“It didn’t take long for the two scientific faces of former President Donald Trump’s failed coronavirus response to speak out about how dysfunctional efforts to curb the pandemic really were under the 45th president.
On the first weekend following Trump’s departure from the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx — both members of the Trump White House coronavirus task force coordinated by Birx — did interviews with national media outlets in which they described a culture in the Trump White House that discounted scientific expertise and put a premium on the type of denialism that resulted in Trump continuing to hold packed political rallies even as coronavirus deaths and cases soared in the fall.
“We would say things like: ‘This is an outbreak. Infectious diseases run their own course unless one does something to intervene.’ And then he would get up and start talking about, ‘It’s going to go away, it’s magical, it’s going to disappear,’” Fauci told the New York Times.
Birx made similar comments to CBS during an interview with Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan, saying, “there were people [in the White House] who definitely believed that this was a hoax,” and adding that Trump had a penchant for listening to people who told him what he wanted to hear, even if that information had no scientific basis.
“I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” she said. “So I know that someone — someone out there, or someone inside — was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president. I don’t know to this day who, but I know what I sent up, and I know what was in his hands was different than that.”
Fauci corroborated that point, telling the Times that in the early days of the pandemic, he was “really concerned” to observe that Trump “was getting input from people who were calling him up, I don’t know who, people he knew from business, saying, ‘Hey, I heard about this drug, isn’t it great?’ or, ‘Boy, this convalescent plasma is really phenomenal.’”
“He would take just as seriously their opinion — based on no data, just anecdote — that something might really be important,” added Fauci. “It wasn’t just hydroxychloroquine, it was a variety of alternative-medicine-type approaches. It was always, ‘A guy called me up, a friend of mine from blah, blah, blah.’ That’s when my anxiety started to escalate.””
“What Birx and Fauci said during their interviews isn’t necessarily surprising. We’ve long understood that the Trump White House’s coronavirus response was a disaster, especially when compared with countries like Australia and Japan that have done a much better job limiting infections and deaths. We’ve known that Trump has a tendency to engage in wishful thinking and has an aversion to scientific reasoning.
But what Birx’s and Fauci’s willingness to speak out in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s departure from office does illustrate is just how bad things were under the previous administration. It now falls upon the Biden administration to try to clean up the mess left behind after a year of politically motivated short-term thinking, in which public health experts like Fauci and Birx had to struggle on a daily basis with questions about whether it was worth it for them to keep showing up at work.”
“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is no longer holding up the Senate organizing resolution — after two Democrats confirmed that they won’t be blowing up the legislative filibuster any time soon.
In the past few weeks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell have been working to negotiate the organizing resolution — which governs committee membership and funding allocation — in the 50-50 Senate. The leaders had previously been at an impasse because McConnell had demanded that Democrats commit to keeping the legislative filibuster intact as part of the resolution — something Schumer was unwilling to do, since it would reduce the party’s leverage in negotiations over future legislation.
Since the organizing resolution could be filibustered — and would need 60 votes to pass — McConnell’s opposition effectively allowed him to block the measure from advancing.
And while he didn’t get the changes to the organizing resolution he wanted, McConnell’s approach still worked, in a way: Amid the impasse over the agreement, two Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — publicly restated that they would not vote to eliminate the filibuster. Without their backing, Democrats simply won’t have the numbers to do a rules change: All 50 members of the caucus would need to get behind a change to the filibuster for it to happen. (This position is consistent with stances both lawmakers have vocalized before.)”
“The 2020 returns confirmed that marijuana prohibition—which two-thirds of Americans oppose, according to Gallup—is on its way out. Fifteen states have now approved legalization, up from 11 before Election Day. States where recreational use has been legalized now include about a third of the U.S. population.
The results also pointed the way toward less oppressive treatment of other psychoactive substances.”
” Americans may not be ready to eliminate all penalties for drug use, let alone recognize the moral dubiousness of continuing to arrest and imprison people who merely aid and abet behavior that never should have been treated as a crime. But the history of marijuana reform shows that incremental changes can eventually lead to a fundamental reconsideration of the way the government treats psychoactive substances that politicians do not like.”
“This is not the first time that a group of Americans decided that winning an election was more important than maintaining a democracy. In fact, it’s because of those other examples that we know which sociopolitical trends to beware of.
On Nov. 10, 1898, following a municipal election that had installed an integrated city council, white elites from the city of Wilmington, North Carolina mobilized a mob that burned down the town’s Black newspaper, killed hundreds of Black residents and forced the newly elected council members to resign at gunpoint. It was a riot, organized and planned in advance, and aided by people in charge of the government so they could stay in power — pesky electoral outcomes be damned.”
“It’s looking more and more like there’s no reason for some of us to change out of pajamas; the evidence suggests that remote work has been a boon for many people and is here to stay. That has big implications for expanding people’s choices about where they live and why. But it may also widen the divide between those can work where they live and those who must live where they work.
“More than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office,” the U.S.-based consulting firm McKinsey & Company reported in November of an analysis of the workforces in nine countries (China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States). “If remote work took hold at that level, that would mean three to four times as many people working from home than before the pandemic and would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.”
Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute (BFI) agree that remote work has gained a larger permanent presence in our lives.
“Our survey evidence says that 22 percent of all full work days will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends, compared with just 5 percent before,” Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis report in a working paper based on data drawn from 15,000 Americans.”
“Eager to drive up prostitution arrests in the name of doing something about “human trafficking,” the New York City Police Department (NYPD) doesn’t much care whether any actual violent crime—or even actual prostitution—is taking place. A new investigation by ProPublica examines how the city’s zeal to look tough on trafficking has created yet another avenue for biased law enforcement and means for police to harass nonwhite residents and communities.
In the past four years, only seven percent of New Yorkers arrested for allegedly soliciting prostitution and only 11 percent of those charged with prostitution were white, according to ProPublica.
“Teams of NYPD officers have descended on minority neighborhoods, leaning into car windows and knocking on apartment doors, trying to get men and women to say the magic words: agreeing to exchange sex for money,””
“”Some of their targets were selling sex to survive; others were minding their own business. Almost everyone arrested for these crimes in the last four years is nonwhite, a ProPublica data analysis shows: 89% of the 1,800 charged with prostitution; 93% of the 3,000 accused of trying to buy sex.
Of the dozens of cops, lawyers and other experts ProPublica interviewed for this story, not a single one believes arrest figures for patronizing a prostitute accurately reflect the racial makeup of those who buy sex in New York City.””
“defendants were often coerced into pleading guilty to avoid dragging out court dates, legal fees, etc. In cases where defendants did push back, the city often settled.
“Since 2014, the city has paid more than a million in taxpayer dollars to at least 20 people who claimed they were falsely arrested in prostitution or ‘john’ stings,””
“”Last year, it paid $150,000 to five young Latino men who said they were laughing off a proposition when they were arrested and $20,000 to a West African taxi driver who said in a sworn deposition that he was walking home when a woman asked if he’d walk down the block with her. He told ProPublica he thought she was afraid of walking alone, so he agreed. He was then arrested.
The undercover officer in his case netted 10 arrests in three and a half hours the night she encountered him, earning her four hours of overtime pay.
Eighteen current and former officers who policed the sale of sex in New York City said overtime has motivated them for years. The hours add up over the drive to the precinct, the questioning, the paperwork. “You arrest 10 girls, now the whole team’s making eight hours of overtime,”””
“China has criticized Britain for opening its doors in this way, but the U.K. deserves praise for acting quickly and decisively in defense of freedom. Bloomberg’s reporting certainly suggests that demand is surging for this escape route.
It is shameful that America has not stepped up to do something similar.
Hongkongers currently have few options for coming to America. They can seek political asylum in the United States—and an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in July does reserve more spots on the refugee list for people fleeing Hong Kong—but to claim asylum one must be physically present in the United States. That, in turn, requires having another type of visa in order to get on a plane across the Pacific. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has slashed the number of political refugees the country will accept: just 15,000 during the current fiscal year, down from 85,000 in 2016.
Britain issued nearly four times as many BNOs to Hongkongers in October as the number of refugees America will accept from the entire world this year.
What could America do instead? Some members of Congress have proposed a bill to automatically grant asylum to any resident of Hong Kong who arrives in the United States and to exempt those numbers from the official refugee counts set by the White House. A more robust idea, proposed by Matt Yglesias in May, would be to grant a special visa allowing Hongkongers to settle in American counties where the population is shrinking, with permanent residency granted after five years.”
“Regal Cinemas announced in early October that it will temporarily close all 536 of its U.S. locations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep customers away. This move affects about 40,000 employees across the country. Yet nobody in Congress is talking about a bailout for theaters.
Now compare that with the airline industry.
In April, Congress passed a $50 billion bailout for the airlines, including $25 billion in subsidized loans and another $25 billion meant to keep most airline workers employed until the end of September. As predicted, since consumers were not yet ready to fly, this taxpayer-funded band-aid only postponed the inevitable.”
“Some companies are taking a different approach to retaining their employees. Southwest Airlines, for example, is asking its labor unions to accept pay cuts through the end of 2021 to prevent furloughs and layoffs. Singapore Airlines has done the same.
Airlines also have access to capital markets and have many durable assets they can sell or use as collateral to secure additional financing, even during a crisis. And even without sacrificing these lucrative assets, airlines can turn to their credit-card-issuing partners for liquidity, as they have in response to past financial challenges.
Sadly, as long as demand for air travel remains deflated, there will be no way for airlines to avoid slimming down their payrolls. Subsidies provided under the cover of payroll programs are not necessary to protect an industry that can, and perhaps should, pursue restructuring through bankruptcy. Airlines can continue to fly safely during this process as a judge imposes a stay on creditors’ claims and gives the carriers breathing room until consumers are ready to come back.
Unlike special favors granted by Congress, the bankruptcy process is equitable. It shifts the cost of the crisis onto airline investors, who make good returns during good times in exchange for shouldering the decreased value of their investments during bad times, instead of taxpayers. Without another bailout, the skies that the airlines fly will be fair as well as friendly.”
“Wiping out student loan debt for American college graduates would benefit the wealthy much more than it benefits less privileged students, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Blacks and Hispanics would also benefit substantially less than balances suggest,” the authors say.
In the paper, titled “The Distributional Effects of Student Loan Forgiveness,” economists Sylvain Catherine and Constantine Yannelis conclude that universal student loan “forgiveness would benefit the top decile as much as the bottom three deciles combined.””
“”There are a number of ways in which debt can be discharged, with important distributional implications. For example, forgiveness can be universal, capped or targeted to specific borrowers. These debt cancellation policies can benefit different socioeconomic and ethnic groups. This paper explores their distributional impacts. We find that the benefits of universal debt forgiveness policies largely accrue to high-income borrowers, while forgiveness through expanding income-contingent loan plans instead favors middle-income borrowers.””
“full or partial loan forgiveness regardless of income and loan size would be “highly regressive, with the vast majority of benefits accruing to high-income individuals,””