• Anonymous Republican Bravely Stands Up to Kevin McCarthy

    Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA via AP

    Great news! At long last, Republicans in the House of Representatives are taking a courageous stand against the wing of their party that traffics in bigotry and outlandish conspiracy theories and that tried to end America democracy. Just look at the exciting headline on this scoop CNN published yesterday: “Moderate House Republican warns McCarthy over embracing far-right members.”

    Wow! So who is this brave lawmaker—this statesman who is willing to fight back against GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and the Trump acolytes McCarthy has spent years appeasing?

    A moderate House Republican is firing off a warning shot at House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as he caters to his right flank in a quest for the speaker’s gavel.

    “He’s taking the middle of the conference for granted,” the GOP lawmaker told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conference dynamics. “McCarthy could have a bigger math problem with the moderates.”

    Specifically, the lawmaker said a number of moderates are upset with how McCarthy, of California, has embraced some of the extremists in the GOP conference and warned it could hurt the party in swing districts and undermine their chances of winning back the majority.

    Oh.

    The story, which was not published by The Onion, adds that this courageously unnamed public servant “predicted other moderate lawmakers would start speaking out publicly if McCarthy doesn’t do more to rein in the fringe members in the party.”

    “Our side isn’t going to take this much longer,” the anonymous lawmaker valiantly concludes.

    The absurdity here is self-evident. I don’t really blame CNN for publishing it—it’s a pretty useful window into how ineffective the non-authoritarian faction of the House GOP has become. Just a handful of Republicans voted for Trump’s second impeachment, or for the January 6 investigation, or even for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Many of them are either retiring or in serious danger of losing to a MAGA primary challenger. The rest of the GOP caucus has spent the last five years desperately trying not to do the right thing, and they certainly aren’t interested in speaking out publicly now.

    In his new book, Betrayal, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl recounts a remarkable conversation he had with McCarthy in the shadow of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on January 2—just days before McCarthy joined most House Republicans in voting to throw out Joe Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Karl noted that day that McCarthy had an opportunity to push back on the increasingly unhinged and dangerous rhetoric coming from the right. But McCarthy made it clear his priority was to avoid angering Trump:

    Exaggerating to make a point about the historical weight of the moment, I nodded toward the monuments along the National Mall—memorials to political leaders remembered precisely because they did things that were both important and difficult to do.

    “Who knows,” I said, “if you do the right thing, maybe there will be a statue of you out here someday.”

    McCarthy laughed.

    “Where’s the statue for Jeff Flake? Where the statue for that guy from Tennessee?” he said, referring to the former Republican Senator Bob Corker who, like former Republican Senator Jeff Flake, had stood up to Trump during Trump’s first two years in office. As McCarthy saw it, both men gave big speeches condemning Trump’s actions and were rewarded with political obscurity. They became pariahs within the Republican Party. Nobody talks much of Flake and Corker anymore. McCarthy believed they ultimately accomplished little by taking on Trump. Their speeches didn’t change Trump’s behavior—in fact, they may have egged him on to be more outrageous.

    So, in his quest to be speaker of the House, McCarthy can vote to overturn the election. He can promise to give influential committee assignments to Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), whose extremist rhetoric got them kicked off their committees this year. And he can back the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) from GOP leadership in the wake of her outspoken condemnation of Trump’s coup attempt. But maybe if McCarthy crosses any more lines, other Republican lawmakers will “start speaking out publicly.” Perhaps they will even use their real names.

  • Republican Governor Says GOP Leader Should Condemn Boebert’s Bigoted Remarks

    Andrew Harnik/AP

    After a video of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) making anti-Muslims comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) went viral over the holiday weekend, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is calling on House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to condemn Boebert’s actions.

    “I think whenever, even in our own caucus, our own members, if they go the wrong direction, I mean, it has to be called out, it has to be dealt with,” Hutchinson said on CNN’s State of the Union after viewing a clip of the comments, “particularly whenever it is breaching the civility, whenever it is crossing the line, in terms of violence or increasing the divide in our country.”

    In the clip, Boebert likened Omar to a terrorist and referred to her as part of the “jihad squad.” Omar responded with a tweet and Boebert issued a quasi-apology the day after the video spread on social media. 

    This latest incident comes at a time when multiple members of the Republican Party are under fire for being unable to behave professionally. Earlier this year, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was stripped of her committee assignments after old social media posts in which she appeared to indicate support for killing her political enemies went viral. Then, last week, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) was censured and removed from his committee seats after he posted an anime video that depicted him murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

    “One of the things that’s really important to us in the future is increasing the civil debate and civil discourse,” Hutchinson said on Sunday. “And we have got to look for ways that we can bring people together, and not divide, and certainly along racial lines.”

    It doesn’t appear that McCarthy will heed Hutchinson’s advice, though. In a statement, the GOP leader said only that he had spoken with Boebert and acknowledged her so-called apology. McCarthy said he had tried to help set up a meeting between Boebert and Omar, but he did not publicly condemn her statement. 

  • MAGA Congressman Falsely Claims Omicron Variant Is Part of Plot to Rig 2022 Election

    Rod Lamkey/AP

    The new coronavirus variant, Omicron—which was first detected by virologists in South Africa—has sparked concerns among public health experts. The United States quickly imposed travel restrictions on certain African countries. Scientists say that much about the new variant remains unknown. But it’s apparently not too soon for members of the US Congress to begin spouting ridiculous conspiracy theories about it.

    In a tweet Saturday, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who served as White House physician for Barack Obama and Donald Trump before running for office on a hard-MAGA platform, dubbed the new strain “the Midterm Election Variant.”

    According to this latest crackpot theory, Democrats are going to use Omicron to “push” mail-in ballots during the midterm elections, which will supposedly enable massive amounts to cheating. 

    There’s a lot to unpack here. When does Jackson think the midterm elections are? How could the Democrats be using a new variant discovered in November 2021 to impact elections that are a full year away? Are the South African doctors who reported it to the World Health Organization also part of Democrats’ plan to steal the elections? What about the other countries Omicron has been detected in? What role do they play?

    Jackson’s tweet manages to hit on two conspiracy theories popular among far right: that the pandemic is somehow being manipulated by Democrats for political gain, and that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. It should go without saying that both of these theories are false. But as we approach the two-year mark in the pandemic, much of the world remains unvaccinated and patience is wearing thin. Ignorant tweets like Jackson’s will only fuel more conspiracy theories about the virus and endanger more lives. 

  • Bye-Bye, Trump Hotel

    AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

    It turns out not even Rudy Giuliani’s bar tab could save the Trump International Hotel. The Trump Organization lost at least $70 million since its opening in 2016, even as the grand hotel became a fixture of Trump-era Washington, a place where the president’s loyalists and sycophants alike could gather in a cozy bubble safely away from the fake news and impeachment managers and sip champagne from a spoon and imbibe cocktails starting at $24 a pop

    The Trump family has been threatening to sell it for the past few years, and now it seems they finally have: The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that a Miami-based investment firm, CGI Merchant Group, intends to assume the lease with the federal government for $375 million and turn the Trump Hotel into a Waldorf Astoria. 

    The hotel had become a liability for a family company that no longer had a steady stream of lobbyists and influence-seekers willing to pay inflated prices for rooms in a hotel that many businesses wouldn’t come near because of the association with Trump. It was by far one of the former president’s biggest conflicts of interest—he refused to relinquish control of the company that ran it. Trump had won the contract to lease the former Old Post Office Pavilion from the federal government by wildly overpaying, and then sinking $200 million into renovations, paid for with $170 million borrowed from Deutsche Bank. That loan, and others, comes due in 2024. Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee is continuing to probe how Trump handled hotel-related conflicts of interest, and the DC attorney general is currently suing the Trump Organization, alleging that the nonprofit created to manage Trump’s inauguration improperly misused charitable funds by grossly overpaying the Trump Hotel for event space to enrich the Trump family. Those investigations are likely to continue regardless of who owns the hotel.

    For a look back on the brief but sordid history of the DC Trump Hotel, check out this Mother Jones story by Zach Everson, who rode out the Trump years in the lobby of the famous hotel, reporting daily on the who’s who of MAGA-world, foreign nationals, tourists, and outright criminals who populated its bars and restaurants hoping to win favor with the 45th president. 

  • I Don’t Know About You But I’m Feeling 22 (and Like I Need a Three-Day Weekend Devoted to Taylor’s Version)

    A 100 percent, very real, very serious note from my Slack drafts … 
     
    Hey boss, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling I’m not going to be able to log on tomorrow. I need several 2-hour-and-10-minute time blocks to do nothing but listen. I need another 10 minutes to watch the Taylor Swift short film. Again. And again. I need another 10 minutes to watch the SNL performance. Again. I need time to Google (again) the ages of Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal. I need time to Google and then examine the photos of them walking down the street together. I need time to Google (again) the ages of Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. I need time to ponder why Dylan O’Brien, a completely nondescript, not very charming 30-year-old and onetime teen star, is suddenly everywhere. I need time to compare what Dylan looks like in a beanie to what Jake looks like in a beanie. I need time to find out if Taylor is actually friends with Phoebe Bridgers. I need time to order a red scarf. I need time to build an outfit around that red scarf. I need time to send angry notes to whoever let Taylor put on that red wig. I need time to figure out who the actress in the bathroom was. (And if it was Jennifer Aniston, did they talk about John Mayer?!) I need a full few hours to deal with the forthcoming video directed by Blake Lively. Finally, I need time to petition the government to make the third Monday in November an official federal holiday due to the fact that it’s now Holy Ground. This is the last time I’m asking you this. And by Wednesday, we’ll be in a cafe, watching it begin again. Sound good?*
     
    *Don’t come at me, it’s a slow news Sunday. 
  • Nearly 200 Countries Just Signed On to the Glasgow Climate Pact. Read It Here.

    Christoph Soeder/AP

    After two weeks of negotiations, representatives from almost 200 countries at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow hammered out an agreement Saturday, laying out measures the world could take to prevent a cataclysmic rise in global temperatures.

    As the New York Times reported:

    The new deal will not, on its own, solve global warming, despite the urgent demands of many of the thousands of politicians and activists gathered at the climate summit here. It leaves unresolved the crucial question of how much and how quickly each nation should cut its emissions over the next decade. And it still leaves many developing countries far short of the funds they need to build cleaner energy and cope with increasingly extreme weather disasters.

    The talks underscored the complexity of trying to steer scores of countries, each with their particular economic interests and domestic politics, to act in unison for the greater good.

    But the agreement established a clear consensus that all nations need to do much more, immediately, to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. It outlined specific steps the world should take, from slashing global carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half by 2030 to curbing methane, another potent greenhouse gas. And it sets up new rules to hold countries accountable for the progress they make — or fail to make.

    Read the full 10-page agreement here.

  • I’m Moving to Portugal, See You Never

    Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    The promise of telecommuting tech was one of the biggest pump-fakes that workers have ever seen. Everyone was going to be able to work from anywhere—sad offices with pallid fluorescent lighting be damned!

    Obviously, that didn’t really come until the pandemic, and in a lot of ways telecommuting chained workers to their offices even more by making sure that their work was always present, in their computers and in their cellphones. Something needs to get done late? It’s not waiting until you get back into the office. Your boss is going to email/Slack/text you tonight to do it. 

    Portugal is done with all of that. Its parliament approved legislation on Friday making it illegal for managers to contact their staff outside of working hours. Now, if your boss tries to contact you late, they can be fined, unless it’s an emergency situation. The only catch is that you have to go into the office every two months to check in with your supervisors and fellow employees.

    And if you have a kid, you don’t even need your boss’ permission for any of this. You can just work from home without getting them to sign off. 

    The legislation was drafted by Portugal’s socialist-led government in the hopes of regaining the work-life balance that has escaped many remote workers during the pandemic. Which is why, as I write this in the middle of my once-every-two-months weekend shift, I’ve also got a tab open for flights to Lisbon. Wish me a boa viagem, will you?

  • Kaiser Permanente Workers Just Scored One of Striketober’s Biggest Victories

    (Kirby Lee/AP)

    Kaiser Permanente reached a tentative agreement with its workers’ unions Saturday, handing its workers a big victory and averting what would have been a historic strike by two days.

    More than 30,000 employees had vowed to strike on Monday if the company did not reach an agreement with the unions. As my colleague Noah Lanard wrote last month, the health care workers threatening to walk off the job were particularly upset over the so-called two-tiered pay structure that Kaiser had proposed:

    Workers’ biggest problem with the wage proposal is that it would cut starting pay for new hires by between 26 percent and 39 percent beginning in 2023. They believe it would deepen an existing staffing crisis at Kaiser’s facilities and put patients at risk by making the nonprofit unable to recruit and retain talented workers. There are also fears that it would lead to resentment among those paid less for the same work, or cause Kaiser to replace the more expensive workers covered by the old contract with new hires. Kaiser’s push for two-tier pay resembles similar proposals from Kellogg and John Deere that have already led to strikes this fall. 

    Essentially, workers feared that Kaiser was trying to create a caste system within their ranks, paying workers who do the same jobs, even side by side, different salaries and benefits. These kinds of moves can splinter workers into different groups of have-somes and have-lesses, making it harder for them to organize in the future. In the end, Kaiser dropped its push for the two-tiered pay system.

    The health care giant had defended the proposed cuts as necessary to stay competitive, but the numbers tell a different story. In 2019, Kaiser gave its outgoing CEO Bernard Tyson a $35 million pay and retirement package. During the pandemic, it made $10 billion. And it made that money while its workers were ground down by the grueling conditions of laboring through a global pandemic. 

    In his October story, Noah detailed the intense situations that some of these workers have had to endure while their company’s bottom line has thrived. Take the case of Hollie Sili, an emergency room technician:

    These days, Sili usually works a 12-hour shift from noon to midnight. But due to staffing shortages, she often ends up staying until 4 a.m. before returning for another shift eight hours later. Last year, she had a stroke, which she attributes to the physical and mental stress she’s experienced at work.

    Or Daniel Stretch, a hospital engineer:

    Stretch, the hospital engineer, estimates that his workload and stress levels have doubled during the pandemic, while pay has remained the same. He and roughly two dozen other engineers are responsible for keeping air conditioners, humidifiers, sterilization machines, cooking equipment, TVs, nurse call buttons, and much more running at their Southern California facility. In pandemic times, they scrambled to push air circulation systems beyond their normal limits to protect patients from COVID-19.

    Or Katie Johnson, an oncology infusion nurse at a Kaiser clinic in Longview:

    Johnson, an oncology infusion nurse at a Kaiser clinic in Longview, Washington, doesn’t see how new hires would be able to pay off their nursing school debts and maintain a decent standard of living after a 39 percent cut to starting salaries. Even at today’s higher rates, she ended up moving to Longview after being priced out of the housing market 50 miles south in Hillsboro, Oregon. She says Kaiser has always operated on a lean staffing model, but that things have only gotten worse as colleagues left the field during the pandemic. “If we can’t attract the talent now,” she asks, “how are we going to attract talent at a lower rate?” 

    Had the strike happened, it would have been one of the largest in American health care history, and it would’ve come on the heels of an uptick of labor activism that observers have dubbed Striketober.

  • Oh, So *Now* Chris Christie Wants to Criticize Donald Trump?

    Dennis Van Tine/AP

    Chris Christie has a new book out, which means the former New Jersey governor—and Trump critic turned Trump ally who recently turned back again to Trump critic—is ready to put his longtime frenemy on blast. Sort of.

    “An election for president was held on November 3, 2020. Joe Biden won. Donald Trump did not,” Christie says in his forthcoming book, Republican Rescue: Saving the Party From Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden, according to the New York Times. “That is the truth. Any claim to the contrary is untrue.” 

    This might sound like a strong criticism of Trump, who even before the results of the 2020 election had alleged that it would be rigged against him, but Christie has waffled in condoning and rebuking the former president. Despite saying that Trump’s election claims are false, he said in an interview with the Times‘ Maggie Haberman he would not rule out supporting a potential Trump presidential candidacy in 2024. 

    After slamming Trump on the campaign trail ahead of the 2016 primaries, Christie eventually worked with him during his post-election transition and even in his debate prep ahead of the 2020 election. But he largely refrained from criticizing Trump until after the election and ensuing violence on January 6. 

    In the interview with Haberman, Christie explains why he held back: “I generally agreed with the policies that he was pursuing.” When they did argue, he said, “it was rarely over policy.”

    Still, Christie did blame Trump’s “rigged” rhetoric for helping induce the Capitol riot, and criticized Republicans for not moving on from the unfounded conspiracy theory. Meanwhile, Christie also didn’t rule out another presidential run of his own in 2024.

  • Lindsey Graham Calls Off His Friendship With Biden for Political Points

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks during a news conference in response to President Joe Biden's decision to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan.Kent Nishimura/Getty

    On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went on Fox News to tell President Joe Biden that their friendship could not continue, on account of “what he did in Afghanistan.” 

    “I will never forgive,” Graham said of Biden’s withdrawal—before continuing on with a gleeful hope of stopping the Democrat’s “socialist train” in the upcoming election.

    Graham does this all the time. With his faux-gentlemanly air, he pays lip service to his relationship with Joe Biden before denouncing his friend’s actions on national television and demanding that he face severe punishment. The underlying message always seems to be: This time Biden has just gone too far! Of course you have to believe me! I’m Biden’s friend

    Graham took a similar tone when he called for a special prosecutor to investigate the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter. He insisted that he still liked Biden personally. But, especially during Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, something had to be done.

    According to the New York Times, Graham called Biden in November 2020 to make amends over his attacks on Hunter, allegedly explaining that he was simply trying to placate Trump supporters. But around that same period, Graham made additional calls to election officials as part of Trump’s attempt to overturn Biden’s presidential win.

    Biden and Graham were genuinely close friends from their time serving together in the Senate. In 2015, Graham told Huffington Post that the then–vice president was “as good a man as God ever created” and “the nicest person I think I’ve ever met in politics.” 

    “If you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you’ve got a problem. You need to do some self-evaluation, because what’s not to like?” he said. 

    How many times will Graham use that friendship to throw Biden under the bus?

  • A Capitol Rioter Was Just Sentenced to 41 Months in Prison

    Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Zuma

    A New Jersey man who was captured on video hitting a police officer in the head outside the Capitol on January 6 has been sentenced to 41 months in prison by a federal judge, the most serious sentence yet stemming from the attack.

    Scott Fairlamb, a 44-year-old gym owner and former MMA fighter, pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer. He was the first Capitol rioter sentenced for violence against the police, and the federal judge’s highly awaited decision will likely serve as a benchmark for how other January 6 insurrectionists charged with violence will be punished. Most other Capitol riot cases have dealt with nonviolent offenders charged with misdemeanors and sentenced to minimal, if any, jail time.

    In a video, Fairlamb can be seen in a camouflage jacket shoving and then punching a Capitol Police officer. Other evidence showed Fairlamb posing with an “AREA CLOSED” sign outside the Capitol and encouraging others to storm the building.

    Prosecutors had recommended a 44-month sentence. The judge, Royce Lamberth, said that Fairlamb’s guilty plea and and expression of remorse earned him a lesser sentence than what other offenders might receive. “Had you gone to trial, I don’t think there’s any jury that could have acquitted you,” he said.

    “I truly regret my actions that day,” Fairlamb told the judge. “I have nothing but remorse.” Still, that hasn’t stopped him from raising more than $30,000 in an online fundraiser since his arrest.

  • GOP Megadonor Announces Plans to Fundraise for Joe Manchin

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP

    Sen. Joe Manchin’s efforts to winnow down key parts of Joe Biden’s agenda appear to have earned him clout with a like-minded constituency: Republican billionaires.

    In a Wednesday morning interview with CNBC, Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone said that he plans to raise money for the West Virginia Democrat’s 2024 reelection campaign.

    “I’m going to have one of the biggest fundraisers I’ve ever had for him,” Langone told CNBC. “He’s special. He’s precious. He’s a great American.”

    Langone is one of the GOP’s most prominent rainmakers, famous for pouring money into Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has also contributed to some Democrats in the past, including former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).

    Manchin’s campaign and Senate office did not respond to requests for comment.

    Manchin has also received public praise from Nelson Peltz, a billionaire investor, who previously hosted fundraisers for Donald Trump in his Florida home. In an October interview, Peltz told CNBC that he speaks with Manchin every week and offers him words of encouragement.

    Langone’s announcement comes as Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) work to reduce the scale and scope of Biden’s $1.8 trillion social spending plan. Manchin has specifically opposed programs designed to shift American businesses from fossil fuels to clean energy, while owning millions of dollars in coal industry stock. He has also criticized a Democratic plan to tax billionaires as divisive and has opposed raising the corporate tax above 25 percent.

    Sinema has herself received an influx of cash from GOP megadonors. Fundraising reports filed in October showed that big-name Republican donors, including billionaire businessmen and private equity executives, had contributed thousands of dollars to her campaign.

  • January 6 Committee Subpoenas Stephen Miller and Kayleigh McEnany

    Stephen Miller

    Evan Vucci/AP

    The congressional committee investigating the January 6 riot at the US Capitol appears to be zeroing in on Donald Trump’s inner circle. On Tuesday afternoon, the committee handed down fresh subpoenas to 10 former Trump administration officials, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller. 

    Both McEnany and Miller vocally spread the big lie that massive voter fraud swung the election to Joe Biden. From the White House briefing room, McEnany made unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting and said that Trump’s campaign was pursuing “very real claims” of voter fraud. According to the committee, Miller participated in efforts to encourage the appointment of alternate slates of pro-Trump electors in states that Biden won. 

    Miller, McEnany, and the eight other subpoena recipients will have until November 23 to turn over documents to the committee. They will also have to submit to depositions scheduled for December. 

    “We need to know precisely what role the former President and his aides played in efforts to stop the counting of the electoral votes and if they were in touch with anyone outside the White House attempting to overturn the outcome of the election,” committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. “We believe the witnesses subpoenaed today have relevant information.”

    The January 6 committee appears to be steadily working its way up the chain to senior Trump administration leadership. Only a day before the new subpoenas were issued, the committee subpoenaed six former Trump officials and associates, including national security adviser Michael Flynn and conservative lawyer John Eastman, who outlined a legally dubious, six-point plan describing how Vice President Mike Pence could supposedly throw out electors from states Biden won. 

    In October, the House of Representatives voted to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt for spurning a subpoena from the select committee. The Justice Department has yet to indicate whether it will prosecute Bannon for his refusal. 

  • New York Cabbies’ Hunger Strike Ends With a Huge Victory

    Mouhamadou Aliyu celebrates a deal that reduces the debt on his New York City taxi medallion from $651,000 to a maximum of $170,000.Mark Helenowski/Mother Jones

    Two weeks ago, New York City taxi drivers and their supporters launched a hunger strike. Their goal was to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city to guarantee the loans they took out to purchase medallions required to operate Yellow cabs.

    On Wednesday, they achieved a near total victory.

    In a course reversal, de Blasio has agreed to have the city serve as a backstop for the debt past administrations loaded onto drivers. That will allow the cabbies, many of whom still owe more than $500,000, to reduce their debts to $170,000 at most. Their loan payments will also be capped at about $1,100 per month. So far, the agreement covers drivers who owe money to Marblegate, which became the largest holder of medallion loans after the bubble burst.

    As I wrote last month at the start of the strike:

    A Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times investigation established in 2019 [that] lenders, medallion brokers, and city officials spent years taking advantage of a scheme to inflate the prices of the taxi medallions that let New York City drivers operate cabs. The victims were the mostly immigrant cab drivers now left with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. There have been three suicides by owner-drivers in recent years.

    In September, de Blasio tried to make up for city officials’ predatory behavior by unveiling a debt relief plan. Members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance—the 21,000-person organization that led the hunger strike—deemed the proposal, which could still have left many drivers hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, woefully inadequate. They proposed a new plan that capped driver debt at $175,000 by having the city guarantee their loans.

    After a month of protests outside City Hall failed to get a response from de Blasio, drivers, local elected officials, and other supporters, launched a hunger strike on October 20. A few minutes after he stopped eating, Richard Chow—a 63-year-old driver whose brother Kenny had died by suicide in 2018 after buying a medallion for more than $700,000—told me he wasn’t sure how long he would last. “This is our last moment to fight,” he said. “I’m risking my life so that Mr. de Blasio can save the lives of thousands of medallion owner and families.”

    During visits to the protest site, I watched his condition deteriorate as he relied on coconut water and Gatorade for energy. By Monday, Chow, who still owed about $400,000 on his medallion, was using a wheelchair. Two days later, after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called in from Washington, DC, to congratulate the hunger strikers, he ate a plain avocado. It was his first solid food in more than two weeks.

  • Facebook’s Metaverse Is for Rich People

    Facebook

    On the unlikely chance that you missed it at the end of last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a 77-minute video during the company’s annual conference about virtual reality that previewed a shift for the social media giant: a new focus on the “metaverse.”

    Speaking in front of a sleek background peppered with just the right ratio of wood accoutrements and, to the delight of the internet, a single bottle of barbecue sauce, he announced that Facebook would be renaming its holding company “Meta” to match its new focus on virtual and augmented reality. The rebranding comes just as Facebook is facing a series of reputational crises, from an ex-employee whistleblower to federal government efforts to break up the company.  

    I have…a lot of thoughts about this metaverse pivot, and they mirror a lot of what’s been said in the tech and business press already: that this may be a lot less about building the all-encompassing virtual world that Zuckerberg is pitching, and a lot more about rolling out a shiny distraction from all the controversy swirling around the company.

    But one question I’m still sitting with days later is: What exactly is it that led Zuckerberg and his fellow executives to think that the way to renew enthusiasm for their beleaguered company is to give people *more* virtual interaction?

    At one point in his video, Zuckerberg demonstrates his company’s vision by preparing to attend a work get-together in the metaverse. He pulls up an avatar of himself, clicks it through a series of different tech bro outfits (“Just gotta find something to wear!” he says cheerily to a hovering screen), and then enters the “meeting” where his colleagues are in their virtual forms, floating, in a room that resembles the command center of a spaceship. One of them is dressed, I gathered, as some sort of giant, red robotic bug.

    Is this what most people want? The ability to attend virtual meetings as avatars drifting through a pretend corporate Death Star?

    Of course not. But Facebook executives are not “most people.” Unlike many of their nearly 3 billion users, they exist in some of the most vaunted ranks of the professional managerial class. They’re among the lucky few who have spent the pandemic in gilded lifeboats, working from plush home offices, riding their Pelotons, and padding out their already ample savings. This metaverse pivot reflects their unfamiliarity with the struggles faced by most people as the last 19 months of a deadly pandemic have upended millions of jobs, homes, and bank accounts. 

    The wealthy-professional blinders here are so glaring that I’m not sure where to start. There’s also the premise that lots of people have the disposable income to invest in the tools necessary to access the metaverse: The Oculus headset, for instance, currently retails for between $300 and $400—while nearly half of Americans would have trouble covering a $400 emergency expense. Facebook, it should be noted, spent $2 billion to purchase Oculus in 2014, and has also deployed nearly 20 percent of its global workforce to work on augmented and virtual reality products—all while contending with the reality that the customer base for this sort of gaming is quite small: VR gaming makes up just 0.4 percent of spending on gaming, in part because it’s just too expensive.

    After nearly two years of pandemic life mixed with wide frustration toward Facebook as a breeding ground for conspiracy theories about the very science that would help us get out of the pandemic faster, it’s telling that the tech titans behind the company have opted to do their reputational rehab by going all in on a virtual play world that no one really asked for, ignoring the real world in service of building up a fictional one where it’s a lot easier to gloss over big problems—and Facebook’s role in exacerbating many of them.

  • The SCOTUS Arguments on Texas’ Abortion Ban Mostly Ignored the People Who Need Help Right Now

    Demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court. Drew Angerer/Getty

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today challenging and defending Texas’ new abortion law through a pair of cases—Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas. Both were fairly technical in nature: The first took on the standing of the state’s six-week abortion ban, which also threatens anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion with a civil lawsuit that could literally be filed by any private citizen. The second addressed the Department of Justice’s ability to intervene when a state passes a law that infringes on its residents’ constitutional rights. As a result, listening to today’s arguments, you could easily forget what is actually at stake: The thousands of people who have already suffered the gargantuan consequences of the law over the two months it’s been in effect—a number that grows each and every day this law continues to stand.

    As I wrote ahead of the arguments:

    It’s easy for outsiders to lose sight of the issue at hand in all the legal hubbub, but the fact is that this is a law that is causing very real harm to pregnant Texans, who are now being forced to seek care out of state or on the internet. I have spent the past couple months reporting out of reproductive health clinics for a book project I’m working on, and I’ve seen Texans seeking care in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee. The one that sticks with me was a young woman who came to Huntsville, Ala. after traveling to Jackson, Miss., where she was told she was barely over that clinic’s gestational limit. She had been traveling for almost a week and was exhausted. She told me it was only the second time in her life that she had ever left Texas. 

    Zaena Zamora, executive director of the Frontera Fund, a nonprofit that works to help pregnant people in deep southern Texas to get abortion care, was unsurprised by this anecdote. “The day after SB 8 went into effect, we had a caller who had to travel 15 hours overnight [by car] to Wichita, Kansas—she was seven weeks pregnant,” Zamora says. She is seeing unprecedented demand for help with travel and logistics. She told me that the group spent more on travel support just in the month of October than it did in the entire year of 2020.  

    It’s not surprising that the court’s focus today was procedural rather than personal, but it is nonetheless frustrating to consider how far removed the people who are affected remain from the legal process. In all the procedural quibbling, the word “abortion” was only said a handful of times, and very little was said about the way the law creates multiple hurdles to abortion care, and, for some, impedes abortion access altogether and forces the pregnant person to carry to term—an outcome that has documented negative socioeconomic, mental, and physical consequences.

     Nearly as frustrating were the gendered dynamics of the courtroom. The sole female lawyer, Elizabeth Prelogar, who is the newly inducted US solicitor general, was repeatedly interrupted and patronized by male justices, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch in particular, while the men of the defense were given noticeably more room to make their case. To be sure, as columnist and legal expert Chris Geidner pointed out on Twitter, the defense approached the judges with arrogance that “reflects both their constituency and the current trajectory of the law,” he wrote. “They probably went too far, for today, but it was a sign of the direction in which they think they can go.” This is not a fight that will be won easily, or through a ruling that will resolve the constitutionality of the ban in a straightforward way. 

    It is unclear when the court will issue rulings in either case, but given the stakes, it’s a reasonable assumption that the decisions will come sooner rather than later. Even if they come soon, though, in just a few weeks the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on another abortion-centered case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which legal minds are predicting will beget a grim outcome for abortion rights. See you back here in a month, I guess. 

  • Pelosi Says Democrats Are “Pretty Much There” on Spending Bill Deal

    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,holds her weekly news conference on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday that Democrats are close to reaching a deal on President Joe Biden’s social spending bill and will lock it down by the end of next week. Pelosi told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Democrats have “90 percent of the bill agreed to and written, we just have some of the last decisions to be made.”

    Tapper asked if there would be a deal by the time President Biden leaves for Europe Thursday or Friday, and Pelosi said, “I think we’re pretty much there now.”

    “You think you have a deal now?” Tapper asked. “We’re almost there,” Pelosi replied. 

    The bill started out as a $3.5 trillion package that included family leave, child care, Medicare expansion, climate action, and free community college. Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have opposed the bill, which is now down to about $2 trillion. 

    Pelosi acknowledged that Democrats couldn’t agree on the bill as it was first proposed, so what’s on the table now is “less than what we had projected to begin with but it is still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America’s working families.”  

  • Scientists in Africa Are Taking It Upon Themselves to Create a COVID Vaccine for the World’s Poor

    An employee at Afrigen works in a laboratory in Cape Town.RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images

    Scientists in Cape Town, South Africa, are “assembling and calibrating the equipment needed to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and most of the world’s poorest people,” the Associated Press reported Sunday. 

    Last weekend, the New York Times reported that Moderna was profiting by sending most of its vaccines to wealthy countries and that “some poorer countries are paying more and waiting longer for the company’s vaccine than the wealthy—if they have access at all”— something my colleague Edwin Rios called “shameful and dangerous.” 

    Earlier this year, Moderna said it would expand its vaccine distribution to poor countries. But as we get closer to the end of 2021, most poor countries still don’t have access to Moderna’s shot, all while the a Massachusetts-based company is expected to make around $20 billion in revenue this year. 

    The move to reverse engineer the Moderna vaccine has backing from the World Health Organization, which coordinates vaccine research, training and production in South Africa, the AP reported. It is a last-resort effort to get vaccines to poor countries in Africa. 

    “We are doing this for Africa at this moment, and that drives us,” said Emile Hendricks, a 22-year-old biotechnologist for Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, the company trying to reproduce the Moderna shot. “We can no longer rely on these big superpowers to come in and save us.”

    Some experts see reverse engineering—recreating vaccines from fragments of publicly available information—as one of the few remaining ways to redress the power imbalances of the pandemic. Only 0.7% of vaccines have gone to low-income countries so far, while nearly half have gone to wealthy countries, according to an analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

    Details around potential conflict with intellectual property are still “murky” in part because the WHO has never directly taken part in reverse engineering a novel vaccine. But WHO officials said the urgency of the pandemic calls for it. 

    The team in South Africa is hoping to have a version of the Moderna vaccine tested within a year, and in production for commercial distribution soon after. 

  • It’s Shameful Moderna Is Sending Almost All Its Vaccines to Wealthy Countries. It’s Also Dangerous.

    A health worker administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson in Dakar, Senegal. Leo Correa/AP

    Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Moderna, the Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company that is producing the most effective COVID vaccine, had shipped almost all its doses to rich countries—more than any other pharmaceutical company with a vaccine on the market. Citing data company Airfinity, the Times reported that:
    About one million doses of Moderna’s vaccine have gone to countries that the World Bank classifies as low income. By contrast, 8.4 million Pfizer doses and about 25 million single-shot Johnson & Johnson doses have gone to those countries.

    Of the handful of middle-income countries that have reached deals to buy Moderna’s shots, most have not yet received any doses, and at least three have had to pay more than the United States or European Union did, according to government officials in those countries.

    Moderna’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel told the Times that the situation was out of the company’s control, noting that the company sought help from governments to help pay to expand its production capacity. He added that “it is sad” that the vaccine didn’t reach poorer countries. Meanwhile, the Times reports Moderna “expects its vaccine to generate at least $20 billion in revenue this year, which would make it one of the most lucrative medical products in history.”

    At one point in May, Moderna offered the African Union doses for just $10 a pop—significantly less than it charged the US and European countries—but they wouldn’t be available until 2022. African Union officials told the Times that the proposal collapsed because of that significant delay. That same month, Moderna committed to sending 34 million doses in 2021—and 466 million in 2022—to Covax, an international program meant to share vaccines with lower income countries. But a Covax spokesperson told the Times the program hasn’t received any of Moderna’s doses from the company (though it has distributed Moderna doses donated by the United States). 

    The choices by Moderna, which disputed the Times‘ reporting that it sent just 900,000 doses to poor countries, speaks to the growing difficulties low-income countries face as they try to obtain life-saving vaccines. To some, like World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the pursuit of booster shots while poorer countries struggle to obtain doses reeks of “vaccine injustice.” And the organization’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, slammed countries like the United States that distributed booster shots before they distributed more doses to poorer countries, calling it “a mockery of vaccine equity.”

    Even as six billion doses of various vaccines have been distributed across the world, 56 countries, most of which were in Africa and the Middle East, failed to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their population, falling short of the WHO’s target by the end of September.

    As my colleague Lil Kaslish reported in August, the continued unequal access to vaccines could prolong the pandemic, putting, well, everyone at risk:   

    Administering boosters in the US while much of the world cannot access vaccines isn’t just ethically dubious. Experts say this could drag the pandemic on even longer, especially while Delta and other variants continue to travel. As long as vaccination rates are low in other parts of the world, more robust variants will continue to crop up. 

    While all eyes are on Moderna currently, don’t forget it’s not alone in its behavior. This summer, the Times also revealed that Johnson & Johnson was producing its vaccines in South Africa, only to export them to wealthier countries. 

  • We Don’t Talk Nearly Enough About How Kids of Color Are Disproportionately Suffering During the Pandemic

    Socially distanced kindergarten students wait for their parents to pick them up on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles. Jae C. Hong/AP

    As kids across the country settle into the rhythm of outbreaks and school closures during the second pandemic school year, a staggering number of children are having to do so without their parents or caregivers. A study in the academic journal Pediatrics, published Friday, found that more than 140,000 children lost caregivers or parents to COVID-19 between April 2020 and June 2021. CDC epidemiologist Susan Hillis, a lead author of the study, told NPR that that number has risen to roughly 175,000 today. 

    Making this more heartbreaking is the uneven way the affliction has been felt by Black, Latino, and indigenous children. Researchers in the Pediatrics study found that American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID compared to white children. Black children were nearly two and a half times more likely, while Hispanic children were twice as likely. “The highest burden of COVID-19-associated death of parents and caregivers occurred in Southern border states for Hispanic children, Southeastern states for Black children, and in states with tribal areas for American Indian/Alaska Native populations,” the authors wrote.

    This reflects the cruel national reality that the pandemic has discriminated in whom it affects, resulting in disproportionate job loss, infections, and even death for people of color. This racist reality isn’t limited to adults. Rather, it is interconnected with how children suffer. Among the 4.9 million children under 19 years old who have contracted COVID over the last year and a half, children of color have been impacted the most. In mid-September, an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that Black and Latino children were not only more likely to contract COVID but also more likely to be hospitalized for it. Even though children rarely die of COVID, Black children alone were roughly 2.7 times more likely to die of COVID than white children. What’s more, Black and Latino children together account for more than 70 percent of those who contract MIS-C, a rare inflammatory disease associated with COVID that has infected just over 5,000 kids nationwide. And in addition to experiencing more illness, studies by McKinsey & Company and the NWEA, a nonprofit that conducts academic assessments, have found deep learning losses for children of color during the pandemic.

    But why do disparities exist among children? The social and economic barriers their parents face, they also face. And those barriers could not only determine whether children get infected and become hospitalized by the virus, they can also determine whether they have adequate access to the vaccines that would help protect them from future suffering. Children of color are also disproportionately afflicted with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk for hospitalization once they contract COVID. Beyond that, CDC researchers have noted that Black and Latino adults are “disproportionately represented among essential workers unable to work from their homes,” raising the risk of exposure for children and other family members to contract the virus. “In addition, disparities in social determinants of health, such as crowded living conditions, food and housing insecurity, wealth and educational gaps, and racial discrimination, likely contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 and MIS-C incidence and outcomes,” government researchers wrote in a study last September.

    All of this speaks to the systemically racist underpinnings of American society. In thinking about this new study, I’m reminded of something Michigan epidemiologist Debra Furr-Holden told me when I examined how her hometown of Flint managed to close disparities during the pandemic: 

    Getting “upstream” of the disease itself, to the political-economic factors that enable its spread and amplify its effects, was hard work. Furr-Holden was under no illusions about why. “We’ve never been honest as a nation about how truly inequitable our society is—how the systems and structures are set up by their very design for some people to prosper and have better access and more opportunity than others. And there’s a cost to it,” Furr-Holden told me. “So many Black and brown people, so many rural communities, getting hit so hard by this pandemic has cost our nation millions if not billions of dollars. Inequity has cost us tremendously. All those Black and brown people that then were fighting for beds and ventilators and hospitals were the reason some of these nice middle-class and wealthy white folks weren’t able to get on those ventilators. Literally, inequity costs us all.”  

    And it can’t be repeated enough: It costs children of color, and their futures, even more.