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Trump reportedly considered putting an ally willing to dispute election results in charge of the DOJ
Donald Trump speaks with then-deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen in the White House in January 2020. | Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg/Getty Images The report of more interference efforts come as the Senate makes plans for its impeachment trial. In the final weeks of his presidency, former President Donald Trump attempted to overturn state election results in Georgia by pressuring officials to “find” votes for him. And according to a new report from the New York Times, Trump’s efforts extended beyond that: He also contemplated replacing the acting US attorney general with one more sympathetic to his efforts to force a change in the Georgia results. The Times’ Katie Benner reports that Trump and Jeffrey Clark, a Department of Justice lawyer in charge of the civil division, devised a plan that would have seen the Department of Justice working to improperly keep Trump in office by replacing acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, who had refused to go along with Trump’s attempts to undermine election results, with Clark. A rash of DOJ officials, briefed on the plan via conference call on January 3, threatened to resign if that occurred, according to the Times report. That threat, along with a contentious meeting between Rosen, Clark, and Trump in which each DOJ official made their case to the president reportedly dissuaded Trump from replacing Rosen in the end. But had the effort gone ahead, the Justice Department would have likely become embroiled in the effort to overturn the election, giving it a legitimacy and legal backing it had failed to gain, following the failure of dozens of lawsuits that falsely alleged election irregularities. One former Justice Department official called the effort to replace Rosen “an attempted coup at the Justice Dept. — fomented by the President of the United States” on Twitter Friday. For his part, Clark has denied that any plan to fire Rosen existed, and told the Timesthat he had merely provided counsel to the president. “My practice is to rely on sworn testimony to assess disputed factual claims,” he said. “There was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president. It is unfortunate that those who were part of a privileged legal conversation would comment in public about such internal deliberations, while also distorting any discussions.” Changing the leadership of the DOJ would have been among the last attempts by Trump to overturn the election. Beyond his unsuccessful court challenges in battleground states, Trump had also previously tried to harness the power of the DOJ by asking Rosen to investigate Dominion Voting Systems, a company that makes voting equipment and software, and that has been the subject of false claims of vote tampering. The former president also requested the Justice Department to support his campaign’s state-level lawsuits, and was denied. Trump further asked Rosen to appoint special counsels to carry out investigations into disproved claims of voter fraud, which Rosen declined to do. Rosen affirmed his predecessor former Attorney General William Barr’s findings that claims of widespread voter fraud were not supported by evidence. And in one of the most shocking and brazen efforts, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to ask him to “find” enough votes to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow margin of victory, even after it was affirmed through two recounts. That call reportedly took place on the same day that Trump had the newly-uncovered conversations with DOJ officials. These efforts ultimately culminated in a rally in Washington, DC on January 6, during which Trump repeated his false claims about there being irregularities with the election — and during which he whipped up a crowd that later stormed the US Capitol, leading to his second impeachment. Trump faces an impeachment trial because of his efforts to overturn the election Trump was impeached on January 13 in the House for alleged “incitement of insurrection.” The article of impeachment also argues that Trump “betrayed his trust as President” in attempting to coerce officials to back his efforts to overturn the election, as he reportedly did with Rosen. If he is found guilty of these crimes in the Senate, Trump could be barred from holding public office again. On Friday, Senate leaders finally hammered out a deal to begin that trial on February 9. This came after debate over start time — with Democrats worried that beginning the trial immediately would delay the confirmations of many of Biden’s appointees, and Republicans wanting Trump to have an extended period of time to ready his defense. The House will deliver the article to the Senate on Monday, and senators will be sworn in as jurors Tuesday, but oral arguments won’t begin on February 9, and leaders have signaled that they hope to reach a verdict by the end of that week. By delaying the start by two weeks, Biden’s administration will be able to prioritize Covid-19 relief and confirming Cabinet posts, Schumer said Friday. And a spokesperson for McConnell said the delay gave Trump adequate due process. Trump has begun assembling his defense team. His longtime attorney Rudy Giuliani, who led Trump’s failed attempts to overturn election results in the courts, will not be on it; last week, he said he could not act as attorney because he was a witness to the January 6 rally. Instead, South Carolina attorney Karl “Butch” Bowers, Jr., will head up Trump’s legal team. Bowers works for a small firm in Columbia, South Carolina, and has been described as a more measured figure than the bombastic Giuliani. Bowers previously successfully defended former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford in his own 2009 impeachment hearing, after Sanford’s extramarital affair came to light.
Legendary broadcaster Larry King has died at age 87
Larry King celebrates his 60th anniversary as a broadcast journalist in 2017. | Amanda Edwards/WireImage/Getty Images The veteran interviewer had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in late 2020. The broadcast journalist Larry King, known for his in-depth interviews and signature style, has died at age 87. His production company, Ora Media, announced King’s death in a statement posted to Twitter Saturday morning. King died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the Twitter statement. A cause of death was not given. King had been admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 symptoms in December 2020.— Larry King (@kingsthings) January 23, 2021 King hosted Larry King Live on CNN for 25 years. More recently, he hosted Larry King Now and Politicking with Larry King on Hulu and RT America. These were produced by Ora TV, which he co-founded with the Mexican billionaire investor Carlos Slim. “For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster,” reads the statement. “Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs, and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and audience.” King became iconic for his preferred interview style: Long exchanges in which he asked straightforward questions in a raspy, Brooklyn accent. According to a CNN remembrance broadcast Saturday morning, King interviewed more than 50,000 people across 60 years, including US presidents, world leaders, celebrities, athletes, and more esoteric people like psychics, conspiracy theorists, and those convicted of crimes. And he was perhaps equally known for his bold sartorial choices — he was rarely seen without his signature suspenders, often paired with a bright shirt and colorful necktie. King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger to Jewish immigrant parents in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York; he began his career in radio. After changing his name, King worked first in local markets in the Miami area, before joining a national radio broadcast with the now-defunct Mutual Broadcasting System in 1978. The Larry King Show aired there until 1994. In 1985, he joined CNN and launched Larry King Live, a show that made him a household name and regularly had viewership of over one million people per night. Guests on that show frequently made news. Oprah Winfrey called on then-Sen. Barack Obama to run for president on his program in 2006. And in 1992, the billionaire Ross Perot said in an interview with King that he would run for president if his supporters could land him on the ballot in all 50 states. Perot went on to run upstart populist campaigns in both 1992 and 1996. The final broadcast of Larry King Live took place on December 10, 2010. King launched Ora TV in 2012. Over the years, he was married eight times to seven women and had five children. Two of his children died in August of 2020. King was unmarried at the time of his death. He also had health issues, including quintuple heart bypass surgery following a heart attack in 1987. More recently, he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous lung tumor in 2017, and had a stroke in 2019 that left him occasionally using a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he pledged never to retire. On Twitter, fellow broadcasters and other supporters paid tribute to King as news of his death spread. Just heard the awful news about Larry King. He taught me so much. He was a true mensch. He probably even taught me that word. So long pal, thanks for all the laughs. Say hi to Rickles. #RIPLarryKing— Craig Ferguson (@CraigyFerg) January 23, 2021 Such a great headline about #LarryKing in NYT - it shows he had so much breadth..unlike some who can only interview one type of guest (eg politicians), Larry could interview ANYONE and he did and he interviewed EVERYBODY— Greta Van Susteren (@greta) January 23, 2021 Larry King was a Brooklyn boy who become a newsman who interviewed the newsmakers. He conducted over 50,000 interviews that informed Americans in a clear and plain way. New York sends condolences to his family and many friends.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) January 23, 2021
Is it constitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president?
Former President Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump pause while speaking to supporters at Joint Base Andrews before boarding Air Force One for his last time as president on January 20, 2021. | Pete Marovich/Getty Images The Constitution is not at all clear about whether Trump remains vulnerable to impeachment. No one knows whether the Constitution permits the Senate to hold an impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, now that Trump no longer holds office. To be sure, there is a bevy of legal scholarship discussing this question. And, as a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service notes, “most scholars who have closely examined the question have concluded that Congress has authority to extend the impeachment process to officials who are no longer in office.” But while the Constitution mentions impeachment six times, the text of the document provides little clarity on whether the Senate’s power to try an impeached official terminates when that official leaves office. The question of whether Trump can still be convicted by the Senate matters because the Constitution permits an impeached official to be permanently disqualified from holding office. So, if Trump can face an impeachment trial, the Senate could potentially forbid him from running for president again in 2024 — or in any subsequent election. And, while the weight of scholarship does suggest that Trump is still vulnerable to impeachment, several Republican senators have already latched onto the minority position — the view that former officials are immune from impeachment — as a reason to vote against conviction. As Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said of impeachment shortly before Trump left office, “my overall question is: Why are we doing this when the president is out of office tomorrow?” She added that she doesn’t “think” that it would be constitutional to try Trump after he leaves office. Trump’s fate, in other words, could hinge on the answers to two questions: whether Trump is still vulnerable to an impeachment proceeding, and whether enough senators claim that he is now immune from such proceedings to prevent his conviction. So is it constitutional to convict Trump or not? J. Michael Luttig, a conservative former federal judge, recently laid out the constitutional case against convicting former officials in the Washington Post. The purpose of the impeachment power, Judge Luttig claims, is “to remove from office a president or other ‘civil official’ before he could further harm the nation from the office he then occupies.” So once an official no longer occupies their office, the case against them becomes moot — a private citizen cannot “further harm the nation” using the powers of a federal officeholder. To support this argument, Luttig points to two constitutional provisions. One provides that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and another provides that “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office.” Yet, while the first of these provisions does say that the president can be removed from office through impeachment, and the second limits the consequences of being convicted by the Senate, neither explicitly states that a former official can or cannot be convicted by the Senate. And, as noted above, Luttig’s view is the minority position among legal scholars. Luttig suggests that the only purpose of impeachment is to remove an official before that official can use their office to do further harm. But the text of the second constitutional provision that Luttig quotes suggests that impeachment may serve another purpose — preventing a former official from regaining power and doing future harm. As scholars Edwin Brown Firmage and R. Collin Mangrum wrote in a 1974 law review article, “the impeachment judgment may extend to both removal from office and disqualification from holding any further office.” But, if the official leaves their current office, that “accomplishes only the first objective.” A closely related problem is that, if former officials are immune to the impeachment power, someone might resign their office moments before the Senate votes to disqualify them. As law professor Brian C. Kalt wrote in a 2001 article, by strategically timing their resignation, an impeached official “can flout any attempt by Congress to disqualify.” And there’s also a strong historical argument supporting impeachment of former officials. The American impeachment power, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe writes in an op-ed responding to Luttig, “derives from the power of the British Parliament.” And the British Parliament had the power to impeach former officials. Indeed, while the framers were in Philadelphia drafting the Constitution, Parliament was actively engaged in impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings, a former governor-general of India who left office two years before his impeachment. “The Hastings impeachment,” Tribe notes, “was repeatedly referenced during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.” So the weight of scholarly evidence points strongly in favor of allowing the Senate to proceed against Trump. That said, the one clear American precedent for an impeachment proceeding against a former official cuts in both directions. There is no clear American precedent governing whether a former official may be disqualified from office There is at least one historical example when Congress impeached, but did not convict, a former official. In 1876, the House approved, without objections, articles of impeachment against former Secretary of War William Belknap — Belknap was accused of taking a bribe. Significantly, Belknap had resigned his office while the House was still considering whether to impeach him. During Belknap’s Senate trial, senators decided to resolve the question of whether a former official is vulnerable to impeachment before they actually voted on whether to convict Belknap, and the Senate voted 37 to 29 that former Secretary Belknap was “amenable to trial by impeachment for acts done as Secretary of War, notwithstanding his resignation of said office before he was impeached.” It’s worth noting, however, that this 37-to-29 vote was below the two-thirds supermajority requirement necessary to actually convict Belknap, and when the Senate voted on conviction, a critical bloc of senators who believed his impeachment was unconstitutional hewed to that position. Though a majority of the Senate voted to convict the former secretary, no article of impeachment cleared the two-thirds threshold, and several senators who voted to acquit signaled that they did so because they believed that former officials were immune to impeachment. The Belknap precedent, in other words, provides fodder for both sides of the debate over whether Trump remains vulnerable to impeachment. Supporters of Trump’s impeachment can point to the fact that a majority of the Senate did vote to allow impeachment proceedings to move forward. Meanwhile, opponents of Trump’s impeachment can point to Belknap’s ultimate acquittal, and to the fact that a critical minority of senators believed Belknap’s impeachment to be unlawful. The Senate can probably do whatever it wants in Trump’s second impeachment trial In 1989, Congress impeached and convicted Judge Walter Nixon on two counts of giving false testimony to a grand jury (though Judge Nixon shares the same last name as another figure who plays a prominent role in the history of impeachment, this is merely a coincidence). Although the full Senate voted on whether to convict Nixon, the Senate appointed a committee of senators to “receive evidence and take testimony” in Nixon’s impeachment trial. Nixon sued, claiming that, by excluding some senators from some parts of his trial, the full Senate violated its constitutional obligation to “try all impeachments.” Rather than resolve the question of whether the Senate acted constitutionally when it tried and convicted Nixon, however, the Supreme Court held that the judiciary had no business weighing in on this question in the first place. The Constitution provides that the House has the “sole Power” to impeach an official, and that the Senate has the “sole Power to try all Impeachments.” As the Supreme Court explained in Nixon v. United States (1993), “the commonsense meaning of the word ‘sole’ is that the Senate alone shall have authority to determine whether an individual should be acquitted or convicted.” It is far from clear whether the present-day Supreme Court, which is both far more conservative and far less inclined to defer to the elected branches than the panel of justices who decided the Nixon case, would extend Nixon’s reasoning to Trump’s second impeachment (though it’s notable that Justice Clarence Thomas, the most conservative member of the current Court, and the only member of the current Court who heard the Nixon case, joined the majority opinion in Nixon). But the implications of Nixon for the second Trump impeachment are fairly obvious. If “the Senate alone shall have authority to determine whether an individual should be acquitted or convicted,” that strongly suggests that the Senate has the final word on whether a former elected official remains vulnerable to the impeachment power. If the Senate chooses to convict Trump and disqualify him from office, the courts should defer to that judgment under Nixon. Significantly, the Court’s opinion in Nixon does not mean that legal arguments about whether or not Trump is vulnerable to impeachment are irrelevant. It simply means that it is up to each senator to decide for themselves whether the Constitution permits Trump to be convicted and that the courts should not second-guess those decisions. And it also means that even if a large bloc of senators argue in bad faith — and for purely partisan reasons — that convicting Trump is unconstitutional, the courts are powerless to overrule that bad-faith conclusion.
The 50-50 Senate is already running into trouble figuring out its rules 
Then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) stands with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as they attend the Electoral College vote certification for President-elect Joe Biden, during a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. | Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images A Senate fight over the filibuster foreshadows Republican obstruction. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans — and an early argument over its rules could indicate just how much the GOP intends to obstruct other legislative priorities. Because Democrats control the White House, they have the majority in an evenly divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris poised to serve as a tiebreaker. To officially determine how the Senate will function when it comes to things like committee memberships, lawmakers need to approve what’s known as an organizing resolution that lays out these rules. (Without it, Republicans still confusingly head the committees and the distribution of funding; even office space isn’t yet clear.) But the divided chamber can’t even agree on that. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are negotiating this resolution, though they’ve reached a bit of a sticking point. Schumer has said he’d like to model this measure off a power-sharing agreement made between Sens. Tom Daschle and Trent Lott in 2001, during the last 50-50 Senate. McConnell, meanwhile, wants to add a caveat: He’d like Democrats to commit to keeping the legislative filibuster around. Schumer, and many members of the Democratic caucus, has blanched at this idea since it would severely limit the options the party has in the face of potential Republican pushback to bills, and reduce their leverage. Even if Democrats don’t vote to get rid of the filibuster, for example, the threat that they could may make Republicans more open to compromise and negotiations on policies like Covid-19 relief. The filibuster itself is something that gives Republicans more sway over the organizing resolution since the measure can also be filibustered. This disagreement is already affecting some aspects of the Senate’s functionality: Republicans are still running the confirmation hearings for Biden’s nominees and, as a Time report suggested, are less inclined to expedite such proceedings. Plus, senators’ committee assignments have yet to be finalized even as the legislative body stares down a busy term. Republicans’ argument over the rules could signal the approach they’ll take in the minority — where they could use their numbers to block or significantly pare down upcoming bills. How a 50-50 Senate is expected to work Schumer, thus far, has said he hopes to approve an organizing resolution that’s very similar to the one that Daschle and Lott arrived at in 2001. “We have offered to abide by the same agreement the last time there was a 50-50 Senate. What’s fair is fair,” Schumer said in a floor speech. Because Democrats have the majority with Vice President Harris’s vote, they’ll hold the chair positions of every committee, but the resolution would split committee membership evenly, as well as office space and funding. Any measure that receives a tie vote in committee would also be able to receive some consideration for advancement on the floor. As majority leader, Schumer will still control the floor schedule for legislation, and when to proceed to votes. “As for controlling the agenda, the Democrats will ensure they have standard majority party power, because in essence, they do,” Josh Ryan, a Utah State University political scientist, told PolitiFact. Schumer has pointed to using the 2001 agreement as a model, because it set a precedent for how the two parties could operate in this unique circumstance. McConnell, however, also wants a commitment not to eliminate the legislative filibuster — which Democrats have balked at. “We need to have the kind of position of strength that will enable us to get stuff done,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told Politico. Democrats have pressed Schumer to stand firm on these rules negotiations, which underscore one of the party’s first shows of strength in the majority. They’ve pointed to the 2001 precedent, and said it should remain unchanged. As Slate’s Jim Newell noted, McConnell’s motivations for pressing this issue are also unclear — since the resolution is not ultimately enforceable if Schumer later decides he wants to blow up the filibuster anyway. The 2001 example is the most recent time that the Senate has had this type of split: It’s only happened two other times in history, in 1881 and 1954. Deadlocks could push Democrats to consider reconciliation If Republican outcry about the Senate organizing resolution is any indication, the 50-50 breakdown could mean more roadblocks on everything from contentious Cabinet nominees to other legislative priorities, so much so that Democrats look to procedural options that get around these impasses. Democrats’ first option is to negotiate with Republicans on key bills including Covid-19 relief as well as immigration reform, with the hopes of picking up 10 lawmakers who would help hit the 60-vote threshold needed to advance these policies. At the same time, they face the challenge of keeping every member of their caucus in line, including moderates who may be more likely to peel off. “You’ve got to keep your caucus together — Joe Manchin is the wildcard here, too. Kyrsten Sinema as well. The centrists are going to have a lot of power: Manchin, Sinema, Murkowski, Collins,” says Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor. Growing GOP opposition toward Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 recovery package indicates that Republicans may be gearing up to obstruct or limit his proposals, a scenario that could push Democrats to leverage a process known as budget reconciliation. As part of budget reconciliation, lawmakers are able to advance spending and tax-related measures with a simple majority of votes, enabling Democrats to potentially pass some aspects of Covid-19 relief like direct payments and paid sick leave, without Republican backing. The degree of Republican opposition they face will likely be a factor in determining whether they ultimately take this route. “I think it’s likely, if not almost a certainty, that reconciliation will be a tool,” former Sen. Tom Daschle told Vox. Depending on how severe Republicans’ blockade continues to be, eliminating the legislative filibuster might well be considered, too — though there’s currently disagreement within the Democratic caucus about whether to weigh that possibility. As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) previously told Vox, “The dynamic to watch is whether Mitch McConnell does to a Biden presidency what he did to an Obama presidency.”
Biden plans to continue many of Trump’s foreign policies — at least for now
This combination of pictures created on October 22, 2020 shows former President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden during the final presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. | Brendan Smialowski, Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Biden’s team members have already signaled they intend to continue several of Trump’s policies from Venezuela to Ukraine to Israel and even China. President Joe Biden promised a clean break from the Trump years on US foreign policy. But according to recent statements from Biden’s incoming secretary of state and other top officials, there will likely be more continuity than change, at least for a while. It’s only three days into the new administration, but Biden’s team members have already signaled they intend to continue several of the policies President Donald Trump pursued during his presidency, from Venezuela to Ukraine to Israel and even China. Many of these details about Biden’s foreign policy plans emerged during Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday, one day before Biden was sworn in as president. Blinken said the US would continue to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, a decision the Trump administration made in January 2019 as part of its effort to depose the country’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro. Blinken added that the new team would also continue to sanction Maduro and his government, only “more effectively.” Blinken also said the Biden administration will continue training and sending lethal weapons to Ukraine’s military as it tries to fend off Russian forces in the country’s east. Trump approved the sale of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in 2017, a move the Obama administration had refused to make and that some feared would escalate the seven-year conflict. The incoming top diplomat said Biden will oppose the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia. The Trump administration sanctioned Russia over the plan in 2019, claiming the $11 billion oil-delivery system would make the heart of Europe more dependent on Moscow. Biden, who officials say isn’t planning any kind of “reset” of relations with Russia anytime soon, seems to agree. Biden’s pipeline opposition could set up a conflict with Germany, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has already said she wants to discuss the issue with the new American president. “My basic attitude has not changed yet to the point where I say that the project should not exist,” she said during a Thursday press conference, noting how critically many in the US and in Europe view Nord Stream 2. Blinken told lawmakers that he and the Biden administration consider Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and committed to keeping the US embassy there. Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the embassy there from its previous location in Tel Aviv in 2018, a move that upended decades of US diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that some worried would spark widespread violence in the region. That violence didn’t materialize, and now it seems the status quo is just that — the status quo. Blinken also commended Trump for being “right in taking a tougher approach to China” and said the Trump administration’s decision to label Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang a “genocide” was correct. The Biden aide was clear that the new team’s tactics toward China would differ from the Trump team’s, but the general thrust of US policy toward the country — confrontation — would stay the same. Finally, Biden promised on the campaign trail to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal as long as Tehran came back into compliance by reducing its uranium enrichment levels. But Blinken, along with Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and White House press secretary Jen Psaki, have made it clear in recent days that any return to the accord could take a while, and may not even happen at all. “I think, frankly, we’re a long ways from that,” Haines said during her own Tuesday confirmation hearing. This isn’t the foreign policy sea change many expected, considering how often Biden blasted Trump’s handling of foreign affairs during the campaign. But some critics, including progressives, aren’t surprised. “Joe Biden never promised to be a revolutionary or to enact radical change, so what we’ve seen so far both in terms of personnel and policy shouldn’t exactly be surprising,” said Stephen Miles, executive director of the advocacy group Win Without War. “Given how broken our current foreign policy is, any transition is thus going to start far from where progressives want to be.” Is Biden’s foreign policy Trump 2.0? Not exactly. None of this is to say Biden plans to run America’s foreign policy the same way Trump did. Biden has been in the White House for less than a week, and it’s common for new presidents to continue many of their predecessors’ foreign policies even if they may not completely agree with them because they can’t find a way to reverse them quickly or easily. Presidents Obama and Trump both wanted out of the Afghanistan War, for example, but neither ended it despite 12 combined years of trying. Plus, Trump did some good things on the world stage, so Biden wouldn’t want to scrap every one of his moves. “Biden is right to also maintain continuity on some foreign policy issues,” said American University’s Jordan Tama, an expert on US foreign policy. “Not every foreign policy action by the Trump administration was wrong, and rash moves to reverse every Trump decision would generate a kind of whiplash that makes the US look like an unreliable partner.” But it’s exceedingly clear that Biden’s time in office won’t mirror Trump’s. There will clearly be major differences, and we’ve already seen some. Biden rejoined the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization after Trump withdrew the US from them. He repealed the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and vowed America would participate in Covax, the global initiative to develop and equitably distribute vaccine doses worldwide. More than 170 countries are members of the initiative, though the Trump administration had declined to join — an outlier, along with Russia. “These early foreign policy steps demonstrate a commitment to international cooperation, equity, and basic rights — as well as a willingness to stand up to adversaries — that was sorely lacking in Trump’s foreign policy,” Tama told me. And perhaps the biggest change so far is Blinken’s confirmation that Biden will quicklyend support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. “This is one of the highest human rights and progressive priorities,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a leading proponent for a more left-wing foreign policy, told me. Those are significant breaks, and it’s clear US foreign policy will shift quite a bit during Biden’s four years in charge. But those hoping that Biden would completely leave Trump’s legacy behind right away may be disappointed by some of the administration’s early signals.
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WandaVision’s comic book connections, explained
Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen in WandaVision. | Marvel Episode 3 of Marvel’s new Disney+ series brings it closer to House of M and hints at ties to S.W.O.R.D. This article contains spoilers for the first three episodes of WandaVision on Disney+. Despite its style and slapstick performances, the driving force behind WandaVision is its core mystery: Why are Wanda Maximoff and her android husband Vision stuck in a vintage sitcom set in a fictional suburb called Westview? Who is watching them? And further, who is behind all of this? With its third episode now in the books and one-third of its season over, we have inched closer to some answers. WandaVision’s third chapter brought us color, a Brady Bunch-ish vibe, Wanda giving birth to a set of twins, and an eerie confrontation between Wanda and the talent show manager/neighbor Geraldine she met in episode two. The latter ended with Wanda remembering her pre-Westview life and zapping Geraldine out of the fictional sitcom. While these occurrences may feel like weird on top of weird, they actually do make sense. They are rooted in and resemble House of M, one of Wanda’s big comic book stories. Knowing what happens in House of M puts some of WandaVision’s events into context. The same goes for Geraldine’s character, who has some big ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s all the info we have so far from WandaVision, and where I think the show may be headed. How House of M explains WandaVision Marvel Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen in WandaVision. WandaVision’s first two episodes didn’t really make a lot of sense beyond showcasing the general unease of Wanda and Vision living in their sitcom world along with some random other characters. Driving that point home, there were a couple of moments — like Vision’s boss choking in episode one, and the mysterious toy helicopter, the beekeeper coming out of the sewer, and Dottie bleeding in episode two — that have been striking. These moments don’t fit in with the classic sitcom vibe and indicate that there’s a sinister, bigger story happening beneath the surface. But they felt more like independent moments of shock than a continuous, connected narrative. That changes in episode three. At the end of the episode, Geraldine (probably not her real name) tells Wanda, who has miraculously birthed twins, that she knows what happened to Pietro — Wanda’s twin brother who died in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Geraldine’s recollection of Pietro’s death triggers Wanda, who demands to know why and how Geraldine knows anything about her non-Westview life. Wanda blasts Geraldine out of the sitcom, then out of what appears to be some kind of force field, and onto a present-day military base. This sequence of events — the zapping, the twins, and the reveal of what appears to be an alternate reality — aligns the show with the events of a 2005 Marvel comic book crossover called House of M. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Esad Ribić, House of M features both the Avengers and the X-Men andis centered on Wanda and her emotional turmoil. She’s on the outs with the Avengers, and we find out she’s slowly going insane. While she’s experiencing a nervous breakdown, Wanda manipulates reality to give herself a set of twins and builds a happy life with Vision, which lasts until Professor X uses his telepathy to tell Wanda to stop. Ribić/Marvel House of M no. 1. As the comic unfolds, Wanda goes unchecked and creates an entire alternate reality where all the superheroes live out odd fantasies, like Emma Frost and Cyclops marrying and living together, Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy becoming a couple, and Ms. Marvel taking the title of Captain Marvel. At first, none of the heroes know they’re living in an alternate reality of Wanda’s creation. And in the comic, once they do realize they’re in a topsy-turvy reality and proceed to make Wanda realize what’s happened, the bottom of the Marvel Universe falls out. WandaVision isn’t a by-the-page adaptation of House of M, but they have many shared elements: Wanda’s twin boys (Billy and Tommy, who in the comic books go on to become heroes themselves). The alternate reality. Wanda’s grief over the death of her brother. And Wanda’s wrath when Geraldine confronts her with the reality she’s been trying to avoid acknowledging. And like the comic, the main tension of WandaVision seems to come from a collision between fantasy and reality and how Wanda reacts to it. What is going on with Wanda’s powers? What doesn’t fit as neatly into the House of M comparison are Wanda Maximoff’s powers. In the comics, thanks to multiple retcons, they’re a convoluted and complicated mix of what’s called “chaos magic” and reality warping. But those abilities don’t match up with the MCU version of Wanda, who in the last few Marvel movies has only been shown to have a powerful form of telekinesis (she used a kind of mind control in Age of Ultron and then never used it again). Her powers seem to be evolving on WandaVision. In the show’s first episode, Wanda burns a chicken and then tries to undo the damage. In doing so, she turns the chicken into a basket of eggs. That episode also features the wife of Vision’s boss muttering the word “chaos” — which seems designed to pique the curiosity of comic book fans because of its connection to Wanda’s comic book chaos magic. Episode two features more of Wanda dabbling in magic, at a convenient neighborhood magic show. It also seems she is able to affect reality: When the beekeeper-looking figure emerges from the sewer, Wanda “rewinds” him out of the picture. She also seems to have made herself pregnant. WandaVision’s third episode gets weirder and even more screwy. Wanda’s pregnancy accelerates supernaturally, and she gives birth to twins by the end of the episode. Her contractions mess with the electricity and water throughout the town of Westview. Also somehow a stork drops in, and then Wanda has the encounter with Geraldine and zaps her. On the show, Wanda’s powers seem to extend beyond her MCU telekinesis and align with her reality-warping comic book powers. Those powers could further connect the story to House of M. But a thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know the full context of Wanda’s powers or whether they’re “real” of something that’s happening in Wanda’s imagination — whatever that means on a show that’s constantly playing with reality. The odd commercials are a reminder that WandaVision is about Wanda’s grief The commercial breaks in WandaVision aren’t typical ads. They’re stylish old-timey interludes that go along with the sitcom theme. But there’s a little twist — the three advertisers we’ve seen so far are Stark, Strucker, and Hydra. Those three people/organizations factor hugely in the MCU. They also happen to represent three pain points for Wanda Maximoff: Stark’s bombs killed her family; Strucker experimented on her and Pietro, and belonged to the evil Hydra organization that went toe to toe with the Avengers. These links drive the show back to the possibility that we’re witnessing a manifestation of Wanda’s trauma and grief over the loss of Pietro in Age of Ultron and the loss of Vision in Infinity War. What happened to Geraldine? Marvel Teyonah Parris as Geraldine/Monica Rambeau in WandaVision. This is a bit of a spoiler, but Geraldine,Wanda’s neighbor who gets transported into the cabinet at the end of the magic show in episode two, isn’t who she says she is. The actress who plays Geraldine is Teyonah Parris, who has given interviews about how she’s playing a character named Monica Rambeau. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Monica Rambeau is the daughter of Maria Rambeau — Carol Danvers’s best friend in the 2019 Captain Marvel movie. In that film, Monica is a little girl who idolizes Carol. The movie is set in the ’90s, which makes Monica an adult in the present day. Monica Rambeau is significant not just for her Captain Marvel roots (in the comic books she held the title of Captain Marvel before Carol), but because in the comics she’s also a superhero in her own right. Rambeau has the power to change into different energy forms like visible light or electricity or radiation. Changing into a different energy form allows her to take on the properties of that energy and travel, say, at the speed of light: Kenneth Rocafort/Marvel Monica Rambeau in Ultimates no. 1. We don’t yet know if Rambeau has these powers on WandaVision, but there’s reason to believe she does. Monica wears a necklace displaying what appears to be the symbol for the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, a.k.a. S.W.O.R.D., a.k.a the new organization that Nick Fury is ostensibly creating with the Skrulls in the post-credits scene of 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home. In the comics, S.W.O.R.D. is the space counterpart of S.H.I.E.L.D. and deals with cosmic threats. S.W.O.R.D. appears to be observing Wanda — there’s a S.W.O.R.D. symbol on the helicopter she finds in episode two — so if Rambeau is affiliated with the organization, that would likely mean Monica has been recruited by Fury (they know each other from Captain Marvel) to watch over Wanda. Are Agnes and Wanda’s neighbors part of S.W.O.R.D. or something else? The trickiest element of WandaVision for me is the question of who Wanda and Vision’s various neighbors are and what exactly everyone is doing in Westview. Kathryn Hahn’s Agnes seems to be the most peculiar one, as she seems to be guiding Wanda through this sitcom world and appears to be, without explanation, Wanda’s best friend. The popular theory prior to WandaVision’s debut was that Hahn is playing Agatha Harkness and that “Agnes” is a code for her full name. There’s further evidence of Agnes being Agatha in episode two, where we learn that Agnes has a bunny named Señor Scratchy; in the comics, Agatha has a son named Nicholas Scratch. Harkness is a witch, and in the comics, she is one of Wanda’s mentors. Harkness also ties into Vision’s award-winning 2015–2016 solo comic book series (written by Tom King and drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta), in which the android tries to live a happy suburban life. The book’s imagery is not unlike that of WandaVision. While Agatha is an ally in the comic books, it’s still unclear if Agnes is definitely Agatha (though the clues seem to indicate it), or if she has the same role on WandaVision. But Agnes does say something fascinating in episode three. After Wanda gives birth, Agnes talks to Vision outside Wanda and Vision’s home and tells him that Geraldine is not like the rest of their Westview neighbors. She says this while Geraldine and Wanda are inside having the unnerving interaction about Pietro. This may mean that Geraldine is part of S.W.O.R.D. since she has that necklace. If that’s the case, it suggests the rest of the neighbors are not part of S.W.O.R.D. It may also mean that Geraldine is the only one in Westview who knows about the reality that Wanda comes from, and no one else does. And if that’s the case, then what’s the deal with everybody else? Once we find that out, it might solve WandaVision’s other big question of who is behind the show’s larger machinations. In episode two, a voice on the radio asks Wanda, “Who did this to you?” The question implies that Wanda doesn’t know she’s trapped in the sitcom world and that an unknown someone is pulling the strings. It could be Agnes. It could be a villain we’ve yet to meet. It could be a villain whom Agnes was called in to help with. Whatever the case may be, the more we find out about Wanda’s neighbors, and Agnes in particular, the closer we’ll get to unlocking the mystery.
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Biden’s LGBTQ rights executive order and the transphobic backlash, explained
Activists blocking the street outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. | Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images On his first day, Biden rolled back Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies. Trolls were not happy. Shortly after being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden signed a thick stack of executive orders, undoing a host of Trump administration policies — including protecting LGBTQ rights under existing federal law. The executive order’s legal reasoning is simple: Take last summer’s Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which ruled that LGBTQ people are protected from sex discrimination in employment decisions under Title XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and apply it wherever sex is a protected class in federal law. That means that LGBTQ people can no longer be discriminated against in housing, education, and health care as well as employment. “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” reads the order. “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.” LGBTQ rights advocates hailed the order Wednesday, praising Biden for taking immediate action to roll back some of Trump’s most personally intrusive policies. “It’s a critical recognition of what was the historic decision from the Supreme Court last June,” Gillian Branstetter, a spokesperson for the National Women’s Law Center, told Vox. However, she noted, “it is important to know that this is not radical step. The Biden administration is merely enforcing the Supreme Court’s ruling as it was written.” While Biden’s executive order rolls back most of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies, Biden hasn’t yet officially revoked the former president’s trans military ban. Instead, White House officials have instructed military leaders to expect it soon after more of Biden’s appointments to the Pentagon are confirmed. Despite the applause for Biden’s order, it didn’t take long for fringe conservatives and others to respond with the usual transphobic attacks that trans women aren’t women and thus Biden’s order will put their definition of women in harm’s way. The hashtag #BidenEraseWomen trended on Twitter for most of the day Thursday — partially because LGBTQ advocates pushed back against the transphobic message. Most Americans support LGBTQ rights — nearly 7 in 10 Americans support LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, according to a 2019 poll by the non-partisan organization Public Religion Research Institute. And Biden, by sticking to his promise to protect queer and trans Americans and signing this executive order on his first day, showed his commitment to standing up for the LGBTQ community. Biden’s LGBTQ executive order rolls back most of Trump’s anti-queer policies Almost immediately after Trump took office in 2017, the administration rolled back an Obama-era memo directing schools to protect trans students from discrimination. That July, Trump announced his decision to ban trans people from serving in the military. In May 2018, the administration went after trans prisoners, too, deciding that, in most cases, trans people should be housed according to their assigned sex at birth. Then last summer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that would allow homeless shelters that receive federal funding to house trans people according to their birth-assigned sex. Queer people have also been under attack. Though marriage equality is the law of the land, the White House has taken steps to limit or undo gay rights in several key policy areas, such as lobbying to give religious adoption agencies the right to refuse same-sex couples. Most critical, perhaps, was the administration’s attack on the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in a rule released last June that would allow doctors and insurance companies to refuse care to LGBTQ people. Biden’s executive order now rolls back most of these specific Trump-era policies except for the military ban, which is expected to come soon. The move wasn’t much of a surprise, given that Biden has long been a supporter of LGBTQ rights and was an early political voice in favor of trans rights. In 2012, Biden said trans rights would be the “civil rights battle of our time,” a line he often repeated when asked on the campaign trail. Early on in the 2020 Democratic primary, a conservative activist with Turning Point USA in Iowa asked Biden how many genders there were. Without missing a beat, Biden dryly responded, “at least three,” before telling the woman, “Don’t play games with me, kid.” The executive order itself ordered all federal agencies to review and update their rules and enforcement procedures to protect LGBTQ people from sex discrimination. What this means practically is the Biden administration will now consider discrimination against transgender students to be a violation of Title IX, and discrimination against gay or lesbian people in housing decisions to be against the law. It also protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination by federal contractors, and LGBTQ homeless people from discrimination at federally funded shelters. However, sex is not considered a protected class under federal public accommodations law, so it’s still possible for private entities to deny a trans person access to a bathroom matching their gender identity or for a bus driver to deny a ride to a gay couple. The executive order is essentially a reset to the legal theory that sexual orientation and gender identity are a form of sex discrimination first advanced under former president Barack Obama, though it now rests on more solid legal ground thanks to the Bostock decision last June. The early commitment, especially to trans rights, puts the new administration in a clear position to oppose the ongoing international backlash against trans rights. Dozens of conservative states have proposed banning puberty blockers and other trans-related care to trans minors or banning trans women and girls from school sports, both of which would run counter to the new executive order. It remains to be seen how committed Biden’s Department of Justice will be in opposing state-level discriminatory laws, but trans advocates mostly see Wednesday’s order as a good first step. LGBTQ advocates are also keeping their eyes on the introduction of the Equality Act in Congress. If passed, the legislation would codify much of Biden’s executive order in federal law, along with expanding LGBTQ and sex discrimination protections into public accommodations. The predictable trans moral panic backlash comes for Biden Whenever a government rule or law is proposed or enacted that even hints at improving the lives of trans people, anti-trans far-right conservatives always react negatively, and Wednesday’s order signing was no exception. Despite ordering a modest adjustment to existing civil rights law, which still puts the US behind other western nations like the United Kingdom, anti-trans voices reacted with anger to trans people receiving legal protections against discrimination. For example, Ryan T. Anderson, a senior fellow at the anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation, attempted to shame Biden for breaking his promise to seek unity by protecting trans and queer people in comments to the Washington Post. The religious conservative was also joined by several British “gender critical” feminists in calling out Biden, accusing the new president of “erasing women” by including trans people under the definition of sex discrimination. But Biden’s executive order “is not an abandonment of his call for unity by any stretch of the imagination,” said Branstetter. “It’s frankly a little boiler plate because it’s merely enforcing the Supreme Court [decision] as is the executive branch’s constitutional duty.” She also added that anti-trans activists have long “been preparing for a broader media campaign aimed at convincing people that transgender people pose a risk to cisgender women, all while powerful men laugh in the corner.” In other words, it shouldn’t be a surprise that anti-trans activists are accusing the man who chose Kamala Harris, the first-ever female vice president in US history, of erasing women. But their attacks shouldn’t take away from trans people receiving the critical protections they’ve long deserved.
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Are the Olympics still going to happen in 2021? Here’s what we know.
A pedestrian walks past a traffic sign next to an official Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games banner hanging on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building on January 22, 2021. | Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images For now, yes. But the how is a lot less certain. Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympics happen in 2021? That was the plan, after the International Olympic Committee and Japan, the host country, postponed the games last March because of the pandemic. But with the coronavirus still raging in many parts of the world, and the reality that the global vaccination campaign will take time, the question of whether it’s possible to safely hold the Olympics this year is reemerging. A report in the Times of London set off the latest debate, with an unnamed senior member of Japan’s ruling coalition saying that the Japanese government had privately concluded the games will have to be canceled. “No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the source said, per the Times. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.” But Olympic and Japanese officials quickly denied those reports, insisting the games are still on. The Japanese government called the reports “categorically untrue.” “I am determined to realize a safe and secure Tokyo Games as proof that mankind will have overcome the virus,” Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide told his country’s Parliament on Friday, according to the Washington Post. The International Olympic Committee echoed Suga. “All parties involved are working together to prepare for a successful Games this summer,” the IOC said in a statement. IOC statement on media reports regarding Tokyo 2020— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) January 22, 2021 Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, told Japan’s Kyodo News that his committee is determinedto have the Olympics go on as scheduled, beginning July 23. “This is why there is no plan B and this is why we are fully committed to make these games safe and successful,” he said. The Olympic Games debate is far from settled This is just the beginning of an intense back-and-forth about the 2020, or 2021, Olympics. The games were postponed in late March as the impossibility of holding a mass gathering that summer sank in. Lockdowns in countries around the world closed down training facilities and interrupted qualifying events, making athletes stressed and uncertain about the possibility of competition. A lot has changed in a year. Scientists and public health officials better understand the coronavirus — and have a better sense of how to contain it. Yet even countries that have done better than others at controlling the pandemic continue to face dangerous flare-ups, Japan among them. Tokyo is under a state of emergency as it deals with its latest, and deadliest, pandemic wave. Mary E. Wilson, a clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco and visiting professor at Harvard University, told me in March that the Olympics are basically the “ideal setting” for something like the coronavirus to spread. “Even if things are under control in many places, bringing people together for the Olympic Games could help reignite infection in multiple otherways,” Wilson said. The arrival of multiple vaccines offers a way out of all this, but the operational and logistical challenges of the global immunization campaign mean that, realistically, the world isn’t emerging from the pandemic anytime soon. Japan, the Olympics host, has 127 million of its citizens to vaccinate; as the Associated Press reports, getting shots in everyone’s arms might be the only way to really safely host the games. But vaccinations haven’t begun yet, and won’t until late February. Add to this the appearance of new variants of the coronavirus, which appear to be more contagious. There’s also still a question of how they will interact with new vaccines. Though July is still months away, the Olympics are not exactly an easy operation to pull off at the last minute. Last year, some athletes criticized the IOC for insisting the games would go ahead, which seemed to many to be completely disconnected from what was happening around the world. And that uncertainty — should they try to train, or not train? — added to the frustration. Finally, the Olympic Committees for individual countries began to pull their athletes out of the games, giving the IOC no choice but to make the decision to postpone the games. This time around, no country has yet announced it is pulling its athletes, but some leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have expressed doubts about Japan’s ability to execute the event. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee said in a statement that it had not received any news “suggesting the Games will not happen as planned, and our focus remains on the health and preparedness of Team USA athletes ahead of the Games this summer.” And sports have resumed in many parts of the world, though some more safely than others. International athletic competition has resumed — without fans and with other restrictions — though nothing quite on the scale of the Olympics. And even then, Covid-19 usually manages to creep in. The Australian Open tennis tournament, which officially begins next month in Melbourne, chartered flights for players and their entourages, who come from all over the world, and then required players to quarantine upon arrival. Some ended up having to face longer isolation periods because — you guessed it — some of the people on those chartered flights tested positive for Covid-19. At least one player then did as well. Australia is allowing some fans at the Open this year, with restrictions. But Melbourne has also stamped out Covid-19 through some of the toughest restrictions in the world. When it comes to the Olympics, postponement doesn’tseem to be an option this time around, which means it’s much more likely that if the relevant parties do finally decide it’s too risky to hold the games in July, the 2020 Games could be canceled for good. That’s only happened a few times before — in 1916, 1940, and 1944, all because of world wars. Japan spent approximately $25 billion to organize the Olympics. Even if the country is able to host the games in the near future (the sites are already set for 2024, in Paris, and 2028, in Los Angeles), a cancellation might have it harder for Japan to get a return on that investment. Athletes, some of whom get just one or two shots at the Olympics in their entire career, might not get another chance to compete if the 2020 Games are canceled. Simone Biles, a member of USA Gymnastics and the most decorated gymnast ever, told NBC’s Today Show on Friday that she hopes the Olympics can still go on, even if they’re in a bubble — a reference to the NBA’s strategy of isolating and testing athletes and coaching staff, who played games in an empty arena. “Whatever they say they want us to do, I’m in 100%, because I’ve been training so hard, and I’ve just been so ready,” Biles said. There’s a lot riding on these Olympic Games — for the athletes, for Japan, and, in some ways, for the world itself. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy, but as I wrote last March, the Olympics might be exactly what the world needs as it emerges, hopefully, from a pandemic. Olympic ideals — fair competition, solidarity, goodwill — may be the antidote to a world that feels as if it’s falling apart, even if the games can’t happen this summer. More than a year into the pandemic, that feels truer than ever.
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Netflix’s The White Tiger takes on Slumdog Millionaire, but it doesn’t stop there
Rajkummar Rao, Priyanka Chopra, and Adarsh Gourav in The White Tiger. | Tejinder Singh Khamkha/Netflix Based on the bestselling novel, it’s a wry, blistering critique of inequality in India — and elsewhere. Comparisons between Netflix’s The White Tiger and Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire were always going to be inevitable — poor boy in India makes good, becomes rich — but lest you miss the similarities, The White Tiger makes sure you can’t. Speaking of the poverty into which he was born, our narrator Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) pointedly rebuffs the earlier story for us, the movie’s viewers. “Don’t think for a second there’s a million-rupee game show you can win to get out,” he says. Later, he explains further: “For the poor, there are only two ways to get to the top: crime or politics.” But then he hurls the all-important, innocent-sounding question: “Is it that way in your country too?” Adapted from the Booker Prize-winning 2008 novel by Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger is a funny and ferocious dip into India’s caste system and, more broadly, the cultural mechanisms that keep the poor in their place. Inequality and class conflicts are themes that have always echoed across world cinema. But there’s been a crescendo in the past few years, spanning the globe from Senegal (Atlantics) to Spain (The Platform), Brazil (Bacurau) to Korea (Parasite), the United Kingdom (Sorry We Missed You) to the United States (Sorry to Bother You). Like those films, The White Tiger takes a twofold approach to exploring inequality: It taps into the broader, well-established systems in India that make it extraordinarily difficult to move between social classes. And it does so by zeroing in on one man’s life, the people he encounters, and his realizations about what it takes to vault the barrier. As he says: crime or politics. Balram (Adarsh Gourav) is a smart kid born to a very poor family in one of India’s lower castes. A teacher tells him one day that he’s the “white tiger” — according to lore, there is only one white tiger born in every generation, so this means Balram is special, unique, and destined for great things. But that seems improbable. Balram isn’t going anywhere. He tells us that really, there are only two castes in India — the people who have things and the people who don’t. He doesn’t. In his family, you are born, you live, and you die as a member of the servant class. You have little access to education and opportunity. And you’re likely to believe that’s all you can ever be. One day, Balram (now a young man) spots the son of a wealthy family getting out of his fancy car, and suddenly realizes that all he wants in life is to work for this stylish, handsome, confident gentleman. He is Ashok (Rajkummar Rav), whose family keeps the government tax man off their back by paying off officials. Ashok has been living in the US, but he’s returned to India to join the family business, bringing his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) along with him. Singh Tejinder/Netflix Adarsh Gourav and Priyanka Chopra in The White Tiger. Balram begs enough money from his grandmother to take driving lessons, then manages to claw his way into a job as the family’s second driver, mostly chauffeuring Ashok and Pinky. Ashok, who grew up in India, is accustomed to treating Balram with a kind of benevolent dismissal, as an expendable servant. Ashok isn’t abusive or cruel; he just doesn’t think about Balram unless he needs to. Pinky, in contrast, is kind to Balram. She moved to the US when she was 12 and grew up in Queens, where her parents run a convenience store. She tries to tell Balram to dream bigger than being a servant. And Balram, who has always quietly dreamed of something bigger, feels a tug of war inside himself. He begins to hope that his relationship with Ashok may lead him toward something better. Then something terrible happens, and Balram discovers that, to the family, he is still expendable. If he wants to rise above his social station, he’s going to have to do it through other means. And those means won’t be “a million-rupee game show you can win to get out.” The White Tiger wants to counteract stories like Slumdog Millionaire, in which a poor kid gets very lucky. Those kinds of narratives, this movie makes clear, represent an attractive fantasy to white Americans, not reality. They’re Hollywood tales that never ask their audience to think outside the confines of their main characters’ perspectives. They let them go home feeling good. Not that The White Tiger isn’t a pleasure to watch; the film is often darkly funny, and its stars bring buoyant energy to the story’s first half. It can occasionally feel a little aimless, but the threads all converge in the end. It’s aimed at a Western audience, which means it elides what a film more embedded in the culture it critiques could do — but it’s a solid introduction nonetheless. And the film’s tonal pivot from cheerful boy-makes-good tale into something darker feels all the more jarring. That’s purposeful. The White Tiger was written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, an American director whose parents immigrated from Iran to North Carolina before he was born. Bahrani started his career with micro-budget gobsmackers like Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2007). Though fictional, this early work borrowed from the vérité form of documenting to tell the stories of people that most New Yorkers simply walk past: a street cart vendor, two kids living in poverty on the outskirts of Queens. Bahrani has moved on to more conventionally directed work since then, but he’s always focused on the people at the margins of society. Goodbye Solo (2008) is about a Senegalese cab driver in North Carolina who befriends a suicidal older man. At Any Cost (2012) and the stellar 99 Homes (2014) both center on white Americans who are struggling to escape cycles of generational economic downturn, but are thwarted by a thinly veiled Monsanto on the one hand and the subprime mortgage crisis on the other. Tejinder Singh Khamkha/Netflix Adarsh Gourav in The White Tiger. So The White Tiger fits perfectly into Bahrani’s body of work. It is also a deeply confident piece of filmmaking; the movie doesn’t just examine what keeps people down, nor does it aestheticize poverty and turn it into something noble — an impulse that can plague American filmmakers but that Bahrani consistently and deftly avoids. Instead, The White Tiger feels like a fable, one that illustrates how trapping people in poverty so there will always be someone to do wealthier folks’ bidding is as much a function of psychology and culture as of economic opportunity. If you can convince someone they can only be a poor servant, Balram explains, that’s probably all they’ll aspire to be. And if having servants and masters is all you can imagine, why would anyone want to rock the boat? The White Tiger is streaming on Netflix.
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Biden’s Covid-19 vaccine challenge, explained in 600 words
President Joe Biden on the campaign trail in 2020. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images America’s vaccine rollout isn’t going well. Here’s how Biden can fix it. As President Biden settles into the Oval Office, his immediate challenge is fixing America’s botched vaccine rollout. The current vaccine campaign is not going well. Former President Donald Trump and his administration promised to get 20 million Americans vaccinated and 40 million doses out by the end of 2020. Three weeks into the new year, the country hasn’t reached either goal, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’ve talked to a lot of experts over the past few weeks about what’s going wrong. They caution that a massive vaccine campaign was always going to be difficult, including in the US. But they point to one major thing Biden can do that Trump didn’t: bring the full powers of the federal government to bear on the issue. While the Trump administration bought millions of vaccine doses and sent them to states, its efforts by and large stopped there. A Trump official characterized more support as an “invasion” of the states. State and local groups asked for $8 billion for vaccine efforts, but Trump’s White House gave a paltry $340 million. (Congress authorized $8 billion in the stimulus deal passed in late December.) Based on my conversations with experts, Biden will need to do three key things to fill the leadership void: 1) Address “last mile” problems. The issues slowing down vaccination right now — equipment breaking down, long lines, and insufficient staffing at vaccination sites — come from what experts call the “last mile” of the supply chain, when vaccines go from storage to shots in arms. The problems vary from place to place, so Biden will need to work closely with local and state officials and private organizations to solve them. One idea from Nada Sanders at Northeastern University is a “backward scheduling” system: Set a vaccination goal for each locale, then work backward to see what plans and resources are needed, and what potential bottlenecks must be addressed, to achieve that goal. 2) Be vigilant about new supply problems. Especially as the vaccine rollout expands, new problems on the supply side, such as insufficient vaccine doses, are likely — that’s part of handling a complex supply chain. The Biden administration needs to work closely with local, state, and private organizations to make sure it catches these problems early. 3) Persuade more Americans to get vaccinated. Based on public opinion surveys, at least one-quarter of Americans are hesitant about getting a vaccine. And to reach herd immunity, 70-plus percent of Americans must get vaccinated. That’s cutting it pretty close. A federal awareness and education campaign could close the gap. If that doesn’t work, the government might need to push people to get vaccinated through financial incentives, or even a mandate. All three steps require more communication. The Trump administration was wildly inconsistent and even contradictory in its messaging, and that’s a big reason the US has struggled so much with Covid-19 in general. A Biden administration can, at the very least, make its messaging and guidance more consistent. A lot of this is simply what you’d expect from the federal government during a national crisis. But Trump didn’t do it. Biden has already promised to do more: He’s announced a $400 billion Covid-19 plan and a vaccine plan, vowing to release and produce more vaccine doses, send more support to states, build mass vaccination centers, and use mobile units to reach undercovered areas. He wants 100 million shots in his first 100 days, enough for 50 million people — though some experts now say that’s not enough. If he gets this right, Americans could be getting back to normal sooner. If not, the country’s Covid-19 crisis could drag on, with each day bringing thousands more preventable deaths. For more on what Biden can do on vaccines, read my full explainer. Sign up for the Weeds newsletter. Every Friday, you’ll get an explainer of a big policy story from the week, a look at important research that recently came out, and answers to reader questions — to guide you through the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration.
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How the Biden administration can save the Postal Service
A US Postal Service worker removes mail from a dropbox in San Francisco on August 17, 2020. | David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images The Postal Service has to do more than deliver mail if it wants to survive. In November, on the day that networks called the election for Joe Biden, cheering crowds stopped mail trucks in the streets of New York City to thank postal workers for delivering more than 135 million mail-in ballots on time during a pandemic. Now, in Washington, DC, a coalition of lawmakers and advocates are trying to pull off a different sort of feat: saving the United States Postal Service. Without help from the federal government, the Postal Service could run out of cash later this year. Such a financial crisis would mean laying off workers, limiting service, and worsening delays — and delays are already so bad that holiday cards mailed in early December are still being delivered in late January. In the long term, Congress could decide to privatize the Postal Service, fulfilling one of the Trump administration’s ambitions but likely denying service to millions of Americans. While it sounds a bit odd at first, an increasingly popular idea to fix the agency’s financial woes is to give it more jobs to do. In other words, to grapple with its ongoing existential crisis, the Postal Service needs to rethink its very existence. “There needs to be creativity and other things the post office can do, when it’s done its mission of binding the country together,” Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told Recode. “So we’re very keen on all sorts of expanded services.” Ideas include everything from making post offices function more like UPS stores to turning the Postal Service into a broadband provider. Mail carriers could also expand their purview and start delivering groceries and alcohol (a Prohibition-era law makes it illegal for USPS to ship alcohol). And there’s one other thing: Post offices could become banks. President Biden can implement some of these concepts through executive orders, but others — namely the banking idea — would require action from Congress. A cash-strapped agency that’s perfectly capable of making money Conservatives have long argued that the Postal Service shouldn’t try anything new until it solves some of its own long-standing financial problems. Many of these can be traced back to 2006, when a Republican-led Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. This required USPS to prefund the health care benefits it promises future retirees in its workforce with annual payments of about $5.5 billion. This meant that even when the agency was operating at a profit, it looked like a financial disaster on paper. Then the Great Recession happened in 2008, causing first-class mail volume to plummet and slashing the Postal Service’s revenues. Things took another ugly turn in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. In early February, the House of Representatives had actually voted to end the prefunding mandate that’s driven the Postal Service deep into the red, but the coronavirus took over the legislative agenda just a few weeks later. The bill has been stalled in the Senate since. Meanwhile, then-President Trump waged a campaign against the Postal Service his entire time in office and even threatened to veto the CARES Act if it gave the Postal Service any help. The Treasury Department at one point agreed to loan the agency $10 billion — but only if it would surrender proprietary information to private sector competitors. That loan was turned into a grant in the second coronavirus relief package. You can’t just fix the artificial, bookkeeping things and then expect the post office to magically be fine in its previous business model One particularly difficult development from last year was when a top Trump donor and logistics executive named Louis DeJoy took over as postmaster general in June. He implemented new, cost-tightening policies that led to mail delays, leading many to fear that one of the president’s cronies was trying to sabotage the election and privatize the Postal Service. A judge eventually suspended DeJoy’s policies until after Election Day; when they were reinstituted, mail service dropped to a historically low level during the holiday season. The Postal Service recently added 10,000 new jobs to its sorting facilities, but still, on any given day, up to 2,000 postal workers are under quarantine, according to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). More than 150 have died due to the pandemic. Due to these upheavals, Americans took to social media to urge their friends to buy stamps and USPS merchandise in an attempt to bail out the agency last year. But the Postal Service, which has a 644,000-plus person workforce, needs a lot more help than that. A USPS financial planning report for 2021 shows the agency is saddled with over $160 billion in debt, much of which can be attributed to prefunding retiree health benefits; the report also calls for “significant legislative reforms.” And although the Postal Service has previously asked for a $25 billion bailout at the beginning, it hasn’t received any additional relief beyond the $10 billion grant from the Treasury. “Envisioning the post office for the future, you can’t just fix the artificial, bookkeeping things and then expect the post office to magically be fine in its previous business model,” explained Porter McConnell of the Save the Postal Office Coalition. “I think it needs to be given the ability to innovate, in order to really start being a powerhouse.” Put differently, even if Congress pulls through with a bailout and ends the prefunding mandate mess, the Postal Service still needs to evolve to survive. The Save the Postal Office Coalition, which includes 475 groups, including the APWU, MoveOn, and Color for Change, came together not long after DeJoy joined the agency and is calling for $89 billion in emergency relief for the agency in President Biden’s first 100 days. It’s also pushing for Biden to appoint a “postal czar” who favors postal banking and reform-minded leaders to fill the four open seats on the USPS Board of Governors, which Trump had left empty in the final months of his presidency. If Biden fills all the seats, Democrat-appointed governors would make up a majority of the board, giving them the power to remove DeJoy from office and reshape the Postal Service’s role in American life. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Bloomberg via Getty Images Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor, testified before the House Oversight Committee after imposing service cuts ahead of the 2020 election. Some ideas for how the USPS could make more money are pretty basic: Post offices could expand partnerships with other government services and do things like offer driver’s license renewals in addition to passport services. Or they could stay open later hours so people have more time to mail packages at competitive rates (some UPS and FedEx stores are open 24 hours, while post offices tend to be 9-to-5 operations). After all, package deliveries are actually a rare bright spot on the Postal Service’s balance sheet. In November, the Postal Service reported a $2 billion increase in revenue year-over-year thanks to a nearly 20 percent increase in package volume. Package volume during the holidays was up about 100 percent. Other ideas are more ambitious, but you can look abroad and see that they’re viable. The Postal Service has some of the internet infrastructure required for building a nationwide network, Anderson explained, so it could theoretically build out a low-cost internet service in the US, which is something the UK’s Post Office does (for about 20 dollars a month). Letter carriers already stop at most addresses around the country on a daily basis, so they could help provide basic caregiving services for older adults, as Japan Post does. And USPS needs new vehicles, so replacing its fleet of boxy, gas-powered mail trucks with electric vehicles could help build out EV charging infrastructure by setting up charging stations for public use at post offices nationwide. This would cost money in the short term, but the charging stations could generate revenue for USPS, while the more efficient trucks should save money in the future. But the really big idea for how to save the USPS — to establish a postal banking system — is easier to imagine, if only because the post office already performs several basic banking functions, like money orders. Expanding that menu of services, postal banking proponents argue, brings nothing but upsides. The plan for postal banking One of the biggest upsides: USPS banking could help the at least 7 million American households that are unbanked — meaning they lack access to a checking account or basic financial services — according to the most recent FDIC survey on economic inclusion. That number skyrockets when you include those that have accounts but use financial services like check cashing and payday loans to get by. The plan for postal banking would not only provide a solution for these millions of Americans but also provide USPS with a financial lifeline. “I would imagine that any post office of the future proposal has got to include [postal banking],” McConnell told Recode. “Serving the one in four households in America who are unbanked and underbanked [while] providing a revenue stream for the post office is just too logical to leave out of any forward-looking proposals.” The long list of financial services that post offices could offer includes checking and savings accounts, check cashing, low-fee ATMs, money transfers, bill payment, and refillable USPS debit cards. Offering such services could generate some $9 billion in revenue for the Postal Service every year, according to a USPS Inspector General report from 2014. Some back-of-the-napkin math suggests that this alone could cover the prefunding mandate. With Biden in the White House and Democrats controlling Congress, lawmakers have the chance to reconsider existing postal banking legislation. Last September, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reintroduced the Postal Banking Act, which would not only bring basic financial services like low-cost savings and checking accounts to post offices but also take aim at predatory practices — payday loans, high-fee prepaid debit cards, overdraft fees — that have taken advantage of unbanked and underbanked Americans. Additionally, the law would allow the Postal Service to offer small-dollar loans that could eliminate the market for payday loans. “Postal banking is an elegant and common-sense solution to problems that exist across the country in urban and rural states — problems which Congress has indicated it would like to address,” Sen. Gillibrand told Recode. Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images By law, the Postal Service operates under a universal service obligation, which means serving even the most remote corners of the United States. Think of it as a public option for banking. And this isn’t the only approach being floated for serving the unbanked. A task force set up by Biden and Sanders earlier this year called for the creation of so-called Fed Accounts, which would be free bank accounts for every American set up by the Federal Reserve and run through post offices. This is not to be confused with Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Public Banking Act, which would enable the Federal Reserve to encourage the establishment of public banks that could interact with postal banking infrastructure. So in some shape or form, the Postal Service could play a role in all of these plans. But at this moment, USPS leadership doesn’t seem to like the idea of adding banking to its slate of offerings, although it’s not entirely opposed. “Our core function is delivery, not banking. To the extent our research concludes that we can legally provide additional services at a profit and without distracting from our core business, we would consider these,” USPS spokesperson Martha Johnson told Recode in November. In January, she added that recent conversations with Congress did not involve postal banking. Learning from the largely forgotten history of postal banking If the idea of the Postal Service offering bank accounts sounds familiar, that’s because postal banking existed in the US throughout much of the 20th century. We’ve done it before, some say, so we can do it again. Following the Panic of 1907, which led to a run on the banks and a string of bank failures, Americans developed widespread distrust in US financial systems. Warning of “the predatory man of wealth,” Theodore Roosevelt endorsed postal banking as the financial crisis took hold, and his fellow Republican William Taft sold the country on the idea when running for president in 1908. Taft won the White House, and the United States Postal Savings System was established in 1910. It offered savings accounts with a low 2.5 percent interest rate and a total savings cap at $500 (that amounts to $14,000 today), which was raised to $2,500 in 1918 (about $44,000 today). By the 1930s, the Postal Savings System had over $1 billion in assets, making its holdings roughly 10 percent of the entire commercial banking industry. But its success was short-lived. Private banks successfully lobbied to shut down the Postal Savings System in the 1960s, and the decades that followed saw a pattern of deregulation that left inner cities and rural areas without any banks, leading to the rise of the $90 billion payday lending industry. The predatory man of wealth made a comeback. “The bankers never liked the idea,” Christopher W. Shaw, author of Money, Power, and the People: The American Struggle to Make Banking Democratic, told me about the Postal Savings System. “They were always against it, and they lobbied against it from the start.” Sen. Gillibrand has her own take on the matter. “It was a good idea then,” she said, “and it’s an even better idea now.” Lots of financial transactions already happen in post offices. Billions of dollars worth of money orders go through the Postal Service every year. So if the Postal Service is looking for more money, it seems it shouldn’t have to look that far. Of course, asking postal workers to do more things, like serve as town clerks or caregivers or broadband vendors, could certainly pose a challenge. But with first-class mail volume having declined by 30 percent in the past decade, the 600,000-plus people who work for the Postal Service are still well-positioned to fulfill the agency’s mission to bind the nation together. Sandy Laemmel, the president of the National Letter Carriers Union branch in Detroit, Michigan, started working for the Postal Service the day after she graduated high school 45 years ago. When we spoke on the phone about a week ago, she sounded optimistic about new ideas, though the banking idea specifically seemed familiar to her, since she said plenty of people do their banking at the post office, mostly through money orders, to avoid paying steep fees elsewhere. “Do I think the idea of banking within the Postal Service is feasible? Yes, I do. Do I think it’s something that needs to be explored more? Yes, I do,” Laemmel said. “The people who are handling what goes into the mail stream are the same people who would be running the operation of postal banking. So do I think it’s out there? Yes. Do I think we’ll get there? I think we will.”
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Dr. Rachel Levine’s historic appointment to the Biden administration, explained
Rachel Levine, physician general for the state of Pennsylvania, dines with her mother Lillian Levine on May 16, 2016, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. | Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images In a pivotal moment for trans health care, Levine has been tapped to lead US health policy. On Tuesday, Joe Biden, then president-elect, nominated Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as the new assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Levine’s nomination is historic: If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the highest-ranking openly transgender government official in US history. In her new role, Levine would run the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH), which oversees the nation’s public health policy. She will be a key administration figure as the White House tackles the deepening Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans. But she will also play an important role in rolling back a host of Trump-era policies in reproductive, adolescent, and LGBTQ health. As a trained pediatrician with a history of supporting evidence-based adolescent health and who has spoken about her own closeted trans youth, her appointment marks a sea change from the right-wing political activists appointed to OASH under Trump. Because of the historic nature of Levine’s appointment, there has been much talk about her trans identity. Meanwhile, her qualifications, which should not be overshadowed, have taken a back seat. For the last three years, she’s been the secretary of health for Pennsylvania, where she has taken the lead on the state’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Her clear-eyed press conferences instructing Pennsylvanians on how to survive the pandemic have earned praise from Democrats inside the state. Before she became the secretary of health, she was the state’s physician general. Levine frequently takes a holistic approach to policy, telling Philadelphia magazine last July about how she conceptualizes public health. “Economic opportunity is health. A living wage with an increase in the minimum wage is actually health,” she said. “Improving educational opportunities, improving nutrition, improving the environment, improving transportation for people is health. Getting rid of racism is health.” Following Biden’s appointment, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called Levine “a highly skilled and valued member of my administration.” “She has been a wise and dedicated partner during this pandemic and throughout her career with the commonwealth,” Wolf said in a statement. “I couldn’t be prouder of the tireless work she’s done to serve Pennsylvanians and protect the public health.” Levine’s appointment would be important, if only because she would instantly become a recognizable and authoritative trans voice on public health at a moment when access to trans health care is increasingly threatened worldwide. With Biden taking an explicitly pro-trans stance, Levine would step into a visible role in charge of federal youth health policy. “This marks a real turning point that honors and includes trans people,” Molly Bangs, director of Equity Forward, an HHS watchdog group, told Vox about Levine’s nomination. “She’s given every indication that she will continue to center equity from all perspectives when ascending to federal office. Transgender youth need real quality health care and access to information more so than ever. She’s demonstrated that that is very much a cornerstone of really what drives her career.” Levine takes over a key federal public health office in a pivotal moment Her most immediate demand as assistant secretary of health is likely to be helping manage the federal government’s handling of the pandemic. It was widely reported Thursday morning that Biden officials were shocked to learn there was no vaccine distribution plan developed under the Trump administration — and Levine, as one of the nation’s top health officials, will have a role in developing that plan. But beyond the pandemic, she will take over a department that underwent some radical changes under Trump. The Office for Women’s Health and the Office of Population Affairs oversee most of the government’s reproductive health initiatives. The transition from Obama to Trump saw progressive initiatives tossed out in favor of anti-reproductive health policies, including rolling back the Obamacare birth control mandate. Meanwhile, the Office of Adolescent Health, which administered the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, was shunted to a different office’s oversight and essentially shuttered under Trump. One of Levine’s first accomplishments in Pennsylvania was establishing the state’s Office of Adolescent Health, and she’ll be tasked with restoring that office at the federal level if she’s confirmed. “This position of assistant secretary of health has a massive portfolio of issues,” said Bangs. “Dr. Levine and her colleagues will have their work cut out for them, and they will need a really proactive agenda in order to not just reverse the damage that’s been done but also protect and expand LGBTQ rights [and] sexual and reproductive health [access].” That work will get underway almost immediately. Even before Levine’s confirmation hearing has been scheduled, the Biden administration has taken some initial steps to overturn Trump policy at OASH. According to the Hill, the White House plans to launch a review of the Title X domestic gag rule — which banned federal funding to health clinics that perform or refer patients for abortions—in an executive order on January 28. Levine’s office will oversee the review, putting her at the center of US reproductive health policy for the next several years. Levine will not be the first openly trans government official Though she is deeply qualified for the position, Levine’s trans identity has grabbed the lion’s share of media attention. Earlier this week, newspapers and websites trumpeted her identity, almost to the exclusion of any other facts about her. “Biden picks 1st transgender person for Senate-confirmed post,” read an Associated Press headline. Even the LGBTQ Nation’s headline — “Joe Biden picks transgender woman for assistant health secretary” — did not mention Levine by name. If confirmed, Levine will be the highest-ranking transgender official in the federal government, a welcome step forward for a community that has historically had very little institutional power. But she will not be the first openly trans government official appointed by a president — just the first to be confirmed by the Senate. President Barack Obama named trans woman Amanda Simpson senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security in 2010, though it was not a Senate-confirmed appointment. Levine’s trans identity will inform her in her new role as one of the nation’s top public health officials.“At a time when access to health care is a growing crisis for transgender people made worse by anti-LGBTQ legislation and legislators across the nation, Dr. Levine has the empathy to understand the health needs of our diverse country and the skillset to improve them,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Tuesday. Levine has spoken previously about her experiences as a closeted trans child. At a conference in 2015, just after she’d been appointed Pennsylvania’s acting physician general, she described growing up playing football and hockey near Boston in the ’60s, but also carrying with her a deep secret. ”All I knew is I wanted to be a girl, or I was a girl, or female,” she told the crowd in Swatara Township, Pennsylvania. During that conference, Levine spoke directly to the state’s trans youth. “What I want to tell those kids is I am there for you. We are here for you,” she said. “Please don’t harm yourself and please don’t despair, because we are there for you.” It’s a message she’s continued to stand by throughout her public health career, even as critics and random internet trolls relentlessly attacked her gender identity and appearance. With the far right showing no signs of slowing down their all-out assault against trans people,it remains to be seen whether opposition to her appointment will build among Republicans in the Senate. She’ll likely be asked about her role in handling the Covid-19 pandemic in Pennsylvania nursing homes, where she ordered Covid-positive patients to stay in facilities even while pulling her own mother out of a nursing home at the time. It’s the kind of situation that has popped up all over the country over the course of the pandemic, but her status as a trans public figure puts her under a particularly hot spotlight, especially among conservatives who oppose some state restrictions that seek to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. If confirmed, though, Levine would make history in a time and place when trans “firsts” are becoming rarer — an appointment that is as much a win for trans people as it is for a well-qualified doctor with a lifetime of public health experience.
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Why visual effects artists love this shiny ball
A chrome ball is a surprisingly useful tool. How do visual effects artists match their digital creations to real light? Sometimes, it involves using a very shiny ball. Leo Bovell of Tryptyc has worked on a range of visual effects projects, but one of his most memorable experiences might be shooting in the Lincoln Memorial for an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. His task? Replace the real Lincoln with a completely digital — destroyed — version. To do it, he used an industry-standard HDRI map of the light in the scene. HDRIs — high dynamic range images — mesh together different pictures to create a complete depiction of the light in a real scene. After that, it’s a matter of teaching a computer to cast that light onto digital objects. This technique is used for everything from creating entire scenes to providing key references for artists. Watch the above video to learn more. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. Further reading Paul Debevec is a visual effects pioneer for a wide range of projects, including creating the first digital portrait of the president of the United States. His work in HDRIs was equally groundbreaking, and he catalogs it and other work on his personal website. Large libraries of these digital scenes make it possible to simulate a wide range of environments. HDRI Haven provides more than a few worlds to explore.
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Doug Emhoff, wife guy extraordinaire
Kamala Harris and her husband Douglas Emhoff stand onstage at the Democratic National Convention in August 2020. | Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images The second gentleman could be a model for supportive men. It was Inauguration Day, and, let’s be honest, few eyes were on Doug Emhoff. The former entertainment lawyer was there to support his wife, Kamala Harris, the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian American to become vice president of the United States. He was there to celebrate the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the first president who is not Donald Trump in four very long years. He was there alongside luminaries from the Obamas to inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, and his and Harris’s blended family, including his daughter Ella Emhoff in sparkling Miu Miu tweeds and adorable great-nieces Amara and Leela Ajagu, who wore matching leopard coats in an homage to Harris and her sister Maya. Emhoff wore an overcoat and a gray suit. Ralph Lauren, if you were wondering. It’s okay if you weren’t. Emhoff has made clear that he’s comfortable being a supporting player; his Twitter in recent days has been full of sweet shoutouts to Harris, making Emhoff the subject of countless “wife guy” jokes (while the meme originated to describe husbands trying to gain fame by talking about their spouses, it’s evolved to encompass guys who, like Emhoff, just really like their wives). As I reflect on her last day in the U.S. Senate, I’ll never forget her first.— Doug Emhoff (@DouglasEmhoff) January 18, 2021 The day before the inauguration, Emhoff wrote at GQ about the experience of joining the Biden-Harris campaign: “Virtually overnight, I went from being a lawyer to being a member of a team fighting for justice and trying to turn the page on a dark chapter in our nation’s history.” But he must have known this day might come from the moment he met the woman who is now his wife. After all, on their first date, Harris was already attorney general of California and widely seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. Indeed, theirs is a kind of political marriage Americans haven’t seen before, at least at this level of government. It’s an example of “professionals who have come together later on in life and are there to support one another,” Farida Jalalzai, a political science professor who studies women leaders, told Vox. For Emhoff, that’s meant researching former second ladies to figure out how to approach his role. And for America, it’s going to mean watching a professionally successful white man step back from his career during his peak earning years to help his wife achieve her goals — and, at least according to his recent statements, to devote himself to public service. Doug Emhoff isn’t the center of attention right now, and in a way, that’s important too. When they met, Harris was already a powerful politician Emhoff and Harris first met in 2013, set up on a blind date by a mutual friend. Harris had been serving as attorney general for two years, after spending six as the district attorney of San Francisco. She was already well known on the national stage, discussed as a potential replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and drawing praise from then-President Barack Obama (who drew some criticism for calling her “the best-looking attorney general”). Emhoff was successful in his own right, a partner at the law firm DLA Piper. His past clients included, amusingly, the ad agency behind the Taco Bell chihuahua, and, less amusingly, a club owner accused of sexual battery and a company that sold AK-47s. Divorced since 2009, he had two children, Cole and Ella, then in their teens. He must have known from the very beginning that a relationship with the attorney general of his state would lead to intense scrutiny of his personal and professional life. But by his account, he was all in. “I didn’t want it to end,” he told CNN of their first date. “And so the next morning, I pulled the move of emailing her with my availabilities for the next four months, including long weekends.” The two married in 2014 and have, reportedly, been very happy. “Doug and Kamala together are like almost vomit-inducingly cute and coupley,” Cole Emhoff recently told the New York Times. “I’m like, ‘When is this going to wear off?’” They’re also a different kind of political couple from the Obamas, Bushes, or Clintons, all of whom married relatively young when the men in question were still building their political careers. (Donald and Melania Trump married when she was 35 and he was a 59-year-old reality TV host.) Norms are changing: Michelle and Barack Obama met when she was his mentor at a law firm, and she maintained her own highly successful career for many years, quitting only when her husband entered the White House. Hillary Clinton, of course, became a senator and secretary of state after her husband’s presidency. Still, there’s an expectation that politicians’ family lives should follow a kind of 1950s model — early marriage, 2.5 kids, everybody supporting the politician’s career. And usually, that politician is Dad. Harris and Emhoff, by contrast, were both about 50 when they married.Harris did not have children.They formed a blended family, with kids who now call her “Momala.” Both spouses kept their respective last names. “This is a snapshot of America,” Jalalzai said. “We don’t all look the same.” Now Emhoff could be a new role model for men And for Emhoff, being married to Harris has meant stepping back so his wife can shine. He took a leave of absence from DLA Piper in August, to help with the campaign and, presumably, to avoid concerns about conflicts of interest. He left the firm in November and has said he will teach at Georgetown Law School this spring. That will make two teachers in the executive branch, as Jill Biden has said she will continue her education career as first lady. And while Jill Biden is breaking down some barriers by keeping her job while previous first ladies have quit theirs, Emhoff is also breaking new ground by scaling back his career for his wife’s. In his GQ essay, he makes clear that her campaign for the vice presidency was a team effort in which he was happy to play his part. “It quickly became clear that this wasn’t just about my love for my wife, but also about my love for this country,” he writes. “Stepping back from my career as an entertainment lawyer was a decision that we made together—this was about something bigger than either of us.” He reportedly threw himself into campaigning, becoming a major asset for his ability to adapt to a variety of environments. “Of all people, Doug was like randomly born for this,” Cole Emhoff told the Times. And while Emhoff and Harris may be a team, she’s the one who just became vice president — and he has been graceful about his supporting status. It extends to jokes about his title. “Look at where we are right now,” he said in September. “It’s gonna be a lot of work for President Biden, Vice President Harris, First Lady Jill Biden and whatever-my-title-will-be Douglas Emhoff.” Since announcing that he’ll use the title second gentleman, he’s rolled with the fact that “first second gentleman” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. “You can call me Doug,” he reassured CBS Sunday Morning’s Jane Pauley in a recent interview. And rather than in any way disparage the contributions of second ladies who came before him, he’s taken time to learn about them, visiting the Library of Congress to research second spouses of the past. I'm so incredibly honored and humbled to be the first @SecondGentleman of the United States. As we countdown to Inauguration Day, I've been doing my homework—and looking to the past for inspiration.— Doug Emhoff (@DouglasEmhoff) January 16, 2021 Emhoff has said he hopes his time in the role will be a model for his family and for the country. He wants his kids “to grow up in a world where it isn’t news that a loving partner—of any gender—supports them in everything they do,” he wrote at GQ. And, he concluded, “I may be the first Second Gentleman, but I know I won’t be the last.” Harris and Emhoff’s marriage challenges not just the stereotype that a wife has to take a supporting role to her husband, but the idea that one person in a marriage has to dominate in career pursuits, Jalalzai said. Of course, Harris continues to be in the spotlight, now as vice president, but her marriage appears to be a partnership of equals. That was true of the Obamas to a large degree as well, Jalalzai noted, but “over the last four years, we haven’t had that kind of healthy relationship being modeled” in the executive branch. Only time will tell how well Emhoff inhabits his new position. If previous administrations have taught us anything, it’s that we don’t always know what’s going on in the private lives of public figures. But for now, he and Harris are setting a new standard. America still struggles with the assumption that it’s emasculating for men to be with powerful women — even the jokes about Bill Clinton potentially becoming “first dude” in 2016 are testament to this fact. Emhoff, if nothing else, is showing the whole country what it’s like to be a man who goes on a date with a female attorney general and, far from being scared off, sends her his calendar for the next four months. In defining the role of second gentleman, he’s off to a good start.
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Will Biden’s $15 minimum wage cost jobs? The evidence, explained.
Activists march for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2017. | Mike Brown/Getty Images There’s still disagreement. But it looks like in many cases, pay raises swamp any lost jobs. For at least the last 25 years, labor economists have been compiling reams of evidence trying to answer one big question: Do minimum wage laws cost jobs? It’s a newly relevant question with President Joe Biden pushing to more than double the federal minimum, from $7.25 to $15 an hour, as part of his Covid-19 economic relief package. The obvious concern raised by Republican critics is that the move will cost jobs at a time when the economy can ill afford it. “Forcing a $15 minimum wage into a coronavirus relief bill would do nothing but shutter the millions of small businesses already on life support, and would force those that survive to lay-off employees,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) warns. In introductory economics courses, students are typically taught that setting price floors — be it milk, oil, labor, or whatever else — causes supply to exceed demand. In the case of labor, what that means is that if there’s a minimum wage, employers’ demand for workers falls (because they cost more), and the supply of workers increases (because they’re promised more money) — causing unemployment, with all the costs and suffering that entails. For a long time, that’s how the theory went. But in 1993, economists Alan Krueger and David Card brought hard data to bear on the question and published a groundbreaking paper that forced economists to reconsider the issue. They surveyed more than 400 fast-food restaurants in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania to see if employment growth was slower in New Jersey following an increase in the minimum wage. They found no evidence that it was. Card and Krueger expanded their results into a well-regarded book, Myth and Measurement(1995), and the empirical literature on the question exploded after that. In the ensuing quarter-century, economic research has put to rest what had been a fundamental assumption — that even relatively small minimum wages always cause major disemployment in the short run. Instead, researchers have discovered a gamut of results. Some have found real employment effects (if short of seriously disruptive effects as previously assumed), but a recent comprehensiveevidence review finds that most studies have found small or no effects. That review of the evidence on minimum wages, conducted by Arindrajit Dube for the British government and released in November 2019, is the most comprehensive recent summary of the literature. Dube, a professor of economics at UMass Amherst and a leading expert on minimum wage laws, has found employment effects, if any, are typically small. In his 2019 review, Dube finds that the average effect on employment across the studies he reviews is very close to zero — that is, in most of the high-quality studies he reviews, a few outliers aside, the number of jobs cost by minimum wage laws is negligible. In other words, minimum wages raise wages without much downside. Dube’s review certainly didn’t put to rest the debate over minimum wage studies. Skeptics remain, and plenty of new studies have been released since. There is still disagreement about the scale of employment effects, and about what new minimum wage laws setting minimums as high as $15 an hour could do. We also don’t know everything about why minimums don’t seem to cause a huge amount of job loss. In some ways, this is the most vital research field at the moment. “It’s much more interesting to think of the minimum wage as a flashlight into the labor market than to always wind up debating the employment effect,” Suresh Naidu at Columbia said in a 2019 interview. Researchers are also learning more about how higher minimum wages affect compliance with minimum wage laws, the level of education minimum wage employers demand, and Black workers specifically. But we do know a fair bit more than we did in 1993, and the evidence we have now suggests that in many cases minimum wages are anet good for workers. Even if a few workers lose jobs, those costs are significantly outstripped by increased wages for workers who keep their jobs. Whether that will remain true with minimums of $15 or more, especially in rural areas, remains to be seen —and if $15 per hour passes nationally, we’ll soon learn a lot more about the policy, and about how labor markets work in general. What the evidence says Before we dive into the debate over how a $15 minimum wage might affect the economy, let’s zoom out and review the broader debate over the minimum wage and its effects on jobs. Dube’s 2019 review was conducted at the request of a surprising source: the Conservative government of the United Kingdom. The Conservative cabinet had proposed gradually raising the country’s minimum wage to £10.50 an hour (about $15) by 2024, whereas Labour wanted to raise it to £10 an hour ($14.28) immediately. In sharp contrast to the US, the debate there was about the speed and level of minimum wage increases, rather than on whether or not they occur at all. Dube thus focused heavily on the UK’s own experience launching a national minimum wage in 1998, exactly 60 years after the US set a national minimum. But he also reviewed the evidence in the US, including more recent studies in cities like Seattle, Chicago, Washington DC, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, as well as studies examining minimum wage increases in Hungary and Germany. Dube collected 55 estimates of the minimum wage’s impact on employment across the world, including 36 estimates from the US, and two estimates for the US and UK that he produced for the report. Throughout he sought to estimate the “own-wage elasticity” (OWE) in each context: the increase in wages for a given group caused by an increase in the minimum wage, divided by the change in that group’s probability of employment caused by the minimum wage increase. An OWE of negative 1, for instance, is a “break-even” number: If wages for, say, fast food workers rise 10 percent following a minimum wage increase, then an OWE of -1 suggests odds of employment would fall 10 percent in turn. The median study looking at a broad group of low-wage workers estimates an “elasticity” of -0.04; that is, a 25-percent increase in average wages for a given group due to a minimum wage increase should lead to a 1 percent decline in employment for that group. That’s a really small effect, and one that suggests the benefits of a modest minimum wage hike should swamp the costs. Arindrajit Dube, University of Massachusetts Amherst, National Bureau of Economic Research and IZA Institute of Labor Economics Studies looking at smaller groups of workers more likely to be bound by a minimum wage, like teenagers, find bigger effects: If you include studies looking at any size of group, the average OWE is -0.17. But that still implies that disemployment effects are swamped by higher wages. That evidence base is enough for many labor economists, like Harvard’s Lawrence Katz, to conclude that we know reasonably well that modest minimum wage increases do more good than harm. “I’ve had many students on both sides of these debates,” Katz told me in 2019. “When [minimum wages] affect non-traded goods sectors, which is largely true in the US, they clearly increase the wages for low-wage workers impacted. They seem to have very modest impacts on employment.” The evolution of minimum wage studies Dube’s review is an important summation of a contentious debate that has evolved in interesting directions. When modern minimum wage research began in the 1990s, there were two dominant approaches. One approach, pioneered by Card and Krueger, compared border counties in neighboring states, one of which increased the minimum wage and one of which didn’t. The other, used by UC Irvine’s David Neumark and the Fed Board of Governors’ William Wascher, tracked employment in full states over time, to see if employment fell in the wake of a minimum wage increase. The two methodologies tended to get different results: Card and Krueger found no employment effects, while Neumark and Wascher tended to find substantial job loss following minimum wage increases. Each approach, however, had drawbacks. Card and Krueger’s approach focused on one specific case — New Jersey’s minimum wage hikes — that might not generalize to the country as a whole. The minimum wage increase also might have forced Pennsylvania employers to raise their wages in response, which could make Pennsylvania a bad control group: it’s not unaffected by the minimum wage increase in New Jersey, it’s also affected. The Neumark/Wascher approach, by contrast, relied on comparisons between states that might otherwise be very different. There are a million reasons why, say, employment might have grown more slowly in California following a minimum wage increase than in Arizona. Neumark and Wascher generally used few “control” variables in an effort to keep the comparison clean and avoid “over-controlling” and accidentally ignoring effects that are due to the minimum wage, but critics argued this could lead them to erroneously blame the minimum wage for job losses that were totally unrelated. The varying approaches could lead to different evidence reviews drawing quite different conclusions. A 2007 paper by Neumark and Wascher concluded that the “most credible” studies found that the minimum wage costs a substantial number of jobs. Meanwhile, a paper by Dale Belman and Paul Wolfson first published in 2015 found that most credible research estimates minimal effect on jobs. One thing that happened between 2007 and 2015 is that economists devised better methods. Researchers led by Dube have pioneered a new method of border-county comparisons that extends nationally: starting in a 2010 paper, Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich compared “all contiguous county-pairs in the United States that are located on opposite sides of a state border,” a vast expansion of the general Card-Krueger approach. That creates a much larger sample and enables a nationwide study, rather than one limited to just, say, New Jersey. That study found no noticeable effect on employment. It also tested for spillovers — an increased minimum wage in one state raising wages in the state next door — and found they were negligible. More recently, in a 2019 Quarterly Journal of Economics paper that examined 138 different changes in the minimum wage from 1979 to 2016, Dube, Doruk Cengiz, Attila Lindner, and Ben Zipperer found that much of the disagreement between the Card/Krueger and Neumark/Wascher approaches is attributable to a quirk in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During that period, blue states experienced an economic downturn relative to red states that predated the biggest blue state minimum wage increases; that made it look like minimum wages were lowering employment growth, when what was really happening was that blue states both had lower employment growth and separately increased their minimum wages. “In our QJE paper, we showed that the specifications under argument (lot of controls, little controls) actually all suggest little job loss in the post-1995 period; and that this appears to be driven by the quirky 80s boom/bust,” Dube told me in 2019. “None of us knew this until recently. This is actually progress.” What skeptics argue But new research arguing for substantial disemployment effects has emerged too. Jonathan Meer of Texas A&M and Jeremy West of UC Santa Cruz in a 2016 paper found that while short-run employment isn’t affected by increases in the minimum wage, states that raised their minimums saw slower job growth in subsequent years. This makes some intuitive sense: you might expect a coffee shop that sees its wage minimum rise from $9 to $12, say, to not actively lay off any employees, but to hire fewer people in the future. Meer and West argued that focusing on employment levels, rather than rates, produced much of the disagreement in the literature up to that point, because it made estimates sensitive to what trends in employment existed before the minimum wage increase. This led to a fierce back and forth between Meer and West and Dube. Dube in a 2013 study argued that the job growth slowdown in Meer and West showed up disproportionately in manufacturing, where wages are too high to be affected by the minimum wage, suggesting that their model picked up some noise that wasn’t related to the minimum wage at all — and added that using his methodology to look at employment growth, you didn’t find any effects at all. Meer and West countered that when you add appropriate controls, the industries seeing slower job growth aren’t weird or surprising; a recent paper by Doruk Cengiz using machine learning to decompose the employment effects that Meer and West discuss suggests they’re mostly among higher-wage individuals, which bolsters Dube’s critique. Another skeptic, UC San Diego’s Jeffrey Clemens, had one paper included in Dube’s review. Written with Michael Wither, it estimated significant job losses due to the 2007 increase in the federal minimum wage amid the Great Recession. Clemens argues that other important studies did not get sufficient emphasis in Dube’s review. He names, for instance, a paper by MIT’s John Horton where an online labor market — it’s not Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, but that’s a good comparison — randomly imposed minimum wages for some firms posting jobs, and not others. The firms with minimums reduced hiring and hours worked, pivoting away from low-productivity workers to high-productivity ones. That’s a true experiment, and one that suggests some disemployment effects. Clemens also points to a Danish study examining youth employment. Denmark’s union-negotiated minimum wages kick in at age 18, and, sure enough, the study finds that employment drops by a third when 17-year-olds turn 18, suggesting large-scale unemployment due to a minimum wage. Dube actually did include this one in his study, but notes it’s a very different policy from a broad-based minimum wage. In Denmark, “employers can costlessly substitute higher-paid, slightly older workers for identical but lower-paid, slightly younger ones,” he told me in 2019. “There is very clear reason why you’d expect more job loss in this context, but there is no equivalent for this for, say, a broad-based minimum wage policy.” The online and Denmark studies use credible designs that are arguably better than most of the cross-border or cross-state comparisons that dominate minimum wage research. But they lack “external validity”: It’s not clear that an online task marketplace is a good model for the US labor market, to say the least, and the Denmark example has the problems that Dube notes. Erik Mcgregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images Workers demonstrate for a $15 minimum wage near a McDonald’s in New York City in 2017. A $15 minimum wage All of this research brings us to our current debate over a $15 minimum wage. In 2014, Seattle, Washington became one of the first major cities to vote to gradually increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the University of Washington has been conducting a large-scale ongoing study to see what effect that hike has had. The most recent report from the study suggests that increasing the minimum to $13 an hour (it would reach $15 in 2017) reduced work hours, but raised wages by enough that low-income workers as a whole were better off on average. That doesn’t mean that all low-income workers were better off, though, and the study suggests that many had to find work outside Seattle to supplement their incomes. An earlier study from the project found much larger negative effects on employment. That study came under intense criticism for data limitations (it doesn’t include employers with locations both in Seattle and outside, because the part of Washington outside of Seattle serves as the control group). The effects it estimated were extremely large relative to other studies in the literature, and many labor economists like Harvard’s Lawrence Katz don’t find the research reliable. “The Seattle study is completely uninformative because there’s no comparison group for Seattle,” Katz says. “It’s the fastest-growing labor market we’ve basically ever seen.” Reliable or not, the Seattle studies have gotten outsized attention because they represent the first wave of studies on the new mega-increases in the minimum wage following the Fight for $15 movement. California, DC, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York are all gradually increasing their minimums to $15 an hour; even more rural/lower-wage states like Arkansas, Maine, and Missouri are gradually increasing their minimums to $11 or $12. Dube notes in his review that the best evidence we have suggests minimal job impacts on minimum wages of up to 60 percent of the median wage. The median hourly wage in El Centro, California is about $15.50, meaning the $13 an hour minimum (effective January 1 of next year) is over 80 percent of the median wage there. The effects there might be very different. Dube addresses this concern in his review, noting that a recent study looking at counties that have already raised their minimum wages to over 80 percent of the median wage still found minimal effects. But there’s sure to be additional research as the new wages are phased in, and everyone in the debate, from Dube to Meer, thinks there’s some point where the disemployment effects become too large. What we don’t know is if any wage increases passed to this point will reach that level. “Most of the $15 minimum wage proposals are phased in over multiple years and are probably like $11/$12 today,” Katz noted in our interview. “If you told me we’re going to $15 tomorrow, I would worry about low-wage states. If you told me over five, six, seven years, I’m not super worried.” Clemens and AEI’s Michael Strain are doing precommitted studies on the minimum wage — where they agree to use a certain kind of analysis ahead of time — to ensure they don’t change analytical methods to get a specific result later. So far they’ve found mixed results, with bigger job losses from bigger increases and little effect from smaller increases in the minimum wage. And they’re hardly the only ones who will be looking. This debate will rage for a while Joe Biden’s $15 an hour proposal has made this long-progressing academic debate newly politically relevant. Dube has argued our evidence base makes experimenting with a national $15 an hour wage sensible; Strain insists it will “slow the recovery and devastate many low-wage workers.” The debate may be mooted by the reality in the US Senate. Minimum wage increases are normally subject to filibuster rules, meaning that 60 votes would be needed to adopt a $15 an hour wage. There are not enough Republican supporters in the Senate for that threshold to be reachable. But Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has signaled he’ll try to use the “budget reconciliation” process to pass the policy with only 50 Senate votes. That could make the policy passable this year, and produce a lot of new evidence for economists like Dube and Strain to evaluate. It’s easy to become pessimistic about the prospect that new research can dissolve these old disagreements. Economists Zubin Jelveh, Bruce Kogut, and Suresh Naidu have found that you can predict, pretty accurately, most economists’ views on whether the minimum wage costs jobs based on their existing political leanings. That doesn’t mean that the researchers working on the question are dishonest; everyone agrees that Dube, Strain, etc. are all conscientious researchers who just happen to disagree on this topic. But it does reflect that there are structural forces at work here. There are big monied interests opposed to minimum wage increases, and smaller but real monied interests (specifically, unions) supportive of them, and that political economy naturally leads to a polarized knowledge base over time. “You’ve got to make some normative judgments, which make economists really uncomfortable,” Strain says. Is it worth accepting a risk of higher disemployment for higher wages overall — which seems to be a reliable result of minimum wage increases? How high a risk of disemployment are you willing to accept so that the workers who don’t get laid off get raises? At this point, personally, I think the trade-off at most margins suggests a higher minimum wage is a good idea. As Dube’s review suggests, most estimates of the employment elasticity aren’t close to -1, despite some studies finding effects in that range. That’s a wonky way of saying that even if employment falls, it falls by less than wages rise by, and as such the benefits for low-wage workers seem to swamp any employment effects. I’ve very open to that changing as minimums get higher. But we do seem to have learned something very important since the initial Card/Krueger wave: the old assumption that minimum wages are always unacceptably distortionary doesn’t really hold water. They’re often beneficial. And at what point they stop being beneficial is something we can test empirically, rather than relying just on theory. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.
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Donald Trump’s presidency was the worst thing that happened to the Trump brand
Donald and Melania Trump onstage after speaking to supporters at Joint Base Andrews before boarding Air Force One for the last time as US president and first lady. | Pete Marovich/Getty Images The Trump name used to be synonymous with success and wealth. His presidency changed that. Long before there was a presidency, long before there was even a campaign, there was the brand. Stamped on buildings and golf courses and steaks and ties, the Trump name was bigger in many ways than the Trump reality. Donald Trump positioned himself as a boss and kingmaker on The Apprentice and sold his lifestyle to consumers as something for the very rich and famous. Now that he is the former president, the question becomes what is next for Trump — and what is next for the Trump brand. There are impeachment proceedings in Washington and lawsuits in New York on his docket. There’s Mar-a-Lago, but no PGA championship. Other businesses are backing away from the brand. He’ll have to deal firsthand with how his four years as a polarizing president and political figure affected the life, image, and business he had before he took office. Can he return to his existence as an entertainer, status symbol, and real estate icon? Or have his actions as president, and the scrutiny that came with the title, made that all but impossible? I asked five branding experts what they think of the Trump brand now, how the presidency changed it, and what its future — if one still exists — will look like. These responses have been condensed and edited for length and clarity. Marcus Collins, lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business I think we can probably all ubiquitously say that before the presidency, the name Trump stood in for wealth. It stood in for business, and for being business savvy. There’s this old interview that Tupac gave in like 1996, and he’s like, you know, “we need to take money from the wealthy, from the Trumps of the world.” Trump used that identifier, that brand, and all the thoughts and feelings that come to mind as a means of credence when he ran for office. He said, “I’m a great businessman, I’m so successful. We need to do better business when it comes to how we run our government.” And people who would talk about Trump in those early days would say, “Oh, Trump, he’s a businessman. He’s successful, he’ll run the country like a business.” The challenge there is, first of all, when you pull back the curtains, we see that everything is propped up using scotch tape, right? It wasn’t so true. But that aside, [when he came into office] the thoughts and feelings that were associated with him, what the Trump name stood for, began to shift. And it was no longer about being a successful businessman. In fact, we don’t hear that rhetoric very much at all. “It was no longer about being a successful businessman. In fact, we don’t hear that rhetoric very much at all.” In the last two years of his presidency, his brand has stood for other things: the divisiveness, the misogyny, the xenophobia, and the racism — all of these things that he’s demonstrated in his time in office. Over time, those thoughts and feelings start to associate with the Trump brand. And some people don’t want any part of that. Luxury and elite brands want to signal themselves in a certain way. They don’t want any tarnish on their reputation. Trump is an opportunist. He will probably operationalize [his base] into a media outlet and he will become the face for that contingent. He will be what InfoWars tries to be, what the NRA tries to be, and all these radical fringe ideologies. He has a congregation for him to preach his gospel, and that’s what the brand will be. Deborah MacInnis, professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business It’s important to point out that there are actually two Trump brands that we’re talking about. One is the Trump product brand, which is providing global luxury experiences like hotels and golf courses and residences. Then there’s Trump as a political brand. The two brands are interesting because they don’t necessarily mesh well in the sense that they’re not really targeting the same people. They have very different kinds of messages. If there’s anything that might tie them together, it’s this notion of Trump related to power and status and getting what’s best. You know, that’s what he was trying to cultivate from the political brand. Whether you believe that or not is a completely different story. I think respect is really relevant. ... It’s actually a very strong predictor of brand strength. Based on some research that I’m doing with some colleagues of mine, we found that there are really three strong drivers of brand strength: trust, brand love (to what extent people feel gratified by the brand), and the third one is respect. I think respect is really relevant. And we find that it’s actually a very strong predictor of brand strength. Respect is really about whether people hold the brand in high regard. I think that he had some strength coming in [to office]. But he had not been used to that level of scrutiny or that level of accountability. And I think what we’ve seen is that strength eroding over time. That’s not very surprising in the sense that he knew nothing about the job before he came in. But also from the standpoint of loss of trust, he has not protected people from harm. I think the past year has been, in particular, impactful in terms of the lessening of trust, when you look at the virus and how he has responded. Then when you think about the Capitol riot, it was clearly putting many, many lives in danger and people died. I think of all this — the loss of trust and love and respect — is what we in marketing call a negative spillover effect. What we mean by that is that the tarnishing of the Trump political brand spills over and affects the Trump product brand. Trump still has fervent Trump supporters. They absolutely trust, love, and respect him. We have this term in psychology, called motivated reasoning, where people, because they’ve had such a strong attachment to him before, are not motivated to update their view of him. Instead, they’re looking for more and more evidence that he speaks the truth. But I don’t know if he can recover from this. By virtue of his own actions, Trump the political brand has kind of sunk Trump the product brand. My prediction is that he will try to reinvent himself. So rather than being Trump the product brand or Trump the political brand, he’s going to try to reinvent himself as Trump as some other brand. My feeling is that the reinvented Trump brand will probably be something that even if he’s impeached, I think he’s going to try to leverage somehow his current base so that it stays relevant to them, and that he continues to get the ego gratification that he wants. He thrives on that. Tom Meyvis, professor of marketing and consumer behavior at NYU’s Stern School of Business Morality is something very powerful. There’s a difference between failing in terms of performance and a moral defect, a moral transgression or a moral failure. If your brand’s endorser or spokesperson gets into a morally problematic situation, you really have to cut all ties because that will reflect back on you. “With presidents, when they leave office, people tend to be more forgiving over time. … I don’t think that’s going to happen with Trump.” Usually when people have an extreme attitude toward you, after a while it becomes weaker. With presidents, when they leave office, people tend to be more forgiving over time. The problem is, I don’t think that’s going to happen with Trump. He can’t stay away, he can’t stay out of the focus of attention. He’s gonna keep inserting himself into the discussion and trying to get attention, and you’re not going to get this effect where attitudes become weaker. The people who hate Trump now are going to hate Trump a year from now as well. I’m not saying that he’s not going to make any money. He can, selling to his base — but it will have to be something else and not just hotels and golf courses. I’m reminded of Tiffany’s. Tiffany’s jewelry store is supposed to be high-end luxury and sells very expensive jewelry to very rich people. For a while, they had these, they still have it, the oval tag bracelets. It became very popular with teenage girls. And for Tiffany’s, that was a problem. So they actually raised the price of the bracelet by 60 percent at some point to dissuade these teenage girls from buying these bracelets. Even though they made a lot of money on these, it was bad for their brand. The critical thing to understand is that his customers are not the exact same people as his political base. It’s not the same demographics. There’s going to be some overlap, but not that much. Your brand is not just you, it’s also your customers. Raji Srinivasan, marketing professor and associate dean of diversity and inclusion at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas Donald Trump the swashbuckling, competent, self-made entrepreneur (again, not entirely true) was positioned as an all-American Horatio Alger story that anyone can make it if only they tried hard. He built this image further with his TV celebrity show where he fired people, which added to his aura of a highly successful businessperson. President Trump was well aware of the Trump brand and attempted to use his presidency to build his brand. Unfortunately, the US presidency is a very demanding job that requires strong leadership and management skills, which he did not have. Overall, many things during his four years affected his brand negatively, but especially the perceived lack of interest in governance and very incompetent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. “One way to do this would be to have some of his family members join politics and use their political runs as perpetual fundraising mechanisms” The Trump brand, in my view, is not going away. Yes, being banned from mainstream social media platforms is going to make it challenging for him to reach his followers. Given the fact that many companies and institutions are shunning President Trump and the Trump brand, the brand may have to find alternative ways to grow. He may do this by drilling down on his large following and directly building a political brand franchise, as it is clear that the current Trump brand appeals to these followers. One way to do this would be to have some of his family members join politics and use their political runs as perpetual fundraising mechanisms. However, that may narrow his appeal to mainstream consumers, which is where the Trump brand has reigned in the past, across many businesses like hotels, golf courses, and real estate, which are high-margin, high-profile businesses. Matthew Quint, director at the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School Overall, from reporting of what happened over four years, there were some ups and downs, but it’s not like the real estate properties or the golf courses and hotels generally suffered. At large, they generally were still profitable brands, from reporting that I’d seen on that. So it wasn’t a financial hit. And he was lauded by many of the Republican citizens in our country for a long stretch of time during his presidency. On the other hand, obviously, his brand suffered intensely in the eyes of Democrats and in the eyes of independents. Internationally, he began to suffer as well. While the Trump organization does have some international interests, it’s more focused in the US. He’s been vilified by liberals and he had many critical press stories about his actions, and so from another perspective, yeah, his brand suffered. All the properties and stuff associated with him became part of what some people call “cancel culture,” which I would call “consumer choice.” “All the properties and stuff associated with him became part of what some people call ‘cancel culture,’ which I would call ‘consumer choice’” Had the events at the Capitol not occurred, had that been a peaceful protest, we’d be having very different conversations about the Trump brand. The expectation, prior to the violence that took place in the Capitol, was that the Trump brand would remain a strong brand, most likely transitioning into more of the media side of the entertainment world moving forward. Still, there are many people who will find a way in their minds to separate Trump and what they view as a successful presidency, and a successful vision for the future of America, from the people who took actions on January 6 that were horrible and terrible. There are many people who will separate those two things. And so I don’t see his brand disappearing entirely by any stretch of the imagination. It might not be as strong. I think a big part of the future is: Will the radical right choose to continue to latch itself into the Trump brand and use the Trump brand? How will the Trump organization react to that if that occurs? And one of the big things is happening literally as we speak. If he is officially labeled a seditionist, then all the normal channels of brand-building are no longer open to him. He will be banned and AWS will not host his platform. Twitter will ban him and any brand that tries to associate with Trump. There’s so much happening literally at this moment. So it’s a little hard to know exactly where that will go. How will he move forward if he’s branded as a seditionist by our government?
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Most Americans are open to Biden using executive action
US President Joe Biden walks the abbreviated parade route after his inauguration on January 20, 2021, in Washington, DC. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images There’s strong support for executive actions that preserve DACA and roll back Trump’s environmental regulations. A majority of Americans are open to President Joe Biden using executive action to advance policy priorities more quickly — but support varies significantly depending on the issue area. According to a new poll from Vox and Data for Progress, only 18 percent of likely voters think Biden should use executive action whenever he can to implement his policy agenda, while 41 percent would back him using it on a case-by-case basis and 32 percent do not think he should take this route at all. Support also fluctuates by party: Just 10 percent of Democrats don’t think Biden should use executive action at all, while 57 percent of Republicans feel this way. As the Biden administration has already made clear, there’s a lot that he can do to both reverse Trump-era regulations and advance new ones without congressional approval. Per Vox’s German Lopez, Biden signed 17 executive actions on his first day, addressing a wide range of subjects including a mask mandate on federal property, America’s involvement in the Paris climate agreement, and an extension of federal eviction moratoriums. The Vox/DFP poll, which was fielded on January 6 and 7, revealed strong support for Biden to use executive action on various fronts, including to enroll more people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation. Sixty percent of people, including 81 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents, and 36 percent of Republicans, support this action. Biden on Wednesday signed a proposal that helps preserve DACA and calls on Congress to approve legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for recipients. Biden’s use of executive actions is both a way to expedite rollbacks of Trump’s executive initiatives and a necessity to advance some efforts — like a swift vaccine rollout — given the current political reality. As emerging Republican pushback to Biden’s stimulus plan indicates, getting enough GOP support to reach 60 votes in the Senate is poised to be a challenge, and it could take much longer to advance bills with bipartisan backing. Given this dynamic, executive action enables Biden to move far more quickly to address the urgent nature of the ongoing crisis. The poll surveyed 1,156 likely voters and had a 2.9 percentage point margin of error. There’s strong support for Biden to use executive action on some areas Support for Biden’s use of executive action depends on the issue area. This poll, ultimately, wound up covering policies the president has already addressed, as well as several that he hasn’t yet. Among the subjects that get widespread support in addition to increasing access to DACA: 70 percent of people think he should go it alone in order to increase access to food and housing aid, and 66 percent support his ability to encourage government agencies to use products that are sustainable and made using fair labor practices. Restoring regulations that protect the environment (51 percent), withdrawing US combat troops from Afghanistan (54 percent), and expanding banking services offered by the US Postal Service (51 percent) all garnered a narrow majority of support as well. A few other areas, including abolishing the federal death penalty (35 percent) and undoing Trump’s travel ban (39 percent), were more contentious. Both issues broke heavily along party lines: A majority of Democrats would back Biden taking actions on both fronts, while roughly 19 percent of Republicans would. Biden has already rolled back the travel ban as well as revoked a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, among his efforts. Additional executive actions could well be on the horizon, depending on what he’s able to tackle in this way — and the type of opposition policies face in Congress.
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What Biden can do to fix America’s Covid-19 vaccine mess
Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden on the campaign trail in September 2020. | Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images The vaccine rollout hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped. Here’s how to fix it. One of President Joe Biden’s most pressing tasks is speeding up America’s Covid-19 vaccination efforts. Vaccines are the US’s way out of the pandemic. But the vast majority of Americans — perhaps 70 percent or more, though we don’t know for sure — will have to be inoculated to reach herd immunity or protect at least most of the population. That means vaccinating hundreds of millions of people. The US isn’t on track to do that quickly. Former President Donald Trump’s administration aimed to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. Three weeks into 2021, slightly more than 15 million have gotten at least one dose. The Trump administration resisted a more hands-on approach that could get the process moving faster, while other countries that acted quickly have been able to surpass or catch up to the US. As part of his $400 billion Covid-19 proposal and national vaccine plan, Biden has promised 100 million shots in 100 days, enough to fully vaccinate 50 million people with the two-shot vaccine. But to achieve — and hopefully exceed, as some experts say is needed — that goal, he’ll have to solve problems with the vaccine distribution chain’s “last mile”: from storage and distribution facilities to actual patients. That requires more federal support and coordination to help state and local governments and health care facilities work through staffing, scheduling, equipment, and other concerns. In the coming months, as vaccine distribution expands to a wider population, new issues are certain to arise. While not all of these are foreseeable, experts say there are ways to at least plan for addressing them quickly: establishing backup plans, staying in close communication with vaccinators on the ground, constantly surveilling the supply chain’s many moving parts to clear bottlenecks as they come up, and creating a public education campaign to convince more skeptical Americans. All of this was bound to be difficult from the start. Experts have repeatedly noted that, given both its size and urgency, this will be the biggest vaccination campaign in US history. Some have compared the work it requires to that of the New Deal or World War II. There will be serious challenges and, inevitably, mistakes. But tens of thousands of lives are at stake. More than 400,000 people have died in the US from Covid-19 — a death rate that, when controlled for population, is more than 2.5 times that of neighboring Canada. With more than 3,000 people on average dying of Covid-19 each day, every day that passes without mass vaccinations means another day on which thousands of lives are likely lost. Saving those lives begins with Biden embracing his new powers of the presidency. Biden must fill the void of federal leadership Trump never offered much leadership on the pandemic, with his administration seemingly opposed to a much larger federal role from the beginning. When asked about a more hands-on federal approach to vaccines, Brett Giroir, Trump’s assistant secretary at HHS, compared the idea to a federal invasion: “The federal government doesn’t invade Texas or Montana and provide shots to people.” No one is talking about the Army taking over the Texas Capitol to forcibly administer vaccines. What’s needed, experts say, is for the federal government to provide more communication, guidance, coordination, and support, especially when states ask for it. That begins with the “last mile” of the vaccine supply chain. It’s at this point, as vaccines go from a storage facility to patients, that things appear to have fallen apart in the US. Freezers broke down in California. People in West Virginia mistakenly got an experimental Covid-19 treatment instead of a vaccine. Seniors in Florida waited in long lines to get their shot. Health care workers in New York tried to cheat the system to jump ahead in line. Across the country, facilities have complained they don’t have the staff to administer the doses they have, as health care workers deal with a surge of Covid-19 patients and workers of all kinds fall sick themselves. Others have said it’s impossible to plan ahead because they often don’t know how many doses or what type of vaccine they’re getting from the feds until the day the shipment arrives. The Trump administration suggested it wasn’t responsible for fixing these problems: It sent the vaccine doses to states, and it was on the states to distribute those doses from there. But there are some things the federal government could do, said Nada Sanders, a distinguished professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University. One is called “backward scheduling”: The Biden administration could partner with states to set a goal for how many people to vaccinate and then work backward, going from injecting the vaccine to the factory where the dose was produced in order to figure out what’s needed at every step. This won’t anticipate every single problem, but it will at least give officials a way to prepare. Bottlenecks “can and will occur,” Sanders told me. “It is just part of managing a supply chain. That is why it must be monitored in real time and bottlenecks addressed as they are forming, well before they become acute.” As distribution expands, more of these supply bottlenecks will pop up. Already, there have been reports of shortages of dry ice, small glass vials, and materials for vaccine doses. The Trump administration missed its own goal of 40 million doses to states by the end of 2020, and was still millions short three weeks into January. As we saw with Covid-19 testing, fixing these initial problems won’t solve everything for good. When one part of the supply chain is fixed, growing capacity enables more demand along other parts of the chain, leading to new bottlenecks popping up. The idea is to be ready for these problems and to use federal tools — such as the Defense Production Act, which can be used to boost production of needed materials — to smooth out issues as they arise. It also means working with flexibility and adaptability, given that unexpected problems can come up at any time. In some cases, the feds will need to provide direct resources to local and state governments. This is another area in which the Trump administration fell short: State groups spent months lobbying for $8 billion to build out vaccine infrastructure, but the administration gave them only $340 million. It wasn’t until late December, when Congress and Trump passed a second stimulus package, that the federal government finally allocated the billions states had asked for. Even that came too late. States really needed the money to plan for vaccination efforts before they were underway, and some state officials say they need even more now that they’re actually dealing with a messy rollout. The Biden administration will also eventually have to convince people to get vaccinated, including some of the roughly quarter of Americans who are hesitant. That will require a large public education and awareness campaign, and probably some creativity and help from others — for instance, maybe having Taylor Swift or LeBron James get vaccinated on camera. Trump doing the same could help persuade his supporters, many of whom tend to be more skeptical about needing a vaccine. The US won’t be able to convince everyone to get a shot, but 100 percent compliance isn’t needed for herd immunity and sufficient protection. Biden has already promised much of this in his Covid-19 proposal and vaccine plan, which include more support to states and proposals for mass vaccination centers and mobile units. The question now is how and whether these things are actually implemented. This isn’t going to be easy, but it’s possible The current mishaps with the vaccine rollout are particularly concerning because this was supposed to be the easier part. The first groups getting vaccinated were relatively easy to target — officials should know where health care workers and nursing home residents are and have medical staff nearby. With vaccine allowances now expanding to more individuals in further-flung places, vaccination campaigns stand to get much harder. “I thought the first month would go smoothly, and then we’d hit the big crash as the decisions became more complex,” Julie Swann, a vaccine distribution expert at North Carolina State University, told me. Experts have warned all along that the later parts of the US’s Covid-19 vaccine campaign would be an especially massive, complicated undertaking. We don’t yet know all of the problems that will arise in the coming months as more and more vaccines are distributed. “Ultimately, it is difficult to give [vaccines] out and prioritize it for a population,” Swann said. But other countries have shown it can be done better. Israel is vaccinating people at seven times the rate of the US, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and United Kingdom are also ahead of the US. Countries that got a later start than America on vaccines, like Denmark and Ireland, are rapidly catching up. Our World in Data Mathematically, the current campaign simply isn’t quick enough. At the current rate of 900,000 vaccinations per day, it would take more than 250 days — into the fall — to reach what experts believe could be herd immunity for Covid-19. Many experts have called for finishing the vaccine campaign this summer, before the next school year, a possible fall surge, and another dangerous mutation of the virus. A months-longer undertaking could result in tens of thousands more deaths. There’s no reason the US, as the wealthiest country in the world, should uniquely struggle so much with this. The country has done big vaccination campaigns before — every year with flu shots, in fact — and it’s how America eradicated diseases such as smallpox, polio, and measles within its borders. It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely possible. The key, though, is to leverage the powers of the federal government. Throughout the pandemic, America’s biggest failures have occurred when the federal government was slow to act or didn’t act at all. That was true with personal protective equipment for health care workers, as the Trump administration refused to make greater use of tools like the Defense Production Act. It was true for testing, as the administration described itself as a “supplier of last resort” and left state, local, and private actors to handle the bulk of the work. And it’s now true for vaccines, as Trump’s White House refused to get more involved. This is a national crisis. Every state has far too many Covid-19 cases, based on Vox’s tracker of state epidemics. Every state is failing to vaccinate its people quickly enough — few have administered more than 70 percent of their dose supply. We need national solutions for this. As Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote in the Washington Post, “For all this pandemic has taught us and cost us, it has demonstrated again that we are the United States and, especially in crisis, an effective federal government is essential.” This is Biden’s promise, both on the campaign trail and in his Covid-19 plan: He’ll push a bigger role for the federal government. He now has a chance to show the idea can work. Lives depend on it. Sign up for the Weeds newsletter. Every Friday, you’ll get an explainer of a big policy story from the week, a look at important research that recently came out, and answers to reader questions — to guide you through the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration.
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