The “Back to School” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for August 26th, 2021, the back to school edition. I am David Plotz of City Cast. I am not in Washington, D.C. I’m on a working vacation, worky working vacation in Traverse City, Michigan, a beautiful place. Thanks for all your recommendation. Gabfests, listeners having a great time here. I’m joined, of course, by Emily Bazelon of The New York Times magazine and Yale University Law School. From New Haven, hello, Emily. Hey, how’s empty nest life treating you?

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S1: You know, I can’t tell yet because it’s only been a few days. But I yeah, I’m I mean, I’m like really distressed. I feel the same way I felt when my older son left for college, which is like I see the benefit for him, for my kids, but not for me. Like I see only downside for myself. But maybe I’ll cheer up about it. I do like my husband. So that’s good.

S2: That’s let’s start then. John Dickerson is is a way for I think this is the last weeks. John’s away. It’s got to be he can’t be longer than this. But who cares? Because we have Jamelle Bouie. The New York Times columnist is joining us, as he often does. Hello, Jamelle from I guess from Charlottesville, probably. You’re in Charlottesville?

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S3: Yes, I’m in Charlottesville at my home with my dog next to me. Hello, everyone.

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S2: Hello. This week we were talking about the Afghanistan exit. How much of a blow is it to American power, America’s reputation in the world? And how much at fault or we Americans and American leadership for how it’s gone? Then schools are back and yet everything is still wrong. How is America poised to screw up yet another year of pandemic schooling? Then reconciliation? Will Congress manage to pass four point five trillion dollars in Democratic spending bills, or will they not? Plus, we’ll have cocktail cheder, high gabfests. Listeners, this is David Plotz. Later on Thursday, when we taped on Thursday morning, we didn’t have news about the deadly attack outside the airport in Kabul. Had we known, of course, we would have had a very different discussion. Thanks. We’re about two weeks into the abrupt American exit from Afghanistan and the collapse of the Afghan government. And the situation remains unsettled and tragic. The United States has of, as of this morning, evacuated more than 80000 people from Afghanistan. Many American citizens, some Afghan allies there estimates that there are another couple of hundred thousand of Afghans who worked with the U.S. who might be eligible or might want to leave the country. In the five days that is allegedly left on the American presence in Afghanistan, the airlift, I think, has gone better than expected. I’m not sure that that news has reached the ears of a lot of Americans because the recriminations have not stopped. So, Jamelle, is this exit going? Well, let’s not talk about what went before it, but as this exit going well,

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S3: so far, it seems the exit is going well. Americans, the United States has lifted. Last I checked, about 70000 people. I think that’s right out of the country. And so from from the metric of is the U.S. getting people out who want to leave? I think the answer is that, yes, we’re doing so and we’re doing a pretty good job of it at a pace that I don’t really think anyone expected.

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S1: Yeah, it seems like we’ve kicked into emergency drive, right? Like there was the initial chaos that felt so under planned, like the contingency plan, wasn’t there? The Bush administration had expected it to take months or more if the Taliban was going to take over the country. And they seemed totally flat footed. And we had these horrible, chaotic reports from the Kabul airport. And now it seems like they have a fairly orderly process. It’s not perfect. They’re not going to get everybody out. Right. There isn’t enough time for all of those people you just named. And it does seem like the numbers of Afghans keep rising, which may be completely legitimate, but feels like this target that is, you know, kind of receding before our eyes. Well, and yet, like tens of thousands of people are going to get out safely, and that’s something.

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S2: Well, I think what’s very unclear to me and may not be even clear to to anyone beyond whoever is doing the census on the ground in Kabul is of the people are getting out. And how many of them are American citizens? Yeah. And maybe their immediate families. How many are Afghans who have worked with us and are at risk and are, you know, then going to head to some third country and maybe to the U.S. one day and in in gratitude of their their work and the danger they took on? And then how many other people? There’s 250000 estimate is I don’t even know where it comes from and like what by what basis. We should trust it and. Whether every one of those people is, in fact, filed, you know, a paper to leave the country. And does that represent everyone who everyone or is that everyone, plus their families? And it’s just it’s all very, very fuzzy. Which makes it certain that some huge number of people will be left behind who will? There will be some set of Afghans who wish to leave the country, who will not be able to leave the country. And that will be terrible for them. And and it will be a black mark on the world, and particularly on the United States. But I’m not sure how how that could look. That could be handled Jamelle if we had done this exit before. That would have been a capitulation, a concession that the Afghan government wasn’t going to survive. So given that, do you think it was still mishandled or was it’s been reasonably handled after after some moments of mishandling?

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S3: I think that the most fair thing that we can fault the baked administration for is not having planned for the rapid dissolution of the Afghan National Army, I think that is something that they at least should have had a ready made contingency for. But that aside, it is actually hard for me to figure out what the alternative was in terms of getting people out, because, as you said, if two months ago the by the administration began an evacuation program, that would have been a vote of no confidence in the ability of the Afghan government to survive, it would have simply moved up this like rapid timeline for the collapse of the government. It seems that the collapse was more or less set in stone. It was going to happen. And I don’t know how you preclude that. I will add the other thing. I think that by the administration could have done this really again, this is on the margin stuff is to have the personnel in place at the State Department to process visas, to streamline things. But other than that, you know, so much of the criticism has been has had this implicit premise that there was some other alternative. But I’m not sure that there was. And I think Americans are having a really hard time, are having a very hard time accepting that this is what defeat just looks like.

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S1: Right. I agree with that. In the sort of confines of accepting that we’re leaving. Right. I mean, the alternative was stay either escalating, you know, American troop presence, which there’s like so little support for the United States, which didn’t seem to work when the Obama administration tried to surge, which we have so little to show for in terms of like permanence, nation building, that Afghans could then take over and not on their own. There was this supposed kind of middle path, which is staying with a small troop presence for a kind of stalemate where you’re just like staving off the Taliban in the short to medium term, as we had been doing. We’re not spending like we hadn’t been spending tons and tons of money doing that of late American troops were not dying. And so I think some of the people who are criticizing the Biden administration, it’s not that they really have a viable path to some clean, great withdrawal. It’s that they’re saying we should have stayed in some way. And then, of course, the question that raises is what how long was that really going to work? But I think if you are thinking from the point of view of the Afghans whose lives were changed. Right, all the girls who went to school, all the people who got to work, the people who were having a more middle class, cosmopolitan life, our state every year we stayed mattered to them. And so it’s not nothing, right. It’s just that it also had its risks and its downsides. And Joe Biden was not interested in it. He hadn’t been for years.

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S3: I will say that for the people in Kabul and some of the cities that may have been true, but for Afghans in the sort of the hinterlands, there is still violence. I mean, people were Afghans were still dying, even if American troops weren’t. And I think that any consideration of the cost of a continued occupation has to consider the fact that there are still be Afghans dying in numbers, you know, a hundred times greater than American casualties. And it’s it’s again, it’s it’s unclear to me how long this was this was supposed to last. Why this which this this occupation that really would have been for short term political optics in the United States.

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S2: What’s amazing what continues to amaze me is, yes, you certainly read stories about and these are the stories that are heartbreaking about girls who go to school or women who worked. And our understanding is that this will this will change terribly in Afghanistan. But what’s persists for me is how little the country has changed. There’s amazing statistics and some of the stories about the Afghan economy, about how this is this is a country which essentially has no non-cash economy, that only 10 percent of Afghans have bank accounts. It’s an unbanked country. And what that means is just it’s it’s it’s living in a totally different economic universe than most of the rest of the world. That would be sort of understandable if it had been cut off from the rest of the world. But for the last 20 years, the United States has poured all this effort and money and resources and energy and intelligence into trying to change it, trying to alter it, and the kind of failure of that is so complete and. Found that it’s it’s like how can you not conclude that the project was misbegotten to begin with and that any extra dollar spent there is a waste of money. Did you. And there’s there kind of example, example, example, example of this galore. There was incredible story in ProPublica. This is more about military waste, about a 25 million dollar Marine building that was that was built even though no one wanted it built. The Marine generals who oversaw it tried to have it killed. Twenty five million dollars in a place that there was a small Marine base never used. And now it’s just like sitting in wrack and ruin. And they’re you know, that multiply that times, 20 years and all parts of the country, and you have some sense of what a what a complete catastrophic waste. And just one final point on this is like one of the things that is so maddening about the people who are who are painting this as this American humiliation. And, you know, Joe Biden has disgraced America, are in general people who have profited off of this war. There are people who have been working for military or working for in the military complex, which who have been paid, supported and paid to, you know, work for the contractors who are building weapons and building and sending material and making billions of dollars off of the continuance of this war. And they’re totally complicit in this failure. And. But but are just accusing Biden of waiting, waving the white flag even as they failed at their job. We failed it. I mean, we failed to we as Americans failed. In fact, that’s a question for you. Emily, is like, how have how did we how did we fail? How did we fail our leaders and our military and. In Afghanistan,

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S1: aren’t we to blame to fill our military? Or do we just have a completely unrealistic set of ideas fed by the military? We didn’t pay attention.

S2: We didn’t we didn’t pay attention. We didn’t hold people accountable. We didn’t care.

S1: Yeah. I mean, I think in that sense, sure, you can blame the voters in America for all the choices that of American policy. I do think, though, that, you know, the United States has a really bad track record in countries that has intervened in in the last couple of decades. Right. There is a list of countries from the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in which the United States has led or supported military interventions in decades of late Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen. These countries are not better off for our having showed up. And I think you have to go back to Bosnia to find an example of what looks historically like a successful American intervention. I think we have delusions about our capabilities. We see ourselves as powerful and we are powerful. But that doesn’t mean that we succeed in imposing our policy preferences in countries that we don’t really understand. And so to the extent the United States voters fell for that and allowed it to happen and just kind of ignored the whole thing, sure, it’s our fault. But I also think the foreign policy establishment that’s been, you know, called the blob that has this bipartisan self-perpetuating effect bears responsibility, as does the military. They kind of work hand in hand. And you have to sort of step outside of that in America to get a real dissident point of view.

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S3: I think you need to step outside of that. I think you could just go back, you know, 80 years before the advent of it to see an alternative as well. To see the military in the United States is not this omne competent, you know, untouchable organization, kind of one institution in one interest group among many, which has pros and cons in which has to be dealt with in a democratic and deliberative way. And I think that to the extent that there have been failures of the American public these last few decades is that we have in this weird way placed the military outside of that democratic deliberation that we don’t look at the military. It’s a thing with pros and cons. We look at the military as the troops we must respect. And, you know, I’m a military brat. Both my parents served for two decades each more than two decades. My brother is currently serving. I have no disrespect for people who serve far from it. But I do think that in a democracy, we have to we have to bring the highest scrutiny to the military. And it seems that we’ve lost that one. Just last very quick point. I’ve been reading about 19th century France, as one does. And it was funny to read how in 1838, King Charles, who is the reactionary successor to Louis the 18th, invades Algiers as a campaign stunt to stop to try to distract from the victories of a liberal delegates in the Chamber of Deputies and then France, and of being in Algiers for like a hundred and forty years. And so is that is that that that to me seems like the actual alternative, right. For Afghanistan, that we made this political decision 20 years ago, and that if we don’t leave war there for another hundred years and I don’t think we want our descendants to look back at us the way the French people may look back at, you know, Charles.

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S2: Right. And well. And also, when the French eventually left Algeria in the 1950s and 60s, it was in total ruination for everybody and a sense that they had betrayed. There was a sense of betrayal, both of their own people and of the Algerian people. So it did not like it ended well, even after a hundred years,

S3: it almost destroyed the French Republic. I mean, it was it was a it was a catastrophe.

S2: So, Emily, as as we’re taping this, there is this August 31st deadline that Joe Biden seems to want to hew to. There’s a now slowdown we’re hearing in Kabul of the exodus because of fears of an ISIS attack at the airport, although certainly the exodus hasn’t stopped. It’s just been slowed down because of security risks. Do you think that Joe Biden is going to pay any political price for this here in the U.S.

S1: and should he? Well, he’s certainly paying a temporary price. And you can see his approval rating going down significantly from above 52, I think 41 percent. And it is going to certainly come up in the next campaign. But if Afghanistan recedes, if the American media loses interest, if the Taliban aren’t as brutal as some people are predicting, I don’t think there is going to be that much of a cost. I mean. As I understand it, most Americans still support the withdrawal, and I mean, I can understand why, even though it has been so ugly to watch it proceed.

S2: School is back. Delta is rampant. Emily, the range of issues around schools return is astonishing. There’s the question of should vaccines be mandated for teachers and other staff? Should Masques be mandated for kids and teachers? Should the FDA speed up the vaccine approval for kids? There are questions about why available masks and testing are so bad. There’s a lot more overwhelmingly. For me, it’s depressing that we’re in year three, school year three of this pandemic. And school is at risk again and. I want to know how we got here, right?

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S1: I mean, I think that there was a hope for the last part of late spring and summer that school was going to be unaffected by the pandemic this year and that schools didn’t have to do a ton of planning for the delta wave that we’re facing now. Instead, we’re in this pickle where, you know, rates are rising around the country and there’s a ton of fear and vaccine and mask mandates remain very politicized and kids are not vaccinated. And so there is legitimate concern about spread. And then there’s just lots and lots of anxiety. I guess one thing that I do find heartening is there is much more consensus this fall where there was zero consensus last fall that as many kids as possible have to go back to school in person. That seems to be something that is a commitment in blue cities as well as the red parts of the country. Right. The red parts of the country had this commitment to a great degree last year, and blue cities really, really didn’t. And now the kids are supposed to come back everywhere. The problem is how they’re coming back and and all the flaws that you just pointed to. I mean, I think we actually know a ton now about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. And there hasn’t been a ton of spread in school. But in the places that are the most eager to open, there are the fewest precautions. And so we’re seeing thousands of kids quarantined in states like Mississippi and Texas that have gone back to school with no mass mandated. In fact, with in Texas, the governor is trying to ban mask mandates that individual school districts want to impose. So that is also like counterproductive. You have all these kids home quarantining. And one of the reasons for that is the lack of rapid testing. Right. So as I understand it, Utah and Massachusetts seem like they have stood up these good programs where you can take rapid tests if you’ve been exposed as a child, and then you can stay in school as long as you test negative. But that is not become anything like the national norm. And I think we also are confronting and I was interviewing for The Times, a bunch of educators around the country yesterday, and we’re really still confronting fear of school among parents. And you can understand it, given the historic lack of trust in a lot of loing communities where the fear is higher. And given the increased risk and exposure from Covid that they’ve experienced since the pandemic. But when you look at the data about how kids suffered both academically and socially and emotionally from staying home, it’s staggering. I mean, it is staggering. And, you know, I was talking to the commissioner of education in Tennessee, and she said that they did a lot of they did their testing. Last year, she defended that decision to test. She said it’s important to know where kids are. And she said that among her economically disadvantaged students, that one in seven were testing a grade level for language arts and one in 10 for math. I mean, that’s just really tough.

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S2: And everyone else is below. Yes. You mean grade level?

S1: Grade level or above? Shouldn’t even talk about above. Yeah. Yes. Everyone else is below. And those are drop’s. That is not normal. A set of statistics for Tennessee.

S2: I mean, Emily, last week you you cited this incredible number that we didn’t get into, but that as many as three million children may have disappeared from schools. Yeah. Three million may have been lost, which is just incredible. I mean, I can’t believe that every one of those three million isn’t really going to some form of education, but like the fact that they’re on track.

S1: Oh, believe it. I mean, just to repeat this, that means they never enrolled, never logged on, never showed up. We don’t know where they are. And, you know, whether they come back or not is an open question.

S2: So given that, given the things that Emily just cited, Jamelle, both political fights, the disappearances, the mistrust, and in among certain people of schools, like what should policymakers be putting energy into right now to stabilize, restore? Schooling for kids.

S3: You know, what I would like to see, right, are mandates, mass mandates, vaccine mandates. One of my frustrations over the last year and a half has been that we this country is treating this fundamentally collective problem as if it can be solved by individual communities when that’s just not the case. The only way to get past a pandemic is to mandate what it takes to to tackle it. There has been talk since Biden entered office of that of the death of neoliberalism. Right. Of the death of neoliberal economic policy because of our robust response to the pandemic in terms of assisting people and because of these big agenda items from the Bush administration. But I hesitate to agree with that for the simple reason that if neoliberalism means sort of a devolution of the obligations and organs of the state of government to individuals, to market logic, then what we’re witnessing is a neoliberal response to the pandemic, to controlling the pandemic, to neglecting the tools and mechanisms of state power, which can handle this if used in favor of the is more or less individual responses. I think as soon as we took various forms of mandates and requirements off the table, something like this was probably inevitable. And for my part, the only way to get past it is to is to mandate and to attach that to real penalties. But I’m I’m a status. You know,

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S1: another I mean, I’m completely in favor of vaccine mandates for school staff. And actually, I think we should be considering them for at least the 16 to 18 year olds for whom the vaccine is fully authorized. I also am interested in the idea of offering incentives. One person I talked to yesterday said that in Indianapolis, teachers get paid, I think, 300 dollars as an incentive to get vaccinated. That’s another way to go about this. I also think, though, it is not just the red states that are getting school policy wrong by any means. I mean, any city where you have indoor dining and no vaccine mandate for school staff is doing it wrong. Like that’s the wrong set of priorities and it’s the wrong set of risk assessments. We know that indoor dining is riskier. There are a lot of adults. The spaces aren’t necessarily ventilated. All of the problems of infection are prevalent. And yet we have been looking past and willing to accept that risk while we’ve been much, much less committed to really keeping schools open. And if we see a repeat of that this year and blue cities, that’s going to be on those cities and those policymakers.

S2: Emily, I’m interested in your take on masking mandates, too, because Jamelle you you said you want mandates for for testing, I mean, for for vaccination and for masking. Emily, you said you want. Mandates for vaccination. You didn’t mention game masking, it feels like has become. A real touchstone issue around schools, and I wonder if you if you you not saying that means you don’t think those are required. I don’t. I have been unconvinced by the evidence that masking should be required for schools. There are not randomized controlled trials about it. There is not evidence that schools that have no masking requirement, that schools that don’t mask have higher rates of Covid than schools that do that. The schools that have maintained control over Covid have done lots of other things, namely mostly ventilation and making sure kids eat outside that appear to be more important. So I wonder if you’re where you stand on the masking piece of this.

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S1: I started by highlighting vaccine mandates because I think there is more evidence that they are crucial for preventing Covid spread in schools. I do also support mask mandates right now, given how contagious Delta is and given how reassuring I think they are for a lot of parents. You know, Josie Dufy Rice talked about this with us on the gabfest a couple of weeks ago, and her response made sense to me. I also think that it’s important that we not see masks as lasting forever, as lasting beyond a moment where Covid spread is high in the community and that we tie them to evidence the way we do every other intervention.

S2: Before we move on to another part of this, I actually have one more question for each of you guys, which is if you could have one policy, not by magic, but one one thing that would make the most difference to to make it likely that the school year would be successful. What would you pick? I mean, would you say like approved vaccines for for, you know, two to 11 year olds? What would it be? I mean, it would

S3: it would be approved vaccines for two to 11 year olds and mandated vaccines for everyone who to foot in a school building. I mean, that’s kind of that’s kind of it. Other than that, it’s like, I don’t know, a bunch of funding to actually ventilate schools now. Not every school building in this country has. It’s built in such a way that makes that a feasible option. I know my wife is a teacher and works in a school that is very old and for which ventilation is not really a viable option, especially for colder weather. But that is all secondary to vaccine approval for toddlers, to, you know, teenagers, and then mandates kid can’t come to school if they don’t get vaccinated.

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S1: I guess what I would add to that is just feeling like this is a national emergency, because right now what’s happening is schools are totally holding the bag. Right. They’re supposed to spend a ton of time and energy coaxing back anxious parents, getting people over this fear, which in a lot of places is a legitimate fear. Everything is coming down on them. Right. There are a lot of teachers and counselors and principals making just like Herculean efforts to basically do something impossible, which is to prevent a slide right there in this position where all they can achieve and a lot of places is to stop things from being worse, which is hard. That’s just a hard psychological position to be in. Like you said, David, this is the third year a lot of people are exhausted, parents are also exhausted, and kids are suffering in these ways. And I don’t feel like we think this is a national emergency. I don’t feel the sense of urgency that I myself have felt about this since the pandemic started. It’s like the country just doesn’t prioritize this. I don’t get it.

S2: Well, we had Juliette Kayyem, who was a former Department of Homeland Security official in the Obama administration, and she came on early, early pandemic. And she noted that there are these 24 categories of critical infrastructure. Education was not one of them. Schools were not one of them. And here we are in the third school year, and school is still effectively not one of them. We still have not faced this. It’s astonishing.

S1: Also think there’s I have a more cynical explanation, which is that the affluent kids are doing OK for the most part. I mean, the statistics about the problems with academic achievement and mental health are so much worse. They have exacerbated inequality so much. And, you know, I know in the place where I live. People whose kids are in private school or in suburban schools in Connecticut, their schools were open. Things were OK. It’s the low income kids who go to public school in Connecticut cities last year, especially New Haven, who were home. And that’s a pattern that’s been repeated all over the country. So I think there is the way a way in which this cost is being so borne by people who lack political power that it just hasn’t surfaced and grabbed people by the throat in the way that it would if it was equally shared.

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S2: All right, we want to move in a slightly different direction for a second, our researcher, Bridgette Dunlap, is the mother of two young children who go to daycare. And we were talking about going back to schools. And Bridgette wrote a note to to us just about the situation at daycare. And it was so vivid and angry that we thought it would be great to have Bridgette come on and talk a little bit about the crisis in daycare for a few minutes.

S4: So Bridgette. Yeah, it’s a really scary time to be the parent of unvaccinated kids right now. And it makes me crazy that I can’t look at all the data we already have from the kid vaccine trials with my kids doctor and their pulmonologist and weigh the risk of myself beyond prohibiting kids from getting the vaccine. The government still isn’t providing us the other tools that we ought to have this far into the pandemic to keep kids safe. Like I would like to do surveillance, testing and my kid’s preschool. But when I contacted the state program here in Illinois that provides rapid testing in a lot of K through 12 schools, I was told there would be a 5000 dollars startup fee and we’d have to buy five thousand tests over the course of the year. And that’s just not feasible for us. For many daycares, which tend to be small businesses with low margins who have really struggled to stay afloat already throughout the pandemic and over the counter test are too expensive for regular testing. But I’d at least like all the staff and families to have one on hand so we can test right away the next time we have a code. Big case, but I can’t find enough of those because now there’s a shortage, because we’ve just never prioritized rapid tests in the United States. And I’m frustrated we don’t have the quality of mass that we should. I am persuaded by the evidence that Maskin can help in schools, and my three year olds don’t have much problem with it. But if they have to wear masks, they should be wearing the most effective one. But those are still expensive and hard to find. And and many of the protections that we do have don’t cover daycares. And we have a vaccine mandate here for teachers, but it doesn’t apply to daycare teachers. And I think if we can make toddlers wear masks, we ought to be able to ask people working with them who really can reduce the risk to them in a more meaningful way to do that.

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S1: So, Bridgette, why can’t you ask them? This is one thing. I understand that they’re not under a mandate, but there’s no way for like incentives or peer pressure or something to address this. I’m kazam surprised by that part.

S4: Yeah, we can ask and I have asked to incentivize it, but it’s just a lot to put on a small business that that runs that doesn’t make a lot of money, that doesn’t have a ton of flexibility. Can’t just go find another childcare worker willing to to work at tough wages in tough health conditions.

S2: And and every time that there is a Covid scare at your daycare, I presume I feel like I’ve seen this just in your emails. Occasionally it ends up being that parents cannot work or parents are, you know, have to take their children home because this this institution can’t stay open. And so then you lose all this this time that adults have had planned to be working and that their employer has a plan for them to be working, right?

S4: Yeah. And it’s really disruptive for the kids, too, because they you know, they get a lot out of school. And one of my kids really has a hard time every time he goes back to school, even though he likes school, because it’s hard to once you’ve been home with mommy and daddy to go back, it’s just a it’s a tough process.

S2: Bridgette Dunlap is the gabfests researcher. Slate plus members. Our topic this week, near and dear to the hearts of Emily Bazelon and Jamelle Bouie and distant from my heart will be easy scooters and bikes. We will discuss. The House passed a framework for a budget this week on party lines, which sets up a very hectic September, although weirdly it sets up a very hectic September. And yet Congress is poised to be out of session for the first three weeks of September or first two weeks for one house and first three weeks for the other. And yet they have to accomplish everything in September. They have to pass a budget at three point five trillion dollars plan budget using reconciliation. That’s what Democrats intend to do, filled with liberal priorities. They also have to pass a bipartisan one trillion dollar infrastructure bill, and they have to extend the debt ceiling Jamelle. Can any of this or all of it possibly happen?

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S3: I think that the bills can get passed, at least the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a reconciliation bill. I don’t know that a three point five trillion dollar reconciliation bill could get passed. Both Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin in the Senate have said that they do not want to spend that much money. And this group of moderates, centrist for everyone to call them in the house, have basically set themselves up to be able to make their own adjustments. So I’m not sure we’re going to get three point five trillion dollars in a reconciliation bill. But I think that bill is too high of a priority for the president, too high priority for Democratic Party leaders for it to fail. And the fact that leadership is still pushing through with this sort of two track mutually assured destruction approach in which if a reconciliation bill is not passed, the bipartisan bill will surely fail and vice versa. Makes me think that it’ll be it’ll be possible to get those two done. Now, the debt ceiling increase. I have no idea. The decision to not put a debt ceiling increase into the reconciliation bill means that they will need to get to 60 in the Senate to do it. I don’t really see that happening. I have, of course, whole rants about supermajority requirements, but I will not go into them. I’ll just say that I cannot envision how this happens. Given the Republican minority is in both chambers, determination to make a debt ceiling increase, a partisan bill.

S2: So just to explain the debt ceiling, is this is this totally mechanical function that Congress has to do, which makes no sense because it’s just it’s a nonsense thing. But if if it is not passed, the United States theoretically can default on on its payments. It is no longer allowed to issue more debt and and would be in default as it incurred obligations that it couldn’t pay off. The Democrats are saying, we’re going to put this we’re going to make a separate bill where we’re all going to vote on the debt ceiling and it’s not going to be in the reconciliation. And you Republicans are going to have to cast a vote to raise the debt ceiling, another 13 trillion dollars. And if you don’t, we will go in default and it will be your fault.

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S3: So just as to the the function of the debt ceiling, I just say I think it’s worth a little more explanation just to emphasize how stupid it is. It’s a purely political thing, as you alluded to, David, to create the impression. Right. Of voting for you’re voting for overspending. But conceptually, it doesn’t make any sense. Conceptually, it’s as if Congress had the power to declare war, but somehow not the power to raise an army. The two things have to go together. I’m reading about 17 debates about congressional power. So this is in my head right now. Right. But like if the Constitution didn’t say that Congress can raise an army, the power would still be implied because it’s a necessary part of making war in the same way. Issuing debt is a necessary part of spending. And so if you have if you have a limit on it, you’ve essentially sort of curtailed Congress’s power for reasons that make no sense.

S2: I still think that the Democrats should put in one of their bills that they’re going to raise the debt ceiling to a googolplex dollars. Yeah. And then never have to deal with it again.

S1: Oh, that would be so nice. I get so sick of this. It comes up again every time. It’s the same tired debate. It’s just like political hash for the reasons Jamelle laid out.

S2: Oh, right. That’s why they should raise it to a googolplex dollars and it will never be discussed again.

S1: Agreed.

S2: So, Emily, what is in this this reconciliation bill or this reconciliation bill, which actually hadn’t been written, but that people have talked about? That is so exciting to progressives and liberals that it’s so important that that it get passed.

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S1: Oh, so many things. There is. Is a whole bunch of money for pushing the electricity sector to reduce pollution, so lots of renewable energy incentives, climate change, great health care stuff. This might be my favorite part. Medicare expanding to include dental hearing and vision coverage for Americans over the age of 65. Right. That’s really important. Then there is education there, sending three and four year olds to pre-K, making that universal. And then there’s trying to make community college universal. I’m just going to bracket that. I think we should at some point make that a separate topic, because I’m not sure quite what I think about that, given the importance of four year versus two year degrees for people’s economic mobility. But I haven’t done enough research to really know what I think. So anyway, we could go back to that. And then there’s extending the child tax credit, which is in the pandemic plan. Right. It’s happening right now that families are getting up to 300 dollars per child per month, but it’s supposed to expire at the end of the year. And this would make that permanent, which would be huge. And then there’s tax increases to pay for this, which is a way of, you know, redistributing wealth in the United States, taking it away from the highest income brackets and super wealthy corporations.

S2: So Jamelle, if Manchin and cinema and then more moderate Democrats in the House. Constrain that three point five trillion dollar bill. Where do you think it will get constrained? What are the parts that are going to get squeezed out of it?

S3: I honestly can’t say, because oftentimes their cuts are entirely arbitrary. I believe that the bill includes some spending on housing. I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes less generous. The health care stuff, I would imagine, might stay intact just because one of the things that Manchin in particular wants to accomplish is making the Affordable Care Act subsidies more robust. And so I imagine that that stuff will stay just fine. Maybe some of the clean energy stuff may become less generous if assuming this all goes through, I don’t think there’s going to be drastic cuts. I imagine that they’ll try to trim off a half billion dollars from various points. I think that that is what everyone will be fine with it. It may just involve this isn’t trimming, but it is a is a different sort of the tax increases not being steep on high earners and wealthy corporations, even though I think they should be even higher than they are, less for balanced budget reasons, more for tax than more reason.

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S1: Jamelle, in your column this week, you made the argument that the bill perhaps isn’t big enough as someone who tends to get a little deer in headlights about any number that has a T four trillion, not in a rational way, just because I big numbers are big numbers. Could you explain that argument?

S3: Sure. When you think about the federal government spending vis a vis the American economy, your denominator ought to be the actual size of the American economy. Right. You denominator isn’t really federal tax receipts. It isn’t really the federal budget. It is the productive capacity of the United States. And so in 2020, that was about like I think it was a little over 20 trillion dollars. I think

S2: a ten point one trillion,

S3: 21 trillion. I think the 10 year projection for the productive output of the United States is like around 300 trillion dollars, let’s say two hundred seventy five trillion dollars a year, give or take, 20 trillion. Right. And so viewed in that sense, a three point five trillion, four point five trillion, if you include the bipartisan bill, four point five trillion dollars of spending, most of it over 10 years, amounts to a one and a half percent of the productive output of the United States. And I think bewell in those terms, we ought to be thinking much bigger, given the amount of work that needs to be done in modernizing and shoring up and constructing new infrastructure and constructing new programs. Now, I understand that this is just not how people think. I think a lot of people are like you, Emily, when they see those big numbers, they just you know, it’s a big number. And in a practical sense, a trillion dollars is almost meaningless. No. Like what does it even look like?

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S2: I think of it. It’s like purple. It’s on velvet and it’s got it’s purple and it’s got gold. Tasseled is what it looks like to me.

S3: I think people just don’t have a sense of how big the United States is. And I think that a lack of a sense of how big this country is really interferes how we think about this country. This is a gigantic country, over 330 million people. A trillion dollar economy. You know, we’re spread out over over an entire continent. It means that lots of things that, for example, become trend stories could involve a million people and mean in the context of the entire country. I mean, absolutely nothing. When you recognize just how big the country is and how big the economy is, especially when it comes to thinking about the economy, government spending, the numbers are going to be playing with for even modest impacts, are going to be huge in the south. But you shouldn’t argue about them and debate about them or even worry about them. But it is to say that if someone’s proposing a couple of trillion dollars in spending over 10 years, it really isn’t that much money relative to the actual size of the U.S. economy.

S2: That is a very vivid point. I would I guess I would argue the counter a little bit, which is a trillion dollars is three thousand dollars per American. So if you’re saying we’re going to add four point five trillion dollars, that’s fifteen thousand dollars per person in additional government spending or in government spending, maybe it’s not additional government spending in government spending. Right. It’s not nothing when you think about it. Knows.

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S3: But if you think about it over 10 years, it’s much it’s at fifteen thousand dollars a year. And I generally will push back against all sort of like this is what this is per person analogy is just because we don’t really know other kinds of spending or thought about it in those terms, that proper term for thinking about. I think that spending is the capacity of the entire economy and not an individual taxpayer. And I think that actually thinking in terms of an individual taxpayer leads you astray more often than it points you in a good direction. But even granted that fifteen thousand dollars over 10 years, one thousand five hundred dollars a year for someone or what’s that? That’s about that’s 150 bucks a month. That’s not nothing. Right. That’s that’s I would like an extra hundred dollars a month, but it isn’t for most Americans for the median American household. It is, you know, a quarter of their grocery bill. It is what they spend on gas.

S1: The child tax credit is 300 dollars per month per family or up to that amount. So that’s like an actual give back or you’re redistributing wealth to families.

S3: When you start to think about what people are actually getting for that amount of money, it is. It’s quite a bit.

S2: Do you think, Emily, the Democrats have learned the lesson? From the Obamacare. World from Trumps, from from from the Obamacare, the way Obamacare was constrained to meet certain demands of conservative Democrats, the way Trump spent wildly without any consequence, have they learned that spending you should just spend, you just spend and spend and not really worry about it, and then actually you’re you’re not going to pay any political price with anybody who matters.

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S1: Yeah, it does seem like that. We’re back in sort of New Deal mindset of spending to make policy. I think also Democrats are responding to the constraints of the filibuster. I mean, there are some really important lawmaking levers that they would like to pull. And should Paul and I’m thinking now of, you know, voting rights, changing labor law, like there are some really crucial things that would help the United States that are out of reach because of the filibuster in the Senate right now.

S2: Let’s go to cocktail chatter. I know knowing Jamelle and Jamelle is fine planning precision research skills, that if he were having a cocktail, it would be a very well-made cocktail. There had been a huge amount of research put into that cocktail. I don’t know if you actually drink cocktails, Jamelle, but if you do, I bet it’s a great cocktail. So you can tell us about that or you can just give us a cocktail Janner.

S3: I think I’ll just give you a cocktail chatter because I’m much more of a wine guy. But OK, so I feel like usually when I’m on here and I do a cocktail chatter, it is something high minded. But I was this is something very low culture. I was talking to some friends recently about blockbuster soundtracks from the 1990s. So if you remember movies in 1990s and blockbusters in particular, they would release be the score as a as an album, but also a collection of music inspired by the movie. And often these soundtracks were absolutely wild, just sort of full of stuff that had really nothing to do with the film. But, you know, the artists got paid a bunch of money. And so the one the one of the one of these albums that really stands out to me that I think people should listen to as a fascinating artifact of 1990s. Movie culture is the album for Godzilla, the Roland Emmerich 1998 Godzilla film. It’s called Godzilla, the album. It just just looking at the track listing right now. It has The Wallflowers, it has a Diddy song featuring Jimmy Page has Jamiroquai, if you remember that group. And it has one song in particular, it called No Shelter, Bear Rage Against the Machine, which is a song that blasts the listener for even going to see the movie, because it is a distraction from the capitalist oligarchy. This is like track number four. I mean, Godzilla, the movie album, it’s really funny and really strange. And people should check out the whole thing if you can find it. It also sold very well, went went platinum in the U.S. So people ate this thing up

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S2: just like Godzilla ate up American cities. Emily, what is your chatter?

S1: I was really interested in the story this week about OnlyFans, which is a site that has a lot of creators on it. There’s a site that kicked off all its adult content providers saying that they were having a banking problem, but it was like a real kind of blow to adults who make sexual content because like suddenly they lost this important forum for getting paid. And then OnlyFans reversed itself somewhat mysteriously, didn’t say exactly which of its banks or whether some other bank had stepped in. So I’m interested in this for two reasons. Since the passage of these laws that are called faster and cesta for short, and please don’t ask me what those acronyms stand for, but we’ve had much more push from social media platforms toward banning adult content, even if it’s perfectly legal and people are making a consensually. And this seemed like another step in that direction that was being driven by this issue of what’s called the stack. Right. It’s not just that you need a platform. You also need all the parts of it that allow that platform to operate like whatever’s protecting it from spam attacks and denial of service and the financial providers, the credit card companies. So to see OnlyFans take this platform away from these creators, but then give it back, because the banks seem to have popped back up and agreed to play ball again. It’s just like an interesting, I guess, version of the problem of deep platforming that looked like it was about to happen. So anyway, OnlyFans back for adult content creators.

S2: I have to chatters one real chatter and then one just brief one. My real chatter is, if you have not read Atul Gawande a piece in The New Yorker, Costa Ricans live longer than us. What’s the secret? Go read it immediately. It’s an amazing story about how Costa Rica’s health system works. And if you are in despair about the failures of government or your sense, like government can’t do anything right or public policy, it’s hopeless. And indeed, in the United States, it often looks that way. This is this article, the tonic. It’s just about how the efforts of public policy in Costa Rica, notably the placing of public health as a as a good, not individual health. The public’s health at the forefront of government priority led Costa Rica to make a series of decisions that has made the country healthier, happier, more prosperous than any comparable country in the world. It’s a brilliant story. Check it out and then. One other thing about public policy is that here in Traverse City and was hiking on the sleeping bear dunes the other day with my girlfriend. Great, great dunes. Go hike there. If you can love the

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S1: name of those. Do.

S2: Oh, yeah. Yes. And they’re astonishing. They’re huge, enormous dunes. And as we were hiking, we we fell into conversation with a pair of Chinese grad students who go to American universities, their science grad students, and in in STEM fields and at very good universities. And just Padnos camp, they were just having a summer trip together. They’re here on student visas. And, you know, they just were not confident that they were going to be able to stay in the U.S. and work in the U.S. when they got their degrees in a year or so. And they were bummed about that. And it was just like it was just so. The thought that these guys who have made this incredible effort in their life, who are obviously so frickin smart, who are working in fields that are I’m not going to say what they are because I don’t want to put them and expose them at all. But at fields that are like relevant to the national prosperity of the United States, that we would not make every effort in our power to keep them in the U.S. where they want to stay. It’s crazy. Now, I understand like there’s they may be spies for all you know, Pavley likely they’re spies. It’s also likely they’d go back to China and take the intellectual property that developed in the U.S. and take it back to China. But to not use this, when we spent all this money and effort training these people to American graduate schools is crazy to me. So that’s just a just just to note that if we should keep keep people who come to study here as long as we possibly can. And it’s not not to give up on them.

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S3: I just to just to add to that, when I was in college, I lived my whole four years at UVAs International Dorm, and so many of my friends from college are international students. And as depressed me, you know, when how many of them basically had to leave the United States because they couldn’t get work visas. People who spent four years here who, you know, loved living here, who have connections here, but who had to go elsewhere, go to Canada, for example, because they couldn’t manage to stay here. Very, very disheartening.

S2: Listeners, you continue to send us excellent chatters week after week after week, you tweet them to us at at Slate gabfests. In fact, Carl KRON Lage tweeted that Atul Gawande ICRA I talked about to me, and that’s one of the ways I heard about it. So thank you, Carl. But our listener chowder this week is from Nilo Garza. And it’s about a interesting lawsuit against U.S. gun manufacturers.

S5: Hello, gabfests. So I came across this news on the daily podcast and I looked it up on the NPR site to confirm it. And earlier this month, the Mexican government announced its intention to sue us gun manufacturers, basically placing part of the responsibility for drug cartel violence on U.S. gun manufacturers. And it looks like they are trying to utilize a loophole in the PLCC legislation. It’s also known as PLACA legislation. It’s a federal gun statute. In any case, I was actually very excited by the direction this may take, and maybe I’ll just bring the whole discussion to the forefront. Thank you.

S2: That’s our show for today. The Gabfests is produced by Jocelyn Frank. Our researcher and co commentator is Bridgette Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate Audio. June Thomas is managing producer, and Lisa Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcast. Please follow us on Twitter at SlateGabfest and tweet your chatter to us there for Emily Bazelon and Jamelle Bouie. I’m David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week. Hello, Slate, plus, how are you? So, as you probably know, I’m a big, big cyclist. I like to bike around everywhere. But apparently Jamelle and Emily have different ways that they like to get around. And they’re here to represent the revolution in personalized transportation. E scooters, Ebix, you guys are going to make the case for it, I’m going to hit you sit here and just skeptically throw darts at you

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S1: and OK, so wait a second. This is ridiculous, because if you’re not in your own city, you don’t have your own bike. I also ride my own bike around my own city. But I have been with you when we have tried to rent bikes in other cities. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

S2: It’s not new with bikes. I thought you’re talking about bikes.

S1: It has to do with the scooter. Yes, that. Oh, electric one. No, I meant the apps. I didn’t mean the electric part.

S2: Start with Stardust’s with electric bikes.

S1: You defend the electric bikes. I’ve never been on an issue like that.

S2: Great.

S3: I’m a huge defender of the electric bike, so I own an electric bike. I have a turn GSD. It’s an electric cargo bike. It weighs about seventy five pounds. It can carry two kids, carry a bunch of groceries. And I live in Charlottesville, which is very hilly. So having the bike has been great for kind of getting around quickly without my car. I have a regular bike, I have a folding bike, and I use those Fredrick excuse me. I use it for various things here. If you have

S2: not until you’ve seen Jamelle Bouie with this folding bike. It is amazing, though, that it really is when they make the Jamelle Bouie documentary or begin with Jamelle Bouie, I think arriving on his foldable bike and then folding his bike up, and then it turned elegantly. Natalie Ataya, then step in front of a microphone and begin to hold forth. That’s the Jamelle Bouie.

S3: Yeah, I’m a I’m a walking cliché. I mean, it doesn’t really come across on the audio, but I’m a huge hipster cliché.

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S1: I have wanted a folding bike since I first saw one, but I am so convinced I won’t be able to fold. It unfolded like it is just the case that I won’t be able to do it. But of course you can.

S3: But the case for bikes is that especially if you’re living in a city or in a compact area, they really can replace a lot of car trips. I think they can probably replace most car trips. And if you’re thinking in terms of the environment, in terms of climate, I think that’s important, too. But I also think that in terms of just personal convenience, it’s just a superior way to get around. You know, you don’t have to worry about buying gasoline. You don’t have to worry about parking. You can just go door to door for most places and do so relatively quickly in terms of my daily travel in Charlottesville. The time difference between an e bike, my bike and my car is almost nonexistent. And often it’s faster to get to a place by bike than it is by car. Just because you’re not is limited by traffic, for example. Part of changing people’s habits is showing people that there are very viable and even superior ways of getting their everyday, everyday items accomplished. And I think bikes are a kind of perfect example of this. They’re also relative to a car much cheaper by order of magnitude. And when you consider things like the majority of bike commuters, for example, are working class people and you consider that bike lanes in most cities are actually most used by working class people, when you consider that the people most likely to be injured by cars, whether it’s pedestrians or as cyclists, are working class people. And when you consider that owning a car as a requirement of getting to your job ends up being basically a thirty five hundred dollars a yearly tax. And when you consider maintenance and fuel and all these things, I think that if we’re thinking about economic equality, if we’re thinking about fairness, then both encouraging the adoption of electronic bikes or bikes general and building infrastructure around them is a no brainer. I honestly believe that there are no downsides here and only positives if we begin to conceive of these things not as recreation or not as exercise, but as tools for transportation, which they are very good.

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S2: Yeah, I 100 percent agree with that of brand bikes. I think I absolutely I was. I’m a huge

S1: also. You’re ashamed?

S2: No, no, I was I was that whole set up was I love regular Bengie. Bikes are great. I think scooters are a totally other matter because these scooters are are they people leave them everywhere. They people ride them without helmets almost universally. They are basically unsafe on city streets. They’re also unsafe on city sidewalks, and therefore they’re unsafe anywhere. People want to use them. They’re only safe in bike lanes. People don’t tend to use them in bike lanes. And they’re also not wearing helmets. And so they are they cause a raft of injuries. They’re visual pollution because people leave them everywhere. They leave them in the middle of places that people are trying to walk or people are trying to drive and they toss them away because they don’t like them. And they’re they’re. They’re very irritating to people who are trying to get places when you come, you know, you can’t park because there’s 16 little scooters have been left willy nilly across the sidewalk. It’s very irritating. They take common spaces. I don’t I don’t feel that same positive vibe around scooters that I feel around bikes because and they’re get less useful. They go slower. They are harder to navigate. And as I said, like they’re they’re just unsafe to be on.

S1: My God, you’re like ruining my newfound romance with Escude.

S2: Yeah, you’re right. You know, when you fall and break your wrist and can’t play tennis for a year, that’s when you’ll ruin your newfound romance with these haters.

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S1: OK, so I have only written them in the city of Berlin in which I had a total love affair with them, which started with utter skepticism. We were trying to get on regular bikes with an app, and the apps just were not working in the slightest. Even my husband and son, who are much better at such things than me, could not get them to work. So we ended up on these scooters. I didn’t want to get on it. I thought I was going to fall for right away. We started on this like cobblestone e like next to the sidewalk. There were some poor woman in front of me on a walker. I was like, I am going to kill this person. But there my son had already like cruised off in his 21 year old agile self. And I didn’t really have a choice. And I just got there like a magic carpet ride. I mean, OK, all the things you said could totally be true in Washington, D.C. But in Berlin, once you get away from the cobblestones, there are a lot of places where they have these pretty wide boulevards, where there is a bike lane and it’s very smooth or even just like this extra path next to the sidewalk. And I just couldn’t. It was like the breeze was perfect. The speed was perfect as a tourist for seeing everything. We just zipped all over the city in them. And the fact that they’re so little is great. And so, for example, my favorite moments of them, we were going to the Berlin Wall Memorial, which is actually like a bunch of little memorials where you keep stopping and reading. You know, museum exhibit like placards next to photographs and even just getting on and off a bike would have been kind of a pain. It was totally not a pain to just like take your foot off the scooter and then it starts right up again. I was like completely, completely enchanted. I decided it was like Harry Potter and being on a broomstick. So at least in Berlin, I feel like they are worth all the trouble, though it is true that we were not wearing a helmet. Did you wear a helmet? Yeah. No, we didn’t have helmets. And like, I don’t know how we really could have accomplished the helmet part of it. And that did occur to me as a downside. But I still really liked them. I wonder if there are other cities where they’re working better than in Washington, other than Berlin.

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S2: They may be working great in Washington and maybe working fantastically in Washington, just not I don’t know. Not for those of us who aren’t using them. They’re not.

S1: The other thing is they were incredibly cheap. I mean, obviously, these apps are being backed by venture capitalists. And this is like a bubble that’s going to go away. But literally, it was like we spent, you know, I don’t know, three dollars, four days of happy scooting, right?

S2: No, I think it’s true. And it all goes back to Jamelle, your original point, which is that we need options for people’s transportation that aren’t simply, you know, forcing them to bike in 90 degree heat or walk everywhere or wait for buses that don’t come, or most of all, getting in their car to drive alone somewhere and then park and need the parking space. And these things are all better, I guess. I guess where I feel that that scooters aren’t quite there is that the infrastructure and the the habits of use around scooters, at least in my city of Washington, appear to be not quite sophisticated enough yet that there are just not enough places to use them safely. And the way people use them is abusive of other people and like writing down the sidewalk and nearly hitting you or falling off them and ending up in the emergency room.

S1: So I’m not sure I buy the distinction you’re making so sharply between these scooters and bikes or just scooters and bikes. I do think there is this crucial question about infrastructure on the way cities are built and how wide streets are. And just like getting car culture to back off. I mean, one thing that struck me over and over again was that the cars just weren’t going very fast in Berlin. I mean, if I had been in an American city, it would have been so much harder because like, you know, the late term green people just like put their foot on the pedal and like, you better get out of the way. And a lot of foreign city is that’s just not how people drive. And it makes a huge difference about how safe all this is.

S2: Yeah. All right. Slate plus. Talk to you on your on your hovercraft, on your air balloon. See you on your.

S1: That sounds great.

S2: You’re e e canu, whatever it is, we’ll e later by plus.