Let’s dive right in!
Li Zhou of Vox writes about Friday night’s passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package,and the concerns of the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus about the eventual fate of Build Back Better bill.
The result was a major step forward for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but a blow to progressives who’ve long pushed for the two bills to be tied together. Progressives were able to extract a commitment from House moderates to vote for the spending measure by November 15, although that pledge came with an important caveat.
The infrastructure bill passed the House 228-206, with 13 Republicans voting in favor. The legislation was a compromise between a bipartisan group of lawmakers and includes major investments in roads, bridges, water quality, and broadband internet. It’s known as BIF — the bipartisan infrastructure framework — because members of both parties have backed it. Because it has already passed the Senate, it now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law.
The fate of the social spending bill, however, is now uncertain. Moderates are holding out for a score from the Congressional Budget Office before they move forward. And the CBO could find the spending bill would have more than the expected budget deficit impact. In that case, moderates did not say they would commit to voting for the bill, though most of the holdouts did promise to try “to resolve any discrepancies in order to pass the Build Back Better legislation.” Some could conceivably refuse to vote for it at all. In the best-case scenario, a vote on the bill isn’t expected to take place until later this month and then, should it pass, it must still get through the Senate as well.
Aaron Blake of The Washington Post reports that Republicans are in disarray following the 13 GOP votes in favor of the BIF package.
Friday’s GOP defections were even more significant than during the last Trump impeachment, when 10 Republicans voted to impeach the president — a historically high number. And the fact that on Friday they provided the votes necessary for passage makes this even more fraught.
They were also more significant than many, including McCarthy, suggested they might be. While McCarthy previously kept his powder dry on whipping against the bill, he ultimately pushed for his members to vote against it. As recently as last week, McCarthy said, “I don’t expect few, if any, to vote for it, if it comes to the floor today.” In another interview, he was asked about the infrastructure bill and said, “It will fail.”
Circumstances change, but the defections from McCarthy’s party line were significant for the modern era; they notably included Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), whom McCarthy had made part of his whipping operation just earlier this year — the same whipping operation that failed Friday.
John Cassidy of The New Yorker writes that Friday’s positive jobs report numbers could be the beginning of good news for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.
Glenn Youngkin, the victorious Republican candidate in Virginia, used education as a culture-war wedge issue, but he also emphasized the economy, claiming that Virginia was lagging other states in recovering from the pandemic and contending that Democratic rule is throttling job growth. (Surprise, surprise: many of his claims were exaggerated.) In New Jersey, the G.O.P. gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli, who almost pulled off a shock victory, made the economy and taxes the central issue of his campaign, depicting his opponent, Phil Murphy, as an out-of-touch liberal whose big-spending policies were driving businesses from the state.
At the national level, too, there is evidence that concerns about the economy are hurting Biden and the Democrats. In an NBC News survey released last weekend, the President’s approval rating on handling the economy was at forty per cent, down from fifty-two per cent in April. Asked which party would do a better job handling the economy, the respondents to the poll gave the G.O.P. an eighteen-point advantage over the Democrats. This was the Republicans’ biggest lead in thirty years on this question from this pollster.
Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Guardian, shares the good news for progressives arising out of last Tuesday’s elections—and there’s a lot of it.
As for this week’s election, it swept in a lot of progressive mayors of color. The most prominent was Michelle Wu, who won the Boston mayor’s seat as the first woman and first person of color. Elaine O’Neal will become Durham, North Carolina’s, first Black woman mayor, and Abdullah Hammoud will become Dearborn’s first Muslim and Arab American mayor. Aftab Pureval will become Cincinnati’s first Asian American mayor. Pittsburgh elected its first Black mayor, and so did Kansas City, Kansas. Cleveland’s new mayor is also Black. New York City elected its second Black Democratic mayor, and Shahana Hanif became the first Muslim woman elected to the city council (incidentally, New York City and Virginia have about the same population). In Seattle, a moderate defeated a progressive, which you could also phrase as a Black and Asian American man defeated a Latina. A lot of queer and trans people won elections, or in the case of Virginia’s Danica Roem, the first out trans person to win a seat in a state legislature, won reelection.
In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, who in 2017 was the first of a wave of ultra-progressive district attorneys to take office across the country, swept to a second term with 69% of the vote. “I want to congratulate him. He beat my pants off,” said his Republican rival. In Cleveland, Austin, Denver and Albany, citizens voted in police-reform measures, and while a more radical measure in Minneapolis lost, it got a good share of votes. 2021 wasn’t a great election year for Democrats but it’s not hard to argue that it wasn’t a terrible one, and either way it just wasn’t a big one, with a handful of special elections for congressional seats, some state and local stuff, and only two gubernatorial elections.
It is true that the Democratic Party is large and chaotic with a wide array of political positions among its elected officials, which is what happens when you’re a coalition imperfectly representing a wide array of voters, by class, race, and position from moderate to radical on the political spectrum. It’s also true the US is a two-party system and the alternative at present is the Republican party, which is currently a venal and utterly corrupt cult bent on many kinds of destruction. It’s the party whose last leader, with the help of many Republicans still in Congress, produced a violent coup in an attempt to steal an election.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Solnit’s interview with Amanda Marcotte at Salon, where Solnit points out that even George Orwell stopped to smell the roses … and even tended to them.
Renée Graham of The Boston Globe writes about why a majority of white women continue to vote Republican.
White women who vote Republican seek to maintain their privilege. This means voting against candidates who back policies that could alter the racial inequalities that keep the deck stacked in white supremacy’s favor. I’ve long suspected that some white people oppose legislation that would help all regardless of race because what they’re really against is anything that could erode their unearned power by leveling the field for historically disadvantaged groups.
It’s why 63 percent of white Alabama women voted for Roy Moore, a Republican and accused sexual predator, when he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2017. It’s why only 31 percent of white women in Georgia voted for Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, whose victories in that state’s two runoff elections this year gave Democrats a fragile majority in the Senate.
“The elephant in the room is white and female, and she has been standing there since 1952,” Jane Junn, a University of Southern California professor of political science and gender and sexuality studies, wrote in her essay “Hiding in Plain Sight: White Women Vote Republican.” It was published days after Trump defeated Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
Like Graham (I suspect), I wish that we could retire the phraseology that voters vote “against their own best interests.” Voters can and do have multiple interests and voters can and do prioritize those interests.
Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review urges caution in latching onto narratives about last Tuesday’s elections being pushed by the pundit class.
In the days since Youngkin, a Republican, beat McAuliffe, a Democrat, in Virginia’s gubernatorial election—and Phil Murphy, the incumbent Democratic governor of New Jersey, narrowly won a closer than expected race—journalists, pundits, and politicos have collectively unleashed an avalanche of analysis as to the reasons Democrats had a bad night. No single reason, of course, has unifying explanatory power; indeed, many of those listed above are perfectly compatible with one another. Different voters are motivated by different issues, and often themselves contain multitudes: a given parent, for instance, might both have been frustrated with COVID protocols in their child’s school and also receptive to the Youngkin campaign’s dog whistles around the teaching of race; the latter can be both a local grievance against a specific school or teacher and also part of an explicit, nationalized campaign to make “critical race theory” a catch-all boogeyman for the Trumpian right. To the extent that different media takes have privileged different explanations in isolation, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is, rather, how political debate tends to work in the public sphere.
Still, there are a number of reasons why we should approach debates about electoral wins and losses—and this week’s wins and losses, in particular—with care. Firstly, some of the explanations for the results appear less compatible than others, in ways that call for considered elucidation. It’s hard, for instance, to see how Biden’s actions in office have been both too progressive and not progressive enough; it’s possible that voters who instinctively think the former might have been swayed by the timelier passage of his agenda if its benefits accrued directly to them, but those benefits aren’t usually tangible overnight, and in any case, gubernatorial elections are not federal elections. It’s likewise tricky to reconcile the take that COVID has fundamentally restructured American politics with the take that there’s nothing to see here because the new president’s party almost always gets cleaned out in Virginia a year in. It makes more sense to conclude that Youngkin replicated an old political trend but for new reasons, and with the support of a shifting coalition. Disentangling what seems old and what seems new is always an urgent challenge for the press, and COVID has supercharged it.
Jonathan Watts of The Guardian offers a summary and commentary of the first week of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
Even with a stronger US presence, the global roll call remained incomplete. If this were a school register, the teacher would note that some the naughtiest kids in the climate class were all absent: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, president of the world’s biggest deforesting nation; Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of the world’s second biggest oil pumper; and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, president of the world’s second biggest gas producer. China’s Xi Jinping, president of the biggest coal consumer and carbon emitter, was also missing, though at least he had a sicknote owing to the Covid crisis.
India provided the biggest fillip of the high-level segment when its prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced that the country would get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030 and go net zero by 2070. That is three generations away, but still a big advance compared with previous plans. Along with the unveiling of Nigeria’s first carbon-neutral plan this week, countries representing more than 70% of the world’s emissions have now signed up to long-term goals.
If Cops have any value, it is in forcing those who have profited from the climate crisis to look into the eyes of the victims. But are the leaders of the US, EU and China and the CEOs of Exxon, Shell and BP still able to see? This was the question posed by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, in an opening-day speech that brought goosebumps to many of those watching.
Stephanie Zimmerman of the Chicago Sun-Times reports on an investigation into the administration of the GI Bill, spurred by a whistleblower’s complaint.
A long-secret investigation of a whistleblower’s complaint has found widespread and longstanding problems with the federal government’s administration of the GI Bill that could be at fault for veterans and their families having been denied money they were entitled to for college.
The investigation found that, because of bad record-keeping, some vets were shortchanged on their service time — a key element in qualifying to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their children to pay for school.
In a series of reports since 2019, the Chicago Sun-Times has documented how such bureaucratic errors led to the children of long-serving veterans losing out on Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for college. In some cases, families were told they had to repay college money the government already paid on their behalf.
The Defense Department investigation into whistleblower Nicholas D. Griffo’s complaint was completed in January 2020. But the federal agency never released its findings. Griffo provided the report to the Sun-Times, saying he was frustrated that the government hadn’t made it public after 22 months.
Sudhakar Nuti pens for STAT a personal and intense account of his own burnout from treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Academy of Medicine defines burnout as “a syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.” In medicine, there’s a lot of talk about burnout because it is so prevalent. It’s especially common among trainees like me, where an 80-hour workweek is the expectation. I’m supposedly among the up to 75% of trainees who experience burnout, but I find it hard to imagine that 25% of residents are feeling hunky-dory during this pandemic. And Covid-19 has only increased stress and burnout among interns, residents, and other trainees.
It’s not like vaunted medical institutions like the one I’m working for don’t know about burnout. They devise all sorts of ways to reverse exhaustion, like free dinner for a week, listening sessions, or a thank-you-for-working-during-the-pandemic Patagonia jacket, imagining my life can be fixed with an opportunity for reflection and another fleece.
There’s an underlying assumption in burnout discussions: that it can always be remedied with some notion of self-care. What’s never spoken is that burnout is the remnant of a fire. I’ve never seen a piece of charred wood and thought that some time by itself and some water will restore it to its former state. Burning can cause irreparable damage, and I haven’t heard anyone admit that about becoming burned out.
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic writes about a scientific funding program called Fast Grants—a program that arose because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that could be an alternative way to fund American scientific research.
Most scientific funding in the United States flows from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. This funding is famously luxurious; the NIH and NSF allocate about $50 billion a year. It is also infamously laborious and slow. Scientists spend up to 40 percent of their time working on research grants rather than on research. And funding agencies sometimes take seven months (or longer) to review an application, respond, or request a resubmission. Anything we can do to accelerate the grant-application process could hugely increase the productivity of science.
The existing layers of bureaucracy have obvious costs in speed. They also have subtle costs in creativity. The NIH’s pre-grant peer-review process requires that many reviewers approve an application. This consensus-oriented style can be a check against novelty—what if one scientist sees extraordinary promise in a wacky idea but the rest of the board sees only its wackiness? The sheer amount of work required to get a grant also penalizes radical creativity. Many scientists, anticipating the turgidity and conservatism of the NIH’s approval system, apply for projects that they anticipate will appeal to the board rather than pour their energies into a truly new idea that, after a 500-day waiting period, might get rejected. This is happening in an academic industry where securing NIH funding can be make-or-break: Since the 1960s, doctoral programs have gotten longer and longer, while the share of Ph.D. holders getting tenure has declined by 40 percent.
Fast Grants aimed to solve the speed problem in several ways. Its application process was designed to take half an hour, and many funding decisions were made within a few days. This wasn’t business as usual. It was Operation Warp Speed for science.
Next, here are two stories about the continuing efforts to form a coalition government in Germany.
First, Laurenz Gehrke and Joshua Posaner write for POLITICO Europe about disagreements among the three political parties about climate change.
Coalition talks between the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) are stuttering over climate policy, with the three sides squabbling over how far-reaching their plans should be. The dispute has prompted the Greens to call on environmental groups to ramp up pressure as global leaders meet in Glasgow for the COP26 summit.
The Greens want to bring forward Germany's coal phaseout date from 2038 and end the sale of combustion engine vehicles by 2030. They also want to create a climate ministry that would have the right to veto any other government decision to ensure policies fall in line with the Paris climate agreement.
The Free Democrats are against such a veto, for example, as well as any bans on cars. The parties are also split over carbon pricing, with the Greens cautious on EU plans to expand the bloc's emissions trading system — a market to buy and swap emissions allowances — to cover fuels for road transport and heating.
Next, the Der Speigel investigative reporting team of Christiana Hoffman, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Christoph Schult, Severin Weiland, and Matthias Gebauer present a fascinating and detailed behind-the-scenes look at the sausage-making of a German coalition foreign policy working group.
The working group is hammering out policy for three portfolios: foreign policy, defense and development. Very little was said about these issues during the campaign, and the exploratory talks didn’t touch on them much either, with the three parties preferring to paper over their differences. Now, though, clarity must be found on the most significant issues: Germany’s relationships with the U.S., China and Russia; the future of NATO; the German military’s overseas profile; and Germany’s role in the world.
The bickering began already with the length of the joint paper. The leaders of the three parties involved decreed that the working group could only produce a maximum of five pages in Calibri font size 11, with 1.5 line spacing. No time is allowed for renegotiations and the finished paper must be submitted by 6 p.m. next Wednesday.
Some Green Party working group members, though, are rebelling against these parameters. It is impossible, they say, to outline the policy of three cabinet portfolios on just five pages. The SPD, meanwhile, has held firm. "It’s not going to change,” says an SPD member involved in the negotiations. "You can complain all you want, but it won’t help.”
Finally, while I frequently disagree with The New York Times columnist John McWhorter’s more political takes on language and linguistics, when he leans more into the linguistics side of the spectrum, he’s a wonderful read. Granted, the line between politics and linguistics can sometimes be so thin as to not even be recognizable.
All of this is to say that McWhorter put his foot in this column on the evolution of the English language.
[B]ecause English doesn’t have the long lists of endings that some languages have, it can seem as if our language’s grammar is kind of dull. But there’s so much that we just aren’t trained to see. In Cantonese, for example, there are lots of particles that you place at the end of a sentence to convey countless degrees of sentiment. “Nei hai gam jat faan uk kei?” means just “You’re returning home today?” But “Nei hai gam jat faan uk kei gaa?” can lend a note of displeasure, as in “You’re returning home today? Seriously?”
English doesn’t have as much as Cantonese by way of particles like this. But think about what the “be” in “Don’t be telling me you can’t make it” means — that same skeptical note. Similar is “go and” if we say, for example, “Now he’s going to go and shut it all down.” It conveys disapproval of what’s about to happen, even though by itself “go and” means no such thing (nor does “be”). In terms of marking the passive, the way we’re taught is with forms of “be”: “He was included.” But what about the one with “get”? “He got hurt,” “He got laid off,” “He got hit.” English has a neutral passive — and a special passive that you use for something negative or unexpected. Note how saying, “In the battle he was hurt” sounds more clinical and less real than saying that “he got hurt,” because “be” elides that getting hurt was something bad that came as a surprise.
I also hear English as having all kinds of coded ways to throw shade, of a kind that learners could be taught just as carefully as they are taught something as straightforward as putting an “s” on a verb in the third person singular. These aren’t idioms in the sense of “call it a day” or “on the ball”; they’re grammar. Black English has even more such constructions, using the otherwise neutral verb “come”: “He come saying nobody knew until today” implies that you’re not happy with him. Black English even has a future perfect of disapproval: “I’ll be done left if she tries getting here late again.” (I owe this observation about this construction to the linguist and poet Alysia Harris.)
If The New York Times Magazine were to revive William Safire’s “On Language” column with McWhorter as the columnist, I’d put up with McWhorter’s occasionally wretched political opinions, tbh.
Everyone have a great day!