'Calculated misery': Here's why airlines want you to be uncomfortable

(NEXSTAR) — Watch any old movie where the characters take a flight and it looks like a glamorous getaway in-and-of-itself — but the days of comfort in the skies are long gone for most of us. And it may not surprise you to know that air travel these days is designed to be less comfortable.

Have you ever heard of “calculated misery“? It’s the theory behind what we all know deep down: airlines want us to be miserable so we pay more for upgrades.

The idea was first distilled in this way back in 2014 by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu for the New Yorker.

“Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it,” Wu writes. “And that’s where the suffering begins.”

Wu explains that under calculated misery, services or features that were once expected (think of leg room) are made worsened (leg room is reduced as rows are moved closer together). Want a little more leg room? You’ll likely need to upgrade your airfare to business or first class or even ordinary coach seats with added leg room.

Or think about boarding.

Why does it take so long to board planes completely — and why don’t we board planes in other, more efficient ways, than front-to-back? Profit, of course.

Airlines profit from prioritized boarding in several ways: 1) Frequent flyers or preferred customers must spend certain amounts in advance to earn status for priority boarding 2) the benefit of priority boarding makes more expensive fares more desirable than they might ordinarily be for some people and 3) flyers can pay to be included in higher boarding groups.

By creating these various micro-classes aboard the plane, airlines create more and more ways for customers to look for upgrades.

“Airlines have become experts at up-charging passengers for everything from checked bags to priority boarding to selecting a seat on the window or aisle, or toward the front of the cabin,” Eric Rosen, director of content at travel outlet The Points Guy told Nexstar. “It can be confusing for many travelers to understand what they’re getting for the extra money they shell out.”

A reminder of things that (generally) used to be free and now cost money: seat selection, checking at least one bag, A few services some flyers have reported being very unexpectedly charged for: checking in at the airport and printing out boarding passes.

With so many possible add-ons, how do you know what’s worth paying extra for?

“Whether it’s worth paying these upcharges will depend on your own preferences and needs, weighed against the cost,” TPG’s Rosen continued. “… In general, though, you might want to save your money to see if upgrades to premium economy, business or first class become available. With business travel still down from before the pandemic, many airlines are trying to fill their premium cabins by offering reasonably priced upgrades. Often you will see an offer to upgrade after you make your booking, either when you log into your airline account or via the airline’s app.”

Rosen also says you might consider paying to simply move closer to the front of the plane, since passengers can often count on perks like more free checked bags, free seat selection, and earlier boarding, in addition to higher-end drink and meal services.

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Pressley, Booker Reintroduce MOMMIES Act to address maternal health disparities

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have reintroduced the Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services (MOMMIES) Act in an effort to address consistent racial maternal health disparities and mortality rates. 

The bill, originally introduced by the two legislators in 2019, would push for more affordable health care for pregnant people by expanding Medicaid coverage for postpartum people to a full year instead of 60 days after giving birth and expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant people to services outside of pregnancy-related services. 

The goal of the legislation is to help cap the percentage of pregnancy-related deaths. In the United States, more than 80 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite this, Black birthing people are three times more likely to die from pregnancy issues than white women.  

Congressional members including the Black Maternal Health Caucus have been working to address these disparities for some time. The caucus was first created in 2019 and has worked to pass a 13-bill package called the Momnibus Act since.

“My paternal grandmother died in the 1950s while giving birth, and it is absolutely damning that decades later, the Black maternal morbidity crisis in America is still killing our loved ones and destabilizing our families,” Pressley said in a statement. 

“With the Supreme Court’s cruel Dobbs decision only exacerbating this crisis, Congress must pass our bill to promote community-based, holistic approaches to maternity and post-partum care so that every pregnant person is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve during and after their pregnancy,” she added, referring to the Supreme Court decision that overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling.

“Maternal health justice is a racial justice issue and a matter of life and death, and we must make comprehensive, culturally-congruent reproductive care a reality for all.”

In addition to Medicaid services, the MOMMIES Act looks to create and invest in culturally competent care. 

The legislation calls for establishing medical care homes, birth centers and health facilities in underserved communities under a racial equity lens and with a trauma-informed approach. 

The MOMMIES Act would also instruct Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to issue guidance on community-based doula care.

“The United States spends more on health care than any other nation, but we still have the highest rate of maternal mortality among our peer countries,” said Booker. 

“We must ensure that no person, regardless of their background, faces inequities or disparities when accessing or receiving maternal care. This legislation is an important step towards addressing our nation’s health disparities and promoting equitable maternal health care for all.”

The legislation has support from a host of advocacy groups, including the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, March of Dimes and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. 

Earlier this year, In Our Own Voice issued its 2023 Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda, calling for some of these issues to be prioritized. Regina Davis Moss, president and CEO of the organization, applauded Pressley and Booker for reintroducing the bill.

“Informed by the Reproductive Justice framework, this bill is a critical step in ensuring Black women, birthing people, and their babies can thrive during pregnancy and beyond,” Moss said.

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Jill Biden warns against Trump: 'We know what’s in store if these MAGA Republicans win'

First lady Jill Biden on Wednesday warned against voting for President Trump, saying “we’ve all lived through” President Biden’s top political rival once before.

“We know what’s in store if these MAGA Republicans win because we’ve all lived through this,” Biden said during a fundraiser for the Biden Victory Fund in Los Angeles. 

“Take yourself back in your mind. You remember how U.S. policy was dictated in those late-night tweets. Or how about the constant assault on our most sacred institutions, our democracy and our freedoms, and it’s only going to get worse,” she added, taking a jab at Trump, who notoriously would issue startling claims and sweeping policy statements on Twitter at all hours.

Biden compared Trump to her husband, saying the choice is between “chaos and corruption, hatred and division” or “strong, steady leadership.”

The first lady spoke to a group of about 80 people for the afternoon fundraiser and highlighted the incumbent’s accomplishments so far.

She also sought to convey that he is ready for another four years amid ongoing attacks from Republicans and lingering concerns from some Democrats over his age. The president would be 86 years old at the end of a second term.

“Optimism, that’s what drives my husband, and nothing can slow him down,” she said. “Joe is ready — as he likes to say — to finish the job. So, as we get ready to jump back into a campaign, I cannot even believe I’m already saying this: Think about how far we’ve come in the last three years.”

The first lady has been on a fundraising swing this week. She was in the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday and also warned about reelecting Trump in remarks to donors. 

On Monday, she spoke at a closed-door fundraiser in New York, where she mentioned the Trump indictment, making her the first major Biden surrogate to comment on it.

“My heart feels so broken by a lot of the headlines that we see on the news,” she said, according to an Associated Press reporter present. “Like I just saw, when I was on my plane, it said 61 percent of Republicans are going to vote, they would vote for Trump… They don’t care about the indictment. So that’s a little shocking, I think.”

Joe Biden is heading out for a fundraising swing on Friday, starting in Connecticut. He then will travel to Pennsylvania for a political rally and then to the San Francisco Bay Area for three days.

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11 dead in Russian missile attack on Zelensky's hometown

At least 11 people were killed in an overnight Russian missile strike on the central Ukrainian town of Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, regional officials announced Tuesday.

Four people were killed in an apartment building in the town and another seven in a warehouse, according to the region’s governor. The town’s mayor, Oleksandr Vilkul, said 28 people were injured in the strike.

“Russian killers continue their war against residential buildings, ordinary cities and people,” Zelensky said Tuesday on Telegram.

The strikes come as Ukraine begins a long-awaited counteroffensive in the south and east of the country. The Ukrainian military has claimed minor victories in the offensive so far, including capturing more than a half-dozen villages.

Russian missile strikes have continued across the country, including strikes aimed at the capital Kyiv and the northeastern city of Kharkiv. Ukrainian officials said all missiles fired at Kyiv were shot down Tuesday morning. Ten of the 14 missiles fired at Ukraine and one Iranian-built explosive drone were shot down overnight Monday, the military said.

The Russian military has denied Ukraine’s claims of advances, saying attacks have been repelled so far.

The destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam last week, just a half-hour from Kryvyi Rih, also created a humanitarian crisis in central and southern Ukraine as flooding has forced many from their homes and destroyed crops. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for destroying the dam.

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Trump pleads not guilty in classified documents indictment

Former President Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges on 37 counts following a Department of Justice indictment alleging he violated both the Espionage Act and obstructed justice in taking classified records from his presidency and refusing to return them.

The arraignment was Trump’s second this year but his appearance in a Miami courthouse was his first on federal charges. He is the first former president or candidate for president to face such charges.

Trump, who is the odds-on favorite to win the 2024 GOP presidential primary, previewed in a conversation with conservative radio host Howie Carr how he would plead.

“I just say, ‘not guilty.’ I didn’t do anything wrong. I did nothing wrong. Presidential Records Act. It’s not even a criminal event. There’s no criminality here. It’s ridiculous,” Trump said during the interview. 

Trump was indicted Thursday in connection with the investigation led by special counsel Jack Smith, with the unsealed document revealing Trump would also be facing charges on concealing documents and making false statements. 

The arraignment was held before Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman, though Judge Aileen Cannon, who oversaw Trump’s earlier challenge to the Mar-a-Lago investigation, is slated to oversee subsequent hearings in the case.

Trump was accompanied by attorneys Todd Blanche, who is also representing him in a New York prosecution related to hush money payments, as well as Christopher Kise, who previously represented Trump in the Mar-a-Lago probe. Trump’s main attorneys on the case resigned Friday, and Trump is still searching for a Florida-based firm to round out his legal team.

Blanche entered the not guilty plea on Trump’s behalf.

Trump and his co-defendant Walt Nauta, who is alleged to have aided Trump in concealing the records, were released without bond restrictions or travel restrictions. 

Trump’s attorneys and the Justice Department clashed over Trump’s contact with witnesses in the case, including many who still work for him at Mar-a-Lago, a group that includes Nauta. Prosecutors spoke with a number of Mar-a-Lago employees while crafting the case.

Goodman determined that Trump and Nauta could only communicate about the case through their attorneys, while the Justice Department is tasked with crafting a list of witnesses it wishes to block Trump from communicating with.

The bulk of the Justice Department case is based on 31 documents found among the more than 300 kept at Mar-a-Lago. A breakdown of the documents indicates many were classified at a high level; the documents included information on U.S. military capabilities and details on nuclear weapons. White House intelligence briefings on foreign countries and their military capabilities and plans were also listed in the indictment.

Espionage Act prosecutions do not require proving that someone mishandled classified records, but that they willfully retained documents important to the national defense.

Trump has previously said the documents in his possession were declassified, claiming a president is able to do so just by thinking about it.

Evidence relayed in the indictment counters that, relaying an audio recording of a conversation in which Trump laments he did not declassify a document while in office and therefore cannot share it.

The indictment also alleges that Trump took efforts to mislead his attorney, having Nauta move boxes  in and out of the storage room ahead of a search in response to a subpoena for the return of classified records.

Trump also suggested to his attorney that they lie about the document or destroy them in order to avoid lawful compliance.

Following the hearing, Trump is slated to return to New Jersey, where he is expected to address supporters.

Updated at 3:51 p.m.

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US confirms China has had a spy base in Cuba since at least 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — China has been operating a spy base in Cuba since at least 2019, part of a global effort by Beijing to upgrade its intelligence-gathering capabilities, according to a Biden administration official.

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. intelligence community has been aware of China’s spying from Cuba and a larger effort to set up intelligence-gathering operations around the globe for some time.

The Biden administration has stepped up efforts to thwart the Chinese push to expand its spying operations and believes it has made some progress through diplomacy and other unspecified action, according to the official, who was familiar with U.S. intelligence on the matter.

The existence of the Chinese spy base was confirmed after The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that China and Cuba had reached an agreement in principle to build an electronic eavesdropping station on the island. The Journal reported China planned to pay a cash-strapped Cuba billions of dollars as part of the negotiations.

The White House called the report inaccurate.

“I’ve seen that press report, it’s not accurate,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in an MSNBC interview Thursday. “What I can tell you is that we have been concerned since day one of this administration about China’s influence activities around the world; certainly in this hemisphere and in this region, we’re watching this very, very closely.”

The U.S. intelligence community had determined Chinese spying from Cuba has been an “ongoing” matter and is “not a new development,” the administration official said.

Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossío also refuted the report in a Twitter post Saturday.

“The slanderous speculation continues, evidently promoted by certain media to cause harm and alarm without observing minimum patterns of communication and without providing data or evidence to support what they disseminate,” he wrote.

President Joe Biden’s national security team was briefed by the intelligence community soon after he took office in January 2021 about a number of sensitive Chinese efforts around the globe where Beijing was weighing expanding logistics, basing and collection infrastructure as part of the People’s Liberation Army’s attempt to further its influence, the official said.

Chinese officials looked at sites spanning the Atlantic Ocean, Latin America, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and the Indo-Pacific. The effort included looking at existing collection facilities in Cuba, and China conducted an upgrade of its spying operation on the island in 2019, the official said.

Tensions between the U.S. and China have been fraught throughout Biden’s term.

The relationship may have hit a nadir last year after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to democratically governed Taiwan. That visit, the first by a sitting House speaker since Newt Gingrich in 1997, led China, which claims the island as its territory, to launch military exercises around Taiwan.

U.S.-China relations became further strained early this year after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had crossed the United States.

Beijing also was angered by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s stopover in the U.S. last month that included an encounter with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The speaker hosted the Taiwanese leader at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in southern California.

Still, the White House has been eager to resume high-level communications between the two sides.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is planning to travel to China next week, a trip that was canceled as the balloon was flying over the U.S. Blinken expects to be in Beijing on June 18 for meetings with senior Chinese officials, according to U.S. officials, who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because neither the State Department nor the Chinese foreign ministry has yet confirmed the trip.

CIA Director William Burns met in Beijing with his counterpart last month. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Chinese counterpart in Vienna over two days in May and made clear that the administration wanted to improve high-level communications with the Chinese side.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently spoke briefly with Li Shangfu, China’s minister of national defense, at the opening dinner of a security forum in Singapore. China had earlier rejected Austin’s request for a meeting on the sidelines of the forum.


AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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American musician detained in Russia: state media

An American musician has been detained in Russia in connection with accusations of drug trafficking, according to multiple reports.  

TASS reported Saturday that a Moscow court ordered Michael Travis Leake to remain in custody on charges of “large-scale illegal production, sale or trafficking of narcotic drugs” until August 6. The Russian news agency reported that his friend, Valeria Grobanyuk, was also arrested in connection to this case and that each of them could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.  

The Associated Press reported that Leake was suspected of selling mephedrone, which has effects that are similar to MDMA and cocaine.

The State Department said in a statement to multiple news outlets that it is aware of the reports of the U.S. citizen being detained in Russia.  

“The Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad. We are aware of reports of the recent arrest of a US citizen in Moscow,” a department spokesperson said. “When a US citizen is detained overseas, the Department pursues consular access as soon as possible and works to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment”. 

Leake’s Instagram page also identified him as the lead singer for Lovi Noch (Seize the Night) who reportedly was living in Russia for the past 10 years.  

Reuters reported that a Telegram message posted by Moscow’s courts of general jurisdiction said that Leake was a former U.S. paratrooper who was allegedly operating a drug dealing business with “young people.” 

The Hill has reached out to the State Department for comment.  

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Trump says DeSantis running for president would be 'a great act of disloyalty’

Former President Trump said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) running for president would be “a great act of disloyalty” as he kicked off his first two major campaign events as part of his own 2024 presidential run. 

Trump visited New Hampshire and South Carolina, two of the first states to vote in the primary calendar, on Saturday after a quieter-than-normal beginning to his reelection campaign. He launched his campaign in mid-November, but has yet to hold any major rallies that were consistent during his 2016 and 2020 runs. 

Trump announced the leaders of his New Hampshire and South Carolina campaigns during his speeches. After his South Carolina speech, he sat for an interview with The Associated Press and criticized DeSantis, who is rumored to be considering his own presidential run and who has consistently placed second in hypothetical Republican primary polls. 

Trump emphasized his own status leading in many of those polls and took credit for DeSantis’s first election as governor of Florida. 

“If he runs, that’s fine. I’m way up in the polls. He’s going to have to do what he wants to do, but he may run,” Trump said. “I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over.”

Trump endorsed DeSantis ahead of the Republican primary for the gubernatorial race in 2018.

Trump faced criticism from many in his own party following the November midterm elections, in which Republicans underperformed their hopes and expectations. The president’s party has historically lost seats in Congress during the midterms, but Democrats were able to grow their majority in the Senate and only narrowly lost in the House. 

Many, including some allies of Trump, blamed the former president for endorsing GOP candidates in the primaries who were seen as less likely to win a general election but more loyal to him than their other challengers. 

Many of these candidates lost in key congressional and gubernatorial races. 

Polls began showing DeSantis, who has not publicly confirmed he a 2024 run, closing the gap with Trump or in some cases leading in hypothetical polls. But Trump led DeSantis by 17 points in a Morning Consult poll earlier this month. 

Trump told AP that he has not spoken to DeSantis in a long time. He expressed confidence about his own prospects with the possibility of DeSantis running in an interview with David Brody on “The Water Cooler” earlier this week, saying, “We’ll handle that the way I handle things.” 

Trump is the only major candidate who has officially launched their candidacy in the 2024 race, but many Republicans have indicated they are considering running, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


UN chief: Global commitment to limiting temperature rise 'nearly going up in smoke' 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting of world leaders and corporate executives Wednesday that the commitment to limiting a global temperature rise is “nearly going up in smoke” as the planet hurtles toward climate disaster. 

“We are flirting with climate disaster. … The commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees is nearly going up in smoke. Without further action, we are headed to a 2.8 degree increase and the consequences, as we all know, would be devastating,” Guterres said to the audience of elites at the Swiss ski resort of Davos. 

“Several parts of our planet would be uninhabitable. And for many, it will mean a death sentence,” he said.  

The secretary-general has been outspoken about the dangerous climate crisis and the need for urgent action to try to curtail the most extreme effects of the expected devastation.  

“This is not a surprise. The science has been clear for decades, and I’m not talking only about U.N. scientists. … We learned last week that certain fossil fuel producers were fully aware in the ‘70s that their core product was breaking our planet,” Guterres said. “Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie.” 

The U.N. chief warned of greenwashing in countries’ and companies’ pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and urged the Davos crowd to make and adhere to “credible and transparent” strategies to achieve net-zero emissions.  

“Today, fossil fuel producers and their enablers are still racing to expand production knowing full well that this business model is inconsistent with human survival. Now, this insanity belongs in science fiction, yet we know the ecosystem meltdown is cold, hard scientific facts.” 

The climate crisis would be difficult for the global community to address even in a time of widespread peace and prosperity, Guterres said, but the world faces a slate of interconnected issues that make action more difficult — though no less pressing.

Guterres said the global community is staring down the eye of a “Category 5 hurricane” and “perfect storm” of issues ranging from the global economic crisis to the war in Ukraine to the East-West divide splitting the U.S. and China.

“Dear friends, all these challenges are interlinked. And they are piling up like cars in a chain reaction crash,” the U.N. chief said.


Wyden investigation of fish contamination is an important step

I am pretty accustomed to reading headlines detailing the latest health issues plaguing our freshwater fish. It comes with the territory as an ecotoxicologist working on the health of North America’s relatively abundant, but certainly not infinite, freshwater supplies.

The recent announcement that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), along with other state and federal lawmakers, is calling for an investigation into the toxic contamination of salmon across the Pacific Northwest, however, caught my eye. It fits into a broader question of salmon health that has had my community buzzing for the last couple of years.

Rather surprisingly, it all starts with automobiles.

It’s no secret that Americans love cars. In fact, in 2022, there were 290.8 million registered vehicles in the United States alone, 19 percent of the world’s total. That’s almost one car per person. And while we are always balancing the benefits and conveniences that automobiles afford us with the potential impacts on the environment, it seems as though there was one effect from a chemical we didn’t even know existed, of which we had not even been unaware. Until recently.

The science is pretty complicated but allow me to summarize.

Rubber tires used on cars contain chemicals used to make them stronger and help them withstand the road and the elements. It’s just like a preservative that lengthens the shelf life of a food product in the grocery store, but for tires.

As these protectants breaks down (due to the elements), one of them forms a newly discovered chemical called 6PPD-quinone which can then be washed away into freshwater lakes, rivers etc., with some deadly consequences for the wildlife that resides within.

This can include impacts on freshwater fish species on which many communities depend, such as rainbow and brook trout and, of course, coho salmon, whose recent mass die offs on the west coast had been puzzling researchers for a while.

This matters for many reasons. Coho salmon are popular among recreational fishers, but they are also an environmentally important species within aquatic ecosystems, so a change in their populations could have knock-on effects on the whole food web. 

But the problem is we just don’t have the evidence to prove that either way. The research so far has looked at the impact of 6PPD-quinone on individual species, but not on a freshwater ecosystem as a whole.

When tire run off leaches into a river or a lake, and kills off coho salmon, what does that do to the populations within the lake on which the coho salmon prey? And then what does that mean to the populations in the lake overall? And the water chemistry? And so and so forth.

Our freshwater ecosystems are intricate and complex, and one change in population can have a multitude of domino effects that we may not even anticipate. 

This is why we need more research, on this relatively understudied chemical, ideally in a real-life setting that can reveal the myriad of impacts that cascade through the system.

And while Oregon Wyden’s call for an investigation is very necessary and welcome, it is only once we have a complete picture of what tire run-off is doing to our fresh water, that we can make informed decisions on policy that will protect the health of one of our most importance resources for generations to come.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Gil is International Institute for Sustainable Development Research Scientist for Experimental Lakes Area