quite different from the other launches. Led by Isaacman, the mission features a somewhat diverse group of people. One crew member, Sian Proctor, won a contest among people who use Isaacman’s online payment company. Another unique aspect of the mission is that one of its goals is to raise awareness of and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As such, Isaacman selected Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St. Jude and childhood cancer survivor, to participate in the launch. The final member, Christopher Sembroski, won his seat when his friend was chosen in a charity raffle for St. Jude and offered his seat to Sembroski.

Because none of the four participants has any prior formal astronaut training, the flight has been called the first “all civilian” space mission. While the rocket and crew capsule are both fully automated – no one on board will need to control any part of the launch or landing – the four members still needed to go through much more training than the people on the suborbital flights. In less than six months, the crew has undergone hours of simulator training, lessons in flying a jet aircraft and spent time in a centrifuge to prepare them for the G-forces of launch.

Social outreach has also been an important aspect of the mission. While Bezos’ and Branson’s flights brought on criticism of billionaire playboys in space, Inspiration4 has tried – with mixed results – to make space tourism more relatable. The crew recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine and is the subject of an ongoing Netflix documentary.

There have also been other fundraising events for St. Jude, including a four-mile virtual run and the planned auction of beer hops that will be flown on the mission.

What this means for the future of space tourism

Sending a crew of amateur astronauts into orbit is a significant step in the development of space tourism. However, despite the more inclusive feel of the mission, there are still serious barriers to overcome before average people can go to space.

For one, the cost remains quite high. Though three of the four are not rich, Isaacman is a billionaire and paid an estimated $200 million to fund the trip. The need to train for a mission like this also means that prospective passengers must be able to devote significant amounts of time to prepare – time that many ordinary people don’t have.

Finally, space remains a dangerous place, and there will never be a way to fully remove the danger of launching people – whether untrained civilians or seasoned professional astronauts – into space.

Despite these limitations, orbital space tourism is coming. For SpaceX, Inspiration4 is an important proof of concept that they hope will further demonstrate the safety and reliability of their autonomous rocket and capsule systems. Indeed, SpaceX has several tourist missions planned in the next few months, even though the company isn’t focused on space tourism. Some will even includes stops at the International Space Station.

Even as space remains out of reach for most on Earth, Inspiration4 is an example of how billionaire space barons’ efforts to include more people on their journeys can give an otherwise exclusive activity a wider public appeal.

Wendy Whitman Cobb, professor of strategy and security studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

The Conversation
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I’m done with pricey American bed-in-a-box brands. Here’s why.

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Side sleeper mattresses stacked on a floor in a bedroom

I’ve tested close to a dozen mattresses during my tenure here at Insider; I’ve donated every damned one. Nothing seems to qualify as firm enough for me. Currently, I’m on yet another “firm” mattress I loathe. Quel freaking surprise.

Testing mattresses might sound delightful, even luxuriant, but haul a dozen mattresses up and down two flights of stairs, packaging and all, and then talk to me. Better yet, just ask our premier mattress tester, James Brains. He’ll quell any romantic imagery your mind might have conjured of casually prancing from one bed of clouds to the next throughout the workday.

I’m on a quest to find my be-all, end-all sack. My slumber-till-they-haul-me-out-in-a-body-bag mattress.

At one point, I tested Plank, by Brooklyn Bedding, a two-sided “firm” and “ultra-firm” mattress. I was impressed but passed it along to test yet another mattress I didn’t like. While Brooklyn Bedding’s Plank was probably my favorite yet, I still feel like I can find something more suitable, especially after bopping around Europe between couches and floors for the better part of a month and deciding that I was sleeping better than I had at home.

And so, lo and behold, I’m reignited. I’m on a mission to find a truly firm mattress again. After sleeping on a slew of cheap mattresses, mattress pads, and camper van beds, I think I may have finally seen the light. How could it be that sleeping on this array of relatively cheap beds in the sweltering southern European summer with no air conditioning was better than my very own state-of-the-art, top-dollar bed at home?

Coming home from an extensive time on the road with what you might otherwise expect to be weeks of poor sleep, the root of my problems became illuminated when I collapsed into my hulking 14-inch-thick mattress from a brand not to be named – I’m not here to trash them – and back into a familiar state of despair. I realized I’d probably get a better night’s sleep on the cold, hard, ground, than in my four-figure mattress. The truth was finally clear: no bed-in-a-box brand was going to offer the type of support I’m after.

After a conversation with my partner (she has every bit as much say in the matter as I do, after all), we settled on starting with cheap futon mattresses. The first one we’re ordering is this tri-folding one from Milliard. But if that doesn’t do it, we’re looking to Brains’ expertise, and might consider investing in something from Airweave, like its futon mattress, maybe on a platform. His top pick for those looking for a firm mattress is the Airweave Mattress is a little pricier, but it’s a little out of our budget, for now. I’ll report back soon.

Tri Folding Mattress (Queen) (small)Plank Mattress (small)Mattress (Queen) (small)Futon (Queen) (small)

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I’m a freelancer living feast or famine to survive on US healthcare – and I’m scared of what comes next

woman on laptop
  • Years ago, people predicted the US would become a free-agent nation full of contract gigs.
  • But as a freelance writer trying to make it on US healthcare, I struggle to see the sustainability.
  • Unless something changes, our ability to achieve the American dream is significantly limited.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I never thought much about health insurance until I was T-boned at 50 mph.

The wreck totaled my car. It deployed all of the airbags, burst all of the windows on the left side, and displaced the entire engine from the nose of my Honda CR-V. If the driver of the other car had hit me just a few inches lower, I likely wouldn’t have been so lucky.

There had been mild pain in my back for about two months, but the crash increased it threefold. It was after this that I took my first real visit to a chiropractor and physical therapy clinic, but I only paid for two visits before I dropped out.

The reason? I’m a freelance writer.

US healthcare affects the freelance economy in a major way. A study in 2018 showed that more than 40% of all freelancers saw healthcare as their biggest concern for the upcoming midterm elections. In that same study, more than 41% of respondents claimed that healthcare benefits were the reason they chose to pair “side hustles” with their full-time jobs rather than go fully freelance.

There are roughly 56.7 million American freelancers today, many of whom are responsible for their personal healthcare costs and insurances. Without employer premiums, which offer discounted rates and bonuses, we’re entirely and totally on our own.

Even with Medicare and government marketplace programs, less than one in four freelancers reported buying insurance in 2019 – and 35% of freelancers choose to neglect healthcare due to high costs and steep premiums, which averages a whopping $484 a month for a single person. For families and married couples, that number rises to $1,230.

There are credit systems that help freelancers pay for insurance, as well as a few marketplace programs that try to make a difference. But writers operate on a feast-or-famine lifestyle, which is unable to accommodate exorbitant healthcare costs. Even published authors are unable to qualify for benefitted plans outside of the insurance marketplace.

Suppose my writing takes off one year, and I’m able to live comfortably. This means my insurance credits dry up, and I am liable for the entire sum tacked onto my taxes. Insurance credits, like taxes, flex with your income bracket. Their purpose is to help pay down insurance premiums.

For example, you might only pay for half the premium if your income falls below a certain threshold. But insurance credits aren’t the perfect solution you might be dreaming of. If you happen to make more or less than your declared income (which will never be exact for freelancers), you might be in for a nasty surprise. And if you happen to only have one good month in a 12-month year, your resources for healthcare are still shot.

Bear in mind that freelancer taxes are already impressively steep; the cost includes your income tax plus 15.3% charged for being your own boss. This means less money can be saved for healthcare purposes – plus deductibles, plus vital care that isn’t covered by the policy.

If I make less money another year, insurance credits kick in. I might pay less per month, but I’m still liable for enormous deductibles and higher premiums just to access the care I need. And if I happen to make great money only in the last month of the year? My credits are gone again, and I have the devil to pay come spring.

You might think that neglecting health insurance is an option. I did, for a time. But the pain between my shoulder blades reminds me that passing on quality healthcare is no longer doable.

According to statistics, healthcare averaged $11,000 per person in 2018. By 2028, costs are projected to rise to $18,000. Where I live, the cost of an ambulance is $500, plus $12 per mile until you reach the hospital. Insurance protects us in the event of cataclysm, but it won’t protect us from the costs that matter.

Writers aren’t employees. We don’t have set hours, we don’t report to anyone, and we certainly don’t have PTO. I can’t decide to leave work early on a Friday for a dentist appointment, or take vacation time for surgeries. If I can’t make the time, and if I can’t access doctors that require certain types of insurance, I go without.

I’m a freelance writer who chose to invest in healthcare for the long-term. Because of my field, and because I live alone, I simply can’t afford to be sick. I don’t have access to a spouse’s insurance.

Whether it’s due to scheduled deadlines or just paying the bills, downtime is a cost I can’t afford. But shelling out hundreds of dollars per month and having to pay thousands more in the event of an accident doesn’t seem like much of an alternative.

And if COVID-19 puts me in the hospital, my career is borderline finished.

Since the start of 2020, I’ve submitted more proposals and pitch requests than I can count. I spend two or more hours a day just trying to find gigs. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize things are drying up. During a pandemic, it’s harder than ever to take the leap of faith into freelancing. As of 2020, 28% of freelancers stopped working due to contract cuts, failing job opportunities, and limited growth.

As less and less money gets saved, I get more and more worried about the future of my health in a world that operates with an employer-employee relationship.

A few decades ago, people were predicting that the US would become a free-agent nation, composed of freelancers and contract gigs. But self employment is not a growing trend. We are a small portion of the workforce that gets overlooked and underrepresented. There aren’t a lot of us saying anything about our healthcare woes, and as COVID-10 variants continue to circle, insurance worries will continue to grow.

Unless something changes with the way writers like me source and access insurance, our ability to achieve the American dream is significantly limited.

I don’t need much to be happy. Dollar signs and restful nights are a bonus, but not the end-all, be-all. In the end, the American dream is the pursuit of fulfillment, or what we were meant to do. All I need is my writing, my wits, and my health.

And if healthcare isn’t there for the latter, where will freelancers be in a post-COVID-19 world?

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These 2 states want manufacturers to recycle their own packaging waste – here’s why it’s a great idea

Unsorted trash in a bin
Manufacturers in most states are not responsible for their own packaging waste management.

  • Two states have introduced laws that require manufacturers to foot packaging waste removal bills.
  • The companies will have to recycle and dispose of their own cardboard cartons, plastic wrap, and food containers.
  • UC Berkeley professors Jessica Heiges and Kate O’Neill say this could have a big impact on sustainability.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Most consumers don’t pay much attention to the packaging that their purchases come in, unless it’s hard to open or the item is really over-wrapped. But packaging accounts for about 28% of US municipal solid waste. Only some 53% of it ends up in recycling bins and even less is actually recycled: According to trade associations, at least 25% of materials collected for recycling in the US are rejected and incinerated or sent to landfills instead.

Local governments across the US handle waste management, funding it through taxes and user fees. Until 2018 the US exported huge quantities of recyclable materials, primarily to China. Then China banned most foreign scrap imports. Other recipient countries like Vietnam followed suit, triggering waste disposal crises in wealthy nations.

Some US states have laws that make manufacturers responsible for particularly hard-to-manage products, such as electronic waste, car batteries, mattresses, and tires, when those goods reach the end of their useful lives.

Now, Maine and Oregon have enacted the first state laws making companies that create consumer packaging, such as cardboard cartons, plastic wrap, and food containers, responsible for the recycling and disposal of those products, too. Maine’s law takes effect in mid-2024 and Oregon’s follows in mid-2025.

These measures shift waste management costs from customers and local municipalities to producers. As researchers who study waste and ways to reduce it, we are excited to see states moving to engage stakeholders, shift responsibility, spur innovation, and challenge existing extractive practices.

Holding producers accountable

The Maine and Oregon laws are the latest applications of a concept called extended producer responsibility, or EPR. Swedish academic Thomas Lindhqvist framed this idea in 1990 as a strategy to decrease products’ environmental impacts by making manufacturers responsible for the goods’ entire life cycles – especially for takeback, recycling,› and final disposal.

Producers don’t always literally take back their goods under EPR schemes. Instead, they often make payments to an intermediary organization or agency, which uses the money to help cover the products’ recycling and disposal costs. Making producers cover these costs is intended to give them an incentive to redesign their products to be less wasteful.

The idea of extended producer responsibility has driven regulations governing management of electronic waste, such as old computers, televisions and cellphones, in the European Union, China, and 25 US states. Similar measures have been adopted or proposed in nations including Kenya, Nigeria, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa.

Scrap export bans in China and other countries have given new energy to EPR campaigns. Activist organizations and even some corporations are now calling for producers to become accountable for more types of waste, including consumer packaging

What the state laws require

The Maine and Oregon laws define consumer packaging as material likely found in the average resident’s waste bin, such as containers for food and home or personal care products. They exclude packaging intended for long-term storage (over five years), beverage containers, paint cans, and packaging for drugs and medical devices.

Maine’s law incorporates some core EPR principles, such as setting a target recycling goal and giving producers an incentive to use more sustainable packaging. Oregon’s law includes more groundbreaking components. It promotes the idea of a right to repair, which gives consumers access to information that they need to fix products they purchase. And it creates a “Truth in Labeling” task force to assess whether producers are making misleading claims about how recyclable their products are.

The Oregon law also requires a study to assess how bio-based plastics can affect compost waste stream sand it establishes a statewide collection list to harmonize what types of materials can be recycled across the state. Studies show that contamination from poor sorting is one of the main reasons why recyclables often are rejected.

Some extended producer responsibility systems, such as those for paint and mattresses, are funded by consumers, who pay an added fee at the point of sale that is itemized on their receipt. The fee supports the products’ eventual recycling or disposal.

In contrast, the Maine and Oregon laws require producers to pay fees to the states, based on how much packaging material they sell in those states. Both laws also include rules designed to limit producers’ influence over how the states use these funds.

Will these laws reduce waste?

There’s no clear consensus yet on the effectiveness of EPR. In some cases it has produced results: For instance, Connecticut’s mattress recycling rate rose from 8.7% to 63.5% after the state instituted a takeback law funded by fees paid at the point of sale. On a national scale, the Product Stewardship Institute estimates that since 2007 US paint EPR programs have reused and recycled almost 24 million gallons of paint, created 200 jobs and saved governments and taxpayers over $240 million.

Critics argue that these programs need strong regulation and monitoring to ensure that corporations take their responsibilities seriously – and especially to prevent them from passing costs on to consumers, which requires enforceable accountability measures. Observers also argue that producers can have too much influence within stewardship organizations, which they warn may undermine enforcement or the credibility of the law.

Few studies have been done so far to assess the long-term effects of extended producer responsibility programs and those that exist do not show conclusively whether these initiatives actually lead to more sustainable products. Maine and Oregon are small progressive states and are not major centers for the packaging industry, so the impact of their new laws remains to be seen.

However, these measures are promising models. As Martin Bourque, executive director of Berkeley’s Ecology Center and an internationally known expert on plastics and recycling, told us, “Maine’s approach of charging brands and manufacturers to pay cities for recycling services is an improvement over programs that give all of the operational and material control to producers, where the fox is directly in charge of the hen house.”

We believe the Maine and Oregon laws could inspire jurisdictions like California that are considering similar measures or drowning under waste plastic to adopt EPR themselves. Waste reduction efforts across the US took hits from foreign scrap bans and then from the COVID-19 pandemic, which spurred greater use of disposable products and packaging. We see producer-pay schemes like the Maine and Oregon laws as a promising response that could help catalyze broader progress toward a less wasteful economy.

Jessica Heiges, PhD candidate in environmental science, policy and management, University of California, Berkeley and Kate O’Neill, professor of global environmental politics, University of California, Berkeley

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