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?

DEFINING THE MIDDLE CLASS

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.

TODAY’S MIDDLE-CLASS DEEP DIVE

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/in2013dollars.com/CNN 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.

A VERSION OF VANISHED

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.

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.

FOREIGN POLICY DOTS

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?

3.5/9

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%.

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.

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?)

THE LIFE OF A VOTE:

  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.

OK BUT… WHAT DOES HISTORY TELL US?

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.

Love Ferns: what’s the easiest plant to keep alive?

BLUF: Pothos plants (or pothos ivy) do well in any environment. It can grow in a spectrum of light, is not sensitive to temperature extremes or changes, and can survive weeks of water neglect (not recommended). Bonus: the plant is known to purify the air in your home.

We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling through the gram and see apartments and homes perfectly adorned with a lush jungle of greenery. It looks so easy and so chic.

So, you head over to the nearest overpriced botanical boutique or hardware store (a great hidden gem for plants, btw.). And you select a cart (or arm) full of green beauties. After carefully picking out some discount pots and a bag of soil, you are on your way home to recreate that epic jungle.

A few weeks go by and your plants are thriving. YOU GOT THIS. Who knew you had such a green thumb!

But a month goes by and one of the leaves starts to brown on the edges. You change up its water and move its location.

Another week goes by and now you see some yellowing elsewhere, again, you move it and change the water.

Before you know it, all your plants have become Karen and nothing you do can please them. Is it too hot? Too cold? Are they drowning or thirsty? What is that tiny thing crawling on it – a good bug or a death eater? Do they want music or massages?! YOU JUST DON’T KNOW!

Well before you give up entirely, #thebabesbluf is here to help.

A common mistake in picking plants, is not knowing which greenery is best for your home and lifestyle. Because remember, at THE BABES BLUF: we get it, you’re busy.

So after much research on several plant blogs, we have found the perfect jungle pieces for beginners and babes with busy schedules.

The winner is: pothos ivy!

Benefits: Besides being quite pretty (think, overflowing vines that drape perfectly on your shelves), pothos ivy has an air-purifying quality that absorbs toxins from common home materials and products. Two birds, one stone. It is also extremely easy to train for trellis (or ruler/fork) climbing if you prefer that look to falling vines.

Care instructions: Water it ideally every few weeks but even if you forget for a month, this lil lady will probably still be fine. It prefers room temp and to be dry between baths.

Pothos propagation: Want more bang for your buck? Watch this quick video on cutting your pothos ivy for propagation (it’s way easier than you think) to grow more plant babies that will never grow up to be a Karen. Plop your trimmings in water (I love propagation stations like this or this to give you a little home decor while they grow), give them about a month, and replant those babes in soil to turn your drab house into the jungle home of your dreams.

Bonus: They are cheap and the propos are FREE.

True story: I rescued a pothos plan from the trash three years ago. She is thriving today and has produced multiple plant children all over my apartment.

Runner-ups?

  • Aloe: Everyone loves aloe in the summer when you’ve inevitably burnt yourself to a crisp accidentally by wading in the kiddie pool with a glass (read: bottle) of wine. But, we also love this plant because unlike other succulents (which I swear are literally the hardest things to keep alive despite the world telling us otherwise), this bad boy really does do well in most indoor spaces. Just give it lots of sun and let it grow with minimal watering. Bonus: you can cut it off and open it up for your summer burns.
  • Snake plants: This bugger is so easy and is great floor decor (think next to your bed or shelf, on either side of a fireplace, etc.) It does well in basically any lighting, room temperature, with minimal watering.
  • Spider plants: These little guys prefer sunny homes but do okay in low to medium light, if needed. It likes a regular watering schedule (can be every few weeks) and you will need to trim off dead leaves, which are inevitable from time to time so remain calm and snip snip.
  • English Ivy: Like pothos ivy, this plant is absolutely beautiful (some might even say elegant), and is pretty easy to both grow and propagate. What drops it from the number one spot? While it only needs water every few weeks, it’s a little more sensitive to temp and prefers a mid-50’s to 70’s.
  • ZZ plants: These little ladies are so cool aesthetically, and a favorite for offices and homes because they are extremely drought tolerant and need almost no light to survive. On the smaller side, they are slow to grow but can reach two to three feet over time. Cons? They are poisonous so if you have pets or kids – maybe keep this one in your office and wash your hands after handling.
  • Rubber trees (not plastic trees): These trees can grow up to 8 feet tall and do well in most room temp homes. Make sure the surface of the rubber tree’s soil is dry before watering again.
  • Chinese evergreen: These plant thrive in medium to low light conditions or indirect sunlight and do best in warm temps with some humidity. That said, it is flexible enough to tolerate less than ideal conditions. Avoid drafts from window sills and A/C to keep it from browning.
  • Parlor Palms: Another great plant for filtering air, parlor palms made NASA’s top-50 list for plants that clean the air. It does fine in any light and even in homes where your parents refuse to turn on the heater to save on that energy bill. Plus, the thing barely needs any water.
  • Peace Lily: I can tell you from personal experience, this gorgeous plant is pretty hard to kill – even when you think you definitely murdered it, vwa-la, she comes right back to life. This houseplant favors low humidity and also low light, making it great for rooms with few windows. This plant tolerates most room temps up to 85 degrees and regular watering. Bonus: it blooms unexpectedly from time to time – a nice surprise in tough times.
  • Ficus Plant: This plant, which is actually an indoor tree, likes full and bright sun and can go several days without a good water. Bonus: Missing slumber parties with your girls in quarantine? The stems of this babe can be braided!

Life hack: go ahead and buy some of those fake succulents and bigger plastic pots. Be thoughtful about how they look but mix them in with your real plants and it’s actually harder to tell what’s real and what’s not (like disinformation).

So before you decide you don’t have a green thumb and give up on that in-home jungle (the one besides your wild children), pick plants that make your life better not harder.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

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

Werewolves: disinformation and how to spot it

BLUF: Disinformation is false information deliberately being shared, or true information being distorted, with the intent to mislead and influence public opinion. The tactic can be traced as far back as 1923 to the Soviet Union and has been called the top threat to U.S. national security.

When I was in the 1st grade, this kid named Jonathan Elliot (and no I will not protect your name because this clearly left a lasting impression on me) told everyone in my class, and on the playground, that I was a werewolf.

Because I do, unfortunately, have pretty hairy (although, luckily blonde) arms.

Now that might not seem like a huge deal but when you’re in the 1st grade and someone starts a rumor like that: two things happen.

  1. A few kids start picking on you for having hairy arms (I did)
  2. A few kids start being afraid of you because they now think there is a small possibility that you are, in fact, a werewolf (I wasn’t)

This is smallest, purest form of disinformation.

But let’s break it down.

Disinformation, as a concept, is actually quite simple. It is the deliberate sharing of false or misleading information in an effort to bias, sway, or change public opinion.

What Jonathan did was share false information about me in an effort to turn our classmates against me because I did not like him (and because he was in the 1st grade and that’s how boys handle rejection – super well). While luckily this didn’t end up ruining my reputation for life, it was a simple, deliberate attempt to spread false information in an effort to bias the kids in our class to not like me, maybe even fear me.

K, but you’re fine now so why does any of this matter? Let’s try tweaking the scenario:

Instead of being 6, I am now 29 and running for office in a predominately conservative town. And Jonathan is my running mate. During one of our debates before the election, he comments that my arms are hairy. People laugh it off. But then, his campaign team finds that 78 percent of voters in our district, oppose abortion. So they hire a firm, who puts out a false story about the possibility of my recently having an abortion. How do they know? Because an unidentified source said she performed that abortion and another unverified pharmacist asserts that a common, noticeable side effect of medication taken after the type of procedure source one purportedly performed on me is (you guessed it): long, flowing arm hair. This unverified, story with two questionable sources, starts to make its way through our social media universe until my opponent retweets that story – adding in a clip of him at the debate pointing out my arm hair – demanding answers. And what started as unfortunate hairy arms has lost me 6 points in the polls because the citizens of our town (falsely) believe it is possible that I not only had an abortion, but am now lying about it.

This is how disinformation works. One tiny well thought out seed of doubt, exploited to make you start questioning: what is real and what is fake?

Add a multi-billion dollar industry, advanced technology, a society with 24-news cycles, a population enamored with social media, sprinkle in political motivation and America has the werewolf scenario on steroids.

Let’s rewind a bit. Where did disinformation come from? Well, as I pointed out earlier, it comes from the pretty basic idea that human nature can be exploited through deception. And no one has done it better than the Russians.

In 1923, a special disinformation unit was setup at the behest of Soviet Union leadership to conduct active intelligence operations. The office, under the order of Joseph Stalin – the former ruler of the USSR – was designed to cause diversions by creating and distributing misleading information through the media of open societies (aka democracies, like America). And they have been mastering this ever since.

It is important to note that Russia approaches war much differently than open, democratic countries. To Russian doctrine, nonmilitary instruments (like disinformation) can rival the effectiveness of conventional weaponry. Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov, Russian Army General and currently Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia (what a mouthful), said once, “The information space opens wide asymmetrical possibilities for reducing the enemy’s fighting potential.” To make it simple – what someone lacks in beauty (advanced military technology), they can make up for in book smarts (disinformation).

The United States’ first major brush with disinformation was called Operation INFEKTION (or FORWARD II or DENVER), a 1980s campaign by the KGB to plant the idea that the United States had created and spread HIV/AIDS as part of a biological weapons research project (similar to a disinfo campaign now about COVID). OPERATION INFEKTION involved “an extraordinary amount of effort — funding radio programs, courting journalists, distributing would-be scientific studies,” according to journalist Joshua Yaffa.

The goal of this campaign by the Soviet Union, according to the U.S. State Department, was to undermine the United States’ credibility, isolate Americans at home and abroad, and cause problems for us in countries who hosted our military bases. Some analysts believe the intent was also to distract from the Soviet’s own offensive biological warfare program, or retaliate against accusations the United States had made for what was later called the yellow rain incident. Because, like Jonathan, even grown men don’t always handle things maturely.

Okay, so Russia started it but what does it mean for America now?

Well as many of you know, there have been multiple reports of ongoing disinformation campaigns to influence more than just the U.S. election, and not just by Russia anymore but also by China and Iran (although less so). The goal of disinformation by those countries right now being threefold, to 1) influence votes, 2) cause internal divisions and chaos in the United States, and 3) shake the confidence of the American electorate in their political leadership and government. Now, some experts are saying the threat is moving closer to home – with disinformation being formulated and pushed domestically. Several different reports and U.S. officials have called disinformation one of, if not the top, threat to U.S. national security.

“Putin, sadly, has got all of our political class, every single one of us, including the media, exactly where he wants us. He’s got us feeling vulnerable…on edge, and he’s got us questioning the legitimacy of our own systems.”

Fiona Hill author of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, and famous for her time in Trump’s Administration and testimony in his impeachment hearings, said in a CBS 60 Minutes interview.

According to the State Department,

On average, a false story reaches 1,500 people six times more quickly than a factual story. This is true of false stories about any topic, but stories about politics are the most likely.

U.S. Department of State Report, WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION: Foreign State-Sponsored Disinformation in the Digital Age

And it matters. Because the American people are finding it harder and harder to spot disinformation when they see it. For example, you can read articles about real disinformation here, here, here, here, and here,. Perhaps you remember the controversy of Kendall Jenner holding up a “Black Lives Matter” sign – a picture that went viral and was later proven to be photoshopped.

To show you how advanced disinformation technology is already, take a peek at this website which shows you, every time you refresh the page, a person who very much looks real but is not! How? The site uses a complicated algorithm to produce computer-generated faces that we recognize as human when none of those people are real.

Are you looking to test how well do you would do when confronted with disinformation? This guide to election security and disinformation gives you plenty of tools/skills/info to help you spot the nasty junk, then gives you a chance to check your skills in their VERIFY game.

Maybe instead you need some quick, easy tools to fact check information? Try:

  1. Snopes – a quick way to search an issue and see if it’s real
  2. MediaBiasFactCheck.com – a website that shows you the media bias of the outlet you are reading
  3. Bot check – if seeing something on social media, double check that the original poster of that information is not a bot by seeing how often they are posting information (is it all day even in the middle of the night – probably a bot); do they have a real picture of themselves (if not – might be a bot); does their profile username make sense or does it have a bunch of random letters or numbers (if the latter – bot).
  4. Verify – try to find another tier 1 source (of a different political view) reporting on a controversial issue; if you can only find one outlet talking about it then it’s likely unverified and doesn’t fit most editors’ source requirements

Disinformation might be fake news, but it is a very real weapon being used to target all of us everyday in big and small ways. It’s extra important to remember, that none of us are immune to weapons of mass distraction and all of us are likely already victims (insert girl raising hand emoji – it happens to me too!). As technology advances and the outcomes of disinformation grow is efficacy, it will only become increasingly more pervasive and difficult to spot. The best thing we can all do is practice objectivity and verify before we trust.

And that’s all for this one, babes.

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

Voting: does it even matter?

BLUF: In presidential elections, some votes matter more than others (i.e. in swing or “purple” states); in midterm elections, every single vote matters with countless examples in history of outcomes decided by slim margins – sometimes just one vote.

It’s that time of the month election cycle again. You know the one. Where we are all irritable, stressed out, and frustrated that something so necessary to our well-being can cause this much pain and agony.

I am not talking about your period ladies. I am talking about your civic duty to V O T E!

I hear it all the time, “My vote doesn’t even count in my state.” And those folks aren’t necessarily wrong but they definitely aren’t right.

Let’s start at the very beginning (because that’s a very good place to start), the year is 1779 and only property owning or tax paying males white males can vote (we are talking 6 percent of the population!).

Then basically from 1870 to 1984, a series of constitutional amendments and Acts are passed to make voting more equal and inclusive. Some of these include:

1868: The 14th Amendment gives full citizenship and voting rights to all men born or naturalized in the U S of A.

1870: The 15th Amendment eliminates racial barriers to voting but several states use poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation etc. to prevent many from voting. Note: Native Americans still can’t vote.

1920: The 19th Amendment gives babes the right to vote nationwide (took em long enough!)

1924: The Indian Citizenship Act gives Native Americans citizenship and the right to cast their votes!

It wasn’t until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, that all men and women ages 21 and up were allowed to vote regardless of race, religion, or education. The same year, the 14th Amendment was ratified to eliminate poll taxes across the country. In 1971, the voting age was lowered to 18 and in 1975 the Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests. And last but not least, in 1984, polling places were required to be accessible to folks with disabilities.

You gotta read all of that to realize in America, voting was not always a granted or guaranteed right to all of us. We have come a long way. But like all good things, there will always be room for improvement to ensure access and equality in America’s voting. Okay, so we are clear that we should not take for granted how hard people have fought, and continue to fight, for the right to vote.

Now to the nitty gritty. DOES YOUR VOTE MATTER?

First and foremost, because of the giant elephant in the room this year, if you cast a ballot, your vote is 96 percent ish likely to be counted. According to this MIT research paper, depending on the state in which you vote, risk of losing your vote is around 4 percent (which isn’t great but isn’t terrible considering over 100 million people have voted in the past two presidential elections. So, if we are being literal, your vote counts about 96 percent of the time.

Now when it comes to figuratively “counting” aka “does my vote really sway the election,” the answer sort of depends on the kind of election.

Midterm elections in America are “direct elections,” meaning that you cast your vote for your local and state representatives and those candidates are elected by whoever has the most votes. Period. No other fuss. Whether a candidate wins by 1 vote or 100,001 votes doesn’t matter. Most votes = winner. And historically, that’s happened more often than you might think. According to a 2003 research article, “The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote” by Casey B. Mulligan and Charles G. Hunter:

One of every 89,000 votes cast in U.S. Congressional elections, and one of 15,000 in state legislator elections, “mattered” in the sense that they were cast for a candidate that tied or won by one vote.

Mulligan, C.B., Hunter, C.G. The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote. Public Choice 116, 31–54 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024244329828

In the 2018 midterm elections, seven state house or senate elections were decided by 45 votes or less with the Kentucky and Alaska House of Representatives elections both being decided by a SINGLE VOTE.

CLOSE CALL ELECTIONS FROM 2018 UNITED STATES MIDTERMS (adapted from this chart: sort by year 2018/country US)

Turns out that’s not how all elections in America work and where the confusion/frustration of “counting” enters the chatroom.

Presidential elections in America are “indirect elections,” meaning you vote for your choice either by mail or in person, and then the electors of your state casts their votes (determined by your state’s popular vote) and those votes determine who becomes President. This is where “won the popular vote but lost the election” and discussions of “abolish the electoral college” enter the chatroom. (Future blog: the electoral college)

SIDE BAR: Not every U.S. state has the same number of electoral votes design. For example, Florida has 29 electoral votes. If President Donald Trump were to win sFlorida’s popular vote on Nov. 3, the 29 electors nominated by the Republican Party in Florida will be selected. These 29 people will gather on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for president of the United States.

So, does your vote matter in a presidential election? Right now, if you live in a state where the largest population center is predominantly Republican or Democratic leaning – your electoral college votes are likely not swayed by your single vote. This is where “purple states” become extra important during a presidential election. (Future blog: purple states)

But, to prove my point that even in a presidential election your vote still matters, here is a scenario:

Say every election for the last 20 years, your state’s electoral college votes were “blue” aka for the Democratic nominee. However, you historically vote “red.” But when voting starts for the 2024 election, no one shows up. No one casts their ballot by mail. No one lines up at the polls. No one votes by mail. Maybe some kind of “Leftovers” plot kicks into effect and you’re the only person left in your state, or maybe everyone just decided they didn’t need to vote because their vote “didn’t matter” – IDK. But you are the only person who casts your vote.

Guess what! All of your states’ electoral college votes? Go RED for the first time in 20 years.

This, albeit hypothetical, scenario is to show you that just because “historically” your vote has been outnumbered, does not mean that will always be the case. Every election is a blank slate.

So, as complicated as U.S. elections are, your vote definitely matters in direct elections and matters a little less (but are still definitely important) in indirect elections.

You can check to be sure you are registered to vote at: www.vote.org

Also check out my favorite voting resource to take a quiz and see which candidate(s) you actually align most with (spoiler alert: the answer might surprise you!): https://www.isidewith.com/

And that’s all for this one, babes.

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

Introducing: THE BABES BLUF

BLUF: an acronym for “Bottom Line Up Front”

According to the U.S. Department of Army’s Information Management: Records Management on Preparing and Managing Correspondence, section IV, subsection 1-36, alphabetical subsection b:

“Army writing will be concise, organized, and to the point. Two essential requirements include putting the main point at the beginning of the correspondence (bottom line up front) and using the active voice (for example, “You are entitled to jump pay for the time you spent in training last year”). “

Army Regulation 25–50, “Preparing and Managing Correspondence,” Chapter 1-IV, Effective Writing and Correspondence: The Army Writing Style, 1–36b, Standards for Army writing, page 6 (17 May 2013)

Oh, I’m sorry. Did I already lose ya there?

Well come on back!

The BLUF isn’t anything fancy. Quite the opposite. It’s just an acronym that (to the best of my knowledge) originated in the Army but made its way into internal/informal corporate e-mails. Why? To get to the point before reading the whole, lengthy email; sitting through a 3 hour presentation; or reading a 416 page report. Because ain’t nobody got time for that!

You’re a busy human. We get it. You’ve got families to feed, meetings to attend (which we all know could’ve been emails), homes to organize, trips to plan, and friends to see.

Enter: THE BABES BLUF.

We are taking the things you need to know and serving it to you straight by providing you the bottom line up front (the BLUF) so you can stay informed on everything from news stories to travel to science to food, without wasting too much of your already very precious time. Should you want to know more? We’ll give ya that, too!

No pressure, no bullshit, no partisan bias.

Just, THE BABES BLUF.