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The New Q: How COVID Conspiracy ‘Querdenken’ Infiltrated Germany’s Mainstream Politics

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On a bitterly cold Monday afternoon, four days into the New Year, a small band of protesters commenced their weekly campaign against the Robert Koch Institute. They blared a steady stream of rock music at the organization’s stately red-brick building, which stands in stark contrast to its surroundings in the working-class Wedding district of Berlin.

Every few minutes, they paused to deliver speeches accusing the scientists inside of deliberately manipulating data in support of the German government’s approach to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrators present were part of the Berlin chapter of the Querdenken movement. Roughly translating to “lateral thinking,” Querdenken emerged in April, just weeks into Germany’s first lockdown, and has grown rapidly. Its adherents are united in the belief that federal COVID-19 restrictions are wildly disproportionate and part of a broader plan to strip citizens of their basic rights and freedoms.

Read more at The Daily Beast.


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Indeed, there has not been a single dollar of such unrestricted aid signed into law yet — Republicans balked at including any in the 2020 relief legislation, with then-President Trump disparaging it as “bailout money.” Democrats, though, have argued since last spring that more flexible state and local aid was badly needed. These governments were seeing revenues plummet due to a catastrophe not of their making — the public health emergency and the associated disruption to the economy — and they cannot run deficits like the federal government can. So to prevent devastating service cutbacks or layoffs, large amounts of unrestricted aid would be necessary, the argument went. Now that Biden is president and Democrats control the Senate, they finally have the power to achieve this longtime goal. The $350 billion included in the stimulus bill that passed the House is divided in the following way: State governments and Washington, DC — $195.3 billion: Each state (and DC) would get $500 million, and the remaining $169 billion is divided up according to each state’s share of national unemployed workers. DC’s government would also get $755 million that Democrats say it should have gotten in last year’s stimulus (Republicans insisted then on treating DC like a territory, not a state). Local governments — $130.2 billion: Half of this goes to cities and half to counties. The city money would be divided according to a community development block grant formula, and the county money would be given out according to population. The House bill also contains $20 billion given to federally recognized tribal governments and $4.5 billion to US territories. But keep in mind that none of this is final. All of these details are subject to change as the bill moves to the Senate. States’ current budget situation is more complicated than was expected Republican officeholders’ objections to the very concept of unrestricted state and local aid money have been based on politics, not economics. Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has called the state and local aid money “the best thing” in Biden’s proposal. “Until state and local governments receive relief, this will act as a drag on the recovery and prolong the period of economic weakness,” Strain said in January. But there has been some recent chatter in the policymaking world about whether the particular amount of money Democrats are devoting to aid in this bill still makes sense, given recent better-than-expected revenue numbers from many states. Slate’s Jordan Weissmann summed up the state of affairs earlier this month in an article headlined “Biden Wants to Give States $350 Billion. Do They Still Need It?” Remember, the national political debate over state and local aid began last year, when many feared another Great Recession was about to unfold. Based on early indicators, and what happened last time, state fiscal forecasts were dire. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images Of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed by the House, $350 billion is reserved for unrestricted aid for states, local governments, tribes, and territories. It turned out, however, that the Covid-19 recession was not a mirror image of the Great Recession. This time around, the impact fell disproportionately on low-income workers; high-income earners were relatively insulated, meaning income tax revenue has stayed strong. Other facts include the strong stock market and the previous federal stimulus packages. “Revenues have performed a lot better than was feared,” says Lucy Dadayan, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute. Instead of a universal collapse, 28 states saw revenue declines from April to December 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, per an Urban Institute analysis. The remaining 22 states saw revenue increases compared to the previous year — though not as much as had been expected. “Revenues are still substantially down compared to what they would have been if there was no pandemic,” Dadayan says. And expenses may be up, also due to the pandemic, though that’s tougher to track at the moment. Still, there have been headlines about certain states being “surprisingly flush with cash” (New Jersey) or bringing in “record revenues” (California). But the Urban Institute analysis also makes clear there are states that have absolutely been hammered. In contrast to Republicans’ claims of a “blue state bailout,” those that have seen the most dire revenue collapses are a mix of blue (Hawaii, Oregon, and Delaware), red (Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, and Louisiana), and purple (Nevada and Florida). Some of these states have been hit hard by the collapse of tourism, some by the collapse in oil prices, and others because they rely on sales taxes rather than income taxes for revenue. It’s tougher to get a sense of what’s happening with local governments since the data is too disparate. But overall, some states are really hurting badly, others could use some help, and some appear to be doing surprisingly well. The bill could still change in the Senate — if moderates want it to change Considering the recent information on state finances, there has been some second-guessing on whether the $350 billion allotted for state and local aid in the bill is too much. (Though it’s less than one-fifth of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus, $350 billion is still a massive sum — Obama’s entire stimulus package in 2009 was $787 billion.) There are several possible criticisms of the current allotment. From a progressive point of view, if states’ need is less than expected, much of this money might be better redirected toward people who need it more. Or, from a deficit hawk’s point of view, maybe the money shouldn’t be spent at all. Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters on specific components of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan on February 11. “These excessive funds will unnecessarily add to the federal debt or crowd out other priorities (such as continuing emergency unemployment benefits beyond August),” the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget argues. “They could also lead many states to enact damaging tax cuts or spending programs that ultimately undermine their long-term finances.” The more politically minded also wonder about the wisdom of handing many Republican governors large sacks of money, which they could theoretically use for big permanent tax cuts skewed toward wealthy earners. (That’s the nature of unrestricted aid — it’s unrestricted!) Of course, there’s still time for the bill to change — and now that it’s in the Senate, moderate Democrats may flex their muscles and force those changes. In an interview, a Democratic Senate aide emphasized to me that the upper chamber’s wrangling over the bill was just beginning. The aide mentioned several possibilities for how the state and local aid money could be tweaked going forward, depending on what moderate Democrats want: The overall topline number of $350 billion could be cut. There could be new restrictions laying out how the aid money can’t used — for instance, that it couldn’t be used for permanent tax cuts (though this could run afoul of the infamous Byrd Rule that governs what’s acceptable under the Senate’s budget reconciliation process). There may also be specifications on how some of the money must be used (according to the Washington Post, there’s talk of redirecting some of it to broadband investment) The distribution of the money could be staggered over a longer time, so states could certify if they still need it later on (“that’s something we’re actively looking at,” the Senate aide said). Overall, though, congressional Democrats haven’t been particularly swayed by the arguments that they should drastically rethink the state aid money. And the reason for that is the ghost of 2009. “Last time around, a lot of Democratic lawmakers, both in the White House and Congress, were stung by the reality that we did way too little,” the aide says. “So if anything, I think folks want to err on the side of something bigger.”
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