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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

How Kamala Harris outflanked her skeptics to become Biden’s VP pick


Just as she emerged as an early favorite for Joe Biden's ticket this spring, Kamala Harris issued a directive to her supporters: There would be no lobbying campaign to try to influence his pick.

"He knows who I am," one of her supporters, California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, recalled Harris saying. "I don't want to put pressure on him. He'll make the right call."

For months, they obeyed. But as Biden entered the final stretch of his VP selection process, the dam broke. In late July, her surrogates grew incensed by a pair of stories in POLITICO — including a report that a top member of Biden's vetting team, former Sen. Chris Dodd, complained to a donor that Harris had shown “no remorse” for her surprise attack on Biden in a Democratic debate last year.

Harris' staunchest allies in California mobilized. Kounalakis reached out to more than a dozen current and former California officials, mayors, and labor union and business leaders to demand a conference call with Biden campaign brass. No other vice presidential candidate was afforded such a meeting.

“We went rogue,” said Kounalakis. “There’s no question about it.”

On Tuesday, Harris' strategy — a low-profile, leak-free effort that contrasted sharply with her undisciplined presidential campaign — and the late push by her supporters paid off when Biden made her the nation’s first black woman to run for vice president on a major-party ticket. The announcement capped weeks of crypt-like silence from Biden advisers, whisper campaigns, opposition research and late drama.

In picking the 55-year-old senator, Biden essentially nominated the future face of the Democratic Party. The child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris is both South Asian and Black American. She is viewed by the right as too liberal, and by the far left as too centrist.

Interviews with more than two dozen people in and around the vetting process — including staffers, elected officials, Biden confidants, donors and Biden campaign aides — paint a picture of how Biden arrived at his decision.

The logic of Harris as Biden's running mate was apparent — no other contender had the combination of executive and legislative experience and diverse background. Not long into Barack Obama's presidency, she was being compared to him and pegged as a future national star. Much to her annoyance, Harris was held up as an ideal No. 2 for Biden even before she announced her own campaign.

She was even close friends with Biden's late son, Beau, after the two served as fellow state attorneys general.

The only question mark — and it was a big one — was the debate attack.



Several people close to the process say the revelation that Dodd had expressed such distaste over Harris’ remarks was the most disruptive period of the search. And the specter that there was hesitancy about Harris — whom her competitors also considered the frontrunner — triggered a furious round of late lobbying and speculation about which direction Biden would ultimately go.

Calls poured into the top members of the vetting committee from outside interests pressing for and against Harris, and making pitches on other candidates. Dodd took hundreds of calls, sometimes working morning until night on the vice presidential search — some of it handling the fallout of media coverage that his wife insisted was not true.

“Anyone who knows my Irish-Catholic husband knows — the word ‘remorse,’ I’ve never heard him say [it],” Jackie Clegg Dodd said in a brief interview on Tuesday. “It’s not part of his vocabulary.”

The four co-chairs of the search committee, which also included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, conducted multiple Zoom interviews with each of the VP contenders. At times, committee members would split into pairs to follow up with candidates.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) had a late surge of support, including from some donors in California, the home state of both Harris and California Rep. Karen Bass. The vetting team at one point flagged a potential issue with Duckworth: she was born in Bangkok. Her father, a U.S. citizen and then a Defense Department employee, was stationed in Thailand. They worried that Republicans would try to use that to stoke doubts about the legitimacy of the VP pick.

Ultimately, though, Duckworth was in it until the end, holding a one-on-one interview with Biden over the weekend. Biden personally called her hours before announcing Harris was his choice.



Bass remained in contention until the final weekend. Campaign allies called Florida Democrats to ask whether concerns about her past ties to socialists and comments about Fidel Castro were limited to Miami’s Republican-leaning electorate, two sources familiar with the discussions said. They were not, Biden team's was told.

In the course of the search, Biden and Harris spoke more than once. When the debate issue came up, according to one source familiar with the discussion, Biden told her it wasn’t a problem.

“I’m not good at keeping hard feelings,” Biden told her, echoing remarks he has repeatedly made since Harris dropped out of the presidential race in December.

One friend of Biden’s who recently spoke with him privately told POLITICO that the candidate confided he was struggling with the choice at times because he felt pressure from former Obama White House advisers pushing former national security adviser Susan Rice, while Dodd and others talked up Bass.

But, the friend said, Biden had more of a personal rapport with Harris, despite their run-in during the campaign. He remembered her friendship with Beau, and he respected that she ran for president.

In that way, Harris’ debate ambush was an upside for Biden.

“Joe wants someone who has been on the big stage under the bright lights who can gut someone like a fish, and Kamala more than proved she could do that,” the donor said. “Now it’s Pence’s turn and she’s gonna cut him up.”

As the vetting was underway, Biden leaned on South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a key ally, whose endorsement was pivotal to Biden’s South Carolina victory.

“Yes, my advice was sought. I talked to him several times leading up to today,” Clyburn said Tuesday. “Over the last four to five days, I think I’ve talked to him more than I’ve talked to him all year.”

Clyburn said the list of 11 contenders had narrowed significantly in recent days.

“I think Susan Rice was in strong consideration. I think Karen Bass was in strong consideration,” he said. “I think in the last two or three days I came to the conclusion that it was Harris, Bass and Rice. No one told me that, this is what I felt.”

Even as she came under attack, Harris and her husband maintained their silence throughout the process, something friends and allies viewed as key to their efforts to build trust with the Bidens.



But Sunday night, in the throes of Biden’s VP considerations, J.A. Moore received a phone call from Harris. Moore, a state lawmaker from South Carolina who was an early supporter of her presidential campaign and has kept in touch, noted that Harris’ call wasn’t for him, but his young daughter.

“The lid was supposed to be closed. She wasn’t supposed to be chit-chatting,” Moore recalled. “But here she was calling to sing my daughter 'Happy Birthday.'”

Moore and other Harris allies in South Carolina — a state she visited repeatedly before dropping out well before the primary there — have continued to advocate for her, keeping tabs through a network unofficially led by Clyburn.

“He was huge,” Moore said of Clyburn’s influence. “All the signs were there if you looked. It had to be someone that was viable. She was the only one who was tested nationally. He made it clear that she was the right person.”

The announcement highlighted the campaign’s ability to lock down and control messaging. Biden’s choice was widely suspected, but it was kept under wraps until the campaign announced it.

“He had vivid memories of going through this himself. He didn’t want leaks. He didn't want speculation. He wanted to keep it as discreet as possible to protect the candidates,” a senior campaign adviser told POLITICO. “He felt strongly from the beginning that the interests of the potential nominee were protected.”

Harris won the veepstakes despite lingering bitterness among some Biden allies over the debate clash. But her supporters have long argued that what she demonstrated would only be an asset to the ticket.

“If you’re running for president, run to win,” said a longtime Harris adviser, who praised Biden and his team for being able to put the incident behind them. “In the end, it wasn’t held against her. And we have to recognize that.”



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Luxury durag store to open on Melrose Ave in Los Angeles

20-year-old Atira Lyons has been documenting her journey on social media since earlier this year.

A young entrepreneur from Southern California has opened the first ever durag store located on Melrose. 

20-year-old Atira Lyons has been documenting her journey on social media since earlier this year. Many of her followers have been spreading the word about the luxury durag collection in an effort to encourage others to support Black businesses amid COVID-19, especially those owned by Black women. 

“I HAVE A STORE ON MELROSE AVE IN LOS ANGELES!!!!!!! My 20 year old a** got a f*cking store on MELROSE,” she tweeted in March. “Grand opening in a month in a half. I can’t believe I did it. Unreal. Thank you EVERYONE for your support and business.”

When one critic suggested she change her ‘brand font’ because it’s illegible, Lyons fired back with: “My store is on one of the most well know streets in LA. If you don’t know what it is, it’s very easy to find. And literally can come and buy something and then be given the website. Please save your opinion.” 

Read More: Coronavirus pandemic has eliminated almost half of Black small businesses

In an August 10 post, she thanked her supporters and noted that she’s been planning for her grand opening for “over a year and a half.”

Lyons added, “I did this with my money. No loans.”

Her self-made success comes as Black-owned small businesses across the nation continue to suffer during the COVID-19 crisis. 

According to Forbes, Black small businesses are more than twice as likely to shut down compared to their white counterparts.

“Nationally representative data on small businesses indicate that the number of active business owners fell by 22% from February to April 2020—the largest drop on record,” the report said.

“Black businesses experienced the most acute decline, with a 41% drop. Latinx business owners fell by 32% and Asian business owners dropped by 26%.”

The number of white-owned small businesses fell just 17%, the report states. 

This stark contrast is being attributed to institutional racism. 

Read More: Interest in Black-owned businesses increased 7,000 percent, study shows

“Volumes of COVID-19 cases coincide with Black-owned business locations: two-thirds of counties with high levels of Black business activity pre-COVID-19 are in the top 50 COVID-affected areas,” according to a New York Fed report.

Many Black-owned businesses were also left out of the Paycheck Protection Program. 

“These loans reached only 20% of eligible firms in states with the highest densities of Black-owned firms, and in counties with the densest Black-owned business activity, coverage rates were typically lower than 20%,” the report showed.

“Even the healthiest Black firms were financially disadvantaged at the onset of COVID-19,” said the report.

Meanwhile, Lyons gushed in a August 9 tweet about “the furniture” she designed for the store, and noted that the “BATHROOM IS AVAILABLE FOR MY CUSTOMERS,” she shared in a March 7 tweet.

Lyons’ range of durags are offered in multiple colors and are available in silk and velvet. 

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Amazon’s ruthless business model meets Sweden’s labor unions


It's Sweden's storied worker protections and climate-conscious citizens welcoming Amazon's ruthless drive for low prices. What could go wrong?

Stockholm is preparing for a tug-of-war with one of the world’s most powerful companies — which just announced its entry into the Swedish market — and hopes that its arrival will mean the country of 10 million will be able to change Amazon, instead of being changed by it.

Amazon's plans — dubbed “Project Dancing Queen,” after the hit song by Swedish pop group Abba — don't have a lot of detail, but analysts believe its Swedish store will go live in the fall, in time for November’s Black Friday online shopping bonanza.

“Amazon has been supporting Swedish customers and selling partners across our different European stores for many years, but the next step is to bring a full retail offering to Sweden and we are making those plans now,” said Alex Ootes, Amazon’s vice president for EU expansion, in a statement.

Amazon’s turbo-capitalism corporate culture goes against the grain of Sweden and the rest of the Nordic countries, which pride themselves in their strong labor unions and sustainability.

But the country also has an affluent, internet-savvy market ripe for Alexa, Kindles, Prime and the thousands of items on Amazon's online store, the company believes. Around 68 percent of Swedes shopped online in 2018, and they spent an average of €200 per online transaction. In total, the Nordic countries spent over €22 billion online in 2018, according to a study by PostNord, the country’s postal service.

There's not a lot of competition in online marketplaces, and nobody can match Amazon’s massive cornucopia of goods.

“Swedish e-commerce is still like regular retail without shopping malls,” said Jonas Arnberg, the CEO of HUI, a market research company.

Amazon will change that, and force local players to adopt e-commerce faster than they would have otherwise.

“It’s a perfect storm in e-commerce now. The COVID-19 impact took us two to three years forward in digitalization. With Amazon’s entry it is going to go even further,” said Kristoffer Väliharju, the CEO of CDON, a Nordic online marketplace. Väliharju is optimistic about CDON’s chances of taking on the tech giant, but said companies without a strong e-commerce game will likely take a big hit.

Initially, Swedish and Nordic clients will be mainly served from German warehouses — known as fulfillment centers in Amazon-speak — with trucks driving up to Sweden through Denmark, and a fulfillment center operated by local partner Kuehne + Nagel in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna, near Stockholm.

Analysts believe local warehouses are inevitable if Amazon is to offer one of its most unique selling points: quick delivery.

When in Stockholm

Establishing a local operation will be a major challenge for the company. American Amazon’s anti-union stance and working culture is the antithesis of pro-union Sweden. (Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's political career is rooted in union activism dating from his time as a welder.)

The Swedish labor market is regulated by collective agreements between companies and unions, giving workers plenty of power over corporate decisions. Approximately 70 percent of Swedish workers belong to a union.

“If Amazon wants to succeed in Sweden, they need to work very closely with unions,” said Arne Andersson, an e-commerce expert at PostNord.

Amazon has not yet contacted Handels, the union representing warehouse workers, its political coordinator Emelie Wärn told POLITICO.

“Amazon is welcome to Sweden, but they have to sign a collective agreement. We will work very hard to get them to do that,” Wärn said.

“The fact that international companies takes interest in the Swedish market place is a positive thing. As an employer in Sweden you are obliged to follow Swedish labor legislation, which includes regulations regarding collective bargaining,” said Eva Nordmark, Sweden’s minister of employment, adding that approximately 90 percent of the employees in Sweden are covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The minimum wage for a card-carrying Swedish warehouse worker is 142.50 Swedish krona (€13.85) per hour before tax, according to Handels. In contrast, Amazon’s Polish warehouse workers who serve the German market earn 20 zlotys (around €4.50). Amazon said its workers in Germany earn a base pay of €11.10 an hour.

But the union is confident it will be able to negotiate with the tech goliath. Handels has done similar deals with Japanese fashion chain Uniqlo, Wärn said as an example.

But Uniqlo is not Amazon, and Handels' confidence might be misplaced, according to Markus Varsikko, a retail consultant at Dash Retail, which helps businesses use Amazon's marketplace.

“Amazon is a realist. If they can operate in Germany, they can operate in Sweden. It is an American company with American culture and thinking, and it is far from what we are used to here,” Varsikko said, arguing that Sweden's companies and workers might have to adapt — not the tech giant.

Handels and Greta

Amazon might also have to polish its sustainability credentials to appease Swedish consumers.

“What makes the Swedish market unique is that there is a great focus on companies to do good, be transparent and sustainable. For many Swedes, this is even more important than a wide range and low price,” said Niclas Eriksson, the CEO of electronics retailer Elgiganten. And thanks to local activist Greta Thunberg, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the carbon footprint of services like next-day delivery.

Plus Amazon's insistence on lower prices might not be its winning ticket.

The foray into the Swedish market by another e-commerce company, Wish, may serve as a cautionary tale. The American online marketplace, which mostly sells cheap items from China, tried and failed to take over the market a few years ago. The company first wooed consumers with dirt-cheap products such as electronics and clothes, only for Swedes to be disappointed by the quality of the products and frustrated by not being able to return products to sellers.

"[Wish] was cheap, it was a great marketplace, but it was also crap,” said PostNord’s Andersson. Wish did not respond to a request for comment.

Amazon's had troubles with quality control too. European consumer groups have slammed the company for selling dangerous and illegal products such as toxic toys and exploding power banks on its platform. The European Commission also put pressure on online platforms to control scammers and price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic.

CDON’s Väliharju said Swedish customers are very quality-conscious, and aware of their rights as consumers. Consumer groups and brands have criticized Amazon and others for not holding sufficient information about their sellers, especially for products that come from outside the European Union that could be dangerous or counterfeit.

“Amazon absolutely could be well met by Swedish consumers in the beginning,” said Arnberg, the CEO of HUI, citing Amazon’s promise of low prices, a big range of products and fast delivery.

“But in the long run they will have to adjust to Sweden."




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How Kamala Harris outflanked her skeptics to become Biden’s VP pick

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