The Attorney Brokering the Border Standoff

Each day began the same. Efren Olivares, armed with a notepad and pen, would show up at 7:45 a.m. at the McAllen, Texas, courthouse and get ready for the emotional lift of a lifetime. Inside, dozens of immigrant parents awaited their day in court. It was the Texas Civil Rights Project lawyer’s job to get their names, birthdays and countries of origin, as well as their children’s information, usually in less than five minutes. It was also often his job to deliver the tragic news: that they may not see their kids for weeks, if not months.

“During the interviews, the parents would break down,” he remembers. “And sadly, I became numb about it over time, desensitized. All clear signs of secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout.”

That was the height of the separations crisis in the summer of 2018, when the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy led to the eventual splitting of more than 5,400 immigrant children. And the 37-year-old, whose daily work helped build one of the few databases used to reunite hundreds of families, says the work is far from done. Despite U.S. officials ending the practice of separating families, many asylum-seekers are being forced to send their children to the border alone to keep them safe from dangerous border camps created by the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

When you hear the children crying, but you don’t see the color of their skin, you don’t ‘other’ them.

Efren Olivares

“In a Machiavellian way they have stopped legal immigration without changing the law. The process is just radically different,” Olivares says, noting that immigrants are sometimes given as little as half an hour to get legal representation while making calls from detention centers. “Separations are still happening, and it’s the direct consequence of American policies.”

And this week President Donald Trump added a new twist by signing a fresh executive order restricting immigration during the pandemic, ending new green cards but stopping short of eliminating work visas entirely. “It certainly sounds unconstitutional, and it is not clear at all how this is related to the pandemic in any way,” Olivares said after the president’s tweet announcing the order.


Efren Olivares, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project and a Mexican American immigrant himself, is taking on the Trump administration at the border.

Source Nick Fouriezos/OZY

Olivares has been sheltering in place since early March, when stay-at-home orders forced him and his colleagues to stop visiting the courthouse daily to take down the details of apprehended immigrants. Olivares is also representing a number of South Texas landowners as they fight Uncle Sam’s efforts to seize their properties to build Trump’s border wall. And amid coronavirus concerns, the group has also pushed for safeguards to help make sure immigrants waiting in Mexico receive medical attention.

“The Texas Civil Rights Project is always at the forefront of the issues of the day,” says Thelma Garcia, an immigration lawyer who has worked in the Rio Grande Valley region for four decades. “[Olivares] is quite smart, very quick, very analytical.”

Olivares knows better than most the emotional toll of separations. As a 9-year-old in Allende, Mexico, he watched his truck driver father leave for the U.S. in search of work. For four years, Olivares saw his dad only every other weekend. A good student, Olivares would save his progress reports for those special moments. “I remember longing to have him around,” Olivares says of those four years.

By 1996, his dad was able to bring Olivares, his brother and their mother to McAllen. Even though he was just a teenager, Olivares worked hard to learn English, becoming his high school valedictorian. He chose the University of Pennsylvania because it offered the best financial aid package, and taking philosophy, politics and economics classes gave him his “social justice awakening.” He went on to Yale Law School; after graduating, he spent four years at a law firm, Fulbright & Jaworski, to make money. “I felt a bit of a duty to support my family financially,” Olivares says, particularly because his dad had died. Soon after, he took a yearlong fellowship at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, moving to the Texas Civil Rights Project in 2013 to work on issues that more directly moved him.

A father of two who plays guitar, Olivares had expected his job to become more difficult when Trump was elected in 2016. Stepped-up immigration raids and travel bans were one thing, but he couldn’t have predicted the child separations policy that roiled the nation, couldn’t have imagined compiling the stories of parents who had to tell their children lies — “you’re going to summer camp,” one father said — as they were taken away.

He was thankful when an audiotape emerged of an immigrant daughter tearfully pleading to call her aunt, which captured the country’s imagination and led to the policy’s end. “I remember thinking, ‘There has to be somebody in the detention centers with a conscience, who is going to leak what is going on.’ I hadn’t considered that audio would be it — but it was so powerful that it was audio. Because when you hear the children crying, but you don’t see the color of their skin, you don’t ‘other’ them. All children sound the same. You think: ‘That could be my children.'”

A former senior Trump administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, tells OZY that reports describing child detention centers as cages were sensationalized. In the administration’s view, lawyers like Olivares are hopelessly biased in their advocacy for asylum-seekers and other immigrants, while the government’s policies are working. Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan reported that daily apprehensions at the border had dropped from 4,600 in May 2019 to 1,300 in December. “This seven-month decline is a direct result of President Trump’s network of policy initiatives,” Morgan said in January.

But while Olivares knows he’s fighting a losing legal battle, he insists his team is not being unreasonable. “Our approach is to make the government, when implementing its policy, comply with its own laws,” he says. As a reelection-minded president seeks to escalate his immigration agenda, Olivares will be pushing back, pen in hand, at the border.

The States Where a Coronavirus Spike Could Spell Disaster

As reports of overrun New York City hospitals abound, with supplies waning and at least two city nurses dying alongside the patients they were first treating, it’s worth remembering that in many ways the Big Apple was the most prepared spot in the U.S. for a crisis like this. After all, the threat an outbreak posed to congested New Yorkers was never that abstract — and it didn’t hurt that they had northern neighbor Toronto’s SARS outbreak from 2003 as a nearby reminder.

With 4.6 physicians and 2.7 beds per 1,000 people, New York was ranked second-most prepared to meet hospital capacity in an outbreak, in an analysis by insurance comparison platform QuoteWizard. New Yorkers also had Syra Madad — the NYC Health and Hospitals senior director for its systemwide special pathogens program, and star of Netflix’s Pandemic docuseries — working on their behalf, even emailing warnings and preparedness strategies to colleagues in early January while in 17 hours of labor delivering her third child.

Yet if New York could be caught flat-footed despite its expertise and investment in hospital infrastructure, states with significantly less resources should be especially concerned as coronavirus cases reach their expected peak over the next few weeks.

Utah, Idaho and Nevada are the least pandemic-prepared when it comes to per capita hospital capacity.

That’s according to a QuoteWizard study that analyzed Kaiser Family Foundation data on hospital beds and physicians per 1,000 people. Its final rankings are a composite score of states’ preparedness in both areas. And while West Virginia and Pennsylvania both ranked in the top three along with New York for being most prepared to meet the coming demand for hospital beds and doctors, the three aforementioned Western states should be worried.

Utah had 2.11 physicians and 1.82 beds per 1,000 people, while Idaho had 1.69 and 1.98, respectively. Nevada had two physicians and two beds per thousand, to round out the bottom three. Those numbers are well below the nationwide average of 2.96 physicians and 2.4 hospital beds. And, for many of these places, the worst could be yet to come. The University of Washington has released a model predicting peak resource use by state, and it has all three peaking between April 14 and April 25. Meanwhile, a University of Utah expert has suggested her state’s peak could still be “months” away.

Coronavirus testing in Idaho

Ashley Layton, an LPN at St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center in Meridian, Idaho, communicates with a person exhibiting coronavirus symptoms at a special outdoor drive-thru screening station. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Source Getty

“It could be a disaster,” says Adam Johnson, a data analyst at QuoteWizard who conducted the study. “On one hand, it seems that coronavirus is spreading less quickly to rural areas than in urban places. But on the other hand, if an epidemic does break out in these places, they likely will be far less equipped to deal with it because of a lack of hospital beds and physicians.”

There are some reasons for skepticism in any study, including this one. The data set “seems to be biased toward places with higher population density,” Johnson says. So while it’s adjusted for population, it would seem that states with high urban populations look better in the model.

Still, the numbers do show a disparity in Western states between the number of people who may need to be treated and the resources available. Nine of the 10 least prepared states are Western states, from New Mexico and Arizona up to Oregon and Washington (Texas is the other).

Most Western states were also slow to respond. In a report released by WalletHub on how aggressively states have responded to coronavirus, Nevada and Utah ranked 41st and 43rd, respectively. Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a stay-home order on March 25, but the damage may already have been done: Two days later, a Johns Hopkins study found that Idaho’s scenic Blaine County, known as a ski hot spot for celebrities, was found to have the highest per capita rates of infection outside the New York City area.

Temporary Homeless Shelter Opens At Cashman Center In Las Vegas

People are shown in social-distancing boxes at a temporary homeless shelter set up in a parking lot in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Social distancing will remain critical going forward … while most of these states aren’t completely overwhelmed yet, they may still have a chance to avoid the worst outcomes if residents stay home and avoid spreading the disease. That’s the case in Oregon, which has been more aggressive than most Western states in its response and sent 140 surplus ventilators to New York City. “Oregon doesn’t have everything we need to fight COVID-19 — we need more PPE and testing -— but we can help today with ventilators. We are all in this together,” tweeted Gov. Kate Brown when explaining the decision on April 4.

“Flattening the curve is so important, so you don’t see the number of patients just rise to a point where it completely overwhelms the hospital system,” Johnson says. Otherwise, these states may see “situations like in Seattle, where they are having to set up a triage station in the middle of a high school football field, or in New York, where medical tents are set up in Central Park.” These were all unimaginable sights to most Americans even a little more than a month ago.

Meet the Women Fighting America’s Border Battle

The refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico, was buzzing the morning of Feb. 29. Hundreds sat on concrete steps, their children in their arms, clamoring to hear the half-dozen or so lawyers delivering the news. The night before, many of them had gathered their meager possessions and began queuing at the Liberty International Bridge into Brownsville, Texas. After what had been months of fruitless waiting, they thought they may finally get their claims for asylum processed and be able to leave this place rife with extortion and violence. One mother had even dressed her tiny son in a suit, hoping perhaps that today was finally the day they would see the inside of a courtroom.

But the lawyers knew their message was disappointing. While the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had temporarily struck down the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy — officially titled the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP — within a few hours the decision was paused until the Supreme Court weighed in. They gathered to discuss tactics, led by the linchpin of their efforts, Charlene D’Cruz, a hard-charging, Mumbai-born immigration lawyer and head of Project Corazon, the Matamoros legal office set up by the nonprofit Lawyers for Good Government. She scribbled talking points on white printer paper: “Biz as usual” read one bullet point, a nod to the fact that the ruling had changed nothing in the short term. “General fuckery” read another, a nod to her ever-mounting frustration.


The refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico.

They then separated, with each lawyer delivering these charlas, “chats,” across the camp of more than 2,500 people. These attorneys are part of a small, insanely overworked club of mostly women navigating the front line of America’s immigration debate, which is now concentrated in a handful of border towns teeming with migrants.

Project Corazon lawyer Kim Hunter — who wears a “My New Year’s Resolution Is to Drown the Patriarchy in the Sea of Male Tears” T-shirt — was peppered with questions in frantic Spanish. Karla Rosario, a Dominican paralegal who immigrated to Philadelphia as a teenager, helped translate the trickier parts. A mother was asking, if her children presented themselves to Border Patrol without her, would it hurt her own asylum case? It’s an all-too common, if tragic, calculation. Unaccompanied minors have to be brought into the States, where they are safer and have a much better chance of getting a lawyer and finding a legal path to stay.

The sledgehammer Trump has taken to America’s immigration policies has proven far more effective at keeping immigrants out than anything made of brick and mortar.


Project Corazon lawyer Kim Hunter.

Such is the situation in Matamoros and six other Mexican cities stretching along the border from California to Texas, where some 60,000 migrants have been displaced since the start of the Remain in Mexico policy in early 2019. The announced intent of the policy was to deter migrants, particularly women and children, from embarking on the dangerous journey from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. And immigration has decreased: In early January, the Trump administration announced seven straight months of decline in illegal immigration (although the numbers jumped once more in February).

But courts have ruled that the policy also breaks U.S. and international laws regarding asylum seekers. And it has placed almost the entirety of the immigration debate’s burden on lawyers in just a few hot spots along the southern border. Nearly all of these lawyers are women, many working for far less pay and recognition than they could receive in different fields and different cities. The situation is especially evident in Brownsville, where local advocates estimate there are maybe 15 lawyers total crossing the border on a regular basis to represent refugees. Of that group, only a few are immigration specialists qualified to represent clients in court. “We have a tiny handful of lawyers trying to provide representation to all these people who in the past would be spread throughout the country,” says Jodi Goodwin, a private practice attorney based in nearby Harlingen, Texas.

As a result, about 5 percent of all MPP applicants actually get a lawyer in court. That is critical, because those who do get representation have a five times greater chance of winning their asylum request, according to federal data gathered by Syracuse University. Overall, less than 1 percent of all MPP cases are successful. “I tell people that if you have 100 pesos, take one peso and cut it in half — your chances are less than that,” says D’Cruz, a firebrand under 5 feet tall, known for casually reminding Border Patrol agents towering over her that she’s been taking boxing classes recently.


There are maybe 15 lawyers total crossing the border on a regular basis to represent refugees.

Despite the sobering statistics against them, her motivation to keep going is simple: “This is the front line,” says the immigration lawyer, who left behind her practice in Wisconsin to fight this battle. Whether they can hold it will have deep ramifications — not just for the asylum seekers here, but for the immigration debate waging in Washington and throughout the rest of America.


After the charlas, the lawyers reconvene at the Project Corazon office, a two-story building where an attendant admits guests through a Ring video doorbell. The precautions are necessary. The U.S. State Department has released a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for this part of Mexico due to high rates of kidnappings, murder and rape. A week before, just a few doors down, a shootout between cartel members and Mexican police rattled the street in broad daylight.

To be here, these women have put their lives on pause and at risk. And each of them has their motivations. Cinthia Romo, a Mexico-born college student raised in Kansas City, took off a semester from Grinnell College to collect the stories of migrants. “It’s the whole Ivory Tower, where everyone sits in their book clubs and talks about the situation but doesn’t actually do anything about it,” she says. Rosario, who immigrated to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic at 16, remembers the teachers who wrote her off as having no future other than being a clerk at a bodega or a drug dealer’s girlfriend.

“It’s super sad. Because we are trying to do our best, but we don’t have the resources to do our best,” says the 26-year-old paralegal, who often finds herself laughing inappropriately at the absurdity of the obstacles they face, to keep from crying.


Indeed, when Donald Trump campaigned in 2016, he promised a border wall. But the sledgehammer he has taken to America’s immigration policies since becoming president has proven far more effective at keeping immigrants out than anything made of brick and mortar. “This humanitarian approach will help to end the exploitation of our generous immigration policies,” then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in January 2019, announcing the policy that shifted the U.S. migrant crisis outside its borders. The shift requires that asylum seekers wait in Mexico before facing judgment in tent courts hastily constructed across the border in Brownsville, with judges often presiding via video conference from hundreds of miles away in Dallas or Houston.

The stories here of life in limbo are wrenching. One Guatemalan woman tries desperately to learn English, struggling with the “wh” sound of “who, what, where,” after having already seen her two young sons cross without her two months ago. She has no idea where they are now. One father told a lawyer that he brought his preteen daughter here to escape gang violence. He thought that even if he was denied, she would be let in, since she had a grandmother already in America. But Border Patrol told them to wait in Mexico, and within days of being in the camp she was kidnapped and raped by cartel members before being returned. “With past policies, she would have been having cookies with grandma,” says Erin Thorn Vela, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Instead, she was stuck in a dangerous Mexican camp.”

It’s anger at those situations that drives Hunter, who forsook her Minnesota law practice to begin working on border issues, beginning with family detentions in 2014. “Pure bile or rage — whatever is more effective,” she says. It’s no surprise to her that women are leading the charge in situations like this: While more women attend law school than men these days, they also are disproportionately more likely to go into humanitarian work rather than take large salaries at big law firms. “That’s where you see the separation of gender,” she says.

Yet despite the challenges they face, these four women at the heart of the border crisis have forged a powerful connection. Hunter and D’Cruz, who are in their fifties, watch out for their two young coworkers, an “auntie” type of relationship — that includes occasional teasing over tacos about the cute “mariachi boys” staying in their hotel.

“This is a car full of feminists,” Rosario declares later, back on American soil.

“Feminists? No, chingonas,” laughs Romo.

Translation? “Ballbusters,” one says. “Badasses,” adds another.


Before night falls, the women leave the Project Corazon office to head back over the Gateway International Bridge. It’s a journey rife with irony: The final day of the Charro Days Fiesta, an annual, two-nation festival celebrating the sister-city relationship between Brownsville and Matamoros, is underway. The event is so well-known that Barack Obama stopped by during his 2008 presidential campaign, chomping on tortas with locals. Amid the immigration-law tension, festivity remains. Parade floats filled with young women in traditional huipil dresses and men in charro apparel line the streets, and crowds of cheering Mexicans and Americans are dancing.


Attendees of the Charro Days Fiesta, an annual, two-nation festival celebrating the sister-city relationship between Brownsville and Matamoros.

Still, there are signs of the new realities shaped by the Trump administration’s immigration policy. Until recently, Border Patrol would open the bridge (and border) for the day, allowing crowds to freely float between two cities, two nations. Now dozens of Matamoros residents watch the spectacle through mesh nets, still waiting in line to cross. “So much for sister cities,” Romo says. Border Patrol agents begin to leave their posts to watch the multicultural celebration. “If I brought one of my disabled children over,” D’Cruz gripes, “they probably would deny me entry.”

Despite her frustration, there are signs of progress. So far, Project Corazon and D’Cruz have been able to get 60 members of families facing extraordinary sicknesses or disabilities safely into the States through their advocacy. They are the only ones keeping a record of these asylum seekers, including their names, countries of origin and the situations they are fleeing, all information that will prove critical in court. And for all her F-bombing bluster, D’Cruz believes the more damaging effects of Trump’s immigration policy can be overturned in time.

After all, she has seen it happen before, as a founding member, in 1989, of the Florence Project in Arizona, which sought justice for Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants who faced discrimination while filing for asylum. “People were just getting deported left, right and center,” she says, before a major victory came with the “ABC Settlement Agreement” that eased resettlement claims in 1991.

“That was how they took care of all those thousands of people then,” she says, and she’s hopeful something similar could happen today. While the Supreme Court last week allowed the MPP to remain in place for now, it will likely take up the case as soon as the fall. Resolution may well be on the horizon. In the meantime, the chingonas of Matamoros will be paving the way.

Reformist Dreams Fade for Anwar Ibrahim … and Southeast Asia

OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.

The feud between Anwar Ibrahim and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has defined Malaysian politics for most of the last two decades.

The former is the self-dubbed “reformasi” leader; the latter so resisted reform that he jailed Anwar on trumped-up sex and corruption charges for more than a decade. Even sharing the same stage and platform together, in October 2018, the pair were contrasts: Anwar, 72, in light blue and white; Mahathir, 94, in cherry red. Yet the unlikely alliance of former enemies, which together overthrew a corrupt majority party that had ruled since independence for more than a half-century, was seen as a bright light for all of Southeast Asia. After all, if even these two could make amends in the name of democracy and more transparent government, couldn’t anyone?

But barely two years later, that optimism has soured. Rumors had been swirling that Mahathir was plotting a plan to maintain power — despite having promised to hand the reins to Anwar in exchange for his help in 2018 to overthrow his old ruling party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Mahathir resigned his prime minister post on Monday and key allies ditched the Hope for Change ruling coalition with him. Mahathir was then named interim prime minister by the country’s king … a move suggesting Mahathir may be trying to form a new coalition government without Anwar. Adding even more confusion, Anwar told the press that he believes Mahathir is not launching a coup; rather, the prime minister’s supporters were acting against his will.

[Anwar] was never the great saint, the wise leader or political savior that many people hoped from him.

Clive Kessler, Malaysia politics expert

If that seems like a wild sequence of events, well, welcome to Southeast Asia, where authoritarian rulers (the Philippines), military juntas (Thailand) and unstoppable one-party governments (Laos, Vietnam) reign supreme. Even stronger democracies, like Indonesia, have faced nationalistic pressure in recent years. And the story of two very different men struggling for power in Malaysia may as well be the story of a Southeast Asia navigating authoritarianism and revolution, controls and freedoms.

“The last two years have been a breath of fresh air,” says Brian Harding, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Malaysia has slowly worked toward a more open, democratic, pluralistic society. “My concern right now is that the personal and political intrigue stalls some of the useful things that were happening in Malaysian politics.”

The path toward this moment for Anwar has swung between extremes. As a student protesting rural poverty and hunger, he was imprisoned without trial for 20 months. Later, he served as a representative for the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. In 1982, he shocked his fellow activists by joining the UMNO government, led by the more conservative, and nativist, Mahathir. He quickly moved up from Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports to heading the Agriculture and Education ministries.

Despite his early liberalism, Anwar changed the national language to a dialect that favored the native Malay population at the expense of the nation’s minority Chinese and Indian populations. By 1991, he was minister of finance, and embraced globalism — Malaysia flourished as he encouraged free-market principles, earning him accolades such as Finance Minister of the Year by the outlet Asiamoney in 1996 and Asian of the Year by Newsweek in 1998.

Up until this point, Anwar had enjoyed a “son-father” relationship with Mahathir and appeared to be the hand-picked successor. In fact, Mahathir appointed Anwar to be acting prime minister while he took a holiday in 1997. But that was the beginning of the schism: In just two months of Mahathir being away, Anwar weakened his mentor’s protectionist financial and government programs. And it didn’t help that Anwar was deeply critical of the UMNO — often attacking “cronyism” and “nepotism” in their shared party.

“He was about the best Malaysia could produce,” although “he was never the great saint, the wise leader or political savior that many people hoped from him,” writes Clive Kessler, a Malaysia politics expert based in Australia, by email.

Upon Mahathir’s return, Anwar’s enemies aired graphic charges of homosexuality, which remains illegal in the conservative country. Anwar, who has a wife and five children, denied the claims but was banished from UNMO and sentenced to 17 years in prison for corruption and sodomy. At one point, a mattress supposedly stained with his semen was used as evidence (the DNA matched, although his defense suggested it was forcibly taken from him). International news outlets and human-rights organizations saw the charges as politically motivated: Anwar showed up to one of his trial hearings with a black eye, the result of a beating from the head of police.

His public trial and imprisonment led his supporters to start the multiracial reformasi movement, which crescendoed with mass protests against a system rigged for majority control. He was freed in 2004 after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, only to be put behind bars again for sodomy in 2015 when he was once more a threat to the UMNO’s single-party rule. From a prison cell, he formed the Hope for Change coalition and watched it surprisingly win in 2018 — with the help of the now-nonagenarian Mahathir, who promised to get a royal pardon for Anwar and hand him the prime minister post. “I love him as a father and as a leader,” Anwar said at the October 2018 event, reiterating old affections when the two shared the stage for the first time in two decades.

And it seemed that, with Anwar in line, true reform could finally come to Malaysia … until Mahathir’s surprise maneuver this week: “The old fox is making one last attempt to set Malaysia on the foundations and in the direction he prefers,” Kessler writes. “Anwar will never become PM.” It may well be back to old ways indeed: for Southeast Asia, for Malaysia and for the brutal political saga these two men have waged for so long.

From Sin City Model to GOP Congresswoman?

While modeling her way through law school in Miami, Lisa Song Sutton realized she needed a niche. So she found one — as one of only a few Asian women doing bikini and lingerie shoots in the South Beach area. “In 2006, there was, like, nobody. The two other Asian models were runway: like 5-foot-10, no curves — jacked-up teeth,” she says, laughing. “Totally different than my look.” When she later worked for a law firm in Las Vegas, that same mentality led her to co-found an alcohol-infused cupcake company — while there were 11 bakeries in the city at the time, her research showed only one specialized in getting you drunk. “Modeling taught me a lot of different lessons, one of which is that you have to figure out your brand.”

Now another title sits under her name: Republican congressional candidate for Nevada’s Fourth District. And in a nine-person primary, the 34-year-old stands out in a party often accused of being dominated by old White men. She is the only woman of color, one of only two in the field running small businesses with employees and definitely the only one to be crowned Miss Nevada and grace the pages of GQ, Sports Illustrated and Maxim.

LSS 2019 Basque Fry

Sutton (center) at the Basque Fry, a barbecue and Nevada GOP political gathering.

That’s not to suggest she isn’t serious. Sutton raised more than any other Republican candidate in the third quarter ($128,000), and doubled her donors in the fourth. The Arizona native interned for the late Sen. John McCain and has a political science degree from the University of Arizona, in addition to her law degree from the University of Miami. “She goes for it; she’s always upbeat and positive. And even when things go wrong, she looks for solutions,” says Arun Garg, a dental surgeon and business mentor to Sutton.

Plus, her résumé suggests she would bring something different to Congress as the owner of four businesses — Ship Las Vegas shipping stores, the Elite Homes real estate company, Liquid & Lace swimwear and the cupcake startup.

There is an opportunity for regular folks like myself to come off the sidelines.

Lisa Song Sutton

“Let’s face it, our current representatives and elected officials … are not familiar with modern businesses, modern technology and are not advocating for it. We all watched the Facebook hearings!” Sutton said, speaking on a panel about Bitcoin regulation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. Regulation “has to be balanced. It has to be the bear on the leash, that we maintain and control.”

Sutton recalled her outlook when her Sin City Cupcakes became the first bakery to accept Bitcoin in Las Vegas after it was legalized. “We were like, ‘Cha-ching, let’s go ahead and get it,'” she said. But when they called the state attorney general’s office to ask how to stay compliant with state law, the staffers were clueless. The story is meant to show the ineptitude of government’s response to new technology. But it also reveals something about Sutton when she adds, a bit slyly: “So we made up our own rules.”

LSS Miss Nevada

Now Sutton is trying to remake the rules of politics, which would cast someone with her background as a lightweight in the Republican Party. And recent history suggests she has a shot. After all, Republican brothel owner Dennis Hof was elected to the Nevada Assembly in November 2018 … even after he had died from a party-induced heart attack at his Love Ranch a month before. This is the age of Donald Trump, where political experience is often a weakness. “There is an opportunity for regular folks like myself to come off the sidelines,” Sutton says.

Speaking after her CES appearance, Sutton is brimming with energy. Her ideas, and sentences, come a mile a minute. A desire to improve veterans’ care comes from her father, a Vietnam vet whose heart stent procedure revealed to her the inadequacies of VA hospitals. And she’s eager to fight for local property owners in a state where 80 percent of the land is federally controlled. When asked for any examples where she might disagree with President Trump, Sutton could not pinpoint anything, other than a vague concern that the economy could falter.

Immigration and national security issues particularly interest Sutton, who grew up near Fort Huachuca, just 15 miles from Arizona’s border with Mexico. “Sadly, the border has changed from the time that I grew up there,” she says. Her family used to cross the border to visit the Mexican town of Naco for lunch when they had guests. No longer. “It’s run by the cartels,” Sutton says. “Border agents need assistance down there. They aren’t fighting these migrant families. They are fighting the cartels who are profiteering off bringing people [and drugs] here.”

LSS Father 2

Sutton with her father.

The odds of her making those points from the House floor remain long. Republican Cresent Hardy’s triumph in a low-turnout 2014 election was the only recent aberration in a district where Democrats have won by sizable margins, thanks in part to a large minority population. “In a presidential year, it really isn’t realistic. This year, because of Trump, the turnout will be overwhelming,” says Democrat Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former Nevada state senator. Election prognosticators rate the seat as “likely Democrat.”

But Sutton presses on, accusing Democratic incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford of being a part-time Nevadan who moved his family to Virginia and “never really moved back.” Meanwhile, as Miss Nevada and as a local business leader, she can tout a decade and more than 500 community events without a political motive. “If you look at the campaign as a company, we’re showing growth, more support, more engagement every single quarter,” Sutton says. Maybe the model-turned-entrepreneur will surprise her way to the halls of Congress. If not, she will have ample star-turning opportunities with conservatives who love telegenic women of color who love them back.

Meet the Hidden Conservative Media Player Shaking Up 2020

“It’s interesting: I’m a lifelong lefty,” begins Dave Rubin, a former Daily Show intern and Big Apple comedian who, in the early 2000s, ran a clandestine talk show from NBC Studios for an entire year before getting caught. Now, though, the 43-year-old is staging a much different sort of insurrection — one that is roiling both traditional media and establishment politics.

Dave Rubin12 fix

Source Sean Culligan/OZY

After gaining some fame as a Young Turks host advocating for gay marriage and marijuana legalization, Rubin soured on the progressive left. Describing himself as a “classical liberal” who agrees with conservatives on lower taxation and protecting free speech, Rubin left New York for Los Angeles in 2013. He is a frequent speaker at Turning Point USA events and runs with the self-proclaimed “Intellectual Dark Web,” a crowd of disaffected liberal academics and commentators without a political home whose major shared belief is a disdain for left-leaning rhetoric and activism.

Which makes it all the more surprising that his YouTube show, The Rubin Report, has become a campaign pit stop for a host of Democratic candidates vying for the presidency, including Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur now polling sixth nationwide; Marianne Williamson (who has now jumped out of the race) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “I have never once gone into an interview with an agenda other than getting to know that person,” Rubin says. “I treat them with the same respect I would treat any guest: right, left, center.”

They had reason to believe his show could boost their electoral hopes. The show has hosted big names (mostly from GOP circles) such as Donald Trump Jr., FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Tucker Carlson. The conservative convert Candace Owens was launched into the stratosphere after appearing on Rubin’s show last year (the video reached 2.5 million people, and the president was soon tweeting her). The Rubin Report boasts more than a million subscribers, with more than 234 million views since it was created in 2012. And it is part of a wave of longer-format interviews that allow listeners to get past the sound bites and into the heads of key political players. “This is a credentializing mechanism. Joe Rogan is king of the Hill right now … but Rubin is in that category right below Rogan,” says Peter Boghossian, a Portland State philosophy professor and fellow member of the Intellectual Dark Web who has appeared on the show before.

We live in very strange times, where now sitting down with someone is ‘dangerous.’

Dave Rubin

Pete Buttigieg was also in talks to appear on the show, Rubin says, until canceling amid online backlash (the campaign did not respond to our requests for comment). “I would have had a great discussion with that guy. Not only about politics, but how often do you get two openly gay, married guys, talking about their lives, similarities, differences? We live in very strange times, where now sitting down with someone is ‘dangerous.'”

Indeed, the Jewish Brooklyn native is routinely called a member of the “far” or “reactionary” right, and, as one Canadian critic put it, a “significant part of a radicalization process ushering people into the neo-Nazi movement.”

After reading such critiques, listening to one of his shows can be jarring — for his lack of partisan fervor. Tucker Carlson, this is not. A typical episode includes an almost professorial Rubin sitting for an hours-long discussion with his guest in his Los Angeles studio. That style has earned praise from the likes of legendary broadcaster Larry King, whose Ora TV aired The Rubin Report in 2015 before Rubin chose to go independent. “Dave Rubin is one of a kind,” King says. “A truly great interviewer. Bright, curious and funny.”

Dave Rubin2

Dave Rubin at his studio in Los Angeles.

Source Sean Culligan/OZY

Rubin occupies “a necessary space in the long-form interview space, particularly by calling for not just economic or social liberty, but cognitive liberty,” says Boghossian: essentially, the right to think freely.

Rubin extends that liberty — and his large platform — to some dark places, often playing soft with extremist guests while adopting a shared “us vs. them” attitude toward the left. He has invited Mike Cernovich, who promoted the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory alleging that top Democrats ran a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza shop, and Canadian white nationalist Lauren Southern on his show. When interviewing controversial Canadian podcaster Stefan Molyneux, Rubin did not substantively challenge Molyneux’s views that different races are genetically predisposed to having lower IQs.

Dave Rubin1

Source Sean Culligan/OZY

Rubin admitted in a later video that he “could have poked or prodded in another way,” but he said it was ultimately up to viewers to decide whether to accept or reject Molyneux’s points.

Despite those moments, Rubin’s viewership shows an appetite for a new type of a-religious libertarianism that could disrupt a Republican Party long closely tied to the religious right. (Though the numbers are growing faster for liberals, conservatives increasingly identify as having “no religion.”) Of his own claim to identity politics, Rubin says it doesn’t make him “worthy of extra credit” but does add that “there are a million gays who are now having a second coming-out,” as in, politically. While Rubin voted for libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016, he has not yet decided if he will back President Donald Trump in 2020.

Rubin’s influence is only growing. As conservative commentators have raised a ruckus over recent YouTube decisions to demonetize their platforms, Rubin is launching a new technology company and app as an alternative content-hosting platform. His show recently started airing over the conservative platform BlazeTV, and Penguin Random House will publish Rubin’s Don’t Burn This Book in April — with a foreword from the prominent intellectual lightning rod Jordan Peterson.

By criticizing “identity politics” and “woke culture,” Rubin has made himself an easy target for those who believe he is contributing to a rise in hate crimes and intolerance. At heart, though, Rubin is much more absurdist comic than political provocateur — much as he was two decades ago as a 20-something sneaking a whole stage audience up to a little-used studio on the eighth floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where his Anti-Show skewered traditional talk shows by interviewing the likes of Cobra Commander (from G.I. Joe) or mocking corny Jay Leno jokes. While he used to thrive on crowd work, “I’m just running a circus now,” Rubin says. The high-wire act has proven to be compelling.

When It Comes to Iran, College Students Are Clear: Peace, Not War

The narrative of the pacifist student protesting war was calcified during the Vietnam War, as photos of burning draft cards and the shooting of Kent State protesters fueled the push for withdrawal.

But that image has been historically misleading: Younger Americans on the whole were actually more supportive of U.S. military action in southeast Asia than older Americans at the time, according to a Brookings analysis of Gallup polls. And that trend repeated itself in the lead-up to U.S. intervention in Iraq after 9/11. Six out of 10 young adults (aged 18 to 29) favored war, compared to fewer than half of those over 65. 

So two decades later, as the U.S. appears at the precipice of potentially another Middle East conflict — this time with Iran, after the Jan. 3 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. drone — are young Americans still leading the call to arms?

The answer is a resounding no, according to a poll conducted by online survey and analytics company College Reaction and exclusively provided to OZY.

More than 80 percent of American students are opposed to the U.S. and its allies taking military action against Iran.

When asked about the possibility of war with Iran, four-fifths of the 1,024 students polled said they opposed military action, while nearly 18 percent said they favored it. That is more than a reversal of the pro-war sentiment reflected in the early aughts; it’s an outright rejection.

“The U.S. has been at war since 2001. For students today, anywhere from 83 to 100 percent of their lives have seen the United States mired in war,” says Cyrus Beschloss, CEO and founder of College Reaction, who himself graduated from Williams College in 2018. “These conflict-averse findings suggest students are starving for a respite from violence.”

Students seem markedly more war-wary than the general public, Beschloss adds. According to a recent USA TODAY/Ipsos poll, 39 percent of Americans support future airstrikes in Iran (compared to 38 percent who oppose).

The circumstances are significantly different for this generation than past ones, notes Alex Vatanka, an Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. A domestic attack, and the image of the falling twin towers in New York City, made for a powerful call to action for many young Americans ahead of the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the cases of Vietnam and Iraq, U.S. leaders could appeal to deeply held ideals like fighting terrorism or building democracy.

There was another common trait shared by the younger generations of both the 1960s and early 2000s: Their lifetimes had been marked by relative peace. In the former’s case, because they had missed the horrors of World War II felt by their parents; in the latter’s, because the Cold War was largely fought between proxies. This generation of young Americans — mostly a part of Generation Z — has never known a world without America being at war, or without the internet livestreaming its horrors.

“Iraq as an experiment failed,” Vatanka says, and in the aftermath, “you can’t mobilize people on the promises of returns sometime in the future when you’re asking for sacrifices now.”

Of course, there could be another reason college students are opposed to military action in Iran: dislike for Donald Trump. The result of this poll closely corresponds with the roughly four-fifths of college students who, in other reported polls, have said they support an impeachment inquiry into the president and believe Trump’s campaign had improper contact with the Russians in 2016. In general, Trump has done less well with college students and adults with a college degree — it’s possible that the lack of support for a war with Iran is really just lack of support for the commander in chief who would be leading that war.

“War is a product. You sell the idea of war,” Vatanka says. If that’s the case, these college students are clear: They aren’t buying what America’s real estate mogul president is selling.

Does Iowa Hold the Key to America’s Automation Problem?

Walking off the plane at the Des Moines airport, travelers are greeted by electronic billboards advertising Iowa’s capital as “America’s Cultivation Corridor” for “innovators, entrepreneurs, foodies” — and futuristic toilets with automated seat covers.

It’s an unexpected vibe, and one Iowa is doubling down on, even in rural areas. Look to Jefferson, an hour’s drive from Des Moines. In September, technology consulting firm Pillar opened its first rural studio — it calls such mini-campuses Forges — for tech job training in the city of less than 5,000 people.

If all goes to plan, the Forge will provide a pipeline from high school or community college to at least 30 high-paying jobs with Pillar and its parent company, Accenture, and potentially dozens more with Silicon Valley tech firms. Blue-chippers from App Academy to Microsoft and Facebook have funded scholarships for the training program nearly 2,000 miles from their headquarters.

The project is about making sure we bring 21st-century jobs to rural America.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

The Jefferson project is one possible answer to questions about the threat of automation to jobs that many Democratic presidential candidates are grappling with. In Utah, for example, the governor’s office and business groups are aiming at creating 25,000 new jobs in rural areas. Meanwhile, a number of companies focused on bringing Silicon Valley to Middle America have sprung up, such as venture firm Village Capital.

Job loss and automation concerns have moved to the forefront of debates over the economy, partly because of the rise of Venture for America entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has made it a core issue behind his call for universal basic income, and the echoing of those fears by candidates including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden.


Joe Biden discusses automation concerns in Des Moines.

Source Nick Fouriezos/OZY

“The project is about making sure we bring 21st-century jobs to rural America,” says Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, whose California district includes Silicon Valley and who helped broker the partnerships. “This is starting to tell the story about what can exist in smaller communities,” says Chris Deal, a Jefferson native who helped pitch Accenture on picking the old-school manufacturing city for its pilot location.

Deal’s question is that of countless similar rural communities across the country: “Can we go from a single company to creating a hub of technology … and really change this from a company to a movement?” It’s a question piquing increased attention from the campaign trail on what answers may lie in overlooked places like Jefferson. The importance of the Jefferson initiative is accentuated by the fact that it’s happening in the first caucus state during a presidential election year.

“I love programs like that,” says Yang. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, also running for president, says they must be part of the solution: “We have to recognize that there are folks in this country who don’t even have a college degree, not a two-year degree, and we need to say: ‘What are we doing for them?’”

The problem looms so large in the contenders’ minds that frontrunner Biden dissected it for several minutes after an Iowa town hall. He worries about how Amazon has displaced traditional work in rural and urban places alike. His eulogizing extends to truck drivers, bank tellers, even journalists.

To Biden, the root of the problem is a change in “the ethic of corporate America” that focuses on short-term gains and benefiting stockholders, not on adding jobs or building the middle class. “These high-tech alternatives are really worth the investment. But the companies have to get engaged,” he adds.

Businesses benefit when they invest in nontraditional partnerships like these, says Linc Kroeger, who works for Pillar. Not only are they able to identify where competitors aren’t looking — think of a baseball team that scouts prospects in remote Caribbean islands — but they’re also able to train workers to more closely fit their needs. For Accenture, that means training them to be “multilingual” (i.e., able to work in multiple coding languages).


Andrew Yang marches in Des Moines.

Source Nick Fouriezos/OZY

Because the training is tailored to a specific job, people are more likely to be hired in the end, but Yang cautions that programs like this can suffer from success rates as low as 15 percent. And the effectiveness of programs like these could hold cultural ramifications for the country. Many rural Americans must choose whether to stay in their community or move in search of a meaningful career path. But as broadband internet speeds become more accessible and more work can be done remotely, that choice could become unnecessary — allowing people to live in a place like Jefferson and work for an Apple, a Microsoft or a Facebook.

“There is talent here. But so many times, the opportunity isn’t here,” says Deal, who grew up nearby on his family’s century-old apple orchard. He recently moved back after his engineering firm created a flexible work-from-home program.

As politicians decry partisanship, this is a rare area of agreement. Khanna notes it’s just about the only thing that could unite himself, a California liberal, and a conservative like Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who also attended the Jefferson Forge opening. “That’s how we’re going to concretely stitch this country together,” Khanna says.

But the true test will be if such programs sustain the interest of politicians and business leaders long enough to make a difference. Four years from now, the presidential shuffle will begin again, and the same would-be White House types will descend on Iowa, even if the faces have changed. If programs like Jefferson’s wither on the vine, the next presidential crop may be asked why.  

Mesut Özil: From China’s Sex Icon to Pariah

OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.

Something is always lost in translation when dealing with China. Take Mesut Özil, for example. The Arsenal soccer star’s name is difficult to transliterate into Chinese, which uses idiomatic characters in lieu of an alphabet. So while English broadcasters have called the crafty and opportunistic midfielder the “assist king,” Chinese fans and media folk have a different name: “The Little Wife.”

Male commentators have said it’s because of his timid playing style, not just linguistic differences. But there is another reason why the “Little Wife” is one of the biggest soccer icons in East Asia, reportedly earning an offer of more than $100 million to join the Chinese Super League in 2017. “Young Chinese females in particular see him as something of a sex symbol,” says Simon Chadwick, a University of Salford professor of sports enterprise with a special focus on Asia. “The reason we were able to ascertain is this wide-eyed innocence that he has. It’s his facial appearance they liked.”

The Chinese hardly see him as innocent now. This weekend, Özil, 31, posted a poem on Instagram decrying China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim population, which some human rights groups have called the largest incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust. That led to China, which doesn’t take kindly to being criticized by sports figures, responding by blacking out Arsenal games on state television. Fans reportedly burned Özil’s jersey, and while Arsenal released a statement claiming to be apolitical, reports suggest China will accept nothing but a full apology before resuming business with the Premier League squad.

The Premier League stands to make much more out of China than China does out of the Premier League.

Simon Chadwick, University of Salford

Perhaps knowingly, Özil has waded into a proxy war. “We are living amidst a global ideological battle between Western liberalism and Eastern authoritarianism. There are several flash points in this battle, and one of those is sports,” Chadwick adds.

Özil is no stranger to controversy. On the pitch, the midfielder is a genius (albeit one with critics). After featuring for German Bundesliga clubs, Özil was transferred to Real Madrid for 15 million euros. There, he starred while winning the Copa del Rey in his first season and helping Germany win the FIFA World Cup in 2014. The only player ever to lead Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League in assists, Özil’s opportunistic and technical playing style earned praise at every stop … while his lack of physicality has not.

Says Justin Salhani, a former footballer and sports writer who founded the Washington-based collective Guerrilla FC: “He’s not the hard-running, tackling passion player fans want, but he has technical and cerebral qualities I appreciate.”

Some argue that Özil is hardly cerebral off the field. His views can be conflicting at best. Yes, he was lauded for speaking out against racism, quitting the German national team in 2018 after saying his Turkish heritage was held against him. Still, Özil is also a close ally to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite the Turkish president’s dismal human rights record and authoritarian tendencies. At first, the hate toward Özil may have been extreme: He had merely taken photos with Erdogan, or as he told media in 2018, “respecting the highest office of my family’s country.” But it went beyond simple respect when Özil made Erdogan the best man at his wedding this past summer.

Chadwick suggests that Ozil may not have fully thought through the effects of his stances — from Turkey to China. As recently as this January, Özil starred in a commercial wishing the Chinese people a happy New Year. “For fuck’s sake, this is the guy who tried to sue his father,” says Chadwick, referring to a series of lawsuits about management disagreements waged between the two in the last decade. “He’s not an especially well-informed individual.”

Don’t expect controversies like these to abate anytime soon. China already showed how it deals with dissent in sports, reportedly asking the NBA to fire Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets this fall for the high crime of supporting protesters in Hong Kong. And as Middle Eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (Emirates airline sponsors Arsenal) increase their global sports investments, cultural conflicts between a player’s free speech and a country’s self-interest will only increase. “A lot of these relationships are becoming asymmetric,” Chadwick says. “The Premier League stands to make much more out of China than China does out of the Premier League.”

Özil has yet to criticize Turkish aggression toward the Kurds in Syria, even though many also are practicing Muslims, like the Uighurs and Özil himself. (In his Instagram post, he explicitly called out other Muslim nations for not speaking against China). And so Özil, as he has so often in soccer matches, is picking his spots — jumping into the fray when it appeals, staying on the periphery when it doesn’t. The only difference is, this time, going after the goal has dragged the whole world with him.

Can the Yang Gang Make Money a Force for Good in Politics?

Dozens have gathered on the Santa Monica Pier in California to tout their support for Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur and upstart Democrat presidential candidate best known for his support of universal basic income. But their jovial sign waving and slogan shouting has upset one bystander — a busker playing a guitar nearby. “I hope you guys go away pretty soon, because, man, this is really messing up my show,” the musician, Larry Poling, says.

Instead of arguing with him, two Yang fans step up and place a dollar bill in the busker’s bucket. And then another donates. And another. Soon, Poling is surrounded by Yang supporters, a seemingly unstaged demonstration of the positive effect money can have on individual lives — emblematic of a candidate who has run on a platform of giving each American citizen $1,000 a month, with a slogan of “Humanity First.”

Cash has mostly been a boogeyman of American politics, particularly since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling ushered in an era of virtually unlimited spending by shady actors. Yet where others have focused dollars on advertising more traditionally, the Yang Gang is also giving out cash to support individual campaigners.

That’s potentially controversial. Just as conservatives have sought creative ways to skirt campaign finance laws, one could argue the Yang Gang’s creative crowdsourcing tactics are in-kind donations of their own — contributions aiding the campaign without having to be disclosed publicly.

But there’s no denying that by using unconventional tactics — from trading Twitter follows for campaign contributions and handing out “Democracy Dollars” for elections to “stock banking” — they’re transforming the conversation around money and its influence on politics.

“The question is, How do you counter a system held captive by lobbyists?” Yang says. “We need a new source of money that’s tied to our people.”

Collecting small amounts from ordinary voters is a strategy other campaigns have adopted too. In 2012, Elizabeth Warren, now a presidential candidate as well, raised more money from small-dollar online donors in Massachusetts than in any Senate campaign ever. In 2016, Bernie Sanders, another White House contender, nationalized the focus on small donors as a way of combating corporate greed and the outsize influence of super PACs in the electoral system. “It’s the idea of a lot of people banding together and sort of offering up what they can,” says Amanda Coulombe, the get-out-the-vote director for Warren in 2012.

But Yang’s campaign is going a step further to argue that money should be seen as a public good, capable of fostering trust and encouraging community, at a time when Democrats are increasingly skeptical of its role in society.

Some Yang supporters have opened accounts with Robinhood, the free stock-trading app, promising to donate stocks to the campaign through a process nicknamed #StockBanking. A trucker who goes by the online moniker Fred the Felon raised $10,000 in less than 12 hours to wrap a Yang banner around his truck. Another fan, Heidi, crowdfunded $1,228 to put a Yang decal on her jeep, which she has been touring Iowa with. Heidi eventually returned the money because she was worried about violating campaign finance law, but she’s now offering to write a personalized chalk message in Iowa supporting Yang for a $60 contribution to the campaign.

After Yang offered $1,000 per month for 12 months to people who retweeted and followed him this summer — a model for his UBI platform that doubled as an extremely cost-efficient marketing campaign — some supporters have followed suit by promising to donate $1 (or more) for each new follower they get. The blatantly transactional tactic is surprisingly effective … leading to thousands of followers.

Sure, some of those proclaimed Yang supporters could be taking advantage of his fan base’s generosity, pocketing the contributions for themselves (most post screenshots as “proof”). But the trust involved is part of the point of Yang’s platform, argues Scott Santens, a UBI expert and Yang supporter. UBI puts primacy on straight cash, rather than benefit programs offering food or health care, as creating a safety net. “That’s what basic income is: that we should unconditionally trust everyone with sufficient access to everyone’s basic needs,” he says. “There is the same element here, where we are more trusting of each other — it’s OK to think of this as a mutually beneficial thing.”

Yang’s optimistic view of cash is not similarly shared by other Democratic candidates. He criticizes what he calls a rules-based approach to politics. “It’s not so much a rules problem; it’s a power problem,” says Yang, who has talked about advocating “human-centered capitalism” over democratic socialism.

Indeed, there is a reason Sanders supporters haven’t had similarly cash-focused schemes, even if they do emphasize the democratic power of small-dollar donations, says Santens, who backed Sanders in 2016. “It does tie into the ideology. I definitely don’t see it in the Bernie or Warren camps.”

Another Yang campaign strategy, Democracy Dollars, would give citizens $100 each to donate to their favorite candidate. A similar voucher program in Seattle led to a 250 percent increase in city residents who made a campaign contribution in local elections, according to a study by the University of Washington.

Such direct methods like Yang’s have another benefit over mandatory public financing models that give money to candidates rather than common people, notes Beth Rotman, director of money in politics and ethics at the public watchdog Common Cause. Yang’s model engages “everyday Americans,” while public financing alternatives may “encourage people not to donate,” she says. Contributing to campaigns has been tied by campaign finance experts like Michael Malbin to increased civic participation.

Yang differs ideologically with the emphasis on public financing espoused by Sanders and Warren, with Santens describing their views as “neoliberal paternalism … [that] people don’t know what’s best for themselves.”

So while candidates like Yang, Sanders and Warren may seem alike on several fronts — from their calls for reform to their small-donor support — their worldviews on money paint very different pictures. Money does talk, and for Yang, it’s a positive message.