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Which proposals will have to give to bring Joe Manchin back to the table? Historic climate legislation may still have a chance. Success now hinges on Democrats, once and for all, figuring out exactly what it is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants to bring him back to the negotiating table to pass a version of the Build Back Better Act. The party is running out of time to deliver on climate change, but first they need to find a break in the frozen talks.When Democrats took control of the Senate a year ago, they had a mandate to ensure the United States would accelerate a transition away from fossil fuels and to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Without legislation, they underdeliver to a political base worried about the climate, a constituency they are counting on turning out in the midterms.Though the original Build Back Better Act is now dead, Congress still may have a shot at passing a bill to fund $550 billion for implementing clean energy incentives, funding electric vehicles and charging stations, instituting a fee on methane pollution, and helping the most vulnerable communities facing climate disasters.On the eve of his one-year anniversary as president, Biden laid out one last path forward to breaking the Senate stalemate on the original bill. ?It?s clear to me ... that we?re going to have to probably break it up,? Biden told reporters at a press conference Wednesday. ?I?ve been talking to a number of my colleagues on the Hill ? I think it?s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500-plus billion for energy and the environmental issues that are there.? There?s still more wrangling ahead to get Manchin?s support, but the Senate is up against a clock that?s ticking down until the midterms. The Senate doesn?t have forever to figure this out or start from scratch, because it also has to confirm nominees to the administration and avert a government shutdown in February.His vote, along with that of every other Democratic senator, is required to pass it using the reconciliation process, which lets Democrats bypass the Republican filibuster. Manchin has said much work still lies ahead. On Thursday, he told CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju, ?We will just be starting from scratch. The main thing we need to do is take care of the inflation. Get your financial house in order. Get a tax code that works and take care of the pharmaceuticals that are [gouging] the people with high prices. We can fix that. We can do a lot of good things.?Biden suggested Democrats could reach a deal with Manchin and the other holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), with a slimmed-down version of Build Back Better, possibly by cutting back on the child tax credit and free community college. Importantly, Biden said that even with concessions to Manchin, they could preserve the climate provisions. Then Democrats might take another shot at passing these other priorities later this year.For once, there?s surprising agreement from Democratic leaders that the climate priorities won?t be what are sacrificed in any dealmaking ahead. Biden has been firm on that, and Manchin himself said a few weeks ago, ?The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else. There?s a lot of good things in there.? Other senators have rallied around the imperative that the US not spend another decade delaying billions in clean energy funds and climate adaptation. ?I just came off the worst year ever on my farm,? Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said. ?We need to do something on climate change. I think we spent $144 billion this year on disasters, and I don?t think that included crop insurance. So we need to do something on climate, too.?There is no deal yet on what this slimmed-down BBB would look like, nor has Manchin suggested what he could agree to. And some pieces on climate change could still be cut: Manchin has criticized some provisions of the House bill, like a methane fee on gas producers responsible for excess pollution and tax credits that favor union-made electric vehicles. But much of the work of negotiating a climate agreement has already been done. ?There?s already been tough choices and compromise to get to to a place where 50 US senators and the president support the climate provisions,? said Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen, a climate group that has been advising Democrats on the legislation.The biggest compromise was cutting out the single most impactful climate policy in the House bill, a clean electricity standard that required utilities to meet benchmarks for wind and solar adoption. The remaining climate policies include $320 billion to finance clean energy adoption nationwide. These tax credits are already priced out for the decade, meeting one of Manchin?s demands to account for the 10-year cost of proposals in the package. Biden and congressional Democrats have hard decisions ahead. If Manchin is still negotiating in good faith, proposals will be on the chopping block. The tall order is getting every Democratic senator to come around to the idea that something will have to give to break through this logjam. ?We?re just too close to striking a deal on this transformative climate investment,? Raad said. ?We need to find the biggest, most aggressive Build Back Better bill that we can pass, taking the climate provisions with whatever we can agree to on the health care side, and we need to get this done.?More Senate Democrats have said this week they are open to giving Manchin what he wants to see this done. ?We need to move to pass a package now that has 50 votes,? Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) told Axios. ?The climate, justice and clean-energy provisions in Build Back Better have been largely worked through and financed, so let?s start there and add any of the other important provisions to support working families that can meet the 50-vote threshold.? For progressive Democrats, following Biden?s suggestion to break down the bill is a hard pill to swallow. That requires choosing among proposals that would all help different American communities. As the Atlantic?s Rob Meyer explained last week: ?The greatest risk of all is that Democrats continue to procrastinate. It?s easier, after all, to wheedle Manchin than it is to pick a favorite among favorite proposals.?There?s also the chance that Manchin is not negotiating in good faith, and really does want to poison the bill by starting from scratch and tackling the national debt first. In that scenario, the decisions would be even harder. With the legislative path closed for climate action, activists would want to see Biden gamble on aggressive executive actions to address rising oil production and push clean energy, risking court interference. Democrats can?t count on Republican votes for climate action, but the agency budgetmaking process can still be an opportunity to advance climate policies (this still requires bipartisan support). So it isn?t just Biden and Democratic lawmakers who have hard choices ahead. Climate activists have also grown tired of seeing their demands shrink to a place where Manchin could support them. ?We should pass climate legislation immediately, but we need to do so much more than that if we want young people across our country to have any faith in Democrats or our government going forward,? said Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement?s executive director.
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Cheer season two on Netflix. | Courtesy of Kyle Alexander/Netflix Cheer?s second season is a good story about cheerleading and a better story about the price of fame. At first blush, I didn?t really have any interest in watching the second season of Cheer, Netflix?s hit docuseries about competitive junior college cheerleading. It?s not because of quality. The first season was a hypnotizing blend of drama, athleticism, and triumph complete with real-life cheerleaders ? a talented troublemaker, a diamond in the rough, a charming second-stringer, a diehard rookie, a superstar ? and an icy, determined coach who seemed to be written for television.I loved it.But I also watched as those people from my beloved docuseries became real-life celebrities. It?s what happens to a lot of reality show personalities. They get on television and the followers start rolling in. The media attention skyrockets, the endorsement deals arrive, and then, instead of their lives creating the show, the show becomes their life.In Cheer?s case, it gets even bleaker. In September 2020, season one star Jerry Harris was arrested by the FBI for allegedly soliciting child pornography. Later that year, in December, Harris was indicted on new charges alleging that he was soliciting minors to send him sexually explicit videos and photos of themselves.Still, a friend urged me to watch, and soon I found myself fixated. The show had changed into something else entirely. Instead of showcasing talent, Cheer?s second season is laser-focused on how fame has affected America?s cheerleading sweethearts. It turns out that just a small amount of celebrity can turn heroes into villains, friends into enemies, and make winning feel a lot like losing.Navarro becomes too famous too soonThe boldest move that creator Greg Whiteley made in the second season is not shying away from the impact of the show. Its success didn?t happen in a vacuum, and the first episodes really show you how popular coach Monica Aldama and the kids became. They met Kendall Jenner and Arizona Cardinals football player JJ Watt. They were given $20,000 on Ellen to upgrade their gym and got to hug Oprah. They?ve amassed massive followings on Instagram and some are raking in dollars on Cameo. Aldama was a contestant on the 29th season of Dancing With the Stars.It?s not hard to read in between the lines and see why so many kids decided to come back for another go. Some of their rehearsed responses to media outlets, on social media, and recorded on the series about Navarro College being ?a special place? do a lot of the work. They?re back in Navarro because it?s a meal ticket, and any young person would be an idiot not to take advantage of the possible endorsements, celebrity, and windfall that would come with a successful second season.Initially, Coach Monica and Navarro College were portrayed as a Blind Side-like feel-good story. Her program, which dominates the two-team junior college division, was depicted as a lifeline for some troubled teens, possibly helping them to get away from broken homes and rough streets, and into college. While there are legitimate questions about what it means to take young, vulnerable people and put them in physically punishing situations, the show?s story was one of the mental and physical sacrifice it takes to achieve greatness.Fame empirically changes that equation.It turns the Navarro narrative into something else entirely. It doesn?t feel as pure or as good when you realize that maybe the kids didn?t come back because they needed a life lesson or Coach Monica?s discipline. Maybe they just needed to cash in on another season before fame runs out. You can almost taste the acidic resentment from team members who weren?t featured on the first season when they?re interviewed this time around. It doesn?t take that many episodes for some of those team members to pivot their personal stories toward the camera. Courtesy of Kyle Alexander/Netflix
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It?s making the world a shittier place. West Elm Caleb is only the most recent example. What?s worse, ghosting someone you met on a dating app or calling up that guy?s workplace and demanding he be fired for ghosting someone on a dating app? This is a question that nobody in the world should ever have to think about, but is unfortunately the kind of question that we must ask ourselves every time a random person is anointed as the internet?s main character.What I?m talking about, in this case, is a guy known as ?West Elm Caleb,? a 25-year-old who works at West Elm and does not seem like a very fun person to date. On TikTok, multiple women have accused him of ghosting, sending unsolicited photos of his dick, and scheduling several dates in the same day. If you have ever been a single 25-year-old in New York City, this kind of behavior is, while certainly not great, hardly uncommon. But what happened next followed the same exact pattern as everything that has gone viral on TikTok ever. Millions of people became invested in this (niche! not very interesting!) drama because it gives us something easy to be angry or curious or self-righteous about, something to project our own experiences onto, and thereby contributing even more content to the growing avalanche. Naturally, some decided to go look up the central character?s address, phone number, and workplace and share it on the internet. @kellsbellsbaby Reply to @jalmones #greenscreen ya this man ghosted me on Saturday and I found out through tik tok :-) anyways enjoy another sad dating story from me #nyc #fyp #dating #hinge ? original sound - kell You do not need me to tell you that the punishment does not exactly seem to fit the crime. What started at the level of juicy group chat drama has exploded into a national conversation, bypassing all measures of scale and scope. The same has happened with other people who have been the target of such dynamics ? Sabrina Prater, for instance, the trans woman who was accused of being a serial killer for posting a video of herself dancing that supposedly had ?bad vibes,? or Couch Guy, whose crime was seeming unexcited to see his girlfriend enter the room in a TikTok video. ?It?s on social media, so it?s public!? one could argue as a case for people?s right to act like forensic analysts on social media, and that is true. But this justification is typically valid when a) the person posting is someone of note, like a celebrity or a politician, and b) when the stakes are even a little bit high. In most cases of normal-person canceling, neither standard is met. Instead, it?s mob justice and vigilante detective work typically reserved for, say, unmasking the Zodiac killer, except weaponized against normal people. In other words, it?s cancel culture in its creepiest form. And thanks to algorithms that prioritize engagement above all else, the stuff that gets people riled up the most is what floats to the surface. West Elm Caleb is only the latest example of many to come. The case of Couch GuyImagine: You, a college student, are about to surprise your long-distance boyfriend at his own school. You?ve choreographed the moment; your mutual friends are there to help you orchestrate and film the big reveal. You enter the room, he gets up to hug you, everyone?s smiling. You set the resulting video to an Ellie Goulding song that plays at the emotional height of the rom-com Bridget Jones?s Baby. You post it on TikTok.This is what Lauren Zarras did on September 21, although nothing that happened after would go according to plan. Almost immediately, commenters began to joke about the video?s ?bad vibes.? ?You can FEEL the awkward tension bro,? wrote one. @laurenzarras robbie had no idea ? still falling for you - audiobear Many noted that when Lauren entered the room, her boyfriend was sitting on the couch with three other girls. ?Girl he ain?t loyal,? said another commenter. ?He hugged her like she was his aunt at Christmas dinner.? ?I?ve never seen someone look so unhappy to see their girlfriend.? As of Friday afternoon, it had 60 million views.Lauren and her boyfriend ? now known internet-wide as ?Couch Guy? ? had fallen into a common predicament: posting something online in an attempt to garner a certain reaction, then receiving the opposite. There are all kinds of flavors of this phenomenon, from the college student who posted a clip of their newly released song only to be ridiculed for it, to the spiritual influencer whose video about coincidences and manifestation turned him into a meme. Just last week, a woman pitched a story to the Times about a perceived slight from a fellow writer, presumably under the belief that she?d come off looking sympathetic, but then ended up being Twitter?s main character (never a good thing).In an essay for Slate, Couch Guy ? real name Robert McCoy ? wrote that he was ?the subject of frame-by-frame body language analyses, armchair diagnoses of psychopathy, comparisons to convicted murderers, and general discussions about my ?bad vibes.??Embarrassing moments have delighted the public throughout history. For a piece on what happens when ordinary people go viral for the wrong reasons, Melissa Dahl, author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, told me that it?s natural for humans to delight in schadenfreude. ?It?s our brains giving us a dose of exposure therapy,? she said. ?Maybe the same thing is happening for people who are drawn to cringey content, [maybe they?re] people whose deepest fear is being ostracized or made to look like a fool.?But the way the internet has colluded to create viral moments out of normal people was perhaps pioneered a decade ago, when Rebecca Black became the epitome of the stereotype of the spoiled rich kid with a bad vanity music video. Platforms like TikTok, where even people with few or no followers often go viral overnight, expedite the shaming process.The real toxicity within this sort of discourse comes not from viewers but from the web sleuth dynamics that play out afterward. BuzzFeed called the image stills of Couch Guy seemingly grabbing his phone from the girl next to him ?sus behavior,? while other creators claimed they could tell he was cheating because of a suspiciously placed arm and a black hair tie that showed up on Couch Guy?s wrist. One woman made a video warning Lauren about how the girls on the couch ?are not your friends? because they didn?t immediately jump up to hug her. @thinksplendid Like are they ALL supposed to be earth signs? #couchguy ? still falling for you - audiobear Lauren ? as well as everyone else in the video ? has vehemently denied any shady behavior. ?These comments are getting ridiculous and I don?t know why you guys are assuming so much about our relationship,? she said in one TikTok. Couch Guy himself made one that read: ?Not everything is true crime. Don?t be a parasocial creep,? yet his comment section is still full of people saying things like, ?You can gaslight your girlfriend, you can?t gaslight all of TikTok.?Couch Guy?s roommate has complained of people in their dorm sneaking messages under the door and trying to ask them about the video. ?Y?all are so fucking creepy sometimes, I can?t,? he says. A scroll through Lauren?s previous TikToks shows commenters flocking to every single one, positing at what precise moment they think he ?lost interest? in her and giving warnings like, ?it?s like watching a soap opera and knowing who the bad guy is.?Humans love gossip and creating drama where there is none, even more so during the quieter pandemic months. There is a difference, though, between speculating on a celebrity?s dating life and a random college couple who, whether or not they end up together, insist they?re happy right now. There are real-world consequences that can get scary quickly. It?s time to leave West Elm Caleb, Couch Guy, and whatever unfortunate soul becomes the internet?s next reluctant main character, alone.Update, January 21, 3 pm ET: This story was originally published on October 12, 2021, and has been updated to include details about West Elm Caleb.
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It is possible to create programs that don?t burden the people who need them most. This is an excerpt from the newsletter for The Weeds. To sign up for a weekly dive into policy and its effects on people, click here.This week, the Biden administration rolled out a plan to send up to four free Covid-19 tests to every household in America.But you probably already knew that. At times, there were over 700,000 concurrent visitors to the page on the USPS site ? more than every other .gov page combined.The enthusiastic response was remarkable because it was unusual. There are at least three different ways the Covid-19 test rollout succeeded where people expect government to fail:It highlighted the failures of industrial and regulatory policy that have led to widespread shortages in at-home Covid-19 tests, and delays in results coming back from test sites. It brought back memories of new government websites being unable to handle high traffic volume (e.g. Healthcare.gov).It was quick and simple: The only information people needed to provide was their street address.The execution wasn?t perfect (a flaw affecting some apartment dwellers led the government to limit some buildings to a single four-test order) but that didn?t dampen the enthusiasm. Which tells us something about how difficult Americans expect it to be to interact with the government, especially when trying to get the assistance the government has promised them.Emotional labor, but for governmentThere are a few ways to think about these bureaucratic struggles. One, coined by Annie Lowrey in a 2021 Atlantic feature, is the ?time tax? ? the amount of time and energy that people waste interacting with the government. But my preferred term, popularized by the academics Donald Moynihan, Pamela Herd, and Hope Harvey is ?administrative burden? ? which refers not only to the concrete loss of time and money, but to the cognitive and psychological burdens of having to learn and comply with government rules.It?s hard to say just how much administrative burden there is. There?s no attempt to synthesize information about it even at the federal level, let alone the state and local governments that are responsible for implementing most safety-net programs. The best way to understand it is to look at all the labor involved to access a specific program: unemployment benefits in North Carolina, for example.The one overarching truth is that administrative burdens particularly harm people already marginalized because they?re most in need of assistance and because they?re most likely to have difficulty jumping through all the hoops. Maybe they don?t have a computer, maybe they don?t speak English or understand legalese, or maybe they have to forgo shifts at work just to go to the right office to submit a form. By extension, any restriction on who is eligible for benefits increases administrative burden, not only for people who apply and are found ineligible but also those who have to do more work to prove eligibility in the first place. The Covid-19 test webpage could be easy because there were no restrictions; it didn?t need to ask about anything besides your address. There?s also a second-order way that making programs universal fights administrative burden: When politically empowered, privileged Americans are inconvenienced by something, they?re more likely to make noise and get it to change.But there is little if any political incentive to reduce the burden on people who politicians don?t typically listen to or need to court, such as noncitizens or people disenfranchised due to criminal records. If you work in government or as a service provider ? or if you are or know someone who?s been further marginalized by the hassle of administrative burden ? I?m really curious to learn more about what you?ve seen. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org. It?s always good when The Weeds can talk about policy not only from the perspective of its designers, but also its users.
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The number of human-made existential risks has ballooned, but the most pressing one is the original: nuclear war. One hundred seconds to midnight. That?s the latest setting of the Doomsday Clock, unveiled yesterday morning by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.That matches the setting in 2020 and 2021, making all three years the closest the Clock has been to midnight in its 75-year history. ?The world is no safer than it was last year at this time,? said Rachel Bronson, the president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. ?The Doomsday Clock continues to hover dangerously, reminding us how much work is needed to ensure a safer and healthier planet.? As for why the world is supposedly lingering on the edge of Armageddon, take your pick. Covid-19 has amply demonstrated just how unprepared the world was to handle a major new infectious virus, and both increasing global interconnectedness and the spread of new biological engineering tools mean that the threat from both natural and human-made pathogens will only grow. Even with increasing efforts to reduce carbon emissions, climate change is worsening year after year. New technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons, even advanced cyberhacking present harder-to-gauge but still very real dangers. The sheer number of factors that now go into Bulletin?s annual decision can obscure the bracing clarity that the Doomsday Clock was meant to evoke. But the Clock still works for the biggest existential threat facing the world right now, the one that the Doomsday Clock was invented to illustrate 75 years ago. It?s one that has been with us for so long that it has receded into the background of our nightmares: nuclear war ? and the threat is arguably greater at this moment than it has been since the end of the Cold War.The Doomsday Clock, explainedThe Clock was originally the work of Martyl Langsdorf, an abstract landscape artist whose husband Alexander had been a physicist with the Manhattan Project. He was also a founder of the Bulletin, which began as a magazine put out by scientists worried about the dangers of the nuclear age and is now a nonprofit media organization that focuses on existential risks to humanity.Martyl Langsdorf was asked to design a cover for the magazine?s June 1947 issue. Inspired by the idea of a countdown to a nuclear explosion, Langdorf chose the image of a clock with hands ticking down to midnight, because ? as the Bulletin?s editors wrote in a tribute to the artist ? ?it suggested the destruction that awaited if no one took action to stop it.?As a symbol of the unique existential peril posed by thousands of nuclear warheads kept on a hair trigger, the Doomsday Clock is unparalleled, one of the 20th century?s most iconic pieces of graphic art. It?s been referenced in rock songs and TV shows, and it adorned the cover of the first issue of the Watchmen graphic novel series. Its value is its stark simplicity. At a glance, anyone can see how close the Bulletin?s science and security experts, who meet twice a year to determine the Clock?s annual setting, believe the world is to existential catastrophe. The Clock may be wrong ? predicting the apocalypse is a near-impossible task ? but it cannot be misread. Corbis via Getty Images
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