Get ready to see construction everywhere you go
Biden gives an update on how he’ll spend those infrastructure dollars. Plus: You can order free COVID tests from the government next week and the latest on Russia’s bad behavior.
Last November, President Joe Biden signed an infrastructure deal into law designed to rebuild the nation’s buildings, roads and power supplies. Although it seems like an eternity ago, it’s just been sixty days. And on Friday, the president and Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor who Biden tapped to implement the law, gave the country a progress report on where things stand.
“There’s a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven’t gotten done,” Biden said. “But this is something we did get done, and it’s of enormous consequence to the country.”
The Transportation Department announced more than $27 billion in funding to fix an estimated 15,000 bridges nationwide. The White House says this is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate system.
“As we prepare to celebrate Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s birthday, we’re also reminded that too often bridges and highways were built through the heart of historic communities, particularly Black communities, cutting off families and churches and businesses,” Biden said. “We’re going to use our infrastructure investments to re-connect communities.”
Biden’s administration has also released nearly $53 billion to states to modernize highways and more than $240 million in grants to improve ports in 19 states to accelerate the American supply chains.
Another $3 billion will upgrade 3,000 airports around the country. $65 billion will get everyone community to affordable high-speed internet.
It’s bonkers to type this in 2022, but not every American has clean water. The infrastructure dedicates $7 billion in funding to states to upgrade their aging water systems and sewer systems.
The government is already at work to replace all of the country’s lead pipes in the next decade.
Altogether, these investments are supposed to get you where you’re going faster and safer, lower costs for you and modernize our nation’s bones.
“These investments are consequential, and we’re just getting started,” Biden said, “We’re building back better than ever before.”
What struck me is the number of times the president said the word “jobs” during the remarks — 11 times during an approximately 13-minute speech, according to the official transcript provided by the White House.
While there’s no doubt that the implementation of the law will create a lot of union jobs, some nine out of ten will go to men.
This underscores why progressives wanted the law linked with the president’s Build Back Better plan since BBB’s provisions were crafted with the goal of making it easy to reenter and thrive in the workplace.
One more note: If you zoom out, you’ll find slim pickings on where the president will get his next legislative win. So it looks like Democrats will campaign on this infrastructure deal as proof that they deserve to stay in the majority during this year’s midterms.
This positions Landrieu and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as two people whose star will rise the most if the implementation is executed with few to no hiccups. Be unsurprised if you see both of them on the national stage in the years to come — especially Buttigieg who has obvious presidential ambitions after failing to gain traction with Black voters in 2020.
You’ll be able to order free COVID tests next week
Starting next Wednesday, Jan. 19, a new website — COVIDTests.gov — will be online for you to request four free rapid tests per household from the government. All you need is your name and residential mailing address to order these tests. And the White House confirmed the tests can detect the Omicron variant.
Public health experts and CDC recommend that you use at-home tests if you begin to have symptoms, at least five days after coming in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or are gathering indoors with a group of people who are at risk of severe disease or unvaccinated.
The Biden administration announced these 500 million tests last month as part of this program to make sure you have tests on hand if a need arises. The White House said it has 420 million of the half-billion under contract. It is working to finalize the purchase of the last 80 million. The administration added that these at-home tests are separate from the 375 million at-home rapid tests available to the US market as of this month.
The purchase and distribution of these free tests are estimated to cost the government $4 billion.
But critics say it’s too little too late as people have complained about testing shortages, price spikes and long lines.
“While we are seeing record testing demand with Omicron, and we’re seeing it across the globe, we're making great strides to increase our testing supply to meet this demand,” a senior administration official said on Friday during a press call with reporters.
The White House says the free testing program — along with the insurance requirement to reimburse you for tests you purchase in the future — will offer people relief and peace of mind.
And in a subtle flex, the administration pointed out that there were zero at-home rapid tests available when the president took office. Now there are nine options. And in August, there were just 24 million tests available to US consumers. There are 300 million.
White House officials were asked if the website will crash due to too much traffic when it launches.
“Every website launch comes with some risk. We’re quite cognizant of that,” they said. “But we have the best tech teams across, you know, our administration, across USPS who have been working hard to make this a success. And we think we're well positioned to do that.”
The tests will be delivered directly to you by the United States Postal Service within seven to 12 days of ordering. (Administration officials said that as the program ramps up, the White House expects that timeline will shorten.) You can get status updates by sharing your email address during your order.
For people unable to access the website, a call line will be available to phone-in orders for their tests.
Russia is doing Russia things again
Russia positioned a group of operatives for a false-flag operation in Eastern Ukraine, according to US intelligence.
The operation is an attempt to create a reason to invade its eastern neighbor. The American government supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and provides foreign and military assistance to the country. A Russian invasion would diverge with US interests.
The intelligence shows that the Russian operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to perform acts of sabotage against its own external forces in what a Ukrainian official calls an attempt to frame Ukraine.
Natasha Bertrand at CNN was the first to report the news.
“This is what [Russia] did in Ukraine in 2014. They have done it in other contexts,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “And so i come as no surprise that they would be planning for the possibility of creating a context.”
Ukraine was targeted in a massive cyberattack overnight, which it alleges Russia and Putin were behind. Sullivan said this kind of cyber activity is part of the Russian playbook too. But he said it was too soon for the intelligence community to attribute the attack.
The US has been clear since October that if Russia invades Ukraine, America and its allies will apply severe economic sanctions and increase its military support to Ukraine. In the event that Russia stands down, the US is willing to include the country in talks about issues related to European security.
“At this point, we're ready either way,” Sullivan said. “If Russia wants to continue on the path of diplomacy, we're ready to continue on it. If Russia wants to move forward with a military escalation, we are ready to respond.”
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Today in Politics
The president and First Lady Jill Biden are in Wilmington, Delaware. He has no public events on his schedule. Vice President Kamala Harris is in DC. She has no public events on her schedule.
In the Know
— First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Bowling Green, Kentucky to view the recovery efforts in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes and volunteer at a local FEMA center. “When Bowling Green woke up on January 1, you weren’t met with the bright dawn of a new day but the dark skies of yet another storm and when the winds died down this town, still reeling from the deadly tornadoes just a few weeks earlier,” she said. “I know it probably felt more like an end than the beginning. Yet something new has begun. Not the quick turn of a calendar page. But the slow movements of the seeds deep in the earth climbing toward the light that will come with spring.”
— The Department of Labor announced it would award up to $1.5 million in grants for projects that help veterans at risk of, or experiencing homelessness to return to the workforce. The awards are part of the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program that assists military veterans to overcome obstacles that have led them to homelessness and to reenter the workforce as a means of reducing homelessness.
— The Federal Trade Commission and multiple states are investigating Meta’s virtual reality product Oculus over potential anti-competitive matters. The officials are looking at how Meta, formerly known as Facebook, could be using its market power in the VR space to stifle competition. [Naomi Nix and Mark Gurman / Bloomberg]
— The campaign arm for House Democrats raised $39.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2021 — the best off-year quarter in its history. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Republican counterpart raised about $35 million. These funds will go towards congressional races in this year’s midterms elections, which is shaping up to be an expensive one. [Tal Axelrod / The Hill]
— Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai approved a secret deal in 2018 that gave Facebook advantages that could be unlawful. The allegations were made several state attorneys general in the latest version of their federal antitrust suit against Google. [Leah Nylen / Politico]
— If you eat beef, you could slash your diet’s carbon footprint by as much 48 percent by swapping a serving per day for a more planet-friendly alternative. “People can make a significant difference in their carbon footprint with very simple changes — and the easiest one would be to substitute poultry for beef,” Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine who led the study, said.
— Netflix raised its monthly subscription price in the US by $1 to $2 to help pay for new programming to compete in a crowded streaming market. The standard plan is now $15.49 per month, up from $13.99. [Lisa Richwine / Reuters]
Read All About It
Maggie Lange on when gym culture went from punishing to meditative:
More than two years of pandemic — which shuttered gyms and boutique fitness studios globally — have quaked the fitness world and created an entirely new landscape in workout culture. This new mind-set increasingly prioritizes restorative, mindful movement over punitive and aggressive challenges. Fitness companies market themselves as tools for mental health. Top-tier exercise platforms — like Apple Fitness+, Peloton, Alo Moves, and Obé — foreground meditation classes, and Mirror, for example, reported that completion of its meditation classes grew by 80 percent in 2021. Market forecasters indicate that “holistic fitness” — an approach that emphasizes recovery and mind-body practices like Pilates or yoga — is set to become a dominant force in the exercise field. And there are signs that the most challenging workouts are losing their stronghold; the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal showed that HIIT, high-intensity interval training, dropped in popularity from its No. 2 spot in the worldwide survey of fitness trends (sent to thousands of professionals in that field) to No. 5 last year — being just surpassed by the wholesome-sounding “outdoor activities.”
Molly Osberg on school-closure moms as the new soccer moms:
If all of this feels somewhat exhausting, it’s probably because these lines have been drawn over and over again. Over the summer, a similar spate of stories appeared arguing that Democrats had lost the mom vote over another hot-button education issue, critical race theory. The party was “underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory was top of mind,” Politico argued in a piece that interviewed Biden voters who thought schools shouldn’t be overly divisive on issues of race. More recently, pollsters have argued that, at least in Virginia, the critical race theory conversation bled into school-closure issues, making voters who might have swung Democrat wary of a party that appeared overconcerned with social justice issues but was unable to commit to commonsense measures that would help parents navigate the stresses of their actual lives. And if there is a useful through line here, it’s probably that members of a party allegedly dedicated to broad social spending initiatives have a terrible track record when it comes to following through.
Dylan Scott on why public health officials so bad at talking to Americans:
In some ways, the battle to win hearts and minds during the pandemic was lost before Covid-19 ever arrived. Several experts pointed out that most people are not nearly as fluent in interpreting statistics or assessing risk as public health experts are trained to be, and public health officials have often failed to find simple but effective ways to convey complex ideas to the masses.
Liza Featherstone on the panic about predators:
These stories are scary. But the fearmongering is, too. Wild animal attacks have indeed increased in recent years, but that’s mostly as human settlement has expanded into areas where wildlife live. And attacks from wild animals are still uncommon when compared to human-on-human violence or the risks to humans caused by our own damage to the natural environment, which is increasing by the day.
Scare stories about animal attacks obscure positive environmental news: After all, bald eagles’ recovery from endangered status shows that conservation efforts can work and should inspire us to support more such measures. But even more importantly, panic over rare attacks can distort policy. Predators are necessary to the ecosystems in which we live, and public fear gets in the way of sensible policy to support them.
Phillip Bump on the accountability-free world of Tucker Carlson:
Of course, Carlson’s program isn’t promoted as objective. It’s part of Fox News’s opinion coverage, which: fine. But it’s opinion coverage in which Carlson makes assertions of fact that often collapse under the scrutiny that he never bothers to pay them. Fox News’s lawyers at one point infamously defended him from a slander allegation. The “tenor” of the show, they argued, should make clear that Carlson is not “stating actual facts.” Viewers were expected to understand that he was engaged in “non-literal commentary.”
That said, Carlson regularly promotes his claims as reporting that the mainstream media is withholding. Skip through a few of the links above; you’ll likely find one or more instances in which Carlson asserts that he is sharing something “they won’t tell you.” He casts himself directly as revealing a hidden truth, as being the onlyperson willing to “state actual facts.” And when those “facts” are revealed as falsehoods, the revelation almost never gets any sort of correction.
Katharine Smyth on why making friends in midlife is so hard:
According to “The Friendship Report,” a global study commissioned by Snapchat in 2019, the average age at which we meet our best friends is 21—a stage when we’re not only bonding over formative new experiences such as first love and first heartbreak, but also growing more discerning about whom we befriend. Even more important, young adulthood is a time when many of us have time. The average American spends just 41 minutes a day socializing, but Jeffrey A. Hall, a communication-studies professor at the University of Kansas, estimates that it typically takes more than 200 hours, ideally over six weeks, for a stranger to grow into a close friend. As we get older, the space we used to fill with laughter, gossip, and staying up until the sky grew light can get consumed by more “adult” concerns, such as marriage, procreation, and fully developed careers—and we tend to end up with less of ourselves to give.
Olga Khazan on the real reason Americans aren’t isolating:
When the CDC shortened isolation guidelines for people with COVID to five days, from 10, some people felt that the agency was prematurely pushing sick people back to work. But realistically, many Americans were never able to take a full 10, or even five, days off to recover from the coronavirus. Like the hotel worker, many people who think they might have COVID can’t immediately find tests. The federal government offers no services for or payments to people in isolation, and has no one checking in with the sick. Most local and state governments don’t do anything for people in isolation either. Most important, millions of Americans still don’t have paid sick leave, so taking any time off work—five days, 10, or two—can be financially ruinous. The CDC issuing isolation guidelines of any length to workers without paid leave is the equivalent of the government telling people to make sure that they quarantine inside a lime-green Lamborghini. “The lack of guarantee to paid leave is the key missing public-health element in our response to the crisis,” says Hannah Matthews, the deputy executive director for policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy.
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