Big bush energy: From feminist statement to body hair trend

As a writer, I sometimes worry about my Google search history. If anyone of my acquaintance is found dead in unusual circumstances, the evidence on my computer will be compelling. Anyone wishing to blackmail me would find plenty to suggest that my squeaky clean image hides a yawning pit of moral turpitude. Of course, it’s all for research. There’s nothing this writer won’t look up (except that). So, when my editor asked me to look into “big bush energy”, the “feminist” response to “big dick energy”, I typed in the search term fearlessly.

I need not have worried. Most of the results were about the energy policies of former US president George W Bush. Those that weren’t about George W were unlikely to break the internet. Though the first link tantalised with the suggestion, “The vagina is basically taking over the beauty world”, the first image I saw was of a slim white female in a pair of slim white pants from which sprouted a few sprigs of fern. That’s not a euphemism. It was actual fern.

Big dick energy is about channelling the charisma that seems to be the birthright of a man with a big penis. Meanwhile, big bush energy is… the latest trend in women’s personal grooming. Big bush energy advocates are stepping away from the waxing parlour in order to… um. Well, its heroines are such Hollywood greats as Julia Roberts, who dared to walk the red carpet with hairy pits at the premiere of Notting Hill. What a woman! What a statement! What was the statement again? Er… 

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Who else has dared not to go bare? Apparently Miley Cyrus dyed her armpit hair pink… Anyone else? Anyone? Ellen? Oprah? Amal? Nope. Not that I could find. I did Google “stars with hairy armpits” and found a shot of Madonna in a list of “nine celebrities who don’t shave their armpits and who never apologise”, but when a list can’t make 10, then you know you’re in trouble. I found a bigger list of stars who’ve admitted to having ingrowing toenails.

Julia Roberts showed her pits in 1999 and she herself has said that she didn’t flash the fur deliberately. It was simply that she had no idea how low the armpit holes on her borrowed dress were. She didn’t set out to initiate a trend – and she really didn’t. The vast majority of the women of Hollywood and the music industry are still peddling the myth that they’re hairless from the eyebrows down.

While big dick energy is unashamed in its focus on the phallus, big bush energy swerves the V-word wherever possible. It even swerves the P-word (OK, pubes) for the most part. Most online articles extolling its virtues aren’t even illustrated with a photograph of the type of bush in question. Far from being empowering, big bush energy is yet another cover story for a new way for women to find fault in their bodies and pay handsomely to try to correct that fault. Yep. Scratch a trend and discover another way to market feminine hygiene products.

Don’t think that just because you no longer need to buy razors and Veet that the beauty industry isn’t still after your money. Now that in theory you’re allowed to have hair down there, is it soft enough? Not sure? Don’t worry. You can spend £46 on a bottle of Fur Oil from Fur, a company dedicated to minge management. Their Fur Oil is a signature blend of nine natural oils, designed to nourish your pubic hair. 

In the pink: products aimed at women are big money spinners (Getty/iStockphoto)

Fur also sells its Stubble Cream for use after shaving or waxing and Ingrown Concentrate for tackling ingrown hairs. Laura Schubert, who co-founded Fur together with her sister Emily and Lillian Tung, told Dazed Digital: “Even now, seeing all these brands out there that are beginning to embrace body hair and body positivity as a message is proof to us that we have successfully created a movement and spurned a trend, which will hopefully end the taboo around pubic hair and body hair.” Right.

It’s not just hygiene products. If you’re too young to even have any hair down there, you can still embrace the trend with some nice pink stationery. Living Love are selling notebooks on Amazon with the title proclaiming I Got That Big Bush Energy (caps: publisher’s own). The blurb asks: “Have you got the strut and swagger of Big Bush Energy? Of course you have! Girl, you got it going on! No one’s going to tell YOU how to wear your hair – here, there and everywhere! A confident, badass babe, you won’t wax or pluck and you don’t give a f*ck what people have to say about that. Big Bush Energy is a vibe, an attitude… and now it’s a fun notebook, too!” The 150 page books, which retail at £6.50, are decorated with a picture of a smiley face or a peacock feather, so you won’t get into trouble at school.

Living Love also make a notebook with the title Oh My God – I Got A Text! specifically for writing down your thoughts and feelings about the latest series of Love Island

Love Island itself, where nary a hair is out of place, suggests we’re still a long way off the day when spas and salons stop offering Brazilian waxing services. Here’s a whole generation of young people raised on pube-free porn who would doubtless react like John Ruskin on his wedding night if they saw a naked woman in her full natural fluffed up resplendence.

I’m possibly maligning poor old Ruskin, who is rumoured to have been revolted by his wife Effie Gray’s pubic hair since, raised on classical art, he didn’t know such stuff existed. When he said at the proceedings to annul their marriage, “though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it,” he might have been referring to an outie belly button or a sixth toe on each foot. Thanks to Ruskin’s delicacy in not naming those “certain circumstances”, we’ll never know.

So should we embrace big bush energy now? Alas, I don’t have the energy to get excited about it. It’s not a movement. It’s a marketing tool. Shave or don’t shave. Perm, plait and primp your pubes if that’s what floats your boat but let’s not pretend it’s a feminist statement. 

‘That’s not a euphemism. It’s actual fern…’ (iStockphoto)

In its interview with Laura Schubert of Fur, Dazed Digital gushes that Fur’s products are used by “feminist shero Emma Watson”. That’s Emma Watson the actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. An unnecessary pubic hair softener costing £46 seems a strange choice of endorsement for Watson, who has argued that feminism “is not a stick with which to beat other women”. In its current incarnation, big bush energy isn’t freeing women from the tyranny of unnecessary grooming, it’s adding a whole new layer of fuss and expense. If that isn’t the definition of adding another stick to the armoury the average woman faces every day, I don’t know what is.

As Caitlin Moran would doubtless ask: “Are the men worrying about this as well?” Of course they aren’t. That said, if you do have a problem with ingrown hairs because you’re still waxing, you can find much cheaper solutions in the men’s grooming aisle.

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‘Her ambition got it wrong about Joe’: Harris faces debate backlash

 Former Vice President Joe Biden

Some Joe Biden loyalists said they thought it was misleading of Sen. Kamala Harris to attack him on civil rights. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — Kamala Harris might be reveling in her sudden burst of attention after roasting Joe Biden over racial issues on the debate stage last week, but a backlash is already brewing.

Biden supporters and Democrats who have attended the former vice president’s events in the days after the first nationally televised debate, are describing Harris’ assault on Biden as an all-too-calculated overreach after she knocked him on his heels in a grilling over busing and his remarks on segregationist senators.

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“She played low ball, which was out of character. And he didn’t expect it, nor did I,” said Lee White, a Biden supporter who attended his remarks at the Jesse Jackson Rainbow PUSH Coalition. “She should not have gone that route. She’s much too intelligent, she’s been able to be successful thus far, why do you have to do that.”

One major Biden supporter from California who declined to be named for publication said Harris’ direct attack on Biden was a mistake that would haunt her.

“It’s going to bite her in the ass,” the supporter noted. “Very early on there was buzz … Biden-Kamala is the dream ticket, the best of both worlds.’’

After this week, “That shit ain’t happening.”

The criticism of Harris over her rough treatment of Biden is among the first signs of backlash — including in her home state — against the California Democrat who had a breakout moment in the first presidential debate. It’s also a sign of the goodwill and loyalty that many still feel toward that the vice president, who has managed to keep many of his backers in his camp, even amid criticism of what was roundly viewed as a subpar debate performance. Indeed, sources say Biden walked away with a $1 million haul after two fundraisers in San Francisco alone this weekend.

“We can be proud of her nonetheless, but her ambition got it wrong about Joe,” said former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman to serve in the Senate who has endorsed Biden in the 2020 primary. “He is about the best there is; for her to take that tack is sad.”

Harris stunned Biden in the debate, knocking him back on his heels by noting his past “hurtful” efforts to work with segregationists and what she defined as his opposition to school busing. Harris’ emotional recounting of her own experience in the Berkeley school district as a child who was bused to more segregated schools — “that girl was me,’’ she said — became a defining debate moment, and bruised Biden’s status as the Democratic front-runner.

But one of Biden’s supporters called the attack by Harris “too cute by half” after her campaign tweeted out — and quickly began merchandising — a photo of Harris as a young girl. “Couldn’t they at least pretend that it was semi-organic?” the Biden supporter asked, referring to the planned nature of Harris’ debate night ambush.

Some Biden loyalists said they thought it was misleading of Harris to attack Biden on civil rights, given what they said was his lifelong advocacy on that front.

White, who is African American, said of the underlying segregationist issues Harris attacked: “I thought it was old news.”

Sam Johnson, a Columbia, S.C.-based public affairs consultant who represents many minority clients, accused Harris of “desperately overreaching.”

“I don’t think a lot of folks are saying, ‘well, there’s a lot of credibility of her going after Biden,’” said Johnson, who has not backed a 2020 candidate. “I don’t think it was received by the majority of folks as an attack that is going to move the needle. Most folks aren’t looking at that as something where, hey, ‘Biden was against civil rights carte blanche.’”

“It was planned, and it was staged and it was rehearsed — and they were ready to raise money on it,’’ another Bay Area Biden supporter said of Harris’ roundhouse punch.

But former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown — whose patronage of Harris helped put the then-Alameda County assistant district attorney on the political map in her early years — bridled at the suggestion that Harris may have muddled her political future with her attack on Biden. He told POLITICO that the vice president has no one to blame but himself for a lackluster and unprepared performance.

“They better hope she would accept [a VP nomination],’’ he said. “Otherwise, he’s a guaranteed loser.”

But Brown, who also served as speaker of the California Assembly, said Biden’s stunned reaction only underscored that — on the issue of civil rights — he has so far failed to be completely honest with voters and should simply admit his past unpopular actions and positions.

“At this point, she may be the only life raft he has,’’ he added, “because, as of this moment, he’s on the Titanic.”

Biden, in comments to supporters this weekend, appeared to acknowledge the possibility that his quest may not end in success — an unusual departure from the script of most presidential candidates who confidently toss off phrases like “as your next president.”

Speaking to about 150 backers in the bay-side Marin County community of Belvedere, Biden dismissed the idea that he was making a sacrifice to run for president, but said that he felt an obligation at a time when the country is at a crisis point with the Trump presidency.

“My family and I believe very strongly that you kind of have certain things fall in your wheelhouse,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to win, doesn’t mean I’m the only person who can be a good president, I’m not saying that.”

He told two different audiences that civil rights is a lifelong “passion’’ and also made reference to his Democratic competitors. While never mentioning Harris by name, he appeared to address her sharp criticism about working with segregationists, pushing back at the notion that reaching across the aisle is an outdated notion.

“I know I’m criticized heavily by my qualified contenders who are running,” he said, “when I say, ‘folks, we’ve got to bring the country together.’”

“Some will say, ‘well, that’s old Joe, they’re the old days,’’ he said. “[But] if that’s the old days,’’ he told supporters, “we’re dead … that’s not hyperbole.”

Former San Francisco Supervisor Leslie Katz, who has known the former San Francisco district attorney for years and is a member of Harris’ finance committee, defended the senator’s approach.

“She was giving him a chance to address the issues that would plague him. … She was gracious, and she personalized it: She said she didn’t think he was a racist,’’ Katz said. “What stunned me was that he wasn’t prepared for that topic, and he needs to figure that out, sooner rather than later.”

Debbie Mesloh, a longtime Harris adviser, also defended Harris’ question to Biden as on the mark — and entirely fair. “She was ready, and she was bold, and she delivered,’’ she said. “She really showed what she can do.”

Harris, meanwhile, was met in her hometown of San Francisco like a conquering hero post-debate, facing a sea of ebullient supporters at a packed #LGBTQ fundraiser during San Francisco’s PRIDE weekend.

But after reveling in the moment, Harris also delivered a reality check about the long campaign still ahead.

“It will be tough. It will be excruciating. It’s going to be a long haul,’’ she told them.

“We’re going to have good weeks. We’re going to have bad weeks. It’s not going to be given to us … but we are going to be joyful about this,’’ she said. “As much success as we’ve had — there’s still much to do.”

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Johnson and Hunt will turn the spending taps on, but austerity is far from over

The spending taps will be opened – for a bit. Both contenders for the Tory leadership have started to make promises about ending austerity. For Jeremy Hunt it is spending more on defence, cutting corporation tax and so on. For Boris Johnson, it is more – or at least seems to be – a promise of tax cuts for the rich.

It is a familiar feature of the democratic world that politicians seeking election should make promises they will find it difficult to fulfil. But in this instance, there is a twist. Even the outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, wants to spend money to create a legacy of her period of office, though this is opposed by the chancellor.

So is austerity dead? Has it taken the toppling of one PM and the election of another to kill it? Or is this just the usual noise of politics at a particularly chaotic time? 

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First, a political observation, then some maths.

The observation is that there is massive pressure across the developed world for governments to ease their fiscal stance. In the US the reaction has been the Trump tax cuts, but note that the Democrat contenders to challenge him are all coming up with spending plans. In Italy the government is challenging the European Commission with a budget plan that would increase the deficit, and the response is unclear. In Germany, which has the strongest fiscal position of any developed country bar Norway, there is pressure to ease up. In France, Japan and even Canada, the pattern is the same. There are few votes in fiscal rectitude.

Now the maths. It has been a 10-year slog, but the developed world has with one exception gone some way to repairing the damage done to national finances by the 2009 recession. The exception is the US, where the deficit has ballooned in size. But the legacy of the recession is much higher national debt relative to GDP. That goes for the UK, for while the annual fiscal deficit is now down to a little over 1 per cent of GDP, the stock of debt is just under 90 per cent of GDP, more than double the level of 20 years ago. Most other countries, with the exception of Germany with much lower debt, and Japan and Italy with much higher debt, are in pretty much the same boat.

There is a school of thought that maintains that the size of national debt does not matter, or at least not as much as people think. It goes under the general title of new, or modern monetary theory. But it is untested, and when global interest rates rise (and they are the lowest they have ever been in human history), common sense says that interest payments on high national debt will be a burden on governments’ finances. The maths are that money spent on interest is money not available to spend on other things.

It gets worse. There is a cyclical problem and a structural one. All governments’ fiscal positions vary with the economic cycle. We must be close to the top of this cycle, so finances should be strong enough to withstand a downturn. And all developed countries face the structural pressures from their ageing societies. The tensions from the latter are all too obvious: the young have to do the work and pay the taxes, but the old have the votes. The tussle over the BBC free television licence for the over-75s is a foretaste of things to come.

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And that is surely the most helpful way to see the promises the two Tory contenders are making. Politics requires them to respond to voter concerns about the decade-long squeeze on spending. There have to be sweeteners, even in the context of the cyclical and structural pressures noted above. So you hand out the sweeteners to the people who will give you votes to get you into office. You cannot change the maths but you hope that a few high-profile actions will get you over the line. It is not edifying, but it is politics.

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How India copes with heatwaves: From traditional tricks to official action plans, what keeps the country from meltdown?

This week France issued unprecedented red alerts for heatwave conditions as an all-time record temperature of 45.9C was measured in the southern village of Gallargues-le-Montueux.

In northern India, where temperatures have exceeded 50C this month, some will have been wondering what all the fuss is about.

Because while Europe was sweltering, India and neighbouring Pakistan were hit with some of the hottest sustained conditions in decades.

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At least 130 people are reported to have died since a heatwave began in mid-May, though in truth, poor record-keeping means the true toll of the scorching heat is likely far higher. The capital Delhi has experienced a June record of 48C, but the heatwave has encompassed a vast area from the state of Rajasthan in the west to Bihar in the east.

With cities, towns and villages receiving no respite for weeks on end, failure to keep cool can be deadly.

“When the temperature goes above 37C, the human body starts gaining heat,” explains Dileep Mavalankar, director of India’s first public health university, the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar. “The body tries to compensate by producing more sweat, meaning the heart has to pump faster and faster. People with weak hearts, kidneys or circulation – mainly old people or infants – their systems start to fail, and that’s how they end up in hospital.

“But even in young, robust people, if the body’s core temperature goes above 40C then the brain starts shutting down, and can suffer irreversible damage unless it is cooled down very rapidly. That is what leads to deaths.”

Scientists say that a warming planet makes heatwaves like the one Europe experienced in 2018 around twice as likely. However, is too soon to say how much of the current scorcher can be attributed to climate change.

Yet remarkably, the maximum temperatures recorded this summer in India – high though they may be – are within the limits of what might be expected due to normal yearly variation in May and June.

“We would see temperatures hitting 47C, 48C every summer,” says Sanjiv Phansalkar speaking about the countryside around Nagpur, Maharashtra, where grew up. An academic who works with the Transform Rural India foundation, he believes the rest of the world – and indeed young people growing up in south Asian cities today – can learn from traditional Indian techniques of how to cope with intense heat.

Most of his recommendations are straightforward – people should drink lots of water before they go out in the heat, and not wait until they feel thirsty, for example.

And he insists that back home in Nagpur, “anybody going out in the street in the summer without their head and ears being covered by a cloth, will be immediately stopped by a stranger and made to do so”.

Chilled drinks are “a big no-no”, he says, because of the shock they give to an overheated system. “We believe in the summer heat the best thing to drink is a hot cup of tea.”

If there is outdoor work that cannot be avoided, it should be started early in the morning and finished in the evening, with a break from 11am to 5pm. “Different regions have evolved different mechanisms but these are the basic principles, and all these things are very simple,” Phansalkar says.

There are some more outlandish home remedies for beating the heat too, he admits. In rural Maharashtra, he says, those who have to travel far for water are among the worst affected when a heatwave hits – and take extreme measures as a result.

“You should always carry an onion that you have cut in half,” he says. “And actually people would rub it on their body. I don’t know the principle behind it, I am just telling you what the community believes. We believe that an onion will always protect you against the heat.”

In Bihar, the most common recommendation for surviving a hot day is to drink “sattu”, a suspension of chickpea flour in water with salt and pepper to taste.

“The end result is… salty, I’m not sure it would be to European tastes,” a Bihari lawyer in Delhi says. “People say it works, but I honestly think it is just because it gets you to ingest fluids, and it is high in iron and protein – two things Indian diets usually lack.”

Mavalankar says belief in the heat-beating powers of onions – usually eaten raw in salads rather than applied directly to the skin – is common throughout India, though little studied beyond “a few student dissertations”.

The other traditional principles for surviving a heatwave, however, can be seen incorporated in the groundbreaking Ahmedabad “Heat Action Plan”, the first official programme in the country and one that is widely credited with saving hundreds of lives during a heatwave in that city in 2015.

As well as enforcing a midday break for workers, the plan included an early warning system for “red alert” days with maximum temperatures above 45C. The municipality was ordered to keep tree-filled parks and gardens open during the afternoon for the public to seek shade – in previous summers they would only be unlocked for wealthier residents to take their morning and evening walks.

Hospitals were ordered to be ready with ice packs in ambulances and staffed “cooling wards” during the hottest days, and programmes were launched to encourage homeowners with tin roofs to paint them white to reflect away heat from the city.

“What we have shown in Ahmedabad is an action plan is needed,” Mavalankar says. The problem is that, several years later, only around 15 cities in India have one.

France, for its part, does have a well-established official action plan for heatwaves. The biggest issue Europe faces – and will face more regularly as the climate warms – is that individuals are not prepared, or do not respect the dangers of heat, and the infrastructure isn’t designed to cope with temperatures above 40C.

In India, houses were traditionally designed with thick, insulating walls of both mud and mortar, high indoor ceilings and thatch roofs – all factors that helped keep the home cool in summer.

European homes do not have such features, let alone widespread adoption of air conditioning or even fans. And far from covering up and putting on a sunhat or cloth around their necks, when the sun comes out in Europe, people are more likely to strip off, grab a beer and sit outside unprotected, says Phansalkar.

“In India, we are acclimatised to the heat, and people – particularly rural people – are less worried about how they look. People [in Europe] might fall prey to fashion, rather than prioritising protection. That is a human tendency,” he says. 

He notes that this vanity is encroaching on Indian cities as well, as young people in Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere increasingly adopt western trends in clothing and behaviours.

“It is happening that people, particularly in the middle class, are getting deacclimatised to heat. They are living and working in the air-conditioned buildings, moving around in air-conditioned cars,” Mavalankar says.

He says that with only 2 per cent of Indians having access to air conditioning, and water shortages in major cities expected in the very near future, the government is sleep-walking into a situation where a water crisis and a heatwave will coincide, with disastrous results for modern city-dwellers.

“India also needs to relearn its traditional ways of dealing with extreme heat,” he says. “We have to work on both fronts – access to water, and improving resilience to heat. Because if we have to cope with an even hotter climate, water – not air conditioning – will be the main tool for survival.”

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Unhappy with Their 2016 Coronation, the Democrats Start a 2020 Circus

Tim Alberta is chief political correspondent at Politico Magazine.

MIAMI—Marianne Williamson narrowed her eyes and gazed into my soul, channeling some of the same telekinetic life force she’d used minutes earlier to cast a spell on Donald Trump in her closing statement of Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate. Inside a sweaty spin room, with swarms of reporters enfolding Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, the author and self-help spiritualist drifted through the madness with a mien of Zen-like satisfaction. It was only when I asked her a question—what does she say to people who don’t think she belonged on that debate stage?—that Williamson’s sorcerous intensity returned.

“This is a democracy, that’s what I say to them,” she replied, her hypnotic voice anchored by an accent perfected at Rick’s Café. “There’s this political class, and media class, that thinks they get to tell people who becomes president. This is what’s wrong with America. We don’t do aristocracy here. We do democracy.”

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For better and worse.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton was served the Democratic presidential nomination on a silver platter. With a monopoly on the left’s biggest donors and top strategists, with the implicit backing of the incumbent president, with the consensus support of the party’s most prominent officials, and with only four challengers standing in her way—the most viable of whom had spent the past quarter-century wandering the halls of Congress alone muttering under his breath—Clinton couldn’t lose. The ascendant talents on the left knew better than to interfere. She had already been denied her turn once before; daring to disrupt the party’s line of succession would be career suicide.

This coronation yielded one of the weakest general-election nominees in modern American history—someone disliked and distrusted by more than half of the electorate, someone guided by a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of urgency, someone incapable of mobilizing the party’s base to defeat the most polarizing and unpopular Republican nominee in our lifetimes.

Democrats don’t have to worry about another coronation. Instead, with two dozen candidates battling for the right to challenge Trump next November, they are dealing with the opposite problem: a circus.

Three days after the maelstrom in Miami, top Democratic officials insist there’s no sense of panic. They say everything is under control. They tell anyone who will listen that by virtue of the rules and debate qualification requirements they’ve implemented, this mammoth primary field will soon shrink in half, which should limit the internecine destruction and hasten the selection of a standard-bearer. But based on conversations with candidates and campaign operatives, it might be too late for that. The unifying objective of defeating Trump in 2020 likely won’t be sufficient to ward off what everyone now believes will be a long, divisive primary.

First impressions are everything in politics. And it was understood by those candidates and campaign officials departing Miami that what America was introduced to this week—more than a year before the Democrats will choose their nominee at the 2020 convention—was a party searching not only for a leader but for an identity, for a vision, for a coherent argument about how voters would benefit from a change in leadership.

“I don’t think there’s a sense among the American people of what the national Democratic Party stands for. And I think there’s actually more confusion about that now,” Michael Bennet, the Colorado senator and presidential candidate, told me after participating in Thursday night’s forum.

Some confusion is inevitable when 20 candidates, many of them unfamiliar to a national audience, are allotted five to seven minutes to explain why they are qualified to lead the free world. Yet the perception in the eyes of the political class—and the feeling on the ground was something closer to chaos.

With a record number of viewers tuning in between the two nights, a record number of candidates talked over one another, contorted themselves ideologically, evaded straightforward questions and traded insults both implicit and explicit. With such a splayed primary field, some of this is to be expected: Debates are imperative to exposing the fault lines within the Democratic coalition, to refining and forging the left’s governing philosophy through the fires of competition. A measured clash of ideas and worldviews is healthy for a party seeking a return to power.

What’s not healthy for a party is when the front-runner, a white man, is waylaid by the ferociously talented up-and-comer, a black woman, who prefaces her attack: “I do not believe you are a racist …” What’s not healthy for a party is when a smug, self-impressed congressman with no business being on the stage flails wildly with juvenile sound bites. What’s not healthy for a party is when a successful red-state governor and a decorated war hero-turned-congressman are forced to watch from home as an oracular mystic with no experience in policymaking lectures her opponents on the folly of having actual “plans” to govern the country.

Granted, these lowlights and many others came during the second debate. Just 22 hours before it commenced, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez sounded relieved at how relatively painless the first contest had been.

“We talked about the issues. We didn’t talk about hand size,” Perez told me after the end of the Wednesday night debate. (Perez was grinning in reference to the 2016 Republican debate in which Donald Trump, responding to Marco Rubio’s vulgar euphemism, assured viewers of his plentiful genitalia.) “The Republican candidates were only concerned about how they could put a knife in their opponent’s back,” Perez added. “We had spirited discussions. We had some disagreements, but they were all about the merits and the issues. They weren’t, ‘Not only are you wrong, but your mother wears army boots.’”

Even in that first debate of this week’s campaign-opening doubleheader, however, there was no shortage of skirmishes that felt deeply personal, opening wounds that won’t easily scab over in the campaign ahead.

History will remember Harris confronting Biden on Thursday, the testier of the two debates, in a moment that dominated news coverage and could well come to inform one or both of their campaign trajectories.

But even on Wednesday, there was Tim Ryan vs. Tulsi Gabbard, a clash of the congressional back-benchers, feuding over the use of American military force abroad. Gabbard, an Iraq veteran, won the round on points by correcting Ryan’s assertion that the Taliban attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001. This so visibly irked Ryan that he fumed to reporters afterward, “I personally don’t need to be lectured by somebody who’s dining with a dictator who gassed kids,” a reference to the congresswoman’s rapport with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad.

There was Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor once considered the party’s brightest rising star, aiming to recapture mojo stolen by Beto O’Rourke. Unleashing on his unsuspecting fellow Texan, Castro repeatedly told O’Rourke to “do your homework” on the issue of immigration law, criticizing him for failing to back a sweeping change that would decriminalize border crossings. It was a stinging rebuke that punctuated O’Rourke’s dismal night and gave Castro’s camp their biggest boost of the campaign.

And there was Eric Swalwell, the catchphrase-happy California congressman, cynically scolding Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for not firing his police chief after a black man’s killing at the hands of a white officer. Buttigieg responded with a cold stare, crystallizing all the campaigns’ feelings about Swalwell, for whom indiscriminate attacks seem to be a strategic cornerstone.

The significance in these events was not merely what was said in the moment, but what is now assured in the future.

Upcoming debates will almost certainly feature discussion of Gabbard’s shadowy connections to Syria, and more broadly, of the party’s ambiguous post-Obama foreign policy doctrine. There will be greater pressure to conform to Castro’s argument on decriminalizing border crossings, a position that animates the progressive base but may well alienate moderates and independents. The whispers of Buttigieg’s struggle with black voters will surely intensify, and his opponents are already scheming of ways to use one of his debate responses—“I couldn’t get it done”—against him.

This is to say nothing of the other minefields that await: opposition-research files presented on live television, litmus-test questions on issues such as abortion and guns, not to mention the ideological pressure placed on the field by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, neither of whom were seriously tested in the first set of debates but whose ambitious Big Government proposals are driving the party’s agenda and putting more moderate candidates in a bind.

As for Biden, regardless of whether his poll numbers plummet or hold steady in the weeks ahead, one thing was obvious in Thursday’s aftermath: blood in the water. You could hear it in the voices of rival campaign officials, whispering of how they knew the front-runner was fundamentally vulnerable due to his detachment from today’s party. You could see it on the faces of Biden’s own allies, who struggled to defend his showing.

“What I saw was a person who listened to Kamala Harris’ pain,” Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of Biden’s highest-profile surrogates, said after the debate ended. Referring to the busing controversy, Richmond added, “All of that was out there when the first African American president of the United States decided to pick Joe Biden as his running mate, and he had the vice president’s back every day of the week. So, I’m not sure that voters are going back 40 years to judge positions.”

They don’t have to. What the maiden debates of the 2020 election cycle demonstrated above all else is the acceleration of change inside the Democratic Party—not just since Biden came to Congress in 1973, but since he became vice president in 2009.

Ten years ago this September, Barack Obama convened a joint session of Congress to reset the narrative of his health-care reform push and dispel some of the more sinister myths surrounding it. One particular point of emphasis for Obama: The Affordable Care Act would not cover undocumented immigrants.

On Thursday, every one of the 10 candidates on stage—Biden included—said their government plans would do exactly that.

The front-runner has cloaked himself in the 44th president’s legacy, invoking “the Obama-Biden administration” as a shield to deflect all manner of criticism. And yet, parts of that legacy—from enshrining the Hyde Amendment, to deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants, to aggressively carrying out drone strikes overseas, to sanctioning deep cuts in government spending—are suddenly and fatally out of step with the modern left. This crop of Democrats won’t hesitate to score points at the previous administration’s expense, as evidenced by Harris’ censure of Obama’s deportation policies. And the gravitational pull of the party’s base will continue to threaten the long-term viability of top contenders, as evidenced by the continuing talk of eliminating private insurance and Harris’s own shaky explanations of whether she supports doing so.

For months, Democratic officials have expressed confidence that their party would avoid the reality TV-inspired meltdown that was the 2016 Republican primary. After all, the star of that show is the common enemy of everyone seeking the Democratic nomination.

Miami was not a promising start. With so many candidates, with so little fear of the front-runner, with so much pressure on the bottom three-quarters of the field to turn in campaign-prolonging performances, nothing could keep a lid on the emotions and ambitions at work. It’s irresistible to compare the enormous fields of 2016 and 2020. But the fact is, when Republicans gathered for their first debate in August 2015, Trump had already surged to the top of the field. He held the pole position for the duration of the race, despite so much talk of volatility in the primary electorate, because he relentlessly stayed on the offensive, never absorbing a blow without throwing two counterpunches in return.

Leaving Miami, it was apparent to Democrats that they have a very different race on their hands—and a very different front-runner. Biden’s team talks openly about a strategy of disengagement, an approach that sounds reasonable but in fact puts the entire party at risk. The danger Democrats face is not that a talented field of candidates will be systematically wiped out by a dominant political force. The danger is that there is no dominant political force; that at this intersection of ideological drift and generational discontent and institutional disruption, an obtrusively large collection of candidates will be emboldened to keep fighting not just for their candidacies but for their conception of liberalism itself, feeding the perception of a party in turmoil and easing the president’s fight for reelection.

In the spin room after Wednesday night’s debate, a blur of heat and bright lights and body odor, John Delaney, the former congressman from Maryland, was red in the face explaining that none of the voters he talks with care about impeaching Trump. A few feet away, Bill DeBlasio, the New York City mayor, whacked the “moderate folks” like Delaney for not understanding where the base is, promising “a fight for the soul of the party.” Just over his shoulder, Washington Governor Jay Inslee slammed the complacency of his fellow Democrats on the issue of climate change, decrying “the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry” over both political parties.

Joaquin Castro, the congressman and twin brother to Julián, stood off to the side observing the mayhem. Just as he was explaining how “at least 20” reporters had mistaken him for his brother that night, the two of us were nearly stampeded underneath a mob of reporters encircling Elizabeth Warren.

“Man,” he said, looking warily from side to side. “This is surreal.”

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How Trump’s ‘weaponized’ use of foreign aid is backfiring

Red Cross volunteers shipping medicine to Venezuela

Red Cross volunteers work in a warehouse of International Committee of the Red Cross on June 19 in Caracas, Venezuela. | Carlos Becerra/Getty Images

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In Venezuela, some aid groups are asking U.S. officials if they can strip legally required U.S. branding from assistance sent to the country, three aid officials told POLITICO.

Updated


Aid groups working in Venezuela are eager to receive planeloads of humanitarian assistance from the United States, hoping to alleviate severe food and medicine shortages throughout the country.

But many of them don’t want the U.S. label attached to it.

Story Continued Below

President Donald Trump has so closely linked U.S. humanitarian assistance to his attempt to oust Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro — even placing goods along the country’s border as an incentive for Venezuelans to revolt — that some groups are citing security concerns and asking U.S. officials if they can strip legally required U.S. branding from aid sent to Venezuela, three aid officials told POLITICO.

Some organizations are looking at other options, such as seeing if the U.S. funding can be masked by routing it through the United Nations, or at ways to diversify their funding sources so that they can use more non-American aid to help Venezuelans, various aid experts said.

The situation reflects broader fears that Trump’s unusually politicized approach to handing out U.S. aid worldwide is backfiring, tarnishing America’s brand and possibly risking the lives of people from Latin America to the Palestinian territories.

“The Trump administration seems to have weaponized humanitarian assistance,” said Larry Sampler, a former career employee at the U.S. Agency for International Development. “We used to be able to say we’re not choosing sides, that all we’re doing is alleviating human suffering. We’ve lost that now.”

Venezuela has been a particularly blatant example, aid officials say.

“This whole idea that in Venezuela aid was going to be part of a political change process — it’s rare to see it that overt,” said Joel Charny of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has not yet received U.S. funding for work inside Venezuela. “It’s just not a good way to do aid. If you’re really concerned about the welfare of the people of Venezuela you find the ways that are available to get the maximum amount of assistance to those people.”

America’s foreign aid decisions have never been entirely apolitical — every presidential administration, Republican or Democrat, to some extent disburses aid in ways it hopes will benefit the U.S. image. That’s part of the reason such assistance is branded with phrases like “from the United States.”

But aid officials and analysts say Trump and his aides have intervened to exceptional degrees to direct the funds and goods in ways designed to benefit one side in a conflict — and to bolster Trump’s standing with his Republican political base. It’s an approach that may violate core international principles that such assistance be politically neutral, especially if intended for humanitarian reasons.

“In a conflict environment or a politically contested environment, if you align aid with one or the other side, it has a much harder time getting through,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who worked at USAID under the Obama administration.

In the Middle East, Trump has largely ended U.S. aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza — including money for schools and medical care — in an unsuccessful attempt to pressure Palestinian leaders into peace talks with Israel. And at the urging of U.S. evangelicals, Vice President Mike Pence personally intervened to force USAID to speed up tens of millions of dollars in funding to minority Christians in Iraq and Syria, ignoring U.S. diplomats who warned that appearing to favor Christians could deepen religious tensions in the Muslim-majority region.

In Central America, the Trump administration recently announced it is cutting off future aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala if those countries do not do more to stop the flow of migrants to the United States. It’s a step that could play well with GOP anti-immigration hard-liners, but one U.S. officials privately warn could actually lead to more migrants seeking to leave those countries.

More broadly, the Trump administration said it is reviewing whether to withhold money from countries that do not sufficiently respect the U.S., including those that vote against America in international forums such as the United Nations.

A State Department spokesperson insisted that the administration “provides humanitarian assistance based on need, and in accordance with well-established humanitarian principles,” but added that “it is also important to continually assess our foreign assistance based on a number of factors … with the top consideration being that our assistance should align with American interests.”

On Jan. 23, Trump announced he no longer recognized Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate president. Instead, Trump said he supported opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s claim to be “interim president” of the struggling country. Dozens of other nations lined up to do the same after years of mounting frustration with Maduro and his economically disastrous policies.

Over the next few weeks, the U.S. dropped off more than 200 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid at points along Venezuela’s border, with the goal of spurring Venezuelans — including military leaders — to rally against Maduro and push him out. The big day of revolt was supposed to be Feb. 23, but the push ended in bloody clashes along the border, and Maduro didn’t fall.

In the months since, Venezuelans who deal with U.S. aid groups — even those who have little love for Maduro — have expressed growing unease about accepting food, medicine or other goods that carry the American brand, fearing doing so will make them targets of Maduro supporters, aid officials say. The autocrat retains the backing of the military as well as armed groups known as colectivos.

Local Venezuelan aid partners have told U.S.-based humanitarian organizations they are especially worried about U.S.-branded material along border areas because of the possibility that people carrying such items back into Venezuela could be in danger, one aid official told POLITICO. Another humanitarian official said there have been reports of some Venezuelan aid workers being threatened because of their perceived connections to the United States.

Aid officials declined to offer many details about what they’ve heard or their plans, saying they do not want to endanger Venezuelan individuals or local groups who work with them to disburse the assistance. Trump administration officials are listening to the aid groups’ concerns about branding, humanitarian officials said, but at this stage the talks are ongoing.

Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Venezuela, called the criticisms of the American approach “nonsense.”

“U.S. policy in Venezuela has precisely been to demand that aid not be politicized, which has been the unremitting practice of the Maduro regime,” he wrote in an email to POLITICO. “Aid goes to [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] members and others favored by the regime. That is why we continue to insist that aid go through the church … or other organizations that will deliver it on the basis of need rather than politics.”

Abrams added, though, that as far as U.S. branding of the aid — which is typically required under American law — “exceptions can be and are made when the situation suggests it.”

U.S. assistance in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, for instance, has often been unbranded because it could become an easy mark for Islamist militants. A U.S.-funded school built in Pakistan’s tribal areas is unlikely to bear a sign saying “from the American people” because Taliban fighters would bomb it.

Venezuela’s government has long been anti-American, especially under its late leader, Hugo Chávez, a socialist-inspired leftist whose many acolytes are dubbed Chavistas. One of them, Maduro, took over as president in 2013 after Chavez’ death, and his government has been accused of extraordinary levels of corruption and economic mismanagement.

Venezuela was once one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, but over the past decade, its economy has crumbled, inflation has hobbled its currency and crime has risen. According to the United Nations, one in four Venezuelans needs humanitarian aid. A study released in 2018 found Venezuelans reported losing on average 24 pounds the previous year and that the vast majority now live in poverty.

But Maduro, who has political backing from Russia and Cuba, blames the United States for the problems in Venezuela. He has cast the events of Feb. 23 as a U.S. effort to use humanitarian assistance as a Trojan horse to take over Venezuela. It’s a narrative echoed in some left-wing quarters.

“It fits really nicely into the ‘Chavista-Maduro’ mythology about the role of American domination,” said a senior official with a U.S.-headquartered humanitarian group that deals with Venezuelans.

Some U.S.-based aid groups have worked for years inside Venezuela, a country of around 30 million people. But under Maduro, much of that has been through local partners and often with low visibility. Some 4 million Venezuelans are believed to have left the country in recent years, leading aid groups to scale up their efforts to help those refugees and the countries hosting them, such as Colombia.

One arguably positive outcome of the Trump-led pressure campaign against Maduro is that, in the months since the February push, he has effectively admitted that there is a major humanitarian crisis in his country, something he had not been willing to do before. And he’s finally allowing in large-scale foreign assistance.

In April, he permitted the Red Cross to launch a relief campaign for the country. The Red Cross says its effort is politically neutral, but Maduro is believed to hope that it will strengthen his precarious position, while Guaidó and his embattled supporters are trying to take credit by saying their pressure forced Maduro to bend.

With the expectation that Maduro will keep allowing in more international assistance, aid organizations are likely to find themselves grappling even more often with the issue of U.S.-branded aid and its political sensitivities.

“Our experience is that when you mix political objectives and humanitarian objectives, undoubtedly it puts the lives of humanitarians in danger, and it makes vulnerable people even more vulnerable,” one aid official said.

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Entangled North Atlantic right whale spotted in Gulf of St. Lawrence | CBC News

An entangled male North Atlantic right whale has been spotted in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The news was reported by the Grand Manan Whale & Seabird Research Station in New Brunswick on its Facebook page. The entangled whale was discovered on Saturday.

It is not known how badly the right whale, known by the number 4400, is entangled. 

The post says when the weather improves, it is hoped the whale can be disentangled. Its exact location was not revealed in the post.

The region has seen rain and strong winds over the past few days. There is a strong wind warning in effect for tonight and tomorrow along with a risk of thunderstorms.

“It is quite the trek for the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. They are hoping to set up another disentanglement team to help with these.”

That team, based in Campbello, N.B., has reportedly disentangled a humpback whale off Miscou Island, N.B. recently.

Six North Atlantic right whales have died since early June. There are only about 400 of the whales left in the world.

The entangled whale was born in 2014 to a right whale named Naevus. It is the grandson of Wart, one of the adoptive whales of the research station. 

The research station said there is no indication where the gear entangling the whale came from.

Speed reductions implemented

This week Transport Canada implemented vessel speed restrictions in two shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The interim speed restriction of 10 knots affects vessels of 20 metres or more in length travelling in the western Gulf of St. Lawrence, in two designated shipping lanes north and south of Anticosti Island.

This measure is in addition to the fixed speed restriction introduced in April in a large area in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where vessels are restricted to a maximum of 10 knots until Nov. 15.

On Monday, researchers will examine the sixth whale in the Gaspé Peninsula, a female known as Clipper. DFO is reviewing options for the necropsies of the two other whales. 

There were no right whale deaths recorded in Canadian waters last year, but 12 were found dead in Canadian waters in 2017.

Necropsies on seven of them found four died from trauma consistent with vessel collisions, while two deaths were the result of entanglement in fishing gear.

The entire population of North Atlantic right whales is down to about 400.

 

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