Welcome back to TGIF, the weekly roundup of the news we’re watching, reading, sharing, and obsessing over.
Below you’ll find a short examination into why Biden’s would-be signature legislation is stalling, glimmers of reform in our most progressive cities, and what you might have missed this week at Common Sense.
And because I’m taking off next week—and because this isn’t a Starbucks—Merry Christmas!
→ Public schools reckon with plummeting enrollment: Across the country, public schools are losing students en masse. In New York City, enrollment is down by 64,000 since the pandemic started. Chicago Public Schools’ enrollment has plummeted by 25,000, or 7%, of students. San Francisco is in the same boat: the city’s lost 3,500 students and is facing a budget crisis as funding goes with them. Either playing hooky has gotten a lot more popular, or charter schools, private schools, homeschool collectives and parochial schools are eating Randi Weingarten’s lunch. What do all those have in common? They’re doing something radical: trying to stay open and educate children.
→ The texts begging for a better Trump: Frantic text messages to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows show prominent Fox News hosts begging him to get the president on the air to help quell the January 6 rioters. Laura Ingraham: “Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home...this is hurting all of us...he is destroying his legacy.” And here’s Trump Jr: “He's got to condemn this s*** Asap. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.” Meanwhile, on TV, they were singing a very different tune. Here’s Ingraham on January 6: “Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd. We’ll have more on that later.” I guess I assumed Fox hosts believed what they were saying, even the lies. Naive of me.
→ A Kentucky tornado and the old left: A tornado outbreak tore through the midwest on December 10, killing more than 80 people. Many are still missing. Some factory and warehouse workers in the region say their bosses threatened to fire them if they left their posts to go home. In the last decade, corporations have been able to placate the American left with rainbow flags and diversity trainings. It would be interesting if this tornado—and the reports from inside a candle factory and Amazon warehouse—reignites something of the old, real labor movement. We hope so. The candle factory workers have filed suit.
→ A water fountain just for white kids, but don’t worry we’re the good guys: A Colorado public school is proudly hosting “Families of Color Playground Night.” The district tells Common Sense over email that the racialized play times are meant to foster “a culture of inclusion and belonging.”
→ AmeriKKKan parochialism: The Pew Research Center has a new poll out that shows what anyone alive the last decade can feel: more than half of young Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say that other countries are better than the U.S. The first time I met a strapping young man who spelled it AmeriKKKa, I almost laughed. Now, a few dozen AmeriKKKas later, I’m less fazed. But please: Travel. (Somewhere other than Scandinavia, where you gotta hand it to them, they’ve built a good life.) Travel and tell people you meet how lucky they are to not be in AmeriKKKa. See how it goes.
→ Horseshoe theory in action: A far-right boy gang called the Proud Boys and a black separatist gang called Black Hammer announced they would be joining forces. They’re both awful. I wish them only chaos. For more on horseshoes, read our friend David French.
→ BuzzFeed’s not-so-viral IPO: BuzzFeed stock is down 40% from its debut earlier this month. Meanwhile, former employees were locked out of trading. To add insult to injury, the entire New York City media world seems to have caught Covid.
→ New Biden bucks for anti-racism: New rules from the Department of Health and Human Services allow doctors to boost their Medicare reimbursement rates by showing their “commitment to anti-racism” through “creating and implementing an anti-racism plan,” reports Common Sense favorite Aaron Sibarium, of the Free Beacon.
→ Signs of change, New York City: While the anti-racism movement in education has been on its way to eliminating all measures of merit and academic success, one charismatic obstacle has come in the way: The new mayor of New York, Eric Adams. Here’s his new schools chancellor, upsetting all the right people. The shift away from the De Blasio woke pablum toward smart moderates is a huge win for families.
The next obstacle for NYC: crime. The homicide rate there is still double what it was two years ago.
→ Signs of change, San Francisco: Speaking of wins, San Francisco’s mayor London Breed led a press conference about getting tough on crime and vowed to fight “the bullshit that has destroyed our city.” Not only that, but she’s championing a new city amendment to rein in the school board, which spent the pandemic declaring Abraham Lincoln too vile to have a school named for him and agreeing among one another that merit and tests are racism.
The next obstacle for SF: recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin on June 7.
→ If we had to be in prison, we would all pick the women’s section: Scotland police agreed to log rapes as being committed by a woman if the person caught raping identifies as female at the moment. A lot of the West is reckoning with this right now, but the general direction things are going in is that biological males will be able to opt in to being held in female prisons. The best response comes from JK Rowling, who continues to insist on women’s rights and women’s-only spaces. Last we checked that’s good feminism.
Build Back Better, Biden’s signature piece of legislation, is stalling out. The president has a majority in the House and the Senate, and he still can’t get the thing passed. Build Back Better’s $1.85 trillion price tag was supposed to be a big investment in families—and a big divestment from greenhouse gasses. But it seems that a lot of the specific policies in the bill just aren’t very good.
Personally, I would like a big, smart environmental package to pass, one that actually makes air and water better. We live in Los Angeles where the tap water and the air is bad: I have to filter our air and water at home. I don’t want crappy water and bad air. A big eco-overhaul is appealing. So: why can’t the Democrats get it done?
I called up the smart democratic socialist Matt Bruenig to help explain. His writing—and the think tank he runs—has made me change my mind many times (even as I remain a happy capitalist). Bruenig’s been sharply critical of elements of Build Back Better, including in finding that the Democrats’ child care plan would actually increase costs for middle class families.
So why is this the best our leaders can come up with right now?
“You mean, why do all the proposals have sucky designs? They all suck in some way,” Bruenig said.
Here’s one example of suckiness: Bruenig found that the cost of Biden’s proposed Pre-K program was presented as artificially low. In order to lower the sticker price, Democrats (and the Congressional Budget Office) had to assume that around 40% of American children would be in states that would likely opt out of the pre-K plan.
“It’s easy to cut the cost of a benefit if you just don’t give it to 40% of kids,” Bruenig said. “It’s kind of a gimmick. They were a little two-faced about it. Publicly they say everyone will participate.”
It’s one thing to play politics. But Bruenig said that even in private, organizing calls, advocates were less than upfront.
“They’re saying, ‘I don’t think any state will opt out.’ You’re on a call! It’s one thing to say that to the press, and you’re just bullshitting everyone because you’re trying to pep them up,” Bruenig said. “At some point someone needs to step in and say, ‘You need to change the design.’”
He added: “I think the institutions that create policies for the Democratic Party, they’re not up to the task. They’re not willing to be honest.”
To pick another bizarre Build Back Better scheme, there’s a tax credit for electric vehicles. Then . . . another tax credit if they’re assembled domestically. But it has to be by union workers—a boon for General Motors, a thumb in the eye of Tesla. There’s yet another credit if the battery is made in the U.S.
Little of this has anything to do with getting gas cars off the road, said Ryan Bourne, an economist at the Cato Institute who has been writing about Build Back Better. “Those aspects have nothing to do with reducing carbon emissions,” he said. “Instead it’s a kind of crony capitalist handout to Democrat constituencies.”
Reads to get mad about:
No Mai Tais for you. Do you want tens of thousands of words in the best newspapers in America about how tiki bars are racist? Oh, you don’t? Too bad. Tiki bars are colonialism, says Eater. They are cultural appropriation says The Los Angeles Times. The New York Times says their past is underexamined. And this week a Chicago blog offers the latest in a couple years of very long pieces about how tiki bars are very bad.
No shallots, either: Meanwhile, the New Yorker this week offers 8,000 words on the young chef Alison Roman, who was cancelled and lost her New York Times column for calling Chrissy Teigen a sellout a year and a half ago. Roman comes out on top–it turns out she’s a hustler who never went to college. The profile is full of dings like: “but she has little to say about the sustainability of tuna.” Follow @micsolana for more, since I’m cribbing from his funny riff on this.
If you want to get really mad, I suggest this editorial advocating for shutting down California’s last nuclear power plant. In trying to understand why otherwise-smart liberals oppose the best, cleanest energy humans have ever created, I found this helpful Scientific American piece from 2013: “Top 5 reasons why intelligent liberals don’t like nuclear energy.”
Very good reads:
Jonah Goldberg, the anti-Trump conservative commentator who resigned from Fox News in November, has a powerful essay this week on what he saw as the rot inside the organization. His story begins with a great first line: “Screw it. I’ve shown a good deal of restraint.”
Jane Coaston, the Times podcaster, muses on the red v blue divide in cultural consumption. As John Podhoretz pointed out in November, the HBO show “Succession” is the media obsession, and if you read the Times you’d think it was the biggest show in the world. But it is watched by around 1.8 million people. The drama “Yellowstone,” on the other hand, features an almost identical plot only with ranchers, but has gotten almost no mainstream media coverage. Turns out 14.7 million people watch it.
The Atlantic came out with two Covid stories, and they should be read as a pair.
In the Rural America corner, there is Matthew Walther who writes: “Where I Live, No One Cares About Covid.” This happy essay sums up the mood in conservative circles. (Walther also edits The Lamp, a journal of Catholic writing.) Representing the Urban Liberal is Ian Bogost and the headline reads as a cry for help: “I’m Starting to Give Up on Post-Pandemic Life.” It’s full of lines like this: “The new despair wells up from the gap between what we knew and what we did, like sulfur seeping from deep-sea vents.” And: “Everyone knows the past is gone, but now the past’s future feels lost too. I hope it’s not, but I can’t shake the feeling.” Living through the pandemic in cities has been hard. But at this point, the zero-Covid ideology is unhealthy, and it’s driving its adherents crazy.
And if you want candy, I recommend this incredible review of the worst Michelin-starred restaurant, where I now desperately need to dine.
This week on Common Sense:
Bari interviewed Kim Kardashian. You may balk. Here’s why you shouldn’t: Through the chaos of the spastic culture wars these last few years, Kardashian has mostly stayed above the fray. She passed the first part of the two California bar exams this week (known as “the baby bar”) and seems poised to become a more political figure. On the podcast, Kardashian talked about being too quick to judge her ex-husband’s Trump hat, about cancel culture, and came out as being part of the vast political middle. We’re ordering these shirts.
Amanda Knox weighed in on the trials of Ghislaine Maxwell and Elizabeth Holmes.
And this is cool: Bari and Abigail Shrier were both cited (and on the same page!) of a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion this week. Check out page 21.
Thank you, as always, for reading. And thank you for subscribing, which allows us to do this work: