THE BABES BLUF looks into how the decision to have children is affected by and affects national security.

BLUF: For the sixth consecutive year, the American birth rate fell in 2020. Factors contributing to the decline include concern by the current childbearing generation over economic, political, and global instability. While valid concerns, continued population decline within the US may actually exacerbate these same concerns in the long-term, causing a cyclical effect with global implications. 

The decision to have children may be the most personal one a person can make. It certainly has been for me. In a world that still too often defines women by her capacity to birth a human being, I’ve found it difficult to explain my personal views on the subject even to the most understanding people. “I don’t think I want them,” is often my response. It’s noncommittal because I believe there may come a time in my life when perhaps I will change my mind; but it is not without significant consideration that I find myself having reservations. 

At 30 years old, I’m acutely aware of the world within which I would be bringing a child: Hottest days on record, a global pandemic, and an America divided on almost everything. As a professional who spends my days talking about national security, nuclear weapons, cyber hacking, drones, etc., I find it painstakingly difficult to navigate how I could bring a mini into a world I deem unsafe not just because of the news I read but because of the job I have.

But am I alone in my hesitations, or do national security concerns have anything to do with changing birth rates? 


For the sixth consecutive year, the American birth rate fell in 2020. This time, the 4% drop produced the lowest number of babies born in the US since 1979: Just 3.6 million. So why aren’t Americans having babies like we used to? Recent studies show plenty of nuance but really it comes down to one thing: The world has changed a lot — and fast. 


Unlike previous generations, the “American Dream” and middle class look a lot different for current childrearing families than it did when our parents and grandparents were raising kids. Economic recessions coupled with increased costs of living that have not kept pace with inflation make it difficult for the current babymaker generation to feel stable enough to buy a home, have savings, or (gasp!) have both. In a recent survey, 23% of respondents said they weren’t having children because they are worried about the economy, 31% to an inability to afford childcare, and 13% are concerned about student debt. While great news for equality, 43% of women are working now (compared to 11% in 1968) but many of those same women worry their careers will be affected by becoming mothers. They aren’t wrong. Turns out women’s earning potential drops to 20% less over the course of their careers than their male counterparts if they have kids. With every additional child, a woman loses an additional 4%, while the opposite happens for men, whose income rises by 6%

Even among those who chose to have at least one kiddo, financial concerns are leading them to have fewer than planned with 64% citing childcare as too expensive, 43% saying they waited too long because of financial instability, and 40% lacking paid family leave. Likely for financial and career reasons, the current child-rearing generation is also waiting longer to get married, which in many cases (though not all!) also delays babies — a contributing factor in having fewer children than previous generations. The average age of marriage in 2020 was 32 compared to 21.5 in 1960; babies at 26 compared to 21 in 1972.

And lucky for me, but maybe not so much for the world, it turns out I am not alone in my national security woes and worries when it comes to a decision to have babies. According to the same NYT study, 18% say their decision to not have children is because of global instability, 11% and 10% said climate change and domestic politics respectively are affecting their decision. A separate 2020 study found that 96% of surveyed adults 27 to 45 factored climate concerns into their fertility decisions, and are very or extremely concerned about having children in a climate-changed world — though the demographics of those in the study are not clear. Some recent reports have shown that in other countries, like China, climate has also resulted in fertility shifts but significant research is lacking in this area. Some go as far as saying that they regret having children who will be responsible for the climate burden. It’s also not just millennials. Gen Z is having perhaps even more of an existential crisis. A recent op-ed in the award-winning student journal “Et Cetera” stated, “There are many other reasons why my generation does not want children. An important reason is that our earth is literally dying before our eyes, and the older generations are to blame for it.” 

If the climate wasn’t enough to do it, try adding polarizing political differences. “A month before the election, roughly 8 in 10 registered voters in both camps said their differences with the other side were about core American values, and roughly 9 in 10 — again in both camps — worried that a victory by the other would lead to ‘lasting harm’ to the United States,” found a Pew study. That was before the pandemic happened. Now? 76% of Americans think we are more divided than before COVID-19. 

New studies are also emerging from the pandemic with experts arguing that if those of childbearing age were on the fence about kids before COVID-19, the health, financial, and political upheaval experienced in the past year and a half is causing many to press the pause button on future planning. For example, ​​minorities are disproportionately seeing an impact to their family planning. According to a 2020 report, “44% of Black women and 48% of Hispanic women said that in the face of a global pandemic they wanted to wait to get pregnant or have fewer children. Queer women (almost half) also were more likely to be putting off pregnancy.” The principle research scientist of the study, Laura Lindberg, noted “These groups already bear the brunt of existing inequities. The pandemic has only made these disparities worse. ” 

The pandemic alone is probably not solely to blame for dramatic declines in population but it is certainly exacerbating all the trends causing current and future generations to rethink babies. One interesting note is that some have argued this decline in the American population was not just predictable but inevitable. Adrian Raferty points out that in the 1800s, American women on average gave birth to seven children (wowza) but then fertility rates decreased steadily, falling to just 1.74 children per woman in 1976. That turning point marked what he calls “the end of America’s fertility transition.” The fall is theoretically due to industrialization — think better mortality rates, increased education for women, a rise in the cost of raising children, etc. He goes on to explain that “birth rates have fluctuated up and down in the 45 years since, rising to 2.11 in 2007,” which he says was unusually high. One caveat to this is that our population has not just reached peak fertility dips, but is also nearing historical death rates — a factor not accounted for in Raferty’s models.

On a personal note, while the changing world certainly is having a significant impact on childbearing decisions, perhaps I am more one-track-minded of the doom from my DC national security bubble. An assumption loosely backed by my personal conversations and a social media poll I ran in August where 50% of respondents said their career in national security affects their decision to have kids. 


Naturally, all this data strikes another interesting question. Does a declining population (maybe caused by concerns over national security and global instability) have a reverberating effect back on national security?

And it turns out, yup, it does! 

America’s economy is going to change: A declining birth rate is also being met with scientific advancements that are increasing life expectancy — great for medical triumphs, not great for social support networks or labor trends. The result of an aging population without a working class to adequately support it is Social Security and Medicare math that doesn’t add up. Without a robust younger population to pay into Social Security, the system will collapse impacting retirement ages, labor markets, healthcare systems, etc. Just last week it was announced that America’s Social Security well is expected to run dry in 2033 and Medicare in 2026

An aging population without bustling youth often leads to other things beyond social insurance and pension systems. A recent report forecasts the effect aging populations will have on overall economic growth, trade, migration, and disease patterns. For example, by 2030, one in every three people will be 65 or older in Japan, with one in five people 75-plus years old. The aging population is significantly impacting the macroeconomy of Japan. “Due to the nation’s aging and shrinking population, there is an increased need to address the labor shortage.” Without enough youth to replenish the labor force, “Japan’s major industries — like motor vehicles and electronics — do not possess the manpower to continue at the current level of production.” The country may be unable to keep its place in the global economy if production is unable to keep pace. But some experts have suggested the decline could be good for the US eco-system because it may force America to have an entire system shift — one that addresses climate, healthcare, childcare, and debt. 

America’s political landscape is going to change: “If you can’t beat ‘em, outbreed ‘em.” I’d never thought about it before but it makes perfect sense. The children being born today will be the ones voting in 18 years. Statistically, when it came to voting in 2020, Democrats were concerned about climate, COVID, health care, racial, and economic inequality; while Republicans were concerned with gun control, the economy, crime, immigration, and abortion. Both were neck-in-neck on foreign policy. If Democrats are the ones concerned with inequality and climate, one could assume Democrats  are also more likely to be the ones putting off children because of those concerns. If Republicans continue procreating at significantly higher rates, domestic politics are almost certain to see a shifting landscape in a matter of generations, given that 70% of teens vote similarly to their parents. Arthur Brooks, a social scientist at Syracuse University flagged this in 2006, “The political right is having a lot more kids than the political left.” The gap, he said, was 41%. Again, basic math shows that Republicans are primed to have higher voting representation in the decades to come.

America’s immigration has changed and may need to again: One thing noted in several reports, including Rafterty’s, is that while population decline might have been inevitable, the decline in immigration (which usually makes up the difference in low birth rates) is not. In previous decades, US immigration has seen a net gain compensating for the birth decline. “Migrants tend to be young, and to work. They contribute to the economy and bring dynamism to the society, along with supporting existing retirees, reducing the burden on current workers.” But a trend that was expected to continue has dramatically shifted due to recent US policies. Net migration to the US declined by 40% from 2015 to 2019. If a systematic shift and change in policies cannot either boost birth rates or immigration soon, America demographics may start to look like Germany or Japan, with an aging population that as noted earlier brings with it all kinds of problems.


While these seemingly domestic impacts only begin to scratch the surface, each facet is intrinsically linked to national security and foreign policy. How strong America’s economy is directly impacts global markets. American innovation, trade, political battles, social systems; each of these iceberg tips have cataclysmic global effects beneath the surface. 

We will likely not see the long-term effects of population declines for several generations to come (or not to come) but it is certain that I am not alone in my hesitations, nor are you if you share them. Regardless, the decision to have children remains yours to make in America. I, for one, will continue to work in national security and do everything in my power to make the world safer for whatever the future may hold.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.


THE BABES BLUF looks at the military reforms trying to improve a system of sexual assault.

BLUF: Twenty thousand US military servicemembers experience sexual assault every year. But less than 8,000 report those sexual assaults and less than 5,000 choose a reporting type that includes a full-scale investigation. Due to the nature of the military’s culture and command structures, assaults are often perpetrated within an interpersonal relationship and the prosecution of that crime is usually handed down by a high-ranking official in a perpetrator’s chain of command. At present, there is roughly a 2.4% conviction rate. In an effort to better understand the dynamics of sexual assault in the military and improve the system’s prevention and response, an Independent Review Commission was established by President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. As a result of that Commission, significant reforms are now underway in the US military.

All eyes have been on the Tokyo Olympics these days and more so on one, very talented, person. Simone Biles has been the face of USA gymnastics and, honorably but unfortunately, also the face of sexual assault survivors at the failure of USA gymnastics. When she withdrew from this year’s Tokyo games to focus on her mental health, she was mostly praised for setting a new standard in athletics and — some might say — for all of America. Many refer to Simone as an American hero, the GOAT. As a woman serving her country against all odds, despite the abuse of her past, and representing the best we have to offer.

But there are other American heroes, serving their country in the more traditional way, who have also been systematically exposed to sexual assault: The servicemembers of the US military. In March 2021, the new Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III established an independent review commission (IRC), at President Joe Biden’s behest, to examine sexual assault in the military and determine recommendations for changing and improving the system. The IRC’s 90-day endeavor included meeting “with over 600 individuals in the US military, including survivors, researchers, current and former service members, commanders, junior and senior enlisted members and advocates.”

Why was the IRC called? What did they find? What changes might we expect? Why does it matter?


Sexual assault in the military is not a new topic. There have been articles writtenTV segments aired, and speeches given, about the stories of sexual assault survivors and failures of the US military in those cases. What many may not know, is how sexual assault cases are currently handled in the military. Spoiler alert: It isn’t in front of a regular court, judge, or jury.


No. If you report a sexual assault in the military, either as a servicemember or by a servicemember, your case will be investigated and tried by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) (see section 120). There are two reporting routes with separate procedures: Restricted and unrestricted reporting. The biggest difference between the two is who gets notified. Under unrestricted reporting, both command and law enforcement are notified; with restricted or confidential reporting, the survivor has access to healthcare, advocacy services, and legal services without notification of command or law enforcement. While not exactly straightforward, this guide attempts to explain each process. Upon first review, despite all the acronyms (military loves those acros), it looks like a thorough process. But as one former military member I spoke with told me, “It is a healthy system, but it doesn’t work well in practice. It only works effectively on paper.” Which may be why, according to Protect of Defenders, “in Fiscal Year 2019, only 138 offenders were convicted of nonconsensual sex offense across all five branches of service” — roughly a 2.4% conviction rate, compared to roughly 12.4% in civilian cases.

And as sexual assaults have been on the rise in the military according to data, reporting is not.

Which brings us to the IRC.


 After the 90-day review concluded and its 300-page report results were briefed, this is some of what we learned:

  • “Twenty thousand service members experience sexual assault every year. Less than 8,000 report those sexual assaults, less than 5,000 of those are unrestricted reports — meaning the victim has said that he or she wants a full investigation — and only a tiny fraction of those end up with any kind of action at all in the military justice system. So that’s the chasm that we’re talking about.”
  • Sexual assault in the military most often occurs with an interpersonal dynamic aka “the victim and the alleged offender may have a pre-existing relationship or acquaintance.”
  • What starts as harassment may end in assault. “This is particularly true in the military, where survivors of sexual harassment are at significantly higher risk of later experiencing sexual assault.”
  • Many survivors feel the assault burden falls on the victim, often causing survivors to leave the military entirely.
  • While the military has in principal a great system with dedicated personnel to Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, that system has several deficiencies with resources, experience, and structure.
  • Enter gender norms — women still account for less than 18% of the military.


The commission made 28 recommendations and 54 sub-recommendations (82 in total), following its review, in four areas: Accountability; prevention; climate and culture; and victim care and support. Following the report’s release, the Secretary of Defense reviewed recommendations and issued a press release outlining the first steps to be taken.

  • Reform the UCMJ: This is the biggie. Secretary of Defense Austin has made it clear the UCMJ needs to be revamped. This will include adding sexual harassment as an offense, creating dedicated offices within each military department to handle the prosecution of these special crimes, with oversight from the Office of SecDef. And perhaps, most importantly, remove the prosecution of sexual assaults and similar crimes (domestic violence, child abuse, etc.) from the military chain of command.
  • Add Accountability Reforms: This one will include things like standardizing non-judicial punishments, establish separation processes for survivors, and professionalize career tracks for the lawyers and investigators or sexual assault and harrassment in the military. It also includes mandatory restitution for survivors.
  • Improve Prevention, Climate and Victim Services: This one is gonna be the toughest because it’s about culture and a new approach to prevention. It will likely take a significant amount of time to see these reforms have an impact.


While President Biden’s call prompted the review, he has also publicly backed the recommendations of the report. Bipartisan legislation is currently moving through Congress when it comes to the UCMJ reforms on removing the chain of command from prosecution entirely and is being championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Joni Ernst, (R-IA) with 65 co-sponsors, including Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT). The legislation, which was passed out of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, is however not supported by the Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) and ranking Republican Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma).

Interestingly enough, the draft 2022 National Defense Authorization Act sent to the floor last week, includes both Gillibrand’s proposal in addition to two parallel proposals for military justice reform — both of which reflect IRC recommendations. While the outcome of these proposals, and other reforms, remain unknown, one thing is explicitly clear: The military has a sexual assault problem. No one in leadership can deny such any longer, but there is a unique opportunity now under this Secretary of Defense to think outside the box for creative solutions.


I’d like to end this column with a segment from the IRC report’s foreword, because its words are applicable to any person, not just those serving in the military. Even in your darkest days, you are not alone. I know — I am a survivor.

“To everyone, we recognize that you came into the military for different reasons, from different backgrounds, with different goals. You wear different uniforms, have different jobs, and different career paths. But you swear the same oath and would lay down your lives for each other. You are the promise of continued freedom, and you deserve excellence. You deserve excellence in training, in leadership, mentorship, and resiliency. You also deserve dignity and respect, and the opportunity for advancement based solely on your grit, skill, and merit.”

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.


THE BABES BLUF tackles cryptocurrency.

BLUF: Cryptocurrency is an extremely complicated online currency. In an effort to protect its users from potential global economic collapse, the online currency is decentralized from any governing authority and completely transparent. But cryptocurrency values have heavily fluctuated alongside perception of its success, leaving investors, analysts, and world leaders alike to question what crypto means for national security and the future of global order.

After harping on my significant other for some time about his need to start investing, he finally came to his senses. Just as he was about to pull the trigger on a Bitcoin investment, its value plummeted. A few weeks later? He was looking at Dogecoin when WHAM! Same devaluation. Now I am not saying his particular investment restraint had anything to do with the recent cryptocurrency value swing but his almost failure made me think harder about cryptocurrency. Asking myself: What is it? How does it work? What gives it value? And, of course, does it have anything to do with #NatSec?


Like other currencies, cryptocurrency (or just crypto) is a form of payment that can be utilized to purchase goods. Unlike other forms of currency (the dollar, euro, pound, etc.), it does not exist in a physical form (think printed money) nor is it issued by a central government body. Instead, crypto is a “digital asset” with records created and stored in a sort of online ledger with meticulous transaction records to control the creation and transfer of the currency, or “coin.” This meticulous tracking system is known as a blockchain.


A blockchain is simply an online record of a transaction’s data. The chain grows by a “block” every time it is manipulated: sold, moved, added to, etc. And every block contains the timestamp and data for that transaction, which infamously cannot be corrupted or altered. “The beauty of the blockchain is that each block of the blockchain is bound to one another by cryptographic principles.” The blockchain, and all its data, is managed by millions of computers around the world so it cannot be centralized or stored in any one place. It is also completely transparent and anyone with a computer could access the information in the block.

Have two mins? Here is a good video explainer.


If you think about it long enough, you might start to realize that you’ve never questioned too hard why any currency has value. The basic premise of currency valuation is that its value is whatever someone deems it to be worth. For example, commodities and precious metals like furs, food and silver had stored value based simply on what you could trade for it. So in winter, furs were likely to be more valuable than in the summer. If there was a drought? Well then food’s value was likely to increase. But as the world aged, minted currencies became a thing and voi-la we had paper money. Paper money, as it exists today, is known as a “fiat currency.” A fiat currency is not backed by any commodity (the dollar used to be backed by the gold standard), but instead by “the faith that individuals and government have that parties will accept that currency.” So the dollars in your wallet are backed by the US government and are worth whatever the Federal Reserve deems it to be based on how much or little of it is available.


As a decentralized currency with no government or commodity backing it, cryptocurrency is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. As faith in the crypto system increases, so does its value. For example, when major companies like Tesla started accepting Bitcoin (the oldest and most well-known form of crypto) as payment, it lent credibility to the currency and thus the value increased. But only a few months later Elon Musk announced his company would stop accepting the currency citing concerns, the value mimicked the concern and diminished. Because crypto is still so new as a currency, and its concept is still foreign to the mass public, its value is pretty volatile and thus can be fairly susceptible to public speculation. But at this point, until crypto becomes more widely accepted both by businesses worldwide and by the public, if it indeed does catch on, it will remain highly susceptible to that speculation – making it a somewhat risky investment.


The general rationale for cryptocurrency is built on the idea that centralized financial institutions have an inherent risk of systematic failure. The warning of global economic collapse isn’t new and it isn’t even that unpopular. Google “economic collapse” and you’ll be scrolling through articles from the crazy to the credible about potential economic pitfalls (*makes note to self about future BLUF*). So, by decentralizing the transactions and adding transparency (real transparency), hypothetically the system has no middleman, very little chance of data corruption, and much lower risk of failure in the instance of global economic collapse.


There are a handful of reasons why crypto hasn’t caught on:

  1. Crypto is an extremely tough concept to understand: Like John Oliver said, crypto is “everything you don’t understand about money combined with everything you don’t understand about computers.” And he isn’t wrong. Because, while I would argue that many people in America don’t fully understand the ins and outs of a single stock they just bought shares of, I would bet money (pun intended) that the stock market concept is easier to understand than blockchain code. And when you don’t know what you’re buying, then it’s not an investment, it’s a gamble. Thus, not only will it be tough to convince folks to buy something that they don’t understand, but it might also actually be unethical to do so.
  2. Even after you understand crypto, it is still arguably a gamble: Because bitcoin is so new and so volatile, speculation is more about understanding human psychology than it is about understanding economics. There is speculation in the value of the dollar but it’s based-on years of market analysis and known economic parameters. The future of crypto is truly unknown and anyone who is buying it is either hoping or assuming that it will catch on.
  3. Financial institutions don’t want it either: This one has a lot to it but it isn’t really complicated. Crypto operates, at this point, entirely online. With its success comes the possible disappearance of banking institutions. Think movies: First you had Blockbuster but then came Redbox. After Redbox came streaming services (think: Hulu, Prime Video, Netflix 2.0). How many Blockbusters and Redboxes do you see anymore? Bitcoin may end up being to Wells Fargo, what Hulu was to Blockbuster.
  4. Governments don’t want it to: For a few reasons, the government isn’t thrilled with the idea of crypto. First, since one of the tenets of crypto is decentralization and deregulation, the government plays no role in the current crypto reality as it exists. This doesn’t play well with the Fed, since one of its jobs is to regulate and stabilize currencies. Second, governments are concerned that without central oversight, there is no way to back crypto should a Bitcoin exchange be hacked, and that there’s extremely limited legal recourse via the US court system should someone be scammed (an increasingly common trend). Finally (and we’ll discuss this later) government’s aren’t psyched about the legitimate concern that crypto has opened a whole new avenue for illicit crime transactions (think: money laundering, tax evasion, black market commodities).


Hell yeah, we should. At a BBQ a few weeks ago, I talked to a PhD economist who mused with skepticism about the guys doing their dissertations on bitcoins. But in writing this piece, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I want to go back to school just to research how crypto is going to upend national security. Because when you start dipping your toe into the crypto waters, you fall off the sandbar pretty quickly into an ocean full of hypothetical national security crises.

Let’s look at a few:

  1. The basic: One thing that I didn’t mention about fiat currency (see above), is how governments are able to control their own money to curb and set inflation. The idea behind this manipulation is price and market stability for goods and services. Without centralized oversight which, if you remember, crypto doesn’t have, there is no way to control any of that. Monetary policy and national security inherently go hand in hand.
  2. The obvious: Because of growing concerns over government deficits (and look no further than the good old US of A), crypto may become a preferred method of storing value. Once it becomes a legitimate method of currency, rogue nations and terrorist groups will be able to conduct business unfettered. Iran and North Korea are reportedly already using Bitcoin to avoid sanctions, and terrorist organizations like ISIS have used crypto to buy weapons and pay fighters.
  3. The icky: Ever heard of the Silk Road? No, not the network of trade routes connecting the East and West from the 2nd century BCE to the 18th century, but the online black market deep in the dark web? Me neither but here we are. Turns out, before it was closed down by US authorities, around $1 billion in Bitcoin was tied to the black market and used to buy drugs and other illegal goods. A 2019 study found that of approximately 106 million Bitcoin users spending a combined $1.9 trillion of Bitcoin between 2009 and 2017, approximately 6 million users were classified as being involved in illegal activities – or 5.9% of all users. Nearly 6% already seems high to me but digging in, that 6% “constitutes about 30% of all Bitcoin transactions.” The study found the “full extent of illegal activity is estimated at about $76 billion a year.”
  4. The great power problem: When China announced it would restrict crypto activity, crypto selloff took a major dive. Despite the major popularity of crypto in China, the crackdown was seen as a way of bolstering the country’s own government-controlled digital currency. Some analysts see China’s move as a “potential, but very long-term” challenge to the US dollar dominance. Fun fact: While many US officials are critical of crypto, the OG Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell are actively working on a central bank digital dollar prototype, possibly to be unveiled as early as July 2021!

While the fundamentals of crypto can be tricky to grasp, so is the future of the digital currency concept. Speculation about what comes next in terms of value, consequences, challenges, and adoption are all just that — speculation. So if you want to get in now, you’re certainly not alone. But while many people see crypto as the currency of the future, plenty of others just aren’t sold. Only time will be able to tell us how this concept will change the world.

That’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just THE BABES BLUF.


**This piece originally published 5/7/2021 as an Inkstick Media column.*

BLUF: The militarization of space isn’t new. It dates back to WWII — and Reagan was pretty into it, too. But the 2019 announcement of a new military branch, Space Force, kicked off a new national debate. At the end of the day, experts across the political spectrum agree that the threats and competition in space are real. Despite disagreement on whether Space Force is the best solution, it’s a solution that is here to stay.

Last year, Netflix dropped a much anticipated (read: by only national security and military nerds), star studded comedy series about America’s newest branch of the military: Space Force. With Michael Scott and Phoebe Buffay headlining a story about what has largely been seen by the public as an absurdity, the jokes basically wrote themselves. But in all seriousness, what the hell is space force? And more importantly, does America really need it?

Space Force (also known as USSF) was established December 20, 2019 with enactment of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. As the sixth branch of the US military, Space Force was established within the Department of the Air Force. Its mission? “Organize, train, and equip space forces in order to protect US and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.”


But the idea that space would eventually become a warfighting domain (like land, sea, and air) isn’t new. A 2020 Cato report notes that “the militarization of space began in the final years of World War II, when Germany began to strike England with V-2 ballistic missiles.” In fact, following the war, both America and the Soviet Union started to develop their own space programs leading to what was later known as the “space race.” Then came the “Star Wars program” launched under President Reagan back in 1983. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was a missile defense system some initially hoped might render nuclear weapons obsolete, given that Reagan wasn’t a fan of the nuclear deterrence theory known as mutually assured destruction. To further develop this concept of missile defense, in addition to lasers and particle beam weapons, the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was born in 1984.

The SDI wasn’t Reagan’s only move in space. In 1985, he established a US Space Command as part of the Air Force where it lived until it was merged with the US Strategic Command in 2002 following 9/11. US Space Command was recently restarted, more on that later.

Fun fact: As the SDI political support lost steam when the Cold War came to a close and the program ultimately died in 1993, the Clinton Administration redirected funds toward efforts to theatre ballistic missiles and the agency was renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), and later the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

In the years following the STRATCOM merge, some military branches (Air Force, Navy and Army) each had its own focus on space. In fact, “A significant portion of US military activities tied to space has resided in the Air Force Space Command, headquartered in Colorado, with over 30,000 people worldwide and launch facilities in Florida and California.” But with the creation of the Space Force, it was announced in October 2020, that the first of three Space Force field command centers would be the Space Operations Command at Colorado’s Peterson Air Force Base. Then, under the Biden Administration, the Space Force announced on April 8, its plan to launch a Space Systems Command in Los Angeles. The Command will, among other things, be in charge of coordinating space programs across the US military. (Hint: you may start to see patterns emerge of military recycling of bases, commands, ideas, etc. for Space Force.)


While the most common perception of a threat in space may be deliberate sabotage or conflict, one of the most overlooked and dangerous parts of space is purely accidental. Enter space debris. Every time a country launches a satellite, loses a toothbrush from the space station, or launches a car for shits and giggles, space becomes a bit more congested. “Right now, there are nearly 6,000 satellites circling our tiny planet. About 60% of those are defunct satellites — space junk — and roughly 40% are operational.” It has been estimated that more than 2,500 operational satellites are chillin’ in space these days — SpaceX alone is responsible for more than half of those operational sats.


These manmade bits are now flying around next to billions of particles of other space matter (think asteroid bits). And every time one of those pieces of debris collides with another piece of debris from a meteor shower, it creates a bunch of other tiny sharp particles that travel at exceptional speeds. “Each of those hundreds of thousands of pieces travel in excess of 4 miles per second. At such velocities, even a tiny fleck of paint can damage a spacecraft.” And maybe you think, “Interesting but who cares!” Well, frankly, YOU should care. Because you know what’s in space that we fundamentally depend on? Purposely launched and usable satellites.

For example: Your car’s GPS, television service, etc. — all of these things are linked to satellites in space. And it doesn’t take much of a space jam fender bender to render those bad boys useless. To remediate this issue and regulate the space environment, some provisions in international law exist, like the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Under the treaty, countries are responsible for their defunct satellites and debris but, like most international law, international space law provisions and treaties have little to no binding effect (or ramifications for accidental or purposeful collisions).

So while cleaning up space junk is not exactly the reason the Space Force was created, it reminds us that — just like the land, sea, and air — space offers a valuable home to vital resources and competition.

You see, the world has come to depend on all these little floating satellites. It isn’t just about ensuring you can navigate your summer road trip; bank transactions, hospital internet, assessing climate change — none of it is possible without 24/7 satellite function. Which means that 1) the more satellites a country launches into space, the more congested orbits become thus the more likely accidents are to occur, and 2) as technology becomes more powerful and the more the globe depends on these satellites, the more tempting it may be to intentionally harm one as a means of warfighting.

As one article put it, “Space right now is a bit like the Wild West, with a wide-ranging mix of government and commercial satellites, all of them sitting ducks.” This concern was the stated rationale of the Trump administration, which argued that space was already being used as “war-fighting domain” by global powers (and competitors) like Russia and China. Not exactly a shocker since history has shown that where there is competition, militarization often follows.

Case in point: In 2007, China deliberately shot down one of its own satellites to prove it could. This is known as the 2007 Chinese Anti-Satellite Test. The action was seen by some as a global warning of its power, basically to say, “FYI: we can render your security systems, military’s GPS, hospital internet, etc. useless in a moment… if we want to.” To make matters worse, the aftermath littered space with 3,037 pieces of satellite shrapnel, adding to that space junk traffic jam.


As mentioned earlier, the idea of space militarization isn’t new. Some might even argue (raises hand) that the space race, coupled with Reagan’s “Star Wars,” foreshadowed something like “Space Force” was inevitable. And many national security experts on both sides of the aisle think, yeah, something like the Space Force is probably a good idea in theory (some think it may even have been too little too late). In 2019, both the House and Senate explored versions of a space military branch in their National Defense Authorization Acts (or NDAA) but disagreed on its structure, with the Senate backing the Force and the House looking at a “Space Corps.”

The biggest supporters of the Space Force argue that our adversaries are taking swift measures to compete in space and have already turned it into a warfighting domain. As they see it, the US is already behind and Space Force allows the US to 1) put concentrated efforts into one specific force; 2) improve readiness and spacepower, and 3) recruit and retain specific talent (think space, cyber, intel experts) for the branch as opposed to assigning Air Force members without expertise, and promoting accordingly those who do.

  • John W. Raymond, Chief of Space Operations: “Our adversaries are moving deliberately and quickly in order to reduce our advantage [in space]… I’m not confident that we can achieve victory, or even compete, in a modern conflict without space power.”
  • Gen. David Thompson, U.S. Air Force: “Not nearly enough people innately understand what we already have in space in a military sense,” referring to GPS and internet satellites. “For the nation, for national security, for our forces and perhaps ultimately for civil and economic benefits, we now have to be prepared to do that [operate in space] in the face of threats.”

Prominent policy think tanks were mixed in their reception of the branch with the Heritage Foundation supporting its creation; Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) split on the subject, and the Project on Government Oversight and Cato Institute opposed.

However; there have been plenty of subject matter experts and prominent politicians who share criticism of the branch, calling for a different solution despite agreeing that space is or will be a contested arena. Many argue that creating a Space Force will take away the necessary integration of space matters from other military branches and agencies, creating a negative siloed effect. Others think a similar goal of competing with our adversaries in space could be achieved internally within a military branch, along with utilizing Space Command more heavily, without standing up an entirely new branch — which is an incredibly expensive endeavor, as you might imagine.

As Kaitlyn Johnson details in her opposition to the Force, “Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan even noted that standing up the new Service could cost ‘billions,’ though DoD has not completed a formal cost evaluation as of yet.” Shanahan further noted that “Some things are fairly certain to cost DoD: overhead costs, development of doctrine, consolidation of facilities, movement of people and families, a service academy or war college, recruiting pipelines, and of course, new uniforms.” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson also told reporters in 2018 that “her initial $13 billion cost estimate to stand up a Space Force and sustain it for five years is likely to be revised upward as more data is crunched,” noting those numbers are conservative. At a time when the national debt is in the trillions and rising as America faces a pandemic bill, economic rescue, healthcare evaluations, student debt crisis, climate change costs, and still wants everything in the DoD treasure chest, you gotta start to ask — is this expense truly necessary?

  • James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in 2018: “I’m opposed to [creating a sixth branch]… I know the president has strong feelings. I think we can do that without a new branch.”
  • Harlan Ullman, chair of the Killowen Group: “The president proposed a 6th service, a space service, which is not only a bad idea but it would be unworkable… It would confuse, complicate and confound the situation already in the Pentagon. How would you actually organize it? Would you rip out different capabilities from the National Reconnaissance Office? From NASA? Getting this thing done bureaucratically would be a nightmare.”

Others point out that regardless of whether it’s the best solution or not, it would be a waste to stop now.

  • Brian Weeden, director of program planning for the Secure World Foundation and a former space operations officer for the Air Force: “At this point we have spent thousands of hours and years of effort to create this new bureaucracy in the hope that it will address these challenges. At this point, we have no choice but to see that through. To now go back and spend even more time undoing all this stuff would be worse.”

In addition to those thousands of hours and years spent debating how our country was going to tackle the threats in space, we are also talking billions of dollars already spent over the past two years. The omnibus signed by Trump in December 2020 included $15.2 billion for the US Space Force in Fiscal Year 2021. Before the omnibus, the Air Force was transferring money to the Space Force to get it going which, I can only assume, was a lot harder than using Venmo.  The jury remains out on what Space Force’s budget numbers will look like under Biden as the current administration has said it is here to stay. “We look forward to the continuing work of Space Force.


In the end, some of the biggest issues with Space Force have been with its roll-out. And as any good PR expert will tell you (or your mom before your first interview) you usually only get one shot to make a good impression. So, if you want to be taken seriously, you can’t act like a joke. Because while the threats were real, announcing a new branch of the military in an off-hand, unprepared throwaway was a sure way to garner fast criticism. Instead of taking the time to explain the long-term rationale behind something like the Space Force to the general public, a logo campaign was launched and merchandise sold. To be taken seriously, as any military branch should be, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and lay the public groundwork. Since the Space Force appears here to stay, THE BABES BLUF might start with a roadshop media campaign to explain the threat and need to the public, strategically utilize social media (seriously), and drop the “cool dad” act.

That’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just THE BABES BLUF.

TALKING TO THE CORN GODS: What does agriculture have to do with national security and foreign policy?

*This piece originally published 12/1/2020 as an Inkstick Media column.*

BLUF: By 2050, the demand for food worldwide is anticipated to increase by 59 to 98% and America is not prepared. With a massive decline in American farmers and climate change set to negatively impact the US but actually help our great power competitors, major domestic and foreign policy changes are needed to manage an inevitable crisis.

What is so political about corn? I did a presentation about this once in my American Presidency class in undergrad. To spare you the godawful PowerPoint presentation, here’s that #BLUF: the Iowa caucus may not predict who the President will be but it has been a good indication of party nominee frontrunners. Since Caucus inception in 1972, more than half of the winners have gone on to become their respective party’s nominee, but only three of those have gone on to become president — Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And what does corn have to do with this?

Well, according to (yeah, that’s a real site), Iowa has approximately 86,900 farms, 97% of which are family-owned. And do you know what Iowa ranks number one in producing? Soybeans, hogs, eggs, and you guessed it… CORN (and ethanol, also made from corn).

So, Iowa has a lot of corn and corn is used in a biofuel called ethanol. And in 2005, a federal rule called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) started requiring gasoline refiners to blend billions of gallons of biofuels — mostly ethanol — into their products each year in an effort to promote renewable energy and fight greenhouse gas emissions. Experts now say RFS is doing basically nothing to help climate change and thus now has some bipartisan support to abolish it, but the RFS has been wildly good for states like Iowa because, CORN. Thus, it really isn’t any surprise to anyone that Pete ButtigiegElizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders (a one-time critic of biofuels), and Joe Biden all endorsed biofuels during their Democratic presidential campaigns.

K, so corn = White House, but does it also = national security and foreign policy?

Short answer? Hell yeah.

Turns out, farming in America is much more than just a box to check when you’re looking to get elected to the highest office in the Land of the Free. Food security, crop cycles, droughts, climate change, exports, imports, tariffs, etc., all of this is directly linked to national security and foreign policy. Like 2015 House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway said, “Agriculture and national security are intertwined in many different ways — whether it is ensuring that food is available to meet nutritional needs for both those within our own borders and those around the world, or insuring that food coming into our borders is disease- and pest-free, or guaranteeing that farmers and ranchers have the needed policy tools in place to continue producing food and fiber.”


According to USAID, food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Seems simple enough maybe now but did you know that by 2050, the demand for food worldwide is anticipated to increase by 59 to 98%? Yikes.

And remember that whole thing about corn/ethanol to fight climate change? Yeah, well none of that is going well because climate change — in addition to limited land to farm and limited access to water in some places — is necessitating urgent changes to current farming at home and abroad in order to meet those anticipated demands. These changes may include finding new methods to increase crop yields, precision and urban farming, a focus on renewable resources, and multilateral efforts, just to name a few.

And while America is producing near-record agriculture exports now, we likely will need to have some real “come to Jesus” talks to adjust to this changing landscape. Because I got news for you, it ain’t looking good. According to the Harvard Business Review, “the Midwestern US and Eastern Australia… may also see a substantial decline in agricultural output due to extreme heat,” while “some places are expected to (initially) benefit from climate change. Countries stretching over northern latitudes — mainly China, Canada, and Russia — are forecasted to experience longer and warmer growing seasons in certain areas.”


If your alarm bells aren’t going off right now, they should be. Why? Because everywhere you look, experts have dubbed China and Russia America’s biggest strategic threats and global competitors (see hereherehere, and here).

Former Congressman Collin Peterson (D-Minn) said, “A strong agriculture sector and stable food supply are critical to national security. And agriculture has an important role to play when it comes to our country’s national security interests — something I don’t think a lot of people really understand.” Well, ain’t that the truth. The USDA, National Sustainable Agriculture Association, and others have said that America needs more farmers and drastic changes in policies and trends to meet America’s food demands, for example, the average age of farmers has increased considerably, at just shy of 60 now. In testimony before the House Agriculture Committee,  National Guard Maj. Gen. Darren Owens said that without a strong American agriculture sector, we would be dependent on other nations. With only about 1.3% of the US population working in farming today and concerning stories from family-owned-farms, the vulnerability of our nation’s food supply is something we don’t often hear about in the news, but maybe should be taken more seriously in prime-time conversations.

And it’s not just Americans who depend on agriculture produced by our farmers at home. It’s also necessary to provide both crops and training abroad to minimize potential conflicts over resources, a phenomenon that has already begun and is likely to be exacerbated by climate change and increased food demands. Army Maj. Gen. James Sholar outlined eloquently in a riveting testimony before Congress how peace and conflict are intrinsically linked to food abundance and shortages, respectively.

Hypothetical scenarios for consideration:

  1. Imagine for a second that America has an alliance with X country, and provides that country with crops. Because of climate change or policy changes, the US can no longer provide X country with a particular food source. Not only do US farmers suffer from either loss of crop or loss of income, but that alliance becomes strained. If country X is a strategic ally in a geopolitical region, like say near a major port/base/waterway, and a great power competitor provides that crop instead, the US hasn’t just lost a strategic partnership, it’s lost international strategic ground and impacted its domestic population.
  2. Imagine for a second that America, due to climate change, is unable to produce enough crops to provide food security at home. Now it has to rely heavily on subsidized food imports. With limited options for imports in this scenario, the US might be forced to depend heavily on a strategic competitor, say China or Russia, for food.

In both of these hypothetical scenarios, America’s national security cards are compromised and foreign policy is put on the dining room table front and center. This is where those cornhuskers in Iowa, apple farmers in Washington, and peach growers in Georgia become more than just votes, they become strategic chess pieces.

Keeping the water flowing, temperatures steady, land fertile, markets open, and tariffs low for American farmers ensures that our domestic tables and borders are taken care of. But to do that, we need to have good foreign and domestic policies, trading partners for our exports, treaties that combat climate change to curb the impacts on American crops, and technological advancements (ideally from home but possibly from abroad) to enhance our farming techniques whenever/wherever possible. All of these efforts require strong foreign policy and diplomatic relations.

So what can be done? The bad news is the situation is pretty dire and we (as a global collective) really are running up against a clock. The good news is there are options. Here are just a few:

  1. Ask American farmers what they actually need: According to an absolutely depressing TIME expose, Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies were up 12% in the Midwest from July of 2018 to June of 2019, and up 50% in the Northwest. Farmers are straight giving up, with the US losing more than 100,000 farms between 2011 and 2018; 12,000 of those between 2017 and 2018 alone. As discussed earlier, a lot of this is a result of trade wars (cough foreign policy issue), climate change, globalization, and the rise of corporate farming and the fancy technology that comes along with it. According to the expose, “technology has made farms more efficient than ever before. But economies of scale meant that most of the benefits accrued to corporate farmers, who built up huge holdings as smaller farmers sold out.” And according to John Newton, the chief economist of the American Farm Bureau, global food production has increased 30% over the last decade with more international farmers coming into the market lowering overall prices. This all sounds great in theory and it is for the anticipated increase in food need over time but it also reduces the income seen by individual farmers, especially for those small family farms whose costs aren’t falling with prices and who aren’t always able to use expensive new technologies. Turns out a lot of family farmers agree on what led to this situation and what can be done about it. “In the years after the New Deal, they say, the United States set a price floor for farmers, essentially ensuring they received a minimum wage for the crops they produced. But the government began rolling back this policy in the 1970s, and now the global market largely determines the price they get for their crops. Big farms can make do with lower prices for crops by increasing their scale; a few cents per gallon of cow’s milk adds up if you have thousands of cows.” The ideal solution for these farmers would be to have the government enforce antitrust laws, meaning that grocery stores and food processing facilities would either be prohibited from consolidating or those consolidated businesses would be prohibited from buying food from farmers. These antitrust laws exist but many argue have gone unenforced.
  2. Encourage a focus on international agriculture: One suggestion has been to support and participate in international agriculture — or focus on solutions to global food production and distribution — by examining agricultural economics; comparative agricultural systems; international agribusiness and law; third-world development studies and global applications of climate, soil, water resources, etc. Ambassador John Negroponte, former US deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush said international agriculture could reduce “the vulnerability of political systems to weather, conflict and other shocks,” recommending the development of “market-oriented systems that improve the operation of agriculture as a business by working with farmers, host governments, investors, civil society and private industry.”
  3. Cooperate on biodefense: According to Dr. Tammy Beckham, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, food insecurity, no matter the cause, often leads to negative social and geopolitical consequences. She argues that even though “the Arab Spring was not directly about food insecurity, it was likely the rapid rise in international food prices that caused middle-class urban populations in these regions to experience acute food insecurity, which provided the necessary motivation for the people to generate unrest.” Dr. Beckham urged the US government in testimony to take a hard line of defense to control any outbreaks of disease of livestock and/or poultry, including attacks targeting the disruption of food supplies or human safety through “the intentional introduction of a biological agent into domestic agricultural systems.” According to Beckham, there are interagency agreements in place but “the coordination of a comprehensive biodefense program against agricultural and human health threats is lacking… To date, an organized, multi-year, well-funded strategy and commitment has not materialized.”
  4. Take climate change seriously: There really isn’t a place for an only America policy when it comes to climate change (and agriculture). If America is going to survive this at worst and thrive at best, we need to jump headfirst into multilateralism on both climate and ag. This isn’t opinion, this is fact. To meet the needs of American farmers, consumers and global demands impacted by science-backed climate change, a massive rethink is needed for ag and farming that considers the effects of science-backed climate impacts. This rethink includes a shift to focus on conservation agriculture, organic agriculture, and renewable energy. According to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “agricultural adaptation occurs autonomously at the local level as farmers adjust their planting systems to climatic change.” But, “planned adaptation occurs at the sectoral and national levels and includes policies such as addressing changes in food insecurity, identifying vulnerabilities, reassessing agricultural research priorities, and strengthening agriculture extension and communication systems.” A global mindset shift toward planned adaptation and action is one of the only ways America and its allies will be able to overcome the inevitable crisis we know lies ahead.

All of this is literally just the tip of the corn husk if you will. And because this all started with corn it might as well end there. American lawmakers, whether believers in climate change or not, worshipped the corn gods enough to back RFS — a law that, while ultimately sort of a bust, was a win for both small town cornhuskers and climate change advocates at the time. A similar approach here — AKA recognition that American farmers and climate are in need, big corporations should pony up to assist not hinder, and that there is no time for partisanship — is the kind of thinking we are going to need to address what I hope you now understand is inevitable. Next time you shop local produce, be sure to thank your farmer and then call your representative to see what the hell they are doing about the intersection of agriculture and national security.

That’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just THE BABES BLUF.


*This piece originally published 12/1/2020 as an Inkstick Media column.*

BLUF: America has been touted as a melting pot, a place where all are welcome. Yet, immigration to the United States is both extremely difficult and incredibly costly. However, while America may not welcome immigrants with open arms, legal and noncitizen immigrants contribute considerably to society in a way that America’s economy and innovation have come to depend on.

When she walked onto the Inauguration stage, dressed to perfection, Jennifer Lopez bellowed a beautiful patriotic medley.

This land is your land and this land is my land

From California to the New York island

From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters

This land was made for you and me

The words are familiar, sung in plenty of elementary schools and at 4th of July celebrations around our great nation, every year. Famously written by American folk singer Woody Guthrie in 1940, because he was tired of hearing “God Bless America,” the words are not just a popular patriotic jam (in fact the original version includes verses critical of America), but they are often used to paint a picture of America where all are welcome. For example, This Land/Our Land is a music video project featuring six young immigrant musicians performing a new arrangement of the alternative national anthem.

The Biden Administration has signaled immigration is likely to be one of its key issues, with several executive orders on the subject signed in the president’s first week of office. So let’s talk immigration. Is this land really made for you and me?


Before we can answer that question, let’s take a closer look at who immigrants are, the causes of immigration, and what immigration looks like in America. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, an immigrant can be a “Permanent Resident Alien or “an alien admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident. Permanent residents are also commonly referred to as immigrants.” However, the department also recognizes the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)’s definition of “an immigrant as any alien in the United States, except one legally admitted under specific nonimmigrant categories (INA section 101(a)(15)).” But, an immigrant can also be “an illegal alien who entered the United States without inspection, for example, would be strictly defined as an immigrant under the INA but is not a permanent resident alien.”

Did you get any of that? Me neither. Basically, an immigrant is a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence, or (and I personally like this definition the best) a plant or animal that becomes established in an area where it was previously unknown. Dignity check: President Biden has proposed swapping the term “alien” in all US immigration laws with the word “noncitizen,” calling out the inhumaneness of the term.

An immigrant is different from a migrant in that migrants move temporarily for a variety of reasons (think birds who fly south for the winter, or snowbirds — rich people who take winter holiday at the beach) while immigration requires a degree of permanency. This is not to be confused with “emigrant” which means you are leaving your country for another.

So how does someone legally immigrate to America? Well, it’s complicated. There is the family route (you’re related to someone or married to someone), the employment route (140,000 green cards available annually based on five preferences), the diversity lotto (50,000 awarded randomly from over 14 million annual applicants), and refugee and asylum quotas. For an in-depth look at all of that, check out this explainer. And let’s talk cashmoney, because none of these things are cheap! For example, it costs more than $1,000 just to apply for a green card (which can take years — without a guarantee of approval) and retaining a lawyer can rack up additional thousands of dollars. American citizenship application costs vary by type, encourage legal representation, and should your citizenship be granted… welp, you can expect to pay thousands more in fees.

Fun (f*cked up) facts: According to a US News & World Report article, less than 40% of Americans would pass the citizenship test. For example, only 13% of people surveyed knew what year the US Constitution was ratified (1788); 60% percent didn’t know which countries America fought during WWII, and only 43% knew how many justices are on the court (9). And, guess what! Each year, those immigration lotteries? Well, companies scam the crap out of good folks who give them every saved penny they have.


There are a countless number of causes prompting immigration, including both push and pull factors. Push factors are reasons in one’s originating country causing, and in some cases forcing, a person to leave. Think war, famine, natural disaster, few jobs. Pull factors are reasons a person may be attracted to another country. Think job opportunities, safety, education.

A concern as of late has been how climate will impact migration. A brilliant but deeply disturbing New York Times (NYT) piece demonstrates eloquently how serious climate migration already is but how devastating it is likely to become. Today, 1% of the world’s population lives in what the author calls a “barely livable hot zone” or (a climate similar to the Sahara Desert – FUN!); however, the NYT projects that by the year 2070 — 19% of the world’s population will be forced to leave land too hot to inhabit.


If a person has been forced to leave their country, they are often considered to be either a refugee or an asylum seeker. Refugees are classified as such usually before leaving their country (think: Syrian refugees who were classified as such by the United Nations). An asylum seeker leaves their country and crosses or gets to a border then applies for asylum based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or group affiliation and that person fears themselves or their families will be persecuted if they are forced to return home. Asylees and refugees account for a small percentage of total immigrants to America — 61,092 refugees and asylees in 2018 down 42.2% from the 105,350 in 2016.


According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020 there were more than 40 million people living in America who were born in another country — more immigrants than any other country in the world. That same study found that in 2017, 77% of immigrants in America are here legally and 45% were naturalized US citizens.

In 2016 America, the top origin country for immigrants was Mexico, about 25%. Surprising to some, the second and third largest origin groups? China and India at 6%! Followed by the Philippines at 4% and El Salvador at 3%.  But times they are a-changin’ because while more than 1 million immigrants are welcomed into America annually, the majority of those immigrants are now coming from China, not Mexico. In 2019, 149,000 immigrants arrived from China, 129,000 from India, with the third most immigrants coming from Mexico at 120,000. One interesting statistic about the future of migration is that Asian immigrants are projected to become the largest immigrant group in the US by 2055, surpassing Hispanic immigrants.

Let’s take a look at some common myths and facts about immigration in America…


You might think noncitizen immigrants are getting around the “system” by not having to pay taxes on their job income but, you would be wrong. Yes, there are some immigrants who are paid “under the table,” thus not paying income tax; however, the IRS estimates that more than 6 million noncitizen immigrants file individual income tax returns each year. Yup, that’s right, noncitizen immigrants are paying taxes into a system they may never benefit from (think: paying Social Security that many never cash out on). In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that between 50%-70% of noncitizen immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes and contribute more than $7 billion into Social Security annually. Not only do noncitizen immigrants contribute to our public services through taxes, they also spend billions of dollars supporting the American economy. In Texas alone, 1.4 million noncitizen immigrants added almost $18 billion to the gross state product, and contributed $1.58 billion in state revenue, while only costing the state about $1.16 billion in services used.


Not only do noncitizen immigrants contribute significantly every year via taxes they can’t cash in on, did you know that legal immigrants in America actually are doing better than many US-born populations? For example, from 1994 to 2015, immigrant homeownership rose 2.3 percentage points while US-born homeownership remained flat, contributing $3.7 trillion to housing markets nationwide. According to a Center for American Progress report, “working-class households — those with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line — headed by an immigrant rely to a much greater extent on their earnings from work and less on public programs than working-class households headed by a US-born person.” That same report showed that almost 30% of American entrepreneurs are immigrants.


A pretty shocking February 2020 policy brief using 2016 Census Bureau data found that reduced immigration, perhaps impacted by Trump’s immigration policies and COVID-19, to the US would have a devastating impact on the long-term future of the economy’s growth over the next four decades. Projections show that if immigration continued at 2016 levels, the US labor force would grow at a 0.45% annual rate from 2016 to 2060, eventually creating a 193-million-person workforce. However, 30% and 50% declines in legal immigration would only grow the US workforce by 0.30% and 0.19% annually — massively decreasing the potential of American economic growth. That same brief stated just how clearly immigration strengthens America’s economy and how devastating it can be without it, “The US will not be able to maintain its current standard of living unless the US government acts to significantly increase immigration, improve labor force participation, and, together with employers, raise labor productivity growth.”


EHHHH/ERR? Whatever sound a beeper makes when you get it wrong. Make that noise because this is incorrect. Data shows that US-born citizens are actually over 2 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and over 4 times more likely to be arrested for property crimes than noncitizen immigrants.


Bingo! Finally, we get one right. In many ways, immigration has huge impacts on our national security and our national security decisions shape immigration flows, directly and indirectly. When it comes to ensuring safer borders, effective information sharing with other countries around the world bolsters what we know about the individuals entering our country but also about those push factors that may prompt waves of migration now and into the future. Think climate change: what are we doing to mediate the impact of habitability on other nations, particularly ones that are not consumer-driven like America? Think proxy wars and conventional weapons sales: these can end up exacerbating conflict leading to refugee crises. Dialogue with allies (and, unpopular opinion, enemies) around the globe, can help America tackle the root causes of migration, bolster safety within our borders, and find global solutions to long-term mass migrations (think burden sharing).

The point is, while America was supposed to be made for everyone (we are, after all, a giant “melting pot”), it’s actually really hard to get legal immigration status in America and yet, more than 75% of immigrants in America today are here legally. One could make a pretty valid case that, in many instances, documented or not, the American economy not only needs immigrants, but thrives with them. So while we have not made this land one for all, credit should be given to the millions of immigrants every year who live the American dream and make it their own.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

A VANISHING ACT: Does America still have a middle class?

*This piece originally published 12/1/2020 as an Inkstick Media column.*

BLUF: The American middle class, while still in existence, has dramatically changed over the decades. What once worked well for achieving household success no longer guarantees security — at home or abroad.

I remember watching American Dreams on NBC with my mom in my early teenage years. If you haven’t seen it, the show follows the Pryor family in Philadelphia, PA during the mid-1960s. The main character Meg (Brittany Snow) dances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. It’s the quintessential story of the so-called “American Dream” — a family of four in suburbia, navigating the ebbs and flows of the middle class. I loved that show, mostly because I definitely wanted to be like Meg, but also because it romanticized the American Dream.

We’ve all heard it before, no matter where you come from — if you work hard, anything is possible in America. The American Dream equation was (supposed to be) pretty simple: hard work = a job and place in the middle class. However, more and more often these days, we hear in the media and from politicians that the middle class is deteriorating. So this BLUF is tackling a pretty big question: does America still have a middle class to dream about?


To be clear, the US government does not define or prescribe a dollar amount specifically to the middle class like it does for poverty. For example, in America, 2020 poverty is defined as a maximum household income of $26,200 for a family of four — this set amount is used as a qualification for a variety of government-provided or subsidized programs (think: food stamps and Medicaid). But an annual amount is not given to define the “middle class.” Instead, it turns out there are at least a dozen different ways to define “the middle class.” According to the US Census Bureau, the average American median income in 2019 was $68,703. According to Pew, in 2018, just over half (52%) of all US adults live in middle-income households, while 29% live in lower-income households, and 19% in upper-income households.

But the middle class isn’t just a number, it’s also an idea. According to a Pew poll, in 2015, people who self-identify as “middle class” have a wide range of household incomes: between $30,000 to $100,000+ annually. And according to a Northwestern Mutual (“SPEND YOUR LIFE LIVING!”) study featured by CNBC, more than 70 percent of Americans consider themselves to be a part of the middle class. Despite expert fluxing definitions, “middle class” is more often a reflection of the way we view ourselves, given about 18% more Americans self-identify as middle class than Pew defines as such.

BLUF activity: This Pew calculator shows you what class you fall into compared to both other adults in your area and among American adults overall. It also shows you how you tee up compared with folks of similar education, age, race/ethnicity, and marital status.


At first glance, things look pretty good for today’s American middle class. One chart shows that the median income in America from 2000 to 2019 has generally increased, with some exceptions, from $54,000 to $68,000 — a $14,000 increase in 19 years ain’t bad.

The deeper you look, however, the more the facade of the “thriving middle class” wears off. Because what that income increase doesn’t account for is its failure to keep pace with the costs of being middle class. To demonstrate this, take a second to visualize what a middle-class family is likely to have. Maybe what you pictured was a white picket fence house, a family of four, parents putting a kid through college or saving for it, a car, and a Hawaiian vacation.

Let’s look at how some of those costs varied from 2000 to 2019/2020:

US News/Dave Ramsey/ Money/USA Today

This chart supports claims made by Investopedia that the dollar’s buying power is significantly less now than it was 20 years ago. Put bluntly, that $14,000 steady increase is failing miserably to match the pace of inflation, and no longer covers the cost of a middle-class lifestyle. According to CNBC, “Middle-class life is now 30 percent more expensive than it was 20 years ago. The cost of big-ticket items like college, housing and child care have risen precipitously: The cost of public universities doubled between 1996 and 2016 and housing prices in popular cities have quadrupled.”

Remember that simple equation from earlier? Hard work = a spot in the middle class? Yeah, well over time, that equation became hard work + a college degree = middle class. And we already know how much a college degree can cost you. Apparently, back in 1970, only 26% of the workforce had education beyond high school but by 2018 that percentage had risen to 68%. And even though more people are going to college, only 27% of jobs require higher education, which means a bunch of people are shelling out money unnecessarily. This is further compounded by the fact that the “add college and stir” idea isn’t paying off. The unemployment rate for college graduates has remained the same or gotten worse since the 1990s, and 2020 was absolutely abysmal for recent college grad job prospects. Not only are the unemployment rates for college graduates bleak, but a study by Harvard Business Review showed, “median earnings for recent grads were no higher in 2018 than they were in 2000 and 1990 (after adjusting for inflation).” A livable income is no longer a given post-college.

It’s also extremely important to note that what’s considered middle class in rural Arkansas, isn’t synonymous with what you’ll see in middle-class metropolises — this one aspect alone dramatically widens both the definition and wage gap.

Take for example: me. When I moved to DC in 2017, with a Master’s degree in hand, my fellowship paid $36,000 before taxes. That was not poverty level, and in some states might have gotten me pretty far, but in DC — LOL. There were months when I ate nothing but ramen, lived on credit cards, and worked an extra job just to make ends meet. My story is not dissimilar to many other millennials in metro areas with advanced degrees — and I was one of the lucky ones without college loans.

It is also proven that where you end up financially still depends a lot on factors out of someone’s control, like how/where you grew up, your race/ethnicity, and family status. Improvements have been made, let’s not downplay that, but as one report says, “the chance that a child born in the bottom quintile will make it to the top quintile as an adult ranges from around 4% in Charlotte to 13% in San Jose.” If you start at the bottom, hard work isn’t always enough to get you closer to the top.

One other key difference in today’s middle class vs. previous middle classes is the existence of a savings account. The middle-class ideal, according to some, isn’t just about obtaining a house and car in the here and now — it’s also about planning for the future. So, middle-class families typically want to have both a savings account for unforeseen accidents/medical bills/when the refrigerator kicks the bucket, and a retirement account. While savings in America steadily increased between 2000 and 2010, the most recent decade saw a drastic savings dip.

According to one survey, more than one in five working American adults don’t set aside any of their annual income for short-term or long-term goals. Of those saving, 20% save only 5%; 28% save 6-10%; and 16% are saving 15% or more. But according to experts, that probably isn’t enough to cover both an emergency fund and a retirement fund. When asked what is the hold up on saving more, Americans say it’s just “expenses.” Another very common statistic you may have heard is that many Americans don’t feel they could cover an unexpected $400 expense — 39% to be exact, with 12% saying they definitely couldn’t make it work and the remaining 27% saying they could but would need to use a credit card, loan, or sell something. For many folks, the financial security of the middle class is no longer all that secure.


In sifting through mounds of data, one thing seems certain: America still has a middle class but the way it, and the American Dream, looks has changed dramatically. Perhaps, hard work will give you your own idea of the middle class, but that life now also likely includes periods of unemployment, living paycheck to paycheck, sacrificing vacation time for retirement, and so on. It’s not just that everything is more expensive, it’s also that how the middle-class fares now varies wildly based on where you live, if you had to take loans out for college, and, if after all of those more expensive expenses — there is enough left in the paycheck to save.


As best I can tell, the idea of the “disappearing” middle class has less to do with an actual vanishing act and more to do with how unrecognizable and indecipherable that class has become.


None of this is great. For every tiny datapoint of hope I found about the middle class, pages and pages of dismal data brought me back to the realization that America’s new middle class isn’t really working. More often than not, the discussion surrounding the future of the middle class focuses on domestic politics, with a strong emphasis on education and economics. And that makes sense intuitively. But there are huge parts of the conversation that have been left out. One of those parts is how the unrecognizable middle class impacts our national security and foreign policy. So, let’s connect some dots.

Plain and simple: when things aren’t going well at home, you’re unlikely to perform well in the classroom or at work. Same can be said for the middle class and foreign policy. For one, funding international priorities is not only harder to swing when financial times are tough, but it’s even tougher to convince taxpayers they should spend their hard-earned dollars on funding early childhood education programs in Afghanistan when those same taxpayers are working their asses off and still don’t feel secure. When your own house is on fire, the general rule of thumb is you buckle down and put out that blaze first. The problem with this narrative in a globalized society is that so much of America’s economy, growth, and security is now (for better or worse) inextricably linked with foreign relations.

Take oil prices: As you likely know, gas prices fluctuate regularly and one thing the middle class has in common is, usually: a car. I can remember times when “filling up” cost more than $4 a gallon and days when it was less than $2. Let’s face it: America runs on oil, and Dunkin. What you might not know is that over decades, America has faced periods of both energy security and insecurity. And while the debates about oil independence and energy alternatives rage on, for the foreseeable future, America will require foreign oil. The link between our relationship with countries and the price of oil is a direct result of American foreign policy.

Take troop bases abroad: Have you ever sat down and really thought about how military families are able to live overseas on American bases? Guess what! Foreign policy. The United States has nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad. Again, there is some debate here on why we need so many but the general idea is: these bases allow America to project power, influence events abroad, and place us closer to potential areas of conflict on speed dial (think closer to Russia/China/the Middle East vs. traveling from North Carolina).

Take the American farmer: Bad relationships with foreign partners aren’t empty threats, they impact middle-class America in very tangible ways. For example, a multi-year trade war to bring manufacturing back home by the Trump administration resulted in China placing tariffs on more than $70 billion of American products, inadvertently wreaking havoc on farmers. But in January 2020, the US and China agreed to a deal in which China committed to increasing its imports of US goods, including agriculture products. And sure enough, in October 2020, the US Department of Agriculture announced that China was on track to import a record $27 billion in ag goods from the US in fiscal year 2021 — becoming the top foreign export for American farmers.

Take targets for disinformation: As I discuss in another #BLUF, disinformation is considered one of the top threats to America’s national security. Both domestic and foreign-waged disinformation campaigns have similar goals, including causing internal division and chaos in the United States, and shaking the confidence of the American electorate in their political leadership and government. The more insecure Americans feel, the more susceptible to disinformation we are, and the less secure we become — a vicious cycle.

Foreign policy and national security don’t have pause buttons. America can’t just pull a Ross/Rachel and “take a break” from international relations to sort out the middle class. On the contrary, our wellbeing at home is heavily influenced by relations outside our borders: from manufacturing to healthcare, and oil to defense.

The data doesn’t lie. It’s true, the American middle class no longer looks the way it did during the heyday of American Bandstand. The data hints that it’s likely because our individual success is not a magic, one-size-fits-all equation. But maybe it never really was and that’s why we assumed it had vanished.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

Turning 30: we make plans, some higher power laughs

BLUF: More often than not, life does not go the way people plan. Statistically, it is not uncommon to wait longer, or never achieve, most major milestones.

If you had asked me when I was 21 where I saw myself when I was 30 and what major milestones I would have achieved, these would have been my answers: 

  1. Join the Peace Corps
  2. Go to law school
  3. Become a lawyer 
  4. Get married
  5. Own a house
  6. Have a dog
  7. Make six figures
  8. Build a savings account
  9. Travel the world

Spoiler alert: I just turned 30 and how did I do?


Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a straight A student, but I certainly wasn’t the kind of girl who got Fs. So, I got to thinking about my “failure,” whilst reflecting on the decade I left behind. I wondered how many other women hadn’t achieved their anticipated goals. Turns out, there wasn’t a whole lot of data on this exact question but there were some disturbingly brilliant articles about women’s confidence gaps, the inability to have it all, and good data re: the timelines for major life milestones. 

According to a Harvard study, the average woman has 9.46 life goals (good to know younger me was right on track with my nine). These were categorized as “things that occupy your thoughts on a routine basis, things that you deeply care about, or things that motivate your behavior and decisions.” Turns out, men have less: only 8.41 life goals.  But, if you haven’t achieved those goals yet, don’t worry because a lot of those major life milestones are happening later these days anyway!

“Mawage”: The average age of marriage for men and women is on the rise. In the UK the average for both men and women to tie the knot is now just over the 30 year mark. In the US, the average has been steadily increasing to men being 29 and women being 27. Experts suggest the trend of increasing marital age is likely to continue in the US, moving into the 30s. Bonus: there is also this beautiful new trend of marrying yourself – and no, it doesn’t always mean replacing a partner. (Thanks, Carrie Bradshaw!) 

Babies: If you are choosing to have ’em, and plenty of babes aren’t (totally fine!), then the average age of popping out your first kiddo depends a lot on where you live, your education level, and your marital status. But the general trend is increasing, with the average age of first-time mothers at 26, up from 21 in 1972, and for fathers it’s 31, up from 27. In many urban cities, most first-time mamas are over 30.

Bungalows: Turns out buying a house in America is getting really expensive – like reaaalllly expensive (see my forthcoming January Inkstick x TBB on this). So, it’s not a huge surprise that more people are waiting. The average home buying age in the US is now 34. 

Mo’ money: Plenty of time. Most women’s salaries peak at 41

So, good news! The data certainly helped me realize that I’m not alone in my “failure.” And, because I just turned 30 (and can do what I want), I’d like to take a minute and get personal (and real). The past decade didn’t go as planned. I mean truly… it (clap) did (clap) not (clap) go (clap) as (clap) planned (clap). Maybe it looked glamorous and bullet-proof from the outside (thanks, social media) but let’s call it like it was.

I did join the Peace Corps but it dealt me a massive trauma that threw me pretty far off kilter. However, it was an experience that built me back up stronger than ever. I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m not sure I would change anything either.

I definitely did not go to law school (and thank goodness because I know a lot of lawyers these days – most whom don’t love their jobs) but I ended up with a Master’s degree (who would’ve thought) and a career I LOVE, changing the world in my own tiny way. 

I’m not married and I’ve lost best friends who I thought would be the bridesmaids at my nonexistent wedding. But, I’ve cultivated a pack of incredible, fearless friends all over this country (and world) who blow me away everyday. That group may be small but, hot damn, they are mighty.

I don’t have any kind of property to my name and I pay an absurd amount for an apartment that I don’t own. But, I’ve hand drawn my dream home (because I know what I want now) for when that day comes. 

I don’t make six figures but as someone who started off in national security making $36k and living in a 268 sq. ft. apartment (wtf) in DC… yeah, I am pretty pleased with where my finances currently are.

I’ve made mistakes that hurt people. Really hurt people. And I’ve had to spend a good amount of time learning to forgive and accept forgiveness. 

In the past decade, I’ve lived in four states and two countries. I’ve published more than two dozen articles, including a book chapter. I launched THE BABES BLUF and now get paid to write a column I adore, trying to bridge a gap I am passionate about closing.

I won awards, learned several languages, joined boards, launched startups, won grants, sat on panels, and have been on TV a few times (peep an upcoming Netflix series I am in with the brilliant, Erin Connolly). None of those major achievements were on my list at 21. Best of all? I’ve met people with different ideas, practicing various religions, across the financial and political spectrum, from all over the world.

So… when all is said and done, frankly, I’m grateful that the world didn’t hand 20-something-year-old-me what she thought she wanted back then because: 1) I’m not sure I would have really liked the person she turned into, but 2) I really love who I am now, and 3) without that “failure,” I wouldn’t be right here writing the words you are reading.

No, I still do not have my shit together but that’s totally okay. 

All of this is to say: Wherever you are right now is exactly where you are supposed to be. There is no right time to accomplish everything on your list. So, if you’re freaking out about what you haven’t done yet or what never worked out – you’re not a failure and you’re certainly not alone. When your life or list doesn’t go as planned, learn to refresh the page and recalibrate the navigation. 

That’s all for this one, and until 2021, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

This is a look back on the past decade. Missing plenty of people and milestones but I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the people in my life (the ones still in it and the ones who have moved on). I am grateful for people and experiences of my 20s and so excited to welcome the 30s (champagne in hand). Thank you.

THE UNFOLLOWING: social media circles in an era of political awakening

*This piece originally published 12/1/2020 as an Inkstick Media column.*

BLUF: Several studies have shown that Americans feel more polarized than ever. Unfriending/unfollowing on social media based on civil, dissenting opinions may contribute to deepening that divide.

I’m just a small-town girl from a conservative corner of the PNW. The little city I call home is not unlike other small towns in America, I imagine, with the exception of our nuclear motif.

*pause for effect*

Yes, you read that right. My small hometown produced the plutonium used in “Fat Man” on that fateful day back in 1945. But my town is proud of our history — something I won’t get into right now. So, growing up,  a hot date meant hitting the lanes at “Atomic Bowl,” my high school’s mascot was a mushroom cloud, and the best pizza was easily from the “black book” at Atomic Brew Pub. Yeah, we took the nuclear thing to a whole new level.

So no one really should’ve been too surprised when a girl from small town USA ended up living in the DC swamp working in national security. And, with a minor detour at a Catholic university, two years volunteering with the Peace Corps, and a Master’s degree from a purple state — my social media content pretty much spans the political spectrum.

In the age of 24-hour news cycles, TikTok, Twitter, dating apps, Facebook and the gram: we’ve all heard the warnings about social media toxicity. We’ve all deleted (then re-added and subsequently deleted again) the influencer we hate to love. Yet when it comes to political differences, unfollowing a human being — especially someone we know well — is trickier. On the one hand, we have our mental health to think about (and rightly so); but, on the other hand, does unfollowing dissenting voices do more harm than good?

As you will come to learn in reading my [Inkstick Media] column, at THE BABES BLUF: we don’t do opinion; partisanship or BS. Just facts (and personal anecdotes — often against my better judgment).

So, let’s take a data-driven look at the phenomena I like to call “the unfollowing” or the practice of unfollowing/unfriending individuals on social media because of political opinions, and the ways in which this practice can contribute to polarization.

In 2016, Leticia Bode looked at unfriending and unfollowing political content on social media in an article for Research & Politics. Interestingly enough, data from a 2012 Pew Research survey used in this article suggested that political unfriending was “relatively rare,” with results demonstrating that less than 10% of 907 respondents were unfriending/unfollowing for political reasons. Shockingly (to me at least), folks were more likely to unfriend someone due to the quantity of political posts (read: about your pyramid scheme diet products), and less so about the content of those posts themselves.

However, in 2016, a study by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found some updated and interesting results about Christmas (i.e. did you know that 47% of Americans think stores and businesses should greet customers with “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” out of respect for people of different religious faiths while 46% say they should not?) and political unfollowing.

According to that study, after the 2016 Presidential Election “Only 13% of the public say they blocked, unfriended, or stopped following someone on social media because of what they posted about politics. Again, sharp political divisions emerged in the tendency to remove people because of the political opinions they expressed.” 13% was a slight increase from the 2012 Pew data, but not alarmingly so. But the data starts to get interesting when you look at political ideologies of those partaking in the unfollowing. For example, liberals were by far the most likely of political ideologies to block, unfriend, or stop following someone because of what they posted on social media, coming in at 28% — a huge difference from conservatives (8%) and moderates (11%). And if you break it down even further by party affiliation and gender? Yup, 30% of Democratic women said “they blocked, unfriended, or stopped following someone on a social networking site because of what they posted about politics.” Next closest was Dem men at 14%, Rep women at 10%, Rep men at 8%.


Maybe the explanation for this is that Dem women just have more diverse friends on social media to begin with? Seems unlikely, as another study found that neither Biden nor Trump voters in 2020 had more than “a few” friends who support the other candidate.

The deeper you look into partisan and ideological divides, the starker the picture becomes. A 2020 PRRI poll shows that 8 in 10 Republicans believe the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists, but 8 in 10 Democrats believe the Republican Party has been taken over by racists. Using innumerable data points, an in-depth 2019 Pew study shows clearly what many of us have been thinking — Dems and Republicans really are more polarized than ever before, or at least, that is our perception.

Now, perhaps, you feel seen or attacked (or both) by reading all that data — I certainly felt some kind of way when I did.

But then I saw the October 2019 Civility Poll from the Institute of Politics and Public Service out of Georgetown University. The Civility Poll found that “the average voter believes the US is two-thirds of the way to the edge of a civil war. On a 0-100 scale with 100 being ‘edge of a civil war,’” with the mean response being 67.23. (Are you stressed yet?) Well, that very same poll found that 8 in 10 voters want “compromise and common ground.”

The survey of all this data tells me one thing: America is truly divided; but, we’ve also started to recognize it.

So what does this mean when it comes to one’s decision to join “the unfollowing”?

When making the decision to unfollow a polite but dissenting view (I am not talking about obscenities and hostile posts), it is important to recognize how that decision might contribute to your echo chamber. An echo chamber is literally “a room with sound-reflecting walls used for producing hollow or echoing sound effects” but the term is often used figuratively to describe the convenience and comfortability of listening only to what you want to hear, aka following people who think the way you think. It’s certainly not a new concept, but it is one that has been exacerbated by social media. In a 2016 academic paper, Jonathan Bright writes, “These patterns have concerned many theorists of democracy, who have argued that exposure to a diverse range of viewpoints is crucial for developing well informed citizens … who are also tolerant to the ideas of others. By contrast, exposure to only like-minded voices may contribute towards polarization towards ideological extremes.” Essentially the same has been said by others like Kristina Lerman, a USC professor looking at the structure of modern social networks: echo chambers contribute to polarization and increase divisions in our society.

To make matters worse, your personalized echo chamber is being cultivated for you as you read this article. Maybe by now you’ve seen the documentary on Netflix, “The Social Dilemma,” breaking down how social media sites are creating incredibly brilliant (and disturbing) algorithms to curate every single thing you see on your feed. You’re not paranoid, when you look up late night cookie recipes — you better believe Insomnia Cookies is about to show up everywhere. As such, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that when you disengage or unfollow someone/something, you’ve just given your personalized algorithm data it can use to essentially perfect your echo chamber and buy your engagement time. After all, the more time your scroll, the more money they make.

The act of unfollowing may not just be narrowing our blinders but also fundamentally distorting the way we see people of differing opinions. Dr. Tania Israel, a professor in the counseling, clinical and school psychology department at the University of California, Santa Barbara runs workshops on cross-the-aisle conversations and said in an NPR article, “Both sides tend to view themselves as eminently fair and right, and the other side as irrational… We’re flattening people out in terms of our view of them and we’re not really seeing the full complexity of people on the other side.” Israel has stated that, in her opinion, “The only useful comment that you can make on somebody’s social media post is ‘Can we find a time to talk about this? I’m interested in hearing more.’”

I personally have found it exhausting to engage with friends and family who have dissenting political views — even considering hitting “unfollow” on multiple occasions. I am usually stopped by one of two things:

1// The reminder of an essential national security tenet — know your opponent’s position: During my time in DC, whether behind closed doors at a roundtable, sparring over drinks, or battling for FY budgets — one integral part of each of these debates and negotiations has been  understanding what I’m up against, if for no other reason than to prep my counterpoints. After all, if you don’t know your opponent or his/her position, you don’t have a shot in hell at getting what you want. All that’s to say, maybe the “kumbaya” thing doesn’t resonate with you at all — fair, you’re (gasp) entitled to your opinions. But maybe you find the argument that you should “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” more convincing.

2// #Science — the fact that the earth is not flat: Remember when people literally thought the Earth was flat? But after research and exploration, we began to understand not only the shape of the Earth but also the size of the galaxy? Humans aren’t flat. As we learn more about and from each other, we gain a better understanding of the human race, which could lead to incredible advancement.

If none of that works for you, try asking yourself: by unfollowing this person, am I making that 67.23 mean about civil war increase or decrease? JK. Not really.

All of this needs to be caveated by another important message: In any environment, toxic comments or treatment should never be excused nor accepted. And in an era where politics and mental health are both starting to get the public recognition many have been yearning for, Ebonie Barnes, a licensed mental health counselor, puts it best, “While I don’t believe you should unfollow anyone simply because of differing views, I do believe that it is emotionally unhealthy to inundate yourself with posts that cause you distress. If that means unfriending, unfollowing or muting the feed of someone who you know personally, so be it!”

In semi-short, there is no real scientific answer to guide your unfollowing, that decision ultimately belongs to you in America. But there is data to show trends between political unfriending and polarization. So next time you find your finger hovering over that “unfollow” button, think twice before you click.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.

1 vote, 2 vote, red vote, blue vote: understanding how general election votes are counted

BLUF: Vote counting processes and deadlines vary by state and county; however, rigorous checks are in place to ensure transparency. Vote counts are unofficial until they have been canvassed, certified, and sent to the U.S. Congress. The Electoral College casts their votes based on certified state results on December 14.

I don’t know if you’ve heard but there was recently a general election. A historic election with more votes cast for a U.S. general election than ever before.

And the people have many questions, including: how are those millions of votes counted?

But here, at THE BABES BLUF, we don’t do partisanship – we do facts.

So let’s start with the kinds of ballots cast in the 2020 general election!

  • Absentee votes: These are votes cast by a voter who is unable to vote in-person at their polling place on Election Day. Typically, absentee votes are for registered voters living abroad (i.e. for work, volunteering, Peace Corps), serving in the military (thank you to our service men and women!), traveling at the time of an election, or are attending school away from their legal residence. These ballots must be both requested and returned by a registered voter by specific dates in advance of the election, and acceptable excuses vary by state.
  • Early votes: These are votes cast in person during a specific voting period by registered voters in advance of Election Day. Not all states have early voting and designated early voting periods vary by state.
  • Mail-in votes: The only real difference between mail-in voting and absentee voting is that absentee ballots are specifically requested when you cannot make it to your polling station on Election day while mail-in voting is usually prompted by state decision to mail ballots to registered voters. Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii are all states which, prior to COVID, chose to conduct their elections through a mail-in process often referred to as all-mail voting. This year, more states opted to include mail-in voting as an option because of the pandemic.
  • Day of votes: These are votes cast at an assigned polling place based on a registered residential address. Day-of polling places can differ from previous elections and often aren’t the same as early polling locations. Some states use paper ballots for day-of voting while others use electronic options like touch screens.
  • Provisional votes: These are votes cast when there is a question about a voter’s eligibility (i.e. you forgot your ID at home, their name isn’t showing up on the polling location roster, etc.). A voter can still cast a provisional ballot but they are held for counting until officials have guaranteed its legitimacy.
  • Online votes: GOTCHA! Not a real thing.

So registered voters cast their ballots and then what?

Well, shockingly, vote counting procedures vary by state and can also differ by county (because why not complicate democracy). However, the general process for counting ballots goes a little something like this:

EARLY VOTES: If ballots were cast early by mail or absentee, some states had the chance to start counting those votes in advance of November 3. Other states weren’t allowed to begin the ballot tally until the morning of the election – some not until after polls closed. The decision of when to count early votes is decided at the state level.

Counting these types of ballots is a lengthy process as one might imagine because they require being physically removed from envelopes (imagine the paper cuts!), ensuring voter registration, and matching signatures to names on file before being finally scanned. This time consuming process is happening at higher rates in 2020 than ever before before of #COVID. Which is why the nonpartisan law and policy institute Brennan Center for Justice stated, “it may take days, if not weeks, to count an expected record number of mail-in votes.” NOTE: All legitimate absentee or mail-in ballots are eventually counted in every general election. Depending on your state, absentee and mail-in ballots must be received or postmarked by Election Day to count.

“If it takes a little longer this year, it’s not because it’s chaos or misconduct, it’s just how we know people are being careful and counting carefully.”

Michael Waldman, president of the nonpartisan law and policy institute Brennan Center for Justice

BONUS: The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has state-by-state breakdowns for your convenience to learn about the mail-in voting policies for the 2020 general election, including when ballot processing and counting begins. Remember – it varies by state. (see a trend, yet?)


  1. Paper ballots cast at polls on Election Day are scanned and entered into a secure box.
  2. They remain in those secure boxes until polls close and are then transported to the county’s board of elections for counting.
  3. Every step of the way there are bipartisan escorts and oversight.
  4. “The board of elections uses memory cards with information from the scanned ballots cast at polling stations across the county to count the votes. This tabulation system is secure and not connected to the internet.” (Learn about this and the life of your ballot in this cool 2018 interactive voting experience)
  5. Once votes are counted at the county level, they are sent (by truck or helicopter – fancy votes) to their respective secretary of state’s office for final announcement and posting of results.
  6. Following Election Day, “canvassing and certification” begins.
  7. The canvass is the official tally of votes for any given election to ensure that every valid ballot cast is included in the election totals – including early, mail-in, absentee, provisional and day-of poll votes. Local elections do their own canvas in the two weeks after an election and then the state does its own canvas and report, as well.
  8. Certification is when a state’s top election official – either the secretary of state or governor – signs off to certify its state’s results. That certified result is given to Congress who certifies the results, too. (so much certifying)
  9. The election night results shown on the news are unofficial. (More on this a little later) In 2020, those results (mostly) did not include on-time absentee ballots and the record number of mail-in votes cast. Those results also did not include provisional ballots which take time to validate.
  10. (Most) states have set deadlines by which they must canvass and certify election results.
  11. Breakdown of battleground deadlines for canvass and certification: Pennsylvania – November 11; Nevada and Wisconsin – December 1; Texas – December 3.

SAFE HARBOR DEADLINE: Either candidate may legally contest county and state election results for a variety of reasons but the very last day for resolution of those contested election results is known as the “safe harbor” deadline. This date is December 8.

FINAL DAYS: The Electoral College then meets in its own state on December 14 to formally cast their electoral votes to the U.S. Congress for the President of the United States.


So glad you asked! Turns out: the United States has never officially had final results on Election Night. And this makes sense because reading how lengthy the vote counting process is above, it has about the same likelihood of happening in one night as Santa delivering gifts to every single home in the world on December 24. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE CHRISTMAS (and Santa) but it ain’t happening.

News outlets call races based on data analysis of partial ballot counts. This comes down to a pretty simple equation: Candidate A is far enough ahead that, given the number of outstanding ballots and the regions those ballots are coming from, Candidate B would realistically be unable to close the gap. What is making that equation tougher to guarantee this year is the unprecedented number of mail-in votes we discussed earlier.

To learn more about how the media decides to call or a project a state’s winner, check out the Associated Press’ (one of the most respected media in journalism) process here.

#DidYouKnow that in early American days, elections could take almost a year because states decided voting periods not the federal government? Yup, that’s right. It is rumored that for the election of 1800, voting began in some states as early as April and continued through October. Recognizing this might become a problem and should be standardized, Congress passed legislation in 1945 to establish a national Election Day on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (so close to being simple yet so far)

Isn’t there something about Bush v. Gore? Yes, ma’am. The infamous 2000 contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore took 35 days. Gore conceded to Bush, on December 13, after the Supreme Court decision to halt the Florida recount.

Speaking of recounts: According to a report released by FairVote, from 2000 to 2015, there were 27 recounts in statewide races across the country. Of those 27, only three resulted in a change of the election result but the average vote change was 282 votes.

Also, because us babes like to know what we need to know, this bad boy has some key dates for milestones between now and January 20 – Inauguration Day.

The 2020 General Election will officially be called after the Electoral College formally cast their votes for President of the United States on December 14 and those results are delivered to officials by December 23.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

No pressure. No bullshit. Just, THE BABES BLUF.