Knock On Wood
January 20, 2021
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“Justice requires us to remember that when any citizen denies his fellow, saying, ‘His color is not mine,’ or ‘His beliefs are strange and different,’ in that moment he betrays America, though his forebears created this nation.” — Lyndon B. Johnson, 1st Inaugural Address
“The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.” — Barack Obama, 1st Inaugural Address
Knock On Wood, No More Trump
(Samuel Corum via Getty Images)
Today America’s government transitions from one administration to the next, carrying with it renewed hopes for a return to what used to be considered normality. As Donald Trump’s aberrant presidency ends, we look back at some of the biggest domestic policy changes along the four year rollercoaster ride and its two subsets: pre-pandemic (January 2017 to March 2020) and post-pandemic.
Pre-pandemic: Barack Obama left President Trump a steadily-recovering economy brought back from the depths of the 2008 recession. The unemployment rate had lowered significantly by the start of 2017, and continued doing so. Trump’s landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took effect January 1, 2018, and, although it led the way for significant spending and raised the deficit to over a trillion dollars by 2020, it stifled rising interest rates and pushed economic growth to over 3%. Wages inched up for lower-income jobs, and the gap between Black and white unemployment was narrowing.
The administration’s flurry of deregulation and environmental-protection rollbacks bolstered the fossil fuel and timber industries, as Trump’s crackdown on immigration ramped up border security employment and construction jobs. Promises to revive automobile manufacturing and coal mining were short-lived, while damage to habitats and conservation continues. But the stock market surged, thanks to the combination of corporate tax cuts, tons of business-friendly deregulation, and continued economic growth.
The economy could have done even better but for Trump’s trade wars. His willingness to use unilateral tariffs and fight — not only with adversaries like China, but allies like Canada and Germany — rattled the world trade order, cost US companies billions, and was a drag on growth and jobs. In 2019, three Federal Reserve rate cuts helped blunt the impact, but taxpayers spent billions in subsidies paid to US farmers to make up for the loss in sales to China.
Post-pandemic: Trump’s good-looking economy fled. His handling of the public health crisis and subsequent vaccine rollout has been an abysmal failure, undoubtedly leaving lasting economic scars. Thousands of small businesses have folded, unemployment has skyrocketed, and over 400,000 Americans have died. That a post-pandemic bull market continues to flourish is likely attributable to being propped up by the Federal Reserve, continuing low-interest rates, Congress’s injection of coronavirus relief aid, and a new administration.
Russian The Opposition Leader Off To Jail
(Kirill Kudryavtsev via Getty Images)
- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested at a Moscow airport Sunday upon returning from Germany. He’d been recuperating there after nearly dying from a poisoning attempt last August that he blames President Vladimir Putin for ordering.
- After his arrest, Navalny posted a video on YouTube urging his supporters to continue protesting “for yourselves and your future.” In 2014 the opposition leader was convicted of embezzlement and received a suspended 3.5-year sentence. Later the European Court of Human Rights ruled Russia had denied Navalny a fair trial.
- The probationary period ended December 30, 2020 when Navalny was still in Germany, but Russian authorities warned he’d be arrested if he returned. Now a Moscow court will rule next month on whether Navalny’s suspended sentence in the embezzlement case will be converted into a prison sentence. His supporters plan to organize nationwide protests on January 23. (NPR)
Turks Becoming Anti-Social
- Last Summer Turkey’s parliament passed a controversial bill that gives the government significant control over social media. The law requires companies to appoint a local representative with authority to take down contentious posts.
- Social media companies that don’t appoint representatives are liable for a series of penalties to be imposed by Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK). New rules passed in October required platforms with more than one million daily users to open commercial offices in Turkey to implement local court orders to remove offending content within 48 hours.
- In November, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, YouTube, and TikTok were ordered to pay more than $1.1 million for not abiding by the internet legislation. On Tuesday BTK hit Twitter, Pinterest, and Periscope with advertising bans after they failed to follow Facebook and appoint a local representative to take down contentious posts. (Al Jazeera)
Additional World News
- Iran holds fifth military drill in two weeks amid tension with US (Al Jazeera)
- Italy PM Conte faces crucial Senate vote to stay in power (BBC)
- Saudi Arabia death penalty: Executions fall to lowest rate in years (WaPo, $)
- Hospitals in Japan close to collapse as serious Covid cases soar (Guardian)
- Germany: New COVID variant discovered, extended lockdown looms (Al Jazeera)
- ‘Eye watering’: top police officer laments rate of stop and search on young black men (Guardian)
- In Tunisia, Some Wonder if the Revolution Was Worth It (NYT, $)
- Swiss gov’t urges voters to reject niqab ban in March referendum (Al Jazeera)
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Amazon Union In Primetime
- Some 6,000 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will begin voting next month on whether to form the first American union in the company’s history.
- Last Friday the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) mediated between management and retail workers’ representatives over who should be included in the bargaining unit and how the vote should take place. Both parties agreed that hundreds of seasonal workers should be eligible to cast ballots. The NLRB rejected Amazon’s calls for a traditional in-person vote over coronavirus concerns, instead scheduling the vote by mail beginning February 8 and continuing through March 29.
- Unions are a prominent presence at Amazon in Europe, but the company has successfully fought off labor organizing efforts in the US. Longtime Amazon critic, Senator Bernie Sanders, supported the unionization effort. If a majority approves, the workers will join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. (NPR)
Janet’s Yellen At All The Republicans
- Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, appeared Tuesday for her confirmation hearing before Senate Finance Committee members. She responded to scathing GOP criticism of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan by saying it was “critically important to act now” on economic relief.
- Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called Biden’s plan a “laundry list of liberal structural economic reforms,” but Yellen argued the plan would help, not hurt, the country’s ballooning debt. She also disputed GOP arguments that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost jobs.
- Yellen, 74, is an economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve. She insisted that more spending is needed immediately to address the raging pandemic and prop up the economy, saying: “The most important thing … we can do today to put us on a path to fiscal sustainability is to defeat the pandemic, to provide relief to American people, and then make long-term investments that will help the economy grow.” (WaPo, $)
Additional USA News
- Memphis-Area Residents Without Internet Must Wait Days for Vaccination Appointments, While Others Go to the Front of the Line (ProPublica)
- Factbox: Biden plans to reverse Trump policies during first days in office (Reuters)
- The Trump business backlash: Corporate ‘woke-washing’ or new era? (Al Jazeera)
- Rachel Levine, transgender woman, picked by Biden as assistant HHS secretary (WaPo, $)
- Parler Executive Responds To Amazon Cutoff And Defends Approach To Moderation (NPR)
- Pentagon Accelerates Efforts to Root Out Far-Right Extremism in the Ranks (NYT, $)
- Thomas Edward Caldwell was charged with conspiracy in the plot against the Capitol (WaPo, $)
- Trump’s 1776 Commission Critiques Liberalism in Report Derided by Historians (NYT, $)
‘Savior Of The World,’ But Couldn’t Stop A Theft
- A 500-year-old painting, stolen from the Doma Museum collection at the San Domenico Maggiore church in Naples, Italy, was found in a bedroom cabinet in a Naples’ flat. The flat’s 36-year-old owner was arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen goods.
- Museum staff were unaware the painting was missing because “the room where the painting is kept has not been open for three months” due to the coronavirus pandemic. No one had reported the artwork missing, and there were no signs of a break-in. The museum said the piece had been in its possession as recently as last January.
- The painting is a copy of the original Salvator Mundi, or Savior of the World, thought to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci sometime after 1505. The artwork shows Christ with one hand raised, and the other holding a glass sphere. Experts believe the copy was painted by one of Leonardo’s students, possibly Giacomo Alibrandi, in the early 1500s.
- The original Salvator Mundi became the most expensive painting ever sold when Christie’s auctioned it off in 2017 for $400 million. It is believed to be his only work in private hands. It remains shrouded in mystery, however, because despite being authenticated by the auction house, whether it’s truly an authentic work by Leonardo da Vinci is disputed. Leonardo died in 1519 and there are fewer than 20 of his paintings in existence.
- A Bitter Archaeological Feud Over an Ancient Vision of the Cosmos (NYT, $)
- NASA Is Training an AI to Detect Fresh Craters on Mars (Wired). They’ve given up on humans.
- ONA: Vegan restaurant becomes first in France to get Michelin star (BBC)
- Egyptian chef arrested after making cupcakes with penis decorations (Guardian).
- How Climbers Reached the Summit of K2 in Winter for the First Time (NYT, $). Still no progress on K3.
- The Ongoing Collapse of the World’s Aquifers (Wired)
- Scientists surprised to find that electric eels sometimes hunt in packs (ArsTechnica)
- Your Body, Your Self, Your Surgeon, His Instagram (Wired)
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