Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Who Struggled to Transform France, Dies at 94

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the modern-minded conservative who became president of France in 1974 vowing to transform his tradition-bound, politically polarized country, only to be turned out of office seven years later after failing to accomplish his goals or to shed his imperious image, died on Wednesday at his family home in the Loir-et-Cher area of central France. He was 94.

His foundation said the cause was complications of Covid-19.

The scion of families that traced their lineage to French nobility and a polished product of France’s best schools, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing had been encouraged to believe that it was his destiny to rise to the pinnacle of government. And he did, swiftly.

But by the time he was ousted from the presidential palace in 1981, roundly defeated in his re-election bid by the socialist François Mitterrand, few French were ascribing greatness to him.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing (pronounced ZHEES-carr DEHS-tang) had come to office declaring that he would take hold of the overbearing presidency he had inherited from Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou and make it more responsive to the will of the people — soften it.

But the French government remained centralized under his administration, and the power it gave the French president remained far greater than that enjoyed by his Western European and American counterparts — a point of which Mr. Mitterrand was sure to remind voters in the campaign. He plainly alluded to Mr. Giscard d’Estaing’s aristocratic mien in asserting that the president had behaved like “a sovereign monarch with absolute power.”

As president, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing was hindered by an economic slowdown in Western Europe after more than two decades of almost continuous postwar expansion. A demographic shift had resulted in an aging larger segment of the French population being supported by an economically active smaller base — a situation that became even more acute throughout Europe during the global economic crisis set off in 2008.

But he drew praise for presiding over an expansion of nuclear energy that supplied France with abundant cheap electricity and helped its industries remain competitive. And while he had a mixed, often disappointing record in foreign policy, he was at his best in Western European affairs.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing pushed for the establishment of the European Council, where heads of government met regularly. And the Franco-German alliance, a cornerstone of Western European unity after World War II, was at its strongest under him, thanks largely to his close friendship with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of West Germany.

Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d’Estaing was born on Feb. 2, 1926, in Koblenz, Germany, where his father, Edmond, was serving as a finance ministry official for the French occupation of the Rhineland after World War I. His mother, May Bardoux, belonged to a family active in conservative politics; she claimed to be a descendant of Louis XV, the Bourbon king who ruled from 1715 to 1774. Edmond Giscard traced his lineage to a noble family that thrived before the French Revolution.

Valéry attended the prestigious Lycée Janson de Sailly in Paris. Still a teenager during World War II, he joined a tank regiment of the Free French Forces as Allied troops advanced into Germany in 1945. He received both the Croix de Guerre and the Bronze Star.

After the war, he graduated near the top of his class in the École Polytechnique and the École Nationale d’Administration, the elite institutions of higher learning that trained generations of technocrats to run the government bureaucracy.

On completing his studies in 1952, he married Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes, a descendant of a steel dynasty. Each brought a chateau to the marriage, his being near the city of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region of central France. They had another house in Auteuil, one of Paris’s most fashionable neighborhoods. They had two sons, Henri and Louis Joachim, and two daughters, Valérie-Anne and Jacinte. (Information on survivors was not immediately available.)

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing began his rapid ascent through government in 1953 with a stint in the finance ministry and as an administrative aide to Prime Minister Edgar Faure. He then won election to the National Assembly in 1956, representing Auvergne in a seat that had been held by his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather. He soon earned a reputation as a brilliant technocrat and a polished speaker.

When President de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic in 1959, he invited Mr. Giscard d’Estaing to rejoin the finance ministry. Three years later, de Gaulle elevated him to finance minister. At 34, he was the youngest official ever to fill that post. He immediately impressed Parliament by delivering his first budget speech without notes.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing embraced Gaullist policies. He sought to limit American influence in Europe by calling for alternatives to the dollar in global trade and finance. He warned about the growing presence of American corporations in Europe. But de Gaulle and his prime minister, Pompidou, were less enthralled by the popular reaction to their finance minister’s domestic policies.

While Mr. Giscard d’Estaing did succeed in cutting the annual inflation rate, his austerity policies — cuts in public spending, tax increases, and wage and price controls — fostered a recession and drew cries of outrage from business and labor; in January 1966 he was summarily dismissed as finance minister. It was the first setback in his career, perhaps in his life, and he still sounded crushed when talking about the incident years later.

“I was sacked like a servant,” he told The Observer of London in 1972. Critics pointed out that in fact he had been a civil servant.

Forming a moderate conservative political faction of his own, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing then campaigned against the aging de Gaulle on an issue, parliamentary reform, that ended de Gaulle’s political life in 1969 through a popular referendum. De Gaulle immediately stepped down after a majority of the French voted against it.

While many Gaullists never forgave Mr. Giscard d’Estaing, he nonetheless formed a political alliance with Pompidou, a de Gaulle protégé, who went on to win election as president in 1969.

The new president rewarded Mr. Giscard d’Estaing by appointing him finance minister a second time. When Pompidou died of cancer in 1974, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing emerged as a conservative coalition’s candidate for president against a powerful Socialist-Communist alliance led by Mr. Mitterrand.

In one of the closest, most exciting elections in French history, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing gained a wafer-thin victory margin of about 425,000 votes out of 25.8 million ballots cast. At 48, he was the youngest head of state since Napoleon. His grace and intelligence led pundits to call him the “Gallic Kennedy.”

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing sought to build on this honeymoon by casting himself as more relaxed and less pompous than his predecessors. For formal occasions and photographs he wore a business suit instead of buttoning his tall, slender frame into the traditional morning coat or military uniform. He occasionally played romantic tunes on an accordion for television crews.

But other attempts to set aside his aristocratic style and project a populist image backfired. When this new president claimed to have donned disguises and strolled anonymously down the Champs-Élysées, cartoonists gleefully depicted him in a beret and dark glasses, with a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, as he sat at a sidewalk cafe. When he asserted that as a teenager he had participated in the French Resistance against Nazi occupation by furtively distributing anti-German pamphlets, he was mocked by left-wing rivals and a skeptical news media.

A sagging image wasn’t the president’s only problem. Huge spurts in global oil prices, first in 1973 and again in 1979, led to sharp increases in fuel costs, which helped provoke economic slowdowns or recession throughout Western Europe.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing was able to claim a notable success by committing France, more than any other country, to nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants provided almost all the nation’s electricity, thus sharply reducing oil imports. He also saw that government subsidies and investments were channeled toward large private corporations in aircraft manufacturing, high-speed trains, automobile production and other industrial sectors deemed to be important for economic competitiveness.

But in many cases, such state intervention merely hid companies’ flaws and inefficiencies. The economy slowed, putting a strain on public finances. Yet expectations among the French remained high, because the postwar era had left them with free education through the university level, free medical benefits, subsidized housing, generous pensions, and unemployment payments that nearly equaled an employee’s last salary.

Much to the public’s displeasure, the government was forced to pursue an austerity program to close the gap between public spending and revenue. Unemployment, particularly among young people, rose steeply.

In his re-election campaign, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing tried to draw an alarming picture of what life would be like under a left-wing government. “Adieu to the stability of the franc and the freedom of enterprise,” he asserted, “adieu to nuclear independence and France’s rank in the world — we have seen it happen elsewhere; we would see it here as well.”

But the scare tactic failed. Years of economic austerity and rising discontent with the president’s style brought Mr. Mitterrand and his Socialist-Communist coalition to power in 1981.

After stepping down from the presidency, Mr. Giscard d’Estaing remained active in politics, returning several times to the National Assembly from his Auvergne district.

He re-emerged in the news this year when Ann-Kathrin Stracke, a reporter for WDR, a German public broadcaster, accused him of repeatedly groping her buttocks after an interview in 2018. His lawyer said that Mr. Giscard d’Estaing had no recollection of the incident. An official police investigation was opened, but there has been no word on its status.

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing came to shed his image of moderation in favor of a more nationalist posture in the national debate over immigration. In an interview in 1991 with the newspaper Le Figaro, he asserted that “the type of problem we will be facing” concerning immigration has moved “toward that of invasion.” He suggested that French citizenship should be conferred as a “blood right” — a nebulous phrase borrowed from neo-fascists and often construed as racist — rather than as a birthright.

Taking an active role in European Union politics, he staunchly opposed attempts by Turkey to become an E.U. member on the grounds that it was a Muslim, non-European nation; he thus became the first European politician of such high stature to voice that position publicly.

(Negotiations on Turkey’s membership remain stalled over E.U. members’ concerns on matters like human rights, immigration and the rule of law.)

Mr. Giscard d’Estaing was blunt about any talk of embracing Turkey. “In my opinion,” he told the leading French daily, Le Monde, in 2002, “it would mean the end of Europe.”

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.

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Crown Melbourne set to transform hotel into Australian Open quarantine hub

It means players and their entourages will have to shuttle directly to and from the tennis centre from their hotels, without having contact with the public.


TA, the DHHS and the Andrews government were locked in talks on Monday evening, although there is growing belief a resolution will be reached by close of business on Tuesday.

Sources in the talks have said that the original start date of January 18 had been all but dismissed. January 25 is still a possibility, but February 1 or even February 8 were looming as the most likely of start dates.

Nine – the Australian Open host broadcaster and owner of this masthead – was waiting to be told the revised date late on Monday evening.


The hotel quarantine – with the ability to train – will be mandatory for all players and their support staff.

While the option of players renting private properties with gyms and training facilities had been raised in conversations, a source in the negotiations said the DHHS would not allow it.

The ATP notified players late last week that the quarantine period was likely to begin on January 8 but has also advised them not to book any travel yet.

“There are strict current limitations on the number of people allowed entry into Australia. A possible [one] or two week push-back of the Australian Open is still likely,” the note said.

“Final determination on COVID-19 protocols, close contract procedures and player support teams will be released soon.”

Players are eagerly awaiting advice from Tennis Australia, with any likely delay of the tournament to have a flow-on effect for the remainder of the season.

Premier Daniel Andrews revealed on Monday that no private security guards will be involved in the state’s new-look hotel quarantine program.

International travellers will begin arriving at Melbourne Airport next Monday, the first time that any international flights – apart from New Zealand – have arrived since July.

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Agriculture reforms will transform rural economy: Ramesh Chand

NITI Aayog member and agriculture expert Ramesh Chand has hailed the three recently enacted agriculture-related legislations by the Centre saying if implemented in the right spirit, they will take Indian agriculture to new heights and usher in the transformation of the rural economy.

“The three policy reforms undertaken by the central government through the three new Acts are in keeping with the changing times and requirements of farmers and farming,” Chand said in his recent working paper.

“The reforms have generated optimism for India to become a global power in agriculture and a powerhouse for global food supply,” he added.

Commenting on the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, Chand said it gives farmers the choice to sell their produce within Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets or outside them; to private channels, integrators, farmer producer organisations (FPOs), or cooperatives; through a physical market or on an electronic platform; and directly at farm or anywhere else.

“It has no intent or provision to tamper or dilute MSP and poses no threat by itself to APMC markets,” he clarified.

According to Chand, the real threat to APMC mandis and their business is from excessive and unjustified charges levied by states in these markets. “The new FPTC Act will only put pressure on APMC markets to become competitive,” he said, adding this will ensure healthy competition between APMC mandis and other channels permitted under the new Act with significant gain to farmers.

Talking about the impact of The Farmers’ Empowerment and Protection Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, Chand said the Act is inclined towards farmers. “The Act will promote diversification, quality production for premium price, export and direct sale of produce with desired attributes to interested consumers,” he said. “It will also bring new capital and knowledge into agriculture and pave the way for farmers’ participation in the value chain,” Chand added.

Commenting on the modification in the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) for a group of agri-food commodities, Chand clarified that the modification specifies transparent criteria in terms of price trigger for imposing ECA rather than leaving it to arbitrary decisions by bureaucrats to invoke the Act. “The modification in ECA will attract much-needed private investments in agriculture from input to post-harvest activities,” he said.

Talking about the fiscal benefits to farmers, Chand said by removing all kinds of charges and levies on sale and purchase of farm produce, the new Central Act saves significant cost to buyers and thus improves the prospects of payment of MSP by private traders to farmers.

“In contrast to this, any move by the states to counter the Central Act and giving a legal status to MSP while keeping market fee, user charges, commissions, cess, etc., intact will work against private traders giving MSP to farmers, by making purchase price costlier,” he cautioned.

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Antivirals, spaceflights, hyperloops among 20 markets to transform economies: WEF

The World Economic Forum on Wednesday released a list of the 20 markets of tomorrow that will transform economies in an inclusive and sustainable way, and named India among the countries that present solid technological systems for such a transformation.

However, several countries, including India, will need development in the social and institutional fabric to deliver these markets, the Geneva-based organisation said in a white paper released at its ‘Jobs Reset Summit 2020’, which is being held online.

These 20 ‘markets of tomorrow’ include broad-spectrum antivirals, spaceflights, skills capital, water rights and quality credits, genes and DNA sequences, precision medicines and orphan drugs, ed-tech and reskilling services, artificial intelligence, satellite services, greenhouse gas allowances, reforestation services, and hydrogen.

Besides this, electric vehicles, plastics recycling, care, data, digital financial services, hyperloop-based transport services, new antibiotics, and unemployment insurance have also been included in this list.

The WEF said some of these new markets will rely particularly on advances in technology, while others will require radically new social and institutional set-ups. Some markets will emerge from a combination of both the elements.

These markets can help societies protect and empower people, advance knowledge and understanding, and protect the environment, among other benefits.

The WEF said countries with advanced technological capabilities, strong social capital and future-oriented institutions are more likely to create a broader range of new markets needed for economic transformation.

ALSO READ: World trade rebounding slowly, outlook uncertain: UN report

Post-Covid growth

“As the world grapples with the socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an increasing demand to shape a new economy that addresses broader societal and environmental challenges while generating economic growth,” it said.

According to the report, a preliminary mapping of countries’ potential for breakthrough technological and socio-institutional innovation indicates that those with advanced technological capabilities, strong social capital and future-oriented institutions are likely to succeed in developing a broader set of new markets.

In particular, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany and Norway have the highest potential for socio-institutional innovation, while Japan, Germany, the US, the Republic of Korea and France have the highest potential to generate breakthrough technological development.

While most advanced economies score highly across both these dimensions, a few advanced economies — Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, Japan and Spain — as well as four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and some other emerging economies (Hungary, Poland) “present solid technological systems but need development in the social and institutional fabric to deliver these markets,” the WEF said.

It added that India, Spain and Japan are just below the bar in terms of socio-institutional innovation, while the economy of Taiwan, China, is just above.

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US coronavirus Donald Trump Tucker Aussie couple transform cafe into virtual store during COVID

It’s after work on Friday, March 13, and a popular brewery on the outskirts of New York City is near empty of customers, save for a small group comforting themselves with pizza and beer.
As Jason Hoy and Melanie Hansche sit and chat with staff members from their Australian-inspired café Tucker in the college town of Easton, Pennsylvania, the mood is heavy with concern.

At the time, America’s confirmed virus cases were 1701 with 40 deaths. As a comparison, on March 13, Australia recorded 49 COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

The Tucker crew on March 15 in their ‘Try not to worry’ t-shirts just days after the coronavirus gained momentum in America. (Facebook)

Hoy and Hansche, a married couple from Sydney who travelled stateside for work and adventure, are facing challenging months ahead.

Just days earlier, Hansche was sent home from her day job as a magazine editor after her office closed.

And within 24 hours of their staff sit down, New York state-mandated restaurants open at 50 per cent capacity.

Rumours are also circulating all non-essential businesses will soon be shut down.

As owners of a three-year-old restaurant where a customer’s average spend is $20 (US$15) for avocado toast and a flat white, the focus for Hoy and Hansche is all about survival.

Incredibly, a delayed gift for his wife had compelled Hoy to watch news of the global health crisis unfold at its epicentre in Wuhan, China.
Jason, Melanie and their dog Hobart.
Jason, Melanie and their dog Hobart. (Photo credit: Hetty McKinnon)

“I was waiting for a Christmas present from Wuhan… noise cancelling headphones from Kickstarter,” Hoy told deadpan.

“I had already purchased some masks just watching what was going on.”

The couple’s initial plan in those early days of the pandemic hitting the US was to close their café and open a week later. This would allow time to adjust seating capacity, menu and staff numbers.

They were aware not all their staff would feel comfortable working during the crisis, with some having immunocompromised parents and parents with cancer.

On the Sunday night, after too many martinis, Hoy and Hansche had ditched their plan, instead devising a bold new one.

By Monday, they had dramatically transformed their café, in a former 1800s silk mill, into a general store.

They had locked the doors and adopted a contactless slide pick up station for customers by way of a window and two-metre-long table.

“It got really weird, really fast,” Hoy said of the situation.

The new plan was sparked, in part, by the café’s new point of sale which offered online ordering. So, after working 72 hours on the initial set up, borrowed from his learnings running wine stores in Sydney, they were ready.

Almost overnight, Tucker café went from selling avo toast to customers to being Tucker Provisions – an online grocery store, with access to sourdough loafs, fresh fruit and vegetables and other treats and pantry staples.

Inside Tucker 2.0 - where three customers with masks are allowed to order and browse at the one time.
Inside Tucker 2.0 – where three customers with masks are allowed to order and browse at the one time. (Photo credit: DeAnn Desilets)

Hoy said with Hansche’s help, he worked 18-hour days in that first week to cope with demand from the locals. A staffer, who volunteered for the week, made $2700 (US$2000) in tips for her trouble.

They had embraced a glut from the New York restaurant trade and were using it to provide comfort to their community. It proved an increasing necessity as supermarket shelves in their town were stripped bare by panic shopping.

The couple’s ingenuity not only saved their café but saw the average weekly takings increase five or six-fold. They had also helped keep others, key suppliers and local farms, in regular business.

Hoy said this was “in between strange donations”, including US$100 notes left in the tip jar by little old ladies in pearls, “saving a farm with 80,000 chickens” and selling 7500 eggs a week for three weeks. As he said, things got strange fast.

At one point, a local business Freshpet contacted the couple with an incredible offer to buy $5400 (US$4000) worth of gift cards to help Freshpet employees cope during the pandemic. Tucker was one of five local restaurants in the area to be chosen.

In the weeks that followed, Hoy and Hansche said they kept an eye on family and friends back home in Sydney.

Tucker has provided the locals of Easton in Pennsylvania with much needed supplies over the past six months after transitioning from a cafe to a general store.
Tucker has provided the locals of Easton in Pennsylvania with much needed supplies over the past six months after transitioning from a cafe to a general store. (Photo credit: DeAnn Desilets)
By March 20, NSW Health had released a statement that four cruise ship passengers on a ship called the Ruby Princess had tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak would trigger a near mirror image scenario as the US – shutdowns, job losses and deaths.

Hoy and Hansche could only watch on helplessly as many friends in hospitality lost work. Not even the slight, cruel, head start the US had on Australia appeared to help.

“I even sat down and sent emails to restaurants in New York and Sydney… here’s the way you can change the cash flow,” Hoy said.

Yet, as four weeks, six weeks and the months rolled past little action on Hoy’s advice was made.

“We’re very lucky being in a small city/town so we’re not competing. We’re in a unique position,” he said.

“I think the advantage too was that people felt comfortable here,” Hansche told

“Here was their favourite little café… we can get you veggies and meat, and you can come and pick it up in the window. That was enormously appealing.”

Tucker 2.0 and the ‘angry mob’

Fast forward six months and Hoy and Hansche are again reinventing their business with Tucker 2.0. The virtual general store is now a real live retail store where a total of three masked-up customers can pop in, order and browse.

Jason Hoy and Melanie Hansche transformed part of an old 1800s silk mill into their cafe three years ago.
Jason Hoy and Melanie Hansche transformed part of an old 1800s silk mill into their cafe three years ago. (Photo credit: DeAnn Desilets)

The couple’s mask rule as caused friction among some in the community, particularly given they are a small business in a battleground state in an election year.

Ahead of the 2016 US election, political experts had pegged Pennsylvania as a Clinton win. Yet, on election day the state swung to Trump with a historic margin of 0.72 per cent.

In the past week, some have taken to attacking Hoy and Hansche’s Tucker on social media, while others have planned doorstep protests.

It’s at this point Hoy casually remarks he has stepped across the road to the insurance agency to enquire about what would happen if a brick is thrown through their shop window or a gun is fired.

In September, the US has 6.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and almost 200,000 deaths. Pennsylvania has recorded 151,000 cases and almost 8000 deaths.

“Without diving into the division that America faces… we’ve had to try and manage that response,” Hoy said.

“There are many who have sided with the administration and that it (coronavirus) might be a hoax… we’ve got to balance the response to our business. It’s a tightrope.”

Hoy and Hansche are quick to add overall the Easton community has been incredibly supportive.

Tucker returned to indoor counter service last week after spending six months running its virtual grocery store.
Tucker returned to indoor counter service last week after spending six months running its virtual grocery store. (Photo credit: DeAnn Desilets)

“This community is great and 95 per cent of our customers are awesome,” Hansche said.

“The politicisation of masks was perplexing to us. As business owners we need to do the best to safeguard our staff… for us it’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business.”

“As the guy on the frontline it’s really a tiny minority it’s a creaky wheel, very small group of people,” Hoy said.

“We have a very vocal group of angry individuals who have gone after the business but have given a lot of negative reviews that’s just the internet and not the reality.”

Contact reporter Kate Kachor at

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Desk exercise equipment to transform the workday into a workout

Intermittent desk workouts can add some healthy activity throughout the day. Here’s some of our favorite desk exercise equipment.

Image: Flexispot

In recent decades, jobs have become increasingly sedentary across the US. Less than one-in-five US positions require moderate-intensity physical activity at a minimum, according to an American Journal of Health Promotion study. To assist, a number of manufacturers have developed low-profile and compact exercise accessories with office workers in mind. Today, there are many ways to incorporate intermittent desk workouts throughout the standard workday. From under-desk treadmills to balancing training accessories, here’s some of the top desk exercise equipment on the market.


Image: Flexispot

The FlexiSpot Desk bike is a great option for people looking to incorporate low-impact exercise throughout the workday. With four wheels positioned along the base, the unit can be easily repositioned as needed and the adjustable bike seat accommodates riders of varying heights. Between desk workouts, people can use the adjustable desk counter surface as a standing desk.

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download (TechRepublic Premium)


Image: Amazon

Low-profile treadmills are a solid option for telecommuters looking for a standing desk workout during business hours. At 56 inches in length and 27 inches in width, this treadmill easily fits under many standing desk makes and models. The unit also comes with an adjustable handrail. During use at a standing desk, the adjustable handrail folds flush around the treadmill base. For added security and stability for exercise after the workday, the handrail extends upward. With a total weight of 66 pounds, the unit is exceptionally low weight for portability around the home office.


Image: Cubii

The market for under-desk exercise accessories is brimming with equipment options. The Cubii Jr miniature elliptical is a popular option for desk workout seekers. At 23 inches in length, 17 inches wide, and 10 inches tall, the device easily fits under common desk builds with ample room to the sides to accommodate resting feet positioning between workouts. A readout along the unit tracks calories, distance, strides, and RPM during use.


Image: Amazon

In recent years, inflatable rubber exercise balls typically reserved for the gym are regularly used as an alternative to standard office seating. The idea is that the use of the exercise ball will trigger muscles to help with stabilization without the rigid structure and support of a typical chair.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free Pdf) (TechRepublic)

Although there are mixed reviews when it comes to health benefits associated with ball chairs, at least one study did conclude these designs may actually increase caloric burn compared to traditional seating. For those so inclined, it’s also possible to turn sideways throughout the workday to squeeze in a few crunches in between tasks.


Image: Fluidstance

In the standing desk era, the balance board is a popular accessory among office workers. The perceived exercise benefits are similar to the aforementioned ball chair concept; the inherent lack of stability activities stabilizing muscles during use. A 2018 study found that balance board use “may be effective for increasing [energy expenditure] without interfering with productivity.” In another study, balance training has also been shown to improve spatial cognition and memory in adults. After hours, the balance board can be easily integrated into regular workout routines to help with core stabilization, balance training, and more.

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How the government’s new real-time payments system could transform commerce

On Thursday, the Federal Reserve unveiled new details about FedNow Service—a new real-time payments platform that would enable financial institutions in the U.S. to clear and settle transactions in virtually instantaneous fashion.

The Fed announced its plans for FedNowService almost one year ago to the day, and has since been receiving public comments on the platform, what it should look like, and how it should operate. The goal is to develop a widely accessible, “24x7x365” instant payments infrastructure that would “modernize the U.S. payment system and bring the benefits of instant payments broadly to communities across the country,” according to the Fed.

While the Fed has provided payment and settlement services to the financial system since its founding more than a century ago, FedNow Service would represent an expansive, tech-enabled leap forward—one allowing individuals and businesses to transfer funds in a matter of seconds at any time, on any day (including weekends and holidays).

The U.S. lags behind much of the world in this regard; dozens of developed and developing nations around the world—including the likes of the U.K., India, Poland, Mexico, and Nigeria—already operate their own real-time payments infrastructures. Though The Clearing House—a collective comprising most of America’s largest banks and financial institutions—did launch its own real-time payments platform, known as RTP, in 2017, that system remains far from universally adopted.

The Fed has relationships with more than 10,000 different financial institutions across the country, giving it the ability to develop a real-time payments system that virtually all American banks can access to facilitate the near-instant flow of funds. Individuals and businesses would be able to send up to $25,000 through the FedNow Service, though the Fed said Thursday that it would reevaluate that figure after numerous commenters suggested a larger transaction limit.

The benefits of a state-of-the-art, real-time payment infrastructure would appear to be wide-ranging. In addition to allowing businesses of all types to access funds and manage their cash flow in a more flexible manner, it would also allow individuals to send and receive money more quickly, potentially helping those facing financial constraints to avoid penalties like overdraft and late fees.

While many banks and non-bank payment services (like PayPal and Square) already offer instant payments and transfers through The Clearing House’s RTP network, such services often come with additional fees. By creating a wider-reaching platform, the Fed believes FedNow Service would stimulate “healthy competition” in the real-time payments space, and result in “efficiencies related to pricing, service quality, and innovation.”

As Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard noted Thursday, the need for a ubiquitous real-time payments system has become increasingly apparent at a time when the U.S. government has had to transfer billions of dollars in stimulus funds to Americans in need of financial assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The rapid expenditure of COVID emergency relief payments highlighted the critical importance of having a resilient instant payments infrastructure with nationwide reach, especially for households and small businesses with cashflow constraints,” Brainard said.

Not all observers agree with the Fed’s approach. The central bank noted Thursday that it received more than 2,200 letters from commenters arguing that it “should not operate in competition with the private sector,” and that FedNow Service would represent “an inappropriate expansion of the Federal Reserve’s role.”

But Fed itself counters by noting that it would be playing the same “operational role” within the national payment system that it always has—one working in conjunction with the private sector, rather than competing against it. It notes that no other “traditional” payment system in the U.S. has only one private-sector provider like The Clearing House’s RTP, and that such a dynamic would “create significant risks to the safety and efficiency of the nation’s payment system”—including “creat[ing] a single point of failure in the nation’s instant payments infrastructure.”

The central bank said its targeted launch date for FedNow Service remains “2023 or 2024,” with a more specific time frame to come. The Fed will take a “phased approach” to rolling out the platform; an initial launch will offer “baseline functionality” with the goal of “help[ing] banks manage the transition to a 24x7x365 service,” and that will be followed by additional features and enhancements to be “introduced over time.”

More must-read finance coverage from Fortune:

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One Tip To Transform Your Incline Bench Press

The incline dumbbell press is one of, if not the most effective exercise for targeting the upper portion of the chest. This move has been a staple in the chest routines of bodybuilders for many decades.

So, you may be asking, if it’s not broke, why try to fix it?

It’s not that this upper-chest exercise needs fixing, per se, but there is a way to make a good thing even better. In fact, one simple adjustment is all it takes to turn a good exercise into a muscle-growing great one.

A Minor Tweak for Major Results

The dumbbells don’t have to be in a perfect parallel position, but if you turn them so your palms face each other a little more, you’ll find that your shoulders and elbows also make the adjustment, allowing you to lower the weights farther on each rep. This gives you a deeper stretch in the upper pecs and helps keep tension on them longer.

Incline Bench Press

As you press back up, you’ll also feel an even greater contraction at the top. If you stop just short of lockout and prevent the triceps from taking over, then the tension will stay exactly where you want it to: on the chest muscles.

Weighing the Benefits of a Neutral Grip

When you try this for yourself, you’ll likely have to use a slightly lighter weight than normal. Your ego will have to suck it up, though, because your chest won’t be familiar with the way you’re moving the dumbbells. So, using less resistance will help you grow comfortable with the movement.

Once you grow acquainted with this new grip and start getting stronger, you’ll notice your shoulders won’t be nearly as involved in the pressing as they were with the traditional version of this exercise. This, along with stopping short of lockout, makes the neutral-grip incline press more of an isolation exercise, which gives you better chest activation during the movement.

Applying This to Your Chest-Training Program

If you’re looking for a chest exercise that works well for your warm-up and working sets alike, try this version of the incline dumbbell press. For your working sets, begin with a set of 12 reps, followed by 10 reps, 8 reps, and finally 6 reps. Add weight as the reps decrease.

You can also use this exercise if you are looking to build up your strength on the flat bench press or incline barbell bench press. Use the lowest incline on the adjustable bench and perform 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps with heavy weight while maintaining good form. The strength you’ll gain from this exercise will transfer to whichever version of the barbell press you’re looking to improve.

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The Benefits of Ring Training: 5 Reasons Gymnastic Rings Can Help Transform Your Body

If any training apparatus fits the phrase “harder than it looks,” it would be gymnastic rings. What looks effortless on TV during the summer Olympics is insanely difficult. In fact, simply holding your body motionless while using the rings will make you feel muscles you didn’t even know you had until that moment.

Nonetheless, gymnastic rings might be one of the single greatest training tools to develop upper-body and core strength for the beginner and advanced lifter alike, and once you know what you’re doing, you too can achieve proficiency, if not gold-medal status. Here are five reasons why you should start adding gymnastic rings to your training routine in the gym.

Reason 1: The Instability of Gymnastic Rings Leads to Greater Strength Gains

Any time you add instability to an exercise, it forces your muscles to work harder. For example, you might have an easy time doing dips off the bench or parallel bars, only to find you struggle to get the same number of gymnastic reps on the rings. Same goes for the pull-up. The added challenge of stabilizing leads to greater strength gains than you would otherwise get with a stable surface.

Since gymnastic rings can be hung from a ceiling or playground apparatus, they can quickly make even the simplest exercises in your training routine more challenging. All that wobbling around will make your bodyweight exercises that much more difficult—and much more effective in your workout. It may take time to build yourself up to a pull-up, for example.

5 Reasons to Use Rings

Reason 2: The Adjustable Width of Gymnastic Rings Allows for Customized Training

Although parallel bars at outdoor fitness parks and gyms are useful pieces of equipment, they’re almost always too wide for the average person. If you’ve ever felt pain in your shoulders or elbows when trying to do exercises on parallel bars, this is most likely why. Just for reference, parallel bars are usually at least 25 percent too wide for most people!

The correct width for dips and other support exercises is no wider than approximately the length from your elbow to fingertips. With gymnastic rings, you can easily adjust the width to fit your own body, making every exercise in your training routine safer and less likely to cause injuries.

Reason 3: The Length of Gymnastic Rings Can Be Easily Adjusted

All gymnastic rings automatically come with adjustable straps, allowing you to adjust the height of the rings to perform a variety of awesome exercises. Shorten the straps for the ring version of the mighty pull-up and muscle-up, drop them down to waist height for L-sits and dips, or go all the way to the floor for push-ups and ab roll-outs.

The adjustability of gymnastic rings also helps if your height makes it difficult to use a standard pull-up bar in the gym. Taller individuals whose feet normally touch the floor can set the rings higher; shorter individuals who can’t quite reach the bar can use rings instead.

5 Reasons to Use Rings

Reason 4: Gymnastic Rings Are Portable

One of the best things about gymnastic rings, even for someone struggling to do their first chin-up, is they work great in the gym, but they are also 100 percent portable. You can bring them with you on vacation for quick workouts or take them outdoors for your training when the weather is nice. All you need is something sturdy to throw them over like playground bars, a sturdy tree, or even a basketball hoop, and you have an awesome training tool at your disposal, even if you’re a beginner.

Reason 5: Gymnastic Rings Help Bulletproof Your Body

Because gymnastic rings significantly help strengthen all your smaller stabilizing muscles around your shoulders and elbow joints, training with them in your routine on a regular basis helps to prevent common joint injuries. In addition to the added strength benefits, this feature helps you create an unstoppable, bulletproof body.

Not quite a chin-up pro yet? Unless you’re a gymnast, start slow with ring training. Ease into using them in your gym workout. The muscles and tendons surrounding your joints take time to strengthen, and diving in too quickly may end up straining those muscles and even causing long-term injuries if you’re not careful.

If you’re a beginner when it comes to using rings, start with basic support holds to help build strength and stability in your shoulders. Hang the rings at a height where you can boost yourself up on top of them. Once in this position, push through your shoulders and tighten your core as you externally rotate your elbows so that your elbow pits face forward. Hold this position for time, working up to three holds of 30 seconds or more.

If you like this style of training, check out Total Fitness with Andy Speer on BodyFit Elite. Over eight weeks, you’ll develop more of the sort of functional fitness that helps you crush challenges like the gymnastic rings!

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Melinda Gates won’t let us miss this opportunity to transform childcare

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Women’s unemployment is higher than men’s, White House staffers test positive for coronavirus, and Melinda Gates is making sure we don’t miss the opportunity to transform American caregiving. Have a productive Monday. 

– Melinda’s missionAs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works overtime on its coronavirus response, Melinda Gates is simultaneously turning her attention to a related issue: the crisis in caregiving that threatens to set women back in the workforce.

I talked to Gates last week about that crisis—she recently wrote an op-ed about the problem—and a few other topics, like her $1 billion commitment to gender equality. As the world transforms because of the coronavirus pandemic, do the details of that commitment change?

Unsurprisingly, Gates says her commitment “stays exactly the same.” But there are a few issues on her agenda that the pandemic has made her view as even more urgent; namely, getting more women into political leadership.

Women like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Gates says, have been leading effectively through this crisis because “they understand” what’s at stake. “They’ve lived the barriers,” she told me.

Gates hopes that the leaders who “get it” will be the ones calling the shots as she and other advocates work to turn this crisis into lasting change. “If we don’t see it now, we’re never going to see it,” Gates says of the necessity of U.S. paid family leave. She compares this moment to another; after World War II, American leaders put their muscle behind lasting global institutions like NATO, but disbanded “war nurseries” that had been set up to care for children while women worked.

“If there had been more women at those tables, we would have kept them open. We would have built a more robust childcare system,” she says. That’s what Gates’ work right now is about: making sure we don’t miss another opportunity.

Read the rest of our Q+A here.

Emma Hinchliffe

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