Jon Stewart still has some soul-searching to do. His first RNC show proved it.

MSNBC – Opinion

Jon Stewart still has some soul-searching to do. His first RNC show proved it.

Stewart interviewed his longtime interlocutor, frenemy and sparring partner Bill O’Reilly, but failed to address the most important question of all.

By Jacques Berlinerblau, MSNBC Columnist – July 17, 2024

Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” on Tuesday executed what called a “Milwaukee pivot” — a programming change forced upon them by last weekend’s tragic violence in Butler, Pennsylvania. Originally, the idea was to air the popular fake news show live from the site of the Republican National Convention. The attempted assassination of Donald Trump, Stewart revealed, scuttled the plan. His Milwaukee venue was placed under lockdown. With “cages built around the theater,” Stewart and his team decided that it wouldn’t be prudent to perform live comedy “without,” the host deadpanned, “people.” 

What exactly are entertainers as influential as Jon Stewart supposed to be doing at a point in American history as troubling as this one?

Taped on Tuesday, the episode was stuck rehashing RNC highlights from Monday. Stewart thus missed an opportunity to skewer the speeches of former Trump detractors Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio. Each performed variations, albeit less deserving of our enduring awe, of JD Vance’s ability to forget he once called his new boss “America’s Hitler” and “cultural heroin.” (Vance’s opioid analogy must be the most remarkable observation I’ve ever read about Trump). 

Stewart also interviewed his longtime interlocutorfrenemy and sparring partner Bill O’Reilly, and quipped about the two of them being “somewhat fossilized practitioners of the rhetorical arts.” In relation to their past popularity and influence on this generation of political rabble-rousers, Stewart observed, “We made a pretty spectacular living pushing those envelopes.”

This isn’t the first time Stewart has wondered aloud whether he is predator or prey (or peripheral) in the new social media ecosystem. In February he called himself “the captain of this dying medium.” He does seem to intuit that what worked artistically, and maybe even politically, in the Bush and Obama eras is perhaps outdated or irrelevant or actually not entirely helpful in this MAGA moment. 

If Stewart is pondering that, then good on him. I guess the venue change, and the terror that prompted it, should compel him to pose hard questions about the intersection between art and politics. Questions like: What exactly are entertainers as influential as Jon Stewart supposed to be doing at a point in American history as troubling as this one?

I’m starting to believe that Stewart and his team actually don’t know how to answer this question. No disgrace in that. I don’t either. The current moment is as baffling as it is frightening. Although, when your theater is caged in and your audience can’t attend for their own safety because yet another young white male tried to murder people with a perfectly legal killing machine — then, well, maybe it’s a good time to reflect.  

Tuesday night’s program indicated that the usually self-aware Stewart is still thinking this through, and has not yet made any discernible pivot. His jokes about odd noises made by Marjorie Taylor Green were funny enough. The analysis of how Lee Greenwood refused to cede the stage while introducing Trump was fairly hysterical. Trump himself gestured that the long-winded singer-songwriter should move this along (“Is it possible to bring out another band to play a band off?” Stewart quipped).

The Last Thing: Mr. Stewart goes to Washington. 01:33

The Bill O’Reilly interview best encapsulated many of these contradictions that Stewart has to confront. These men, by my count, have interviewed each other some two dozen times over the years. They have excellent chemistry. They like each other. (Or, perhaps, they like to hate each other.) O’Reilly even recently attended Stewart’s show. The hard-charging conservative “newsman,” who was fired by Fox News in the wake of five sexual harassment suits (which he has denied), is sort of avuncular when conversing with Stewart.

O’Reilly made reasonable points about rage and today’s politics. “We are now in a society,” he opined “where hatred is rewarded.” Stewart jumped in: “It’s incentivized, it’s monetized!” Dialogue. Consensus. I like it!

One problem, though, is that the same O’Reilly who was bemoaning “the hate brigade” Tuesday night has been eminently hateful himself. I am not going to rehash his views on Trayvon Martin’s murder, on gay marriagevictim blamingcomparing the ACLU to terroristsblatant and pervasive sexismanti-LGBTQ and transgender rantsreligious fearmongering (such as his yearly diatribe against the “war on Christmas”), or his discomforting white power vibes

I am going to say that Jon Stewart has to figure something out. When he’s choppin’ it up with Bill O’Reilly is he: a) fostering open and honest discussion across the ideological divide, thereby enriching our liberal democracy? Or, b) platforming a voice that is both cause and effect of the lethal danger that is threatening the existence of liberal democracy itself? Because it sure as hell can’t be both. 

When O’Reilly started reading off unflattering statistics about Biden’s economy, Stewart did push back, literally. He prompted his guest to explain how Biden is solely responsible for high food prices, gas prices, mortgage rates, etc., given what he inherited from his predecessor. When O’Reilly responded he didn’t know, Stewart guffawed, comically pushed back his own chair, got up and walked away. 

An interesting gesture, that was. No one is asking Stewart to walk away from his comedic throne. But I’d hope the events of the past few months might stimulate deeper reflection on what artists are supposed to do in dark times. 

Jacques Berlinerblau is a professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University. He has authored numerous books about the subject of secularism, including the recent “Secularism: The Basics” (Routledge). He has also written about American higher education in “Campus Confidential: How College Works, and Doesn’t, For Professors, Parents and Students” (Melville House). With Professor Terrence Johnson, he is a co-author of “Blacks and Jews in America: An Invitation to Dialogue” (Georgetown). His current research concentrates on the nexus between literature and comedy on the one side and cultural conflicts on the other.

Forcing Biden Out Would Have Only One Beneficiary: Trump

By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist – July 3, 2024

Donald Trump, wearing a red MAGA hat, stands at a podium in front of rally attendees, holding out his hand.
Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Joe Biden refuses to drop out of the presidential race even as some liberals, rattled by the incumbent’s frightening debate performance last week, keep pressuring him to do so.

Who’s surprised by that?

The inertia of a presidential campaign is one of the most powerful forces in politics. Ending one after a party’s nomination has been secured is almost unfathomable. The candidate is already strapped to the rocket.

Furthermore, all serious presidential contenders, particularly those who hold or have already held the office — this year, we have both — have a God complex. They must. And doubt doesn’t exist in the presence of God. There are throngs of advisers, boosters and confidants around Biden to keep that doubt at bay; to introduce it is blasphemy.

Biden can’t be forced out of the race; he would have to be persuaded to leave it. And that eventuality, while not impossible, lives next door to “Never!”

And Biden staying the course may be the best course.

The American University historian Allan Lichtman, a prescient predictor of presidential election results, told me on Sunday that pushing Biden out of the race would be a “tragic mistake for the Democrats,” because he believes that the president remains his party’s best chance at winning the election.

As for the alternatives, Lichtman adds, “It’s not as if there’s some, you know, J.F.K. out there just waiting to jump on the white horse and save the Democratic Party.”

I agree with him: There are no potential replacements that would stand a better chance of defeating Donald Trump than Biden.

Yes, a CNN-SSRS poll conducted in the days after the debate found that Vice President Kamala Harris performed slightly better than Biden against Trump, within the margin of error but still trailing. (But note that a brand-new Reuters-Ipsos poll found that only one-third of Democrats think Biden should exit.)

If Biden were replaced, yes, Harris would be Democrats’ safest option. But approval ratings and standings in one poll before she becomes the actual candidate could be a bit of a mirage.

During stretches of Hillary Clinton’s time in the Senate and her tenure as secretary of State she enjoyed solid approval ratings, but when she ran for president against Trump, her approval numbers gradually diminished.

There were lots of reasons for this, and one of them, I am convinced, is the patriarchal nature of our society. That would likely be revisited for Harris, only this time amplified by patriarchy’s twin evil: racism.

Harris is competent and capable, regardless of what her needling detractors suggest, but unfortunately, I do not believe that she is more electable than Biden in the current climate.

Yet if Biden did stand aside and Harris was passed over in favor of another candidate, there would very likely be strong protest from her legions of Democratic supporters, many of them Black women, a voting bloc that is essential to a Democratic victory.

On top of that, a free-for-all selection process would be sheer chaos. Factions would fiercely compete, egos would be bruised and convention delegates would select a candidate, effectively bypassing direct participation by Democratic voters.

This would all play out just a few months before Election Day, and opposition researchers would have a field day vetting the list of probable Democratic alternatives, several of whom are governors with only regional name recognition, increasing the possibility of a devastating October surprise.

To be clear: I’m not saying that Biden should continue to run because an eventual victory is assured. It isn’t. He was struggling before the debate kerfuffle and will continue to struggle if he survives it.

Trump’s support has gelled while Biden’s has frayed. Many Americans haven’t felt the benefits of what is a structurally sound Biden economy, and the young, activist portion of the Democratic base is angry about Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza.

I, like many others, wish Biden hadn’t sought a second term. I wish that the Democratic nominee was a young visionary with verve.

But retrospective wishing is worthless.

Biden is the Democratic candidate. He’s the only person standing between us and Trump’s destructive, retributive impulses and the ever-increasing latitude that the Supreme Court has granted him.

The fact that an 81-year-old is increasingly showing signs of being an 81-year-old doesn’t panic me; what Trump has signaled he’ll do with another term does.

There’s another way that calls for Biden’s withdrawal could backfire on liberals. One of my favorite TV lines comes from Omar on “The Wire,” paraphrasing Emerson: “You come at the king, you best not miss.” A failed attempt to usurp a man in power risks his vengeance.

But I’ve been thinking of that line in another way as it relates to Biden. By building a case for Biden’s incapacity and his need for capitulation — without convincing him of the same — liberals risk further wounding their standard-bearer and increasing the probability of the thing they most desperately seek to avoid: Trump’s re-election.

And if Biden should decide to leave the race, as The Times reported on Wednesday that he is considering, his withdrawal would only add credence to the idea that some Democrats had, in effect, conspired to conceal a disqualifying impairment and only changed course when forced. The taint of this would linger over the party and any replacement candidate.

Instead of clearing the way for victory, liberals may well be paving the way for defeat.

Biden Campaign Lists Former Trump Officials Who’ve Turned Against Him And… Wow

HuffPost – Opinion

Biden Campaign Lists Former Trump Officials Who’ve Turned Against Him And… Wow

The contempt with which former Trump officials hold the former president is laid bare in the lengthy thread.

By Lee Moran – March 22, 2024

President Joe Biden’s campaign on Thursday shared a thread on X (formerly Twitter) of damning comments that 17 former top officials in Donald Trump’s administration have made to condemn the former president and presumptive GOP nominee.

“The people who know Trump best won’t support him. Why should you?” the Biden campaign began the thread featuring videos of high-ranking White House officials ripping their former boss.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr called Trump “a consummate narcissist” who “constantly engages in reckless conduct” in one clip.

Dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin think Trump is “a laughing fool and they’re fully prepared to take advantage of him,” said former National Security Adviser John Bolton in other footage.

Former Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin called Trump “unfit” for office again, a claim echoed by former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham who said she was “terrified” of his 2024 campaign.

Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned Trump puts the American military in danger.

Trump’s own Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to endorse Trump is also highlighted.

And former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci’s condemnation of Trump as a “domestic terrorist” is mentioned too.

Criticism also came from former Defense Secretary John Mattis, former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley, former White House chiefs of staff Mick Mulvaney and John Kelly, former Secretaries of State Mike Pompeo and Rex Tillerson, former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

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World to reckon with future of fossil fuels at COP28 climate summit


World to reckon with future of fossil fuels at COP28 climate summit

Valerie Volcovici, Kate Abnett and Maha El Dahan – November 29, 2023

FILE PHOTO: Climate activists denounce fossil fuel companies near the Eiffel Tower in Paris
Climate activists denounce fossil fuel companies near the Eiffel Tower in Paris
FILE PHOTO: 'Cop28 UAE' logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) under the theme of 'United on Climate Action Toward COP28', in Abu Dhabi
‘Cop28 UAE’ logo is displayed on the screen during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) under the theme of ‘United on Climate Action Toward COP28’, in Abu Dhabi

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS/DUBAI (Reuters) -Delegates from nearly 200 countries will convene this week for the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, where conference host and OPEC member the UAE hopes to sell the vision of a low-carbon future that includes, not shuns, fossil fuels.

That narrative, also backed by other big oil producer nations, will reveal international divisions at the summit over how to combat global warming.

Countries are split over whether to prioritise phasing out coal and oil and gas, or scaling up technologies such as carbon capture to try to diminish their climate impact.

The annual United Nations summit from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 takes place as the world is poised to shatter another record for the hottest year in 2023, and as reports confirm countries’ climate pledges are not enough to avert the worst impacts of global warming.

Among the decisions nations must make in the gleaming, high-tech city of Dubai will be whether to agree, for the first time, to gradually “phase out” global consumption of fossil fuels and replace them with sources including solar and wind.

The International Energy Agency, the West’s energy watchdog, issued a report ahead of the conference defining its position.

It called the idea of widespread carbon capture, to contain emissions from burning fossil fuels, an illusion and said the fossil fuel industry must decide between deepening the climate crisis or shifting to clean energy.

In response, OPEC accused the IEA of vilifying oil producers.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are the biggest cause of climate change.


The arguments for and against continued use of fossil fuel have focused on COP’s incoming president Sultan al-Jaber.

His position as CEO of the UAE’s national oil company ADNOC has raised concerns among campaigners, some U.S. Congress members and EU lawmakers over whether he can be an impartial broker of a climate deal.

Jaber has vehemently denied a report from the BBC and the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) that he planned to discuss potential gas and other commercial deals with over a dozen governments ahead of the summit.

“These allegations are false, not true, incorrect, are not accurate. And it’s an attempt to undermine the work of the COP28 presidency,” Jaber told a news conference on Wednesday.

Jaber has said the phase-down of fossil fuels is “inevitable”, but also that the industry needs to be included in the debate of finding climate solutions and presented himself as ideally placed to mediate.

Climate campaigners are not reassured.

“We have a world which has more fossil fuels than ever,” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, a climate NGO. “What we should be looking for is a commitment to actually reduce fossil fuels.”

Jaber says he has been rallying support from companies for COP28 pledges aimed at reducing emissions from oil and gas operations.

Many representatives of the industry will be present in Dubai as this year’s gathering of 70,000 registered attendees takes on the character of trade show.

Organisers say the record attendance will include the biggest business participation for any U.N. climate summit yet.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Britain’s King Charles are also set to attend, although U.S. President Joe Biden will not.


Away from the high-profile visitors, a major task for the country delegations at COP28 will be to assess how far off track the world is from a goal set in Paris in 2015 to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), while aiming for a cap of 1.5C.

This process, known as the global stocktake, should yield a high-level plan telling countries what they need to do.

Governments will then have to turn that global plan into national policies and targets to submit to the U.N. in 2025.

Leading up to the conference, the European Union, U.S. and UAE have rallied support for a deal to triple global renewable energy installed by 2030. Over 100 countries have backed this deal, officials told Reuters, but countries including China and India have not.

U.S. officials and others are hopeful a climate deal agreed earlier this month between the world’s biggest emitters China and the U.S. may also set a positive tone for the talks.

The two countries agreed to boost renewable energy and “accelerate the substitution for coal, oil and gas generation”.


Another task for the conference is to launch the world’s first climate damage fund to help countries that have already suffered irreparable damage from climate change impacts, such as drought, floods and rising sea levels.

Representatives from developed and developing countries have struck a tentative agreement on its design, but all countries at COP28 need to approve it for it to lead to a final deal.

Gayane Gabrielyan, Armenia’s negotiator on the fund, told Reuters it is crucial the “loss and damage” fund agreement is approved now, ahead of elections next year in countries, such as the U.S. that could shatter the political consensus.

Another test is whether wealthy nations announce hundreds of millions of dollars needed to launch the fund at COP28. The European Union and the U.S. have already said they will contribute and are pressuring countries like China and the UAE to follow.

“Speaking from previous experience, unfortunately most of the global agreements, most of the global climate related pledges went uncompleted,” said Najib Ahmed, National Consultant at Somalia’s Climate Ministry.

“But again, we cannot lose hope.”

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Kate Abnett; Editing by Josie Kao and Barbara Lewis)

For Many Kids, a Boost to Summer School Meals Is a ‘Game Changer’

Civil Eats

For Many Kids, a Boost to Summer School Meals Is a ‘Game Changer’

Last year’s omnibus bill cut SNAP benefits but increased funding for summer meals. For many districts, it’s helping address a hunger gap. 

By Anne Marshall – Chalmers – July 5, 2023

Tyden Brownlee, 5, picks up a free school lunch at Olympic Hills Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Tyden Brownlee, 5, picks up a free school lunch at Olympic Hills Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)


States Are Fighting to Bring Back Free School Meals

The Pandemic Reveals Racial Gaps in School Meal Access

What’s Next for Healthier School Meals? We Asked the USDA.

In the northeast corner of Indiana, soybean and corn fields stretch across the landscape, separating the schools of the East Noble School Corporation by as much as 20 miles. Last summer, when interim food service director Roger Urick geared up to offer summer meals to the district’s 3,400 students, pandemic-era waivers allowing him to offer to-go meals to families had expired, forcing him to go back to the old model.

Instead of being able to offer take-away meals at several locations in the area, Urick was required to serve meals at two designated locations where kids had to come in and eat their meals on site. (In the school nutrition world, this is known as a “congregate” setting.)

Participation dropped to half of what it had been the two summers prior. “We found it was difficult for parents and kids to come to our two buildings and eat on site,” says Urick.

Before the pandemic, an estimated 6 out of 7 kids who qualified for free or reduced lunch could not access food in the summer largely due to the mandate that it be eaten on site, a problem that’s particularly acute in rural regions.

“We have known for a very long time that structural, fundamental changes were needed in the summer meals program because of barriers like transportation to meal sites,” says Carolyn Vega, associate director of policy at Share Our Strength, the nonprofit whose No Kid Hungry campaign focuses on access to summer meals. “School buses aren’t running over the summer. A lot of summer meals would be (served) outside, but there can be extreme heat or rain.”

Early in the pandemic, though, congregate anything was forbidden and restrictions around summer feeding were stripped away. Families were allowed to pick up several days’ worth of meals in the summer or even have them delivered. As a result, the number of summer meals served nationwide in July 2020 was nearly triple the number served in July 2019, according to No Kid Hungry.

In December 2022, as part of the end-of-year $1.7 trillion budget bill, Congress approved $29 billion in meal programs for low-income kids, and permanently loosened the rules around congregate feeding during the summer—a win for child nutrition advocates. But it came with a cost, as Democrats agreed to end pandemic-era SNAP “emergency allotments” a few months early. (The end to those allotments has left millions of Americans with slashed benefits.)

“We would have liked to see those allotments continue,” says Clarissa Hayes, the deputy director of school and out-of-school time programs for the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “We never like to see one program cut to prop up another program.”

The boost in school meal funding will pay for two major changes. Starting this summer, families in rural areas will once again be allowed to pick up meals or have them delivered, if districts and community groups are available to do so. This “non-congregate” option is expected to benefit up to 8 million children living in rural areas, according to a USDA spokesperson. And come next summer, families of children who qualify for free and reduced meals at school will receive a $40 monthly grocery stipend when school is out, creating permanent summer assistance.

These two changes will “work together to end summer hunger and fill that gap that many families face,” says Hayes.

Long Overdue Option

The history of summer food service dates to the late 1960s, when the federal government provided grants to states to offer meals over break. Decades later, summer feeding programs have greatly expanded and are entrenched in many low-income and rural communities.

School districts participate in the Seamless Summer Option (SSO), which provides reimbursement for all meals delivered to kids under the age of 18. All children eat free in communities where at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), meanwhile, offers reimbursement to summer enrichment programs (such as camps and religious organizations) that offer meals in low-income areas.

Over the last few months, after the USDA greenlit “non-congregate” meal services in rural areas, most states opted to participate, and school districts, along with community groups that provide summer meals, have been busy submitting plans to whichever state agency oversees SFSP or SSO.

Vega, at Share Our Strength, says offering more flexible feeding options in rural areas is long overdue. “There aren’t a lot of community locations that [rural] kids can regularly and easily get to during the summer, much less twice a day for breakfast and lunch,” she says. “This is the level of service our rural communities have needed all along.”

In Indiana’s Noble County, where about half of the student population is eligible for free and reduced lunch, Urick says he’s “excited” to once again offer a service that should help ensure that more kids get access to meals after last year’s low participation rates.

The summer, families are able to pick up meals at seven different sites in the area, including a public library and two public housing apartment complexes. When Urick announced the change to the community, he says he was “overwhelmed” by grateful emails and calls. Though many school kitchens face staffing shortages, Urick has had no problem finding workers eager to earn some summer money preparing and delivering meals. But not all rural districts are that fortunate.

Becky Woodman, cafeteria operations manager at the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District in Northern California, says she’s not participating in a grab-and-go or delivery option for summer feeding largely due to staffing. “We’re just not in a position to do that,” she says. “All of our cafeteria staff are 10-month employees.”

During the height of the pandemic, Woodman says, meal delivery to families was a huge challenge. The furthest delivery site was an 80-minute drive down a one-lane road. During the school year, she was able to lean on bus drivers and other district employees to help. “It took a lot of people working really hard and being creative and making things work,” she recalls. Over the summers of 2020 and 2021, though, that meal delivery service paused.

This summer, she has hired two people to serve breakfast, lunch, snacks, and supper at an elementary school located on the Hoopa Valley Reservation, where the majority of the district’s roughly 1,000 students live. The meals are included in a month-long summer school that typically only attracts about 70 students. She expects “100 percent” of those students will take advantage of the meals. And in a district in which nearly 68 percent of kids qualify for free and reduced lunch, she says many in the community will likely turn to nonprofits and other outreach programs during the summer for help with groceries and meals.

A Neurologist’s Tips to Protect Your Memory

A new book by a renowned brain expert says there are a few simple things we can do to prevent memory decline as we age.

By Hope Reese – Published July 6, 2022 – Updated June 22, 2023

Credit…Mikyung Lee
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As we age, our memory declines. This is an ingrained assumption for many of us; however, according to neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak, a neurologist and clinical professor at George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health, decline is not inevitable.

The author of more than 20 books on the mind, Dr. Restak has decades’ worth of experience in guiding patients with memory problems. “The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind,” Dr. Restak’s latest book, includes tools such as mental exercises, sleep habits and diet that can help boost memory.

Yet Dr. Restak ventures beyond this familiar territory, considering every facet of memory — how memory is connected to creative thinking, technology’s impact on memory, how memory shapes identity. “The point of the book is to overcome the everyday problems of memory,” Dr. Restak said.

Especially working memory, which falls between immediate recall and long-term memory, and is tied to intelligence, concentration and achievement. According to Dr. Restak, this is the most critical type of memory, and exercises to strengthen it should be practiced daily. But bolstering all memory skills, he added, is key to warding off later memory issues.

Memory decline is not inevitable with aging, Dr. Restak argues in the book. Instead, he points to 10 “sins,” or “stumbling blocks that can lead to lost or distorted memories.” Seven were first described by the psychologist and memory specialist Daniel Lawrence Schacter — “sins of omission,” such as absent-mindedness, and “sins of commission,” such as distorted memories. To those Dr. Restak added three of his own: technological distortion, technological distraction and depression.

Ultimately, “we are what we can remember,” he said. Here are some of Dr. Restak’s tips for developing and maintaining a healthy memory.

Some memory lapses are actually attention problems, not memory problems. For instance, if you’ve forgotten the name of someone you met at a cocktail party, it could be because you were talking with several people at the time and you didn’t properly pay attention when you heard it.

“Inattention is the biggest cause for memory difficulties, ” Dr. Restak said. “It means you didn’t properly encode the memory.”

One way to pay attention when you learn new information, like a name, is to visualize the word. Having a picture associated with the word, Restak said, can improve recall. For instance, he recently had to memorize the name of a doctor, Dr. King, (an easy example, he acknowledged). So he pictured a male doctor “in a white coat with a crown on his head and a scepter instead of a stethoscope in his hand.”

There are many memory exercises that you can integrate into everyday life. Dr. Restak suggested composing a grocery list and memorizing it. When you get to the store, don’t automatically pull out your list (or your phone) — instead, pick up everything according to your memory.

“Try to see the items in your mind,” he said, and only consult the list at the end, if necessary. If you’re not going to the store, try memorizing a recipe. He added that frequent cooking is actually a great way to improve working memory.

Once in a while, get in the car without turning on your GPS, and try to navigate through the streets from memory. A small 2020 study suggested that people who used GPS more frequently over time showed a steeper cognitive decline in spatial memory three years later.

Games like bridge and chess are great for memory, but so is a simpler game, said Dr. Restak. For instance, Dr. Restak’s “favorite working memory game” is 20 Questions — in which a group (or a single person) thinks of a person, place or object, and the other person, the questioner, asks 20 questions with a yes-or-no answer. Because to succeed, he said, the questioner must hold all of the previous answers in memory in order to guess the correct answer.

Another of Restak’s tried-and-true memory exercises simply requires a pen and paper or audio recorder. First, recall all of the U.S. presidents, starting with President Biden and going back to, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt, writing or recording them. Then, do the same, from F.D.R. to Biden. Next, name only the Democratic presidents, and only the Republican ones. Last, name them in alphabetical order.

If you prefer, try it with players on your favorite sports team or your favorite authors. The point is to engage your working memory, “maintaining information and moving it around in your mind,” Restak wrote.

One early indicator of memory issues, according to Dr. Restak, is giving up on fiction. “People, when they begin to have memory difficulties, tend to switch to reading nonfiction,” he said.

Over his decades of treating patients, Dr. Restak has noticed that fiction requires active engagement with the text, starting at the beginning and working through to the end. “You have to remember what the character did on Page 3 by the time you get to Page 11,” he said.

Among Dr. Restak’s three new sins of memory, two are associated with technology.

First is what he calls “technological distortion.” Storing everything on your phone means that “you don’t know it,” Dr. Restak said, which can erode our own mental abilities. “Why bother to focus, concentrate and apply effort to visualize something when a cellphone camera can do all the work for you?” he wrote.

The second way our relationship with technology is detrimental for memory is because it often takes our focus away from the task at hand. “In our day, the greatest impediment of memory is distraction,” Dr. Restak wrote. As many of these tools have been designed with the aim of addicting the person using them, and, as a result, we are often distracted by them. People today can check their email while streaming Netflix, talking with a friend or walking down the street. All of this impedes our ability to focus on the present moment, which is critical for encoding memories.

Your mood plays a big role in what you do or do not remember.

Depression, for instance, can greatly decrease memory. Among “people who are referred to neurologists for memory issues, one of the biggest causes is depression,” Dr. Restak said.

Your emotional state affects the kind of memories you recall. The hippocampus (or “memory entry center,” according to Dr. Restak) and the amygdala (the part of the brain that manages emotions and emotional behavior) are linked — so “when you’re in a bad mood, or depressed, you tend to remember sad things,” Dr. Restak said. Treating depression — either chemically or via psychotherapy — also often restores memory.

Throughout his career, Dr. Restak has been asked by dozens of patients how they can improve their memory. But not all memory lapses are problematic. For instance, not remembering where you parked your car in a crowded lot is pretty normal. Forgetting how you arrived at the parking lot in the first place, however, indicates potential memory issues.

There is no simple solution to knowing what should be of concern, Dr. Restak said — much of it is context-dependent. For instance, it’s normal to forget the room number of your hotel, but not the address of your apartment. If you’re concerned, it’s best to consult with a medical expert.

Hope Reese is a journalist who writes for Vox, Shondaland, The Atlantic and other publications.

Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst.

The Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act


The Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act

Nina Totenberg, Heard on All Things Considered – May 25, 2023

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on May 16.Alex Brandon/AP

The U.S. Supreme Court Court on Thursday significantly curtailed the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the nation’s wetlands and waterways. It was the court’s second decision in a year limiting the ability of the agency to enact anti-pollution regulations and combat climate change.

The challenge to the regulations was brought by Michael and Chantell Sackett, who bought property to build their dream house about 500 feet away from Idaho’s Scenic Priest Lake, a 19-mile stretch of clear water that is fed by mountain streams and bordered by state and national parkland. Three days after the Sacketts started excavating their property, the EPA stopped work on the project because the couple had failed to get a permit for disturbing the wetlands on their land.

Now a conservative Supreme Court majority has used the Sacketts’ case to roll back longstanding rules adopted to carry out the 51-year-old Clean Water Act.

While the nine justices agreed that the Sacketts should prevail, they divided 5-to-4 as to how far to go in limiting the EPA’s authority.Sponsor Message

Narrowing the scope of the law

Writing for the court majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that the navigable waters of the United States regulated by the EPA under the statute do not include many previously regulated wetlands. Rather, he said, the CWA extends to only streams, oceans, rivers and lakes, and those wetlands with a “continuous surface connection to those bodies.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by the court’s three liberal members, disputed Alito’s reading of the statute, noting that since 1977 when the CWA was amended to include adjacent wetlands, eight consecutive presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic, have interpreted the law to cover wetlands that the court has now excluded. Kavanaugh said that by narrowing the act to cover only adjoining wetlands, the court’s new test will have quote “significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.”

In addition to joining Kavanaugh’s opinion, the court’s liberals signed on to a separate opinion by Justice Elena Kagan. Pointing to the air and water pollution cases, she accused the majority of appointing itself instead of Congress as the national policymaker on the environment.

Reaction to the opinion

President Biden, in a statement, called the decision “disappointing.”

It “upends the legal framework that has protected America’s waters for decades,” he said. “It also defies the science that confirms the critical role of wetlands in safeguarding our nation’s streams, rivers, and lakes from chemicals and pollutants that harm the health and wellbeing of children, families, and communities.”Sponsor Message

Two former EPA chiefs saw Thursday’s decision as a major setback for the nation’s environment, and its future in combating the effects of climate change. William K. Reilly, who served as EPA administrator in the George H.W. Bush administration, said that while he understands the economic objections of farmers and builders to many wetland regulations, the Supreme Court’s decision is “too broad” and will only limit further the already disappearing wetlands that protect many parts of the country from flooding and drought.

Carol Browner, who served as EPA administrator in the Obama administration, echoed those sentiments, calling the decision “a major blow to the landmark Clean Water Act and the federal government’s ability to protect our people from pollution and its negative health side effects.”

The decision also dismayed environmental groups.

“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it’s catastrophic for the Clean Water act,” said Jim Murphy of the National Wildlife Federation. Wetlands play an “enormous role in protecting the nation’s water,” he said. “They’re really the kidneys of water systems and they’re also the sponges. They absorb a lot of water on the landscape. So they’re very important water features and they’re very important to the quality of the water that we drink, swim, fish, boat and recreate in.”

As in last year’s case limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate air pollution from power plants, the decision was a major victory for the groups that supported the Sacketts — mining, oil, utilities and, in today’s case, agricultural and real estate interests as well.

Can lawmakers save the collapsing Florida home insurance market?


Can lawmakers save the collapsing Florida home insurance market?

Cate Deventer – April 24, 2023

Hurricane Ian could be ‘one of the most severe loss events in U.S. history’: Insurance expert

Insurance Information Institute Director Mark Friedlander joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the fraud and over-litigation in Florida’s insurance markets, the losses expected from Hurricane Ian, and insurance reform legislation.

The Florida home insurance market has spent most of 2022 tumbling toward collapse, but recent legislation just might avert disaster. Bankrate dug deep into the Florida insurance industry to discover the cause of the problem and to report on the proposed solutions. We can help you understand why the Florida home insurance crisis is happening and your options if you receive a cancellation or nonrenewal notice on your homeowners insurance policy.

Lightbulb Key insights Governor Ron DeSantis signed a second insurance reform bill into law on December 16, 2022. Combined with earlier legislation, these new regulations may stabilize the spasming home insurance market.

Florida accounts for only 9 percent of the country’s home insurance claims but 79 percent of its home insurance lawsuits, many of them fraudulent.
Because of the fraudulent lawsuits and the high overall claim risk in Florida, insurance companies have faced two consecutive years with net underwriting losses over $1 billion.
The devastating damage from Hurricane Ian will likely put further strain on Florida insurers and could worsen the crisis.

The crisis in the Florida insurance market

Florida has always been a complex home insurance market, but recent issues are pushing the state’s market to the point of collapse. Since 2017, six property and casualty companies that offered homeowners insurance in Florida liquidated. Five more are in the liquidation process in 2022. Other insurance companies are voluntarily leaving the state. Even more are choosing to nonrenew swaths of home insurance policies, drastically tighten their policy eligibility requirements or request substantial rate increases.

For Florida homeowners, this is resulting in fewer home insurance companies and increased premiums. When a company goes insolvent, the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA) takes on any claims that still need to be paid by that company. In late August, FIGA’s board and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) approved a .7 percent assessment to help cover the costs of open claims associated with the liquidated companies. That’s the second assessment this year, with a 1.3 percent assessment approved in March. Homeowners will pay these fees regardless of the insurance company they are with.

According to Logan McFaddin, Vice President of State Government Relations at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association,

Florida’s property insurance market is in crisis as insurers grapple with out-of-control litigation costs and billions in losses from recent natural disasters.

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate (ICA) Tasha Carter agrees, saying, “Homeowners insurance options in Florida have become more and more limited, and consumers are facing dire consequences.”

Why are home insurance companies leaving Florida?

Florida insurers are canceling policies, leaving the state or liquidating at a rapid pace. Why? What is behind these companies’ aversion to insuring Florida homes?

Florida has always presented a risky market to home insurance companies due to the high threat of widespread weather-related damage, but the current crisis is caused by a number of factors reaching a boiling point at the same time.

Insurance fraud in Florida

The biggest issue right now in Florida is home insurance fraud, driven by fraudulent roofing claims. A proclamation from the office of Governor Ron DeSantis notes that, although Florida only accounts for 9 percent of the country’s home insurance claims, it is home to 79 percent of the country’s home insurance lawsuits. Many of these lawsuits are fraudulent. ICA Carter explains how the scams generally work:

  1. First, roofers canvas neighborhoods and offer inspections to unsuspecting homeowners. These contractors inevitably “find damage” on the roof and often promise a “free roof” to the homeowner, claiming they can have the home insurance deductible waived.
  2. Homeowners are pressured to sign an assignment of benefits form, giving contractors the right to file an insurance claim on their behalf.
  3. claims adjuster from the insurance company inspects the alleged damage. The adjuster either finds no damage or far more minimal damage than the contractor found, and the claim payout is less than what the contractor demanded.
  4. The contractor brings legal action against the insurance company, demanding a claim payout for the contractor’s original quote. Remember, the homeowner signed the benefits of the policy to the contractor, so the contractor doesn’t need the homeowner’s permission to do this.
  5. The insurance company now has a choice: it can pay the legal costs to fight the lawsuit or pay the costs to settle out of court. Either way, the insurance company loses money due to the legal action.

ICA Carter notes that “these schemes are real and are happening more frequently,” which puts more and more financial pressure on insurance companies, especially in a state with high claims costs due to weather-related events.

According to Mark Friedlander, Director of Corporate Communications at the Insurance Information Institute, “Florida property insurers are projected to post a cumulative underwriting loss of $1.7 billion for 2021” due to these runaway litigation costs. The governor’s office reports that, for two consecutive years, net underwriting losses have exceeded $1 billion. It’s no wonder that so many companies are going insolvent or leaving the state before they reach that point.

On top of that, Florida also previously had a “one-way attorney fee” system. This meant that, when a court ruled in favor of the plaintiff (in this case, a home insurance policyholder or the third-party contractor who filed the claim), the defendant (in this case, the insurance company) was responsible for paying the plaintiff’s attorney fees. So not only were insurers paying for fraudulent lawsuits, they were also paying for the fraudster’s legal costs. Friedlander notes that the insurance reform bill passed in December 2022 “addresses the two root causes of Florida’s residential insurance crisis — litigation abuse and assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse…Eliminating both is necessary to slow down the mass volume of lawsuits being filed against Florida insurers.” Going forward, assignment of benefits forms are banned for home insurance losses and Florida will no longer operate a one-way attorney fee system.

Roof age

Instead of leaving altogether, some companies are tightening their underwriting restrictions to lessen the risk of these scams. This may be the reason why several companies — including Southern Fidelity, Progressive and Universal — have chosen to continue operations in Florida but have nonrenewed tens of thousands of policies.

However, companies are now prohibited from denying coverage solely based on roof age if the roof is fewer than 15 years old and has a life expectancy of five years at the time the policy is issued. That said, insurers will have to decide if they are comfortable with these restrictions or if they will continue leaving Florida.

Storm risk

Risk will always be a consideration for home insurance companies in Florida. The state’s shape and geographic location mean that it could get hit from either side by a hurricane. Because the peninsula is so thin, even homes in the interior counties aren’t entirely protected.

To make matters worse, fraudulent claims may be more common after severe storms — and storms are not uncommon in the state. Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28 as a powerful Category 4 storm, causing widespread damage. The damage and financial fallout could push the already-teetering home insurance market into collapse due to increased home repair expenses, including the potential of fraudulent roof claims.

However, although the risk of hurricane damage complicates things, it isn’t what’s driving the market to the brink of collapse. After all, other risky states don’t have this problem. A high likelihood of damage generally means paying a higher premium to offset that risk, but coverage is usually still available. Oklahoma, for example, has the highest average cost of home insurance in the nation at $3,593 per year for $250K dwelling coverage due to the likelihood of tornado damage, but homeowners in the state don’t face the same difficulty finding coverage that Floridians do.

Is anything being done to curb the crisis?

Yes, although the full effects of the measures have yet to be seen. Senate Bill 76 went into effect in July 2021 and included several provisions to curb fraudulent claims causing insurers so much strain. One such provision is aimed at reducing the solicitation tactics that fraudulent contractors often use at the start of a scam. While this legal measure may help solve the problem, Sean Harper, CEO of Kin Insurance, warns that “there will need to be additional action taken to restore the market to health.”

Florida lawmakers met for a special session from May 23 through May 27. The Legislature passed an insurance reform bill that includes several provisions to help slow the spiral of the market. The provisions included setting up the My Safe Florida Home Program, which provides grants to help Florida homeowners strengthen their homes against damage. Additionally, home insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage for homes solely based on roof age if a roof is less than 15 years old and still has five years of useful life left (older roofs may still be denied as they present a high risk of damage). Finally, lawyers will be restricted in the rates they can charge for property insurance claims cases, hopefully discouraging fraudulent lawsuits and decreasing litigation costs.

Update: December Special Session yields promising reform legislation

Additional legislation was signed into law on December 16, 2022. Senate Bill 2-A. The bill has numerous provisions but focuses on one-way attorney fees and the assignment of benefits scam. Friedlander told Bankrate:

“This is the strongest insurance reform package we have ever seen passed in Florida. It shows Florida’s new legislative leaders understand the enormity of the state’s property insurance crisis and are initiating decisive actions to create a path toward stability of the market.”

Doing away with one-way attorney fees and assignment of benefit forms could potentially remove massive financial pressure from insurance companies and reduce the number of fraudulent lawsuits. The combination of actions included in Senate Bill 2-A will hopefully buoy the rapidly-sinking insurers in the Florida market.

However, Friedlander notes that change won’t happen overnight: “…it will take time to see positive impacts of the legislative reform. We expect home insurance rates in Florida to remain high in 2023 due to expenses associated with ongoing litigation, combined with soaring reinsurance rates and double-digit replacement cost increases driven by escalating prices of construction materials and labor.”

In other words, relief may be coming, but it’ll likely take some time for homeowners and insurers to feel it.

Demotech responds to potential rating downgrades

Because many home insurance companies have been hit hard by the rampant and fraudulent litigation, they may no longer be as financially stable as they were. In late July 2022, financial strength rating company Demotech announced it was considering downgrading the financial strength ratings of 27 property insurance companies.

The situation is complex. While these carriers may no longer have the financial strength they used to, downgrading also causes issues. Downgrading financial ratings impacts homeowners with federally-backed mortgages — those from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — because these lenders require home insurance companies with Demotech ratings to maintain at least an ‘A’ level. Demotech has not released the names of the companies it is considering downgrading.

“Preliminary evaluations are just that — preliminary,” Demotech President Joe Petrelli told Bankrate. Some of the 27 could retain an ‘A’ or higher rating. But if these downgrades happen, homeowners whose coverage is with an affected company may need to find another insurance carrier in a market where options are already limited or expensive.

While a rating downgrade may present challenges for a company and its insureds, that hardship cannot, and does not, factor into our ratings, which are based on specific data and the objective application of our rating methodology.— Joe PetrelliPresident of Demotech

The Florida OIR established a reinsurance fund through its last-resort insurer, Citizens. This means that if an insurance company’s financial strength rating is downgraded below the ‘A’ level, the downgraded company could purchase coverage from Citizens to back it, similar to a co-signer backing a loan. Reinsurance through Citizens would allow the downgraded insurance company to meet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s requirements. This is important because it would prevent policyholders from being required to find a new property insurer. However, a reinsurance solution further strains Citizens, which is already taking on substantial risk by insuring more policyholders in the state as other insurance companies exit Florida.

Learn more: Demotech downgrades and what they might mean for the Florida property insurance market

Update: Florida seeks to replace Demotech

On September 9, the Florida legislature approved a $1.5 million plan to search for a financial strength rating company to replace Demotech. The state will hire a consultant to seek out alternatives that may include finding another company or creating a state-backed financial strength rating agency. Petrelli released a statement in response:

“Since 1996 in Florida, Demotech has provided neutral, unbiased ratings to property insurers, among the approximately 50,000 such ratings we have produced across the country. Our review and analysis process has remained consistent throughout this time. Currently, at least four rating organizations acceptable to the government-sponsored mortgage enterprises operate in Florida and countrywide, and a research effort on rating alternatives could be accomplished at no cost to the taxpayers by reviewing existing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae sellers or servicer guides. Today’s action is an unnecessary response to a problem that does not exist. The reality is that when Hurricane Andrew devastated the state nearly 30 years ago, the rating agencies involved in Florida chose to step away — but Demotech stepped up.”

It remains to be seen if finding another ratings agency will produce meaningful results toward correcting the Florida home insurance crisis. As always, Bankrate continues to monitor the situation.

How to lessen your risk of nonrenewal

If you live in Florida, having a plan could help you lessen your risk of receiving an insurance nonrenewal. There’s nothing you can do to prevent your company from pulling out of the state, but there are steps you can take to make your home as insurable as possible:

  • Keep your roof updated and in good shape: Inspect your roof regularly and repair minor damage as it happens. If you can afford to, replace your roof before it reaches 15 years of age to lessen the risk of being nonrenewed.
  • Install wind mitigation features: State law requires Florida home insurance companies to offer discounts for certain wind protection features, such as hurricane straps and other roof-bracing measures. These features lessen the risk of severe damage to your home, thus making your property more attractive to insurers.
  • Maintain your property: Generally, maintaining your property will make finding insurance coverage easier. Along with checking your roof, also regularly check the rest of the exterior features of your home for damage. You should also make sure no large tree branches or other potential hazards overhang your home, as these could put you at risk of roof damage in a windstorm.

Additionally, there are ways you can lessen the impact of home insurance fraud and help keep companies from having to liquidate. ICA Carter points out that “consumers have the power to help stop contractor fraud by being informed and reporting fraud.”

  • Know the signs and stay educated: ICA Carter created educational resources called “Demolish Contractor Fraud: Steps to Avoid Falling Victim” that may help homeowners recognize the signs of fraud, stop it before it happens and report it.
  • Be wary of solicitation: Soliciting business isn’t against the law, but contractors who canvas neighborhoods after storms — and especially those who offer incentives and rebates for an inspection — may be part of a scam. Instead, contact your insurance company if you are concerned your home sustained damage after a storm.
  • Do not sign an assignment of benefits form: These forms have been banned by Senate Bill 2-A, but keeping an eye out for them as you work with a contractor could still be useful. By keeping control of your policy, you decide if a lawsuit is filed, which vastly cuts down on fraudulent litigation. It’s worth noting that these forms are often buried within otherwise legitimate-looking contracts. Once you’ve signed, the form is legally binding, so it’s important to read everything you are asked to sign. Do not let a contractor simply point out a signature section on paperwork or scroll past the details on a tablet screen. Read the entire document carefully.

Additionally, some companies now offer a discount if you agree to make your policy unassignable. Kin is one such company, and Harper notes that having a high number of unassignable policies has shielded the company from much of the litigation nightmare ensnaring other carriers.

What to do if your home insurance has been canceled

If you’ve received a Florida homeowners insurance cancellation, act quickly. With hurricane season approaching and the insurance market in turmoil, getting another policy could be difficult, but it is possible.

McFaddin recommends that you “work closely with your insurer or insurance agent to see what options may be available to you.” ICA Carter’s advice was similar, advising that “consumers should contact their insurance agency immediately to determine what their options are for homeowners insurance.”

If you’re struggling to find home insurance coverage in Florida, there are still a few companies that may be able to help.


No home insurance company in Florida is immune to the ripping effects of raging litigation, but Harper notes that his company has “some things that we’re doing that allow us to stay open in Florida when other folks aren’t or are going out of business.” In addition to the bulk of the company’s policies being unassignable, the company also employs a unique system for assessing claim damage.

Harper explains that Kin uses software that monitors weather systems and accurately pinpoints which houses may be damaged. The company can then proactively reach out to homeowners to determine if a claim needs to be filed, thereby cutting out potentially predatory contractors.

It sounds crazy, right, to be an insurance company that is asking our customers for claims? But it actually pays off.— Sean HarperCEO of Kin Insurance

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation

Citizens is often one of the only options for homeowners in many areas of the state. The company has experienced rapid growth due to other carriers leaving the market. In 2018, the company had only 414,000 active policies; by August 2022, that number had ballooned to over 1,000,000. Michael Peltier, the spokesperson for Citizens, told Bankrate that the company is writing 5,000 to 6,000 new policies per week, and that in many parts of the state, Citizens is “the only game in town right now.”

Even so, Peltier says that “we do have underwriting guidelines,” so it may not be an option for all homeowners. Citizens is also affected by the same issues that are plaguing other insurance carriers and have recently raised their rates. Although the company requested a 10.7 percent increase on standard home insurance policies, the Florida OIR approved a 6.4 percent increase. While 6.4 percent is certainly better than 10.7 percent, it’s likely that many Citizens policyholders will still feel the strain of a larger bill. The rate increase will go into effect on September 1.

Additionally, Friedlander warns that, because Citizens is insuring so many of the high-risk homes that other carriers have walked away from, “a major hurricane striking Florida could have devastating effects” on the company and the industry. Offering reinsurance to companies if Demotech does downgrade ratings will add more risk to Citizens if a disaster strikes.

Citizens may get some relief from the December 2022 reform bill, though. Policyholders must now accept private insurance quotes if they are no more than 20 percent higher than Citizens’ quotes. Additionally, Citizens’ rates must be actuarially sound but are now required to be non-competitive with the private insurance market. Finally, Citizens policyholders will be required to carry flood insurance. Rates for a last-resort policy are likely to be higher going forward, but that should theoretically help curb the influx of policies that could drown Citizens entirely.

Update: Slide Insurance takes on some St. Johns and UPC policyholders after insolvency

Since its 2021 inception, Tampa-based company Slide Insurance has embraced taking on books of business from insolvent Florida home insurance companies.

In February of 2022, the Florida OIR announced that Slide would absorb about 147,000 policyholders from St. Johns Insurance Company when it reported its insolvency. In a similar move, approximately 72,000 UPC Insurance policyholders were transferred to Slide when UPC went belly-up in February 2023.

But what is Slide Insurance? Founded by former Heritage Insurance CEO Bruce Lucas, Slide is an insurtech that relies on AI and large data sets for its underwriting models. The company claims this is the edge it needs to thrive in the challenged Florida homeowners insurance market. Slide is rated A (Exceptional) by Demotech.

If you’re one of the many homeowners who have found themselves transferred to Slide, you might be wondering what’s next. According to the company, policyholders have no actions to take — as long as you pay your premiums, there will be no lapse of coverage. Additionally, Slide will notify your mortgage company for escrow purposes (if applicable).

One important thing to note is that Slide will not handle any open UPC claims that occurred before February 1, 2023. Instead, those that need help with an existing UPC claim should contact the UPC claims center directly.

Update: Florida OIR announces Tailrow Insurance Company as newest carrier to enter the Florida home insurance market

In April 2023, the Florida OIR announced that it approved the application for Tailrow Insurance Company, bringing a new carrier into the state.

While Tailrow is yet to be formed (the company has provisions to meet before the OIR will authorize it to do business), this may be a promising first step in stabilizing the market. Bankate’s experts are committed to staying on top of this story and will bring our readers new information as it unfolds.

The bottom line

Florida home insurance has always been complex due to the state’s high risk of storm damage, but the incidence of fraudulent roofing claims has pushed the market to the brink of collapse. The problem may not stay in Florida, either; if other high-risk states like Louisiana and California see an increase in insurance fraud, those markets could begin to degrade. There is hope, though, as measures are put into place to protect companies and policyholders from financial strength rating downgrades, laws are passed that could help curb scams and carriers take a different approach to insuring homes in the Sunshine State. But will these measures be enough to save a market in turmoil?

Why is AMLO one of the world’s most popular politicians? We took a road trip through Mexico to find out

The Los Angeles Times

Why is AMLO one of the world’s most popular politicians? We took a road trip through Mexico to find out

By Kate Linthicum and Photography by Gary Coronado December 19, 2022 

A man carries bags out onto the water.
Mateo Martinez Mendoza, 27, prepares salt evaporation ponds in Salinas del Marques, Oaxaca, where he and his father are generational salt field miners. Salt evaporation ponds are artificial basins designed to extract salt from the seawater.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)


From the roadside stand in this muggy stretch of southern Mexico where Carmelo Morrugares sells coconuts for a living, the 45-year-old father of three says he can see his country changing for the better.

There’s his pay, which has doubled from $5 to $10 daily thanks to a series of minimum-wage hikes. And there are the hefty welfare payments that his elderly father and student daughter now receive from the government.

Then there’s the highway itself, repaved amid a boom of fresh investment across the impoverished south.

For all this good fortune, Morrugares credits one man: President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“He’s a visionary,” said Morrugares, who cheered on the president recently as he zipped past the coconut stand on his way to promote a refurbished train line that will pass through this region. That the famously frugal López Obrador traversed the dense tropical forest by car instead of helicopter said it all.

“Presidents before would just fly over,” Morrugares said. “We’ve never had a leader so close to the people.”

A man sits at a table with coconuts for sale.

That sort of praise isn’t something you hear much in Mexico’s wealthier enclaves, where criticism of López Obrador has reached a fever pitch. Detractors, tens of thousands of whom marched in Mexico City last month, hate everything about the president: his moralizing tone and his ill-fitting suits, his disregard for democratic norms and his embrace of the military, his hypersensitivity to critique and his insistence that every problem can be blamed on a single enemy — the rich.

But as they pen newspaper columns and fire off tweets insisting that Mexico has never been worse off, his critics are speaking largely to themselves.

López Obrador is one of the most popular leaders on Earth.

He won in a landslide four years ago vowing to finally put the “poor first” in a country that he said had been hijacked by a corrupt and conservative elite. And despite a stagnating economystaggering levels of violence and growing evidence that his efforts to reduce inequality have failed, his approval rating still tops 60%.

To better grasp the breadth of that support, The Times traveled this month across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a 140-mile wide strip of land that spans two states — Veracruz and Oaxaca — and stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

A woman runs alongside a procession of vehicles with a crucifix.

Here in the hinterlands, far from cosmopolitan Mexico City and the thriving industrial hubs in the north, it quickly becomes clear why AMLO, as he is widely known, is so beloved.

As the sun sank over the Pacific near the Oaxacan port city of Salina Cruz, 63-year-old Carlos Estrada hurried to finish work in the salt mine where he has labored since he was 15.

Wearing a brace to support his back, he heaved 110-pound bags of dirt onto the shoulders of his son, who was building a shallow basin used to isolate salt from seawater.

Estrada always assumed he would work until he died, like his father and grandfather before him. As one of almost 60% of Mexicans toiling in the informal economy, he is not eligible for a pension.

A man and his son pause while working on the water.

But López Obrador has vastly expanded the nation’s welfare system, giving cash transfers to 10 million older Mexicans along with millions of students, young workers and people with disabilities.

When Estrada turns 65, he’ll receive $300 every two months, enough to allow him to retire. “If God wills it and I’m still alive then, I will really enjoy it,” he said.

If there is one López Obrador policy that has pumped up his popularity, it is these direct payments. In Oaxaca, nearly every household is benefiting from at least one of the entitlement programs.

At the same time, electric bills and gas prices have fallen here in the south thanks to new government subsidies.

The president’s critics write-off such programs as a cynical play for votes. Many economists say inequality hasn’t improved, in part because López Obrador has cut other anti-poverty initiatives.

But Estrada says he can see a difference.

He and his family used to eat meat only once every two months. Now, they eat it every two weeks.

“The president,” Estrada said, “is really good people.”

Out on the water, hulking oil tankers bobbed on the waves in the fading light — another reason that López Obrador is appreciated here.

State oil producer Petroleos Mexicanos, long one of the only sources of decent jobs in the south, has struggled for decades and until recently seemed on the verge of collapse as the energy sector began to open to foreign investment and renewable sources like wind and solar.

The Port of Salina Cruz

Rejecting those reforms, the president has funneled billions into Pemex, keeping it on life support even as its production of crude has plummeted and it has become the most indebted oil producer in the world.

Environmental activists have decried his embrace of fossil fuels, including the construction of a $12-billion oil refinery in nearby Tabasco. Top U.S. and Canadian officials say his nationalist policies violate regional free trade agreements.

The thousands of Pemex employees who work in and around Salina Cruz have a different view.

“If Pemex disappeared, it would turn this into a city of slaves where everybody makes minimum wage,” said Teresa Marin, 60, who retired from the company five years ago with a pension that has afforded her a middle-class life: a silver SUV, lunch dates with friends, and even a recent vacation to Colombia.

A teenager and two women at a food stall.

She greeted López Obrador with a homemade poster the last time he came to town. She was struck by his humility when he stopped on the side of the road for a snack of gorditas and atole, a traditional corn drink.

While previous leaders resided in Mexico’s elegant presidential palace and traveled the world on private jets, López Obrador lives in a small apartment inside his downtown office and flies commercial — always in coach. He speaks directly to the nation for two hours at a televised news conference each weekday morning, expounding on history and world events, ranting against his “racist and classist” political opponents and otherwise setting the agenda for the day.

It doesn’t hurt that he was born in a dusty village in the nearby state of Tabasco, and that his father was an oil worker, Marin said.

“He’s not an elite,” she said. “We can identify with him.”

Twelve miles inland, on the outskirts of a town called Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, another signature López Obrador project is taking shape.

On a recent morning, workers were laying fresh tracks on the train route that will cross the isthmus, carrying cargo from the Pacific to the Gulf. Officials are planning several industrial parks along the route in hopes of making the isthmus an alternative to the Panama Canal.

A man walks along the train tracks.

Like another project López Obrador has launched in the south, a tourist train through the Yucatan peninsula, this one has been plagued by concerns about graft and environmental destruction and has angered homeowners who are being forced to relocate.

But for Heriberta Sosa, a 44-year-old who runs a small paper store near the tracks, the relocation of some of her neighbors is worth it to bring an engine of development that might allow her children to stay in Oaxaca instead of seeking work elsewhere. She and her husband spent years being paid under the table in factories and restaurants in South Carolina to save enough money to open a business here.

“This is going to benefit the whole isthmus,” she said. “Some of us are going to have to pay.”

Two photos show a woman and a little boy at their homes.

On a windswept hill 80 miles north, 77-year-old Maurilio Galeana Alejo stood quietly before his son Amadeo’s grave.

Amadeo left this village, Boca del Monte, in the 1990s.

The North American Free Trade Agreement had just taken effect, eliminating most tariffs across the continent and bringing hundreds of new factories to central and northern Mexico.

A man stands in a cemetery.

The ranks of Mexican billionaires expanded rapidly. But for small farmers like Galeana, the trade deal was devastating. How could his homegrown corn compete with imports from U.S. agribusinesses, many of which received subsidies from the U.S. government?

“There was nothing to eat here,” Galeana said. So at 15 his son migrated to the United States.

Amadeo returned nearly three decades later in a casket. He had died of cancer while working in Wisconsin.

Galeana was angry that he had missed knowing his son as an adult. He was angry about generations of Mexican leaders that he said had “screwed over” the rural poor.

As a rule, he was suspicious of politicians, but López Obrador, he said grudgingly, seemed different.

“Neo-liberalism failed,” the president has repeatedly declared, a not so contentious conclusion in a country where people work longer hours than almost anywhere in the world yet 40% can’t afford basic food.

While López Obrador has continued many of the same free-market policies of his predecessors, he has also focused new programs in the regions that he says were most left behind globalization. “We’re doing justice for south and southeast Mexico,” he says.

A man carries freshly caught fish near a port.

Some of his programs are aimed specifically at people like Galeana, including one called Sembrando Vida that pays farmers to plant trees.

It has been mired in scandal, with environmentalists claiming that it is in fact fueling deforestation because farmers must have cleared plots of land to be eligible to join. Still, Galeana sees it as a positive sign.

“We’re less screwed up than we were before,” he said as he cleared off the headstone ahead of a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of his son’s death. “This government is giving us more.”

As the highway winds into Veracruz state, the dry hills of Oaxaca give way to dense forest. The Gulf lies ahead.

In the city of Coatzacoalcos, the malecon that stretches along the water used to be filled with bars and nightlife, the beaches crowded with tourists. But the economy shriveled as cartels took over and gang violence — including a 2019 arson attack that killed 31 people in a club — scared away visitors. Much of the malecon is abandoned now except for squatters and stray dogs.

A man sells snacks near the waterfront.

Much of the country is in a similar purgatory — strangled by criminal groups that are often interlocked with local politics and demand extortion payments from local businesses.

López Obrador promised to bring peace to Mexico. His main strategy to reduce violence — doubling the number of federal troops deployed across the country — has had little impact here. Coatzacoalcos remains one of Mexico’s deadliest cities.

Polls show that most Mexicans are very worried about the violence. They are also concerned about the economy, which was battered by the COVID pandemic and has been slow to recover. Economists say that López Obrador deserves part of the blame because — apart from his pet projects — he has embraced a policy of austerity.

Yet there he is, his silver hair, tanned skin and white smile emblazoned everywhere across this region, on billboards, murals and posters hung proudly outside of homes.

Three young men stand near the waterfront.

Jeremy Morales, 21, and Enrique Castañeda, 22, debated why on a recent afternoon as they strolled along the mostly deserted beach on a break in between exams at a nearby university.

“It’s the money,” said Castañeda. “Everybody knows somebody who has been helped.”

“But that’s not the way to move the country forward,” Morales said. “You won’t get rid of poverty by just giving away cash.”

“At least he’s not stealing it,” Castañeda said. “We’re so used to leaders who are so bad.”

“It’s true,” Morales said, laughing. He paused. “I guess it doesn’t take much to make us thankful.”

A man pulls his cart up to a home.

Cecilia Sanchez in The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

More signs indicate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be unraveling

CBS News

More signs indicate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be unraveling

Holly Williams – October 29, 2022

There are more and more signs that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be unraveling.

One of the most glaring setbacks in its war is its recent big call-up of more troops — a plan that doesn’t appear to be working. Russia’s mobilization has caused anger at home, forcing the old and inexperienced into uniform, with claims they’re short of even basic equipment. The call-up followed weeks of embarrassing setbacks for Russian forces, as Ukraine has retaken swaths of its territory. And in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, officials appointed by Moscow have evacuated civilians ahead of another expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Artillerymen of Ukraine's Armed Forces destroy the Russian invaders with the help of the German 155-mm FH70 howitzer, Zaporizhzhia Region, southeastern Ukraine. Oct. 27, 2022.  / Credit: Sipa via AP Images
Artillerymen of Ukraine’s Armed Forces destroy the Russian invaders with the help of the German 155-mm FH70 howitzer, Zaporizhzhia Region, southeastern Ukraine. Oct. 27, 2022. / Credit: Sipa via AP Images

On Russian state TV, at times the tone seems close to despair. Russia miscalculated its strength and for eight straight months can’t win in its war on Ukraine, said one commentator. Perhaps another sign of Russian desperation is its new tactic: targeting the Ukrainian power grid, which has led to blackouts in Ukraine — but no collapse in morale. As Russia’s nuclear forces started annual drills this week, President Vladimir Putin repeated his government’s allegation that Ukraine could detonate a radioactive device — a so-called “dirty bomb.” Some fear Russia is planning a false-flag operation, staging an incident and blaming Ukraine, perhaps as a pretext for using a nuclear weapon. “I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false flag operation yet, don’t know,” said President Joe Biden. “But it would be a serious, serious mistake.” Ukraine’s defense minister told CBS News Russia is exhausted, and trying to force Ukraine and the West to negotiate. In a bizarre speech this week, Putin railed against the West, including gay pride parades and so-called cancel culture. But he also said that it would make no sense for Russia to use a nuclear weapon. Biden’s response to that was: If he has no intention, why does he keep talking about it?