The “Actually It Is ‘Infrastructure Week!’” 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 gifts for July, twenty second, twenty twenty one, the actually it is Infrastructure Week Edition. I am David Plotz, I am of City Cast. I’m still here in Vermont, USA. I’ll be back in Washington DC later, but I’m still in Vermont. I’m joined by John Dickerson of CBS Sunday Morning Face the Nation, probably from Manhattan, I guess. Hello, John.

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S3: Yes, from the city of New York

S2: and back from Europe, where she’s done the grand tour is Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School. Hello, Emily.

S1: Hey, guys. Nice to be back.

S2: Are you the first of us to to cross the American border since the pandemic began? Maybe so

S1: if neither of you have, then, yes,

S2: congratulations on can

S1: they still exist, those other countries, they were happy to have us seemingly

S2: this week. The vaccine crisis, the Delta variant is rampant. Vaccination rates are not going back up. What can be done to get more Americans vaccine? Then why is this infrastructure bill stagnating? Didn’t they make a deal on it? Is there going to be an infrastructure bill? What is happening with that Senate of ours? And then the Tokyo Olympics start tomorrow? Should they start tomorrow? Should they exist at all? Plus, of course, we will have cocktail chatter. Vaccine rates are dropping, there’s a political dimension to that. Republicans are far less likely to be Vaccinated than Democrats and are far less likely now to want to get vaccinated. But there are lots of other dimensions to black Americans, for example, are getting taxed at lower rates. Young Americans are getting taxed at much lower rates. Meanwhile, people like me say or like Emily say are seething that the FDA has not yet officially approved vaccines. So we’re going to talk today about how we can get vaccine rates up. I think we’re going to pause it for the sake of this gabfests audience, because I think all three of us believe it, that getting people vaccinated is probably the best thing we can do to get this pandemic under control, that there’s no vaccine doubt that’s going to be creeping into this gabfests. I suspect we are. The premises premises like vaccines are good. Let’s get more people vaccinated. How can we do that? There are a lot of good ideas. So, Emily, let’s start with with one of the things that’s been irritating the hell out of you and me, both the FDA’s sloth in switching the approval from an emergency use authorization for these vaccines in which they’re saying these vaccines, we don’t even know if they work. If you read the fine print, it’s like we don’t know if these things do anything. It’s like this is like just having a jar of Gatorade to making it, actually, because

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S3: they don’t really what this is.

S1: Well, that’s what they say.

S2: It is what they say. If you read the fine print, if you read the fine print, it’s like this is not an approved vaccine. We don’t know if this works. If you actually read the documents they give you. But then they say

S1: is that they do believe it works and they want us to take the right. I mean, I want to align myself here with my colleague David Leonhardt, who pointed this out earlier in the week, that every important public health official in the United States is begging people to be vaccinated while the fine print continues to talk about emergency use.

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S2: And what sorry sorry to interrupt just in is not the fine print. If you when you go to get vaccinated, they give you something. And the first thing it says I don’t have in front of me is this is not an Approved vaccine for the covid-19. There is no Approved vaccine for covid-19

S1: says the fine print. It’s the

S2: big print.

S1: Fine. And I think the problem here is the FDA’s normal process. Right. Let’s make the FDA’s argument. We have a process we go through. This is a big deal to end emergency authorization. And finally, bless the vaccine completely. And we’re not going to rush our process. And if we do rush our process, Americans will lose confidence in the vaccine. So that’s their argument. The other argument which David Leonhardt, among other people, has been making loudly and other public health folks, I should say, like Eric Topol is. Wait a second, we need everybody to get vaccinated faster. You’re undermining the public health messaging here by not expediting your approach. If your normal approach is the slow and we’re having this emergency pandemic, you should change your approach. If everybody knows that the vaccine will get final approval in August or September, October, which is what President Biden said this week, then let’s just go ahead and do it. And to me, the key question is about vaccine mandates. You’re right. I have no idea how many people are not getting vaccinated because they’re worried about this emergency interim approval. But it is clear that it’s affecting, you know, the military police forces, universities, employers in in making them reluctant, a lot of them, to impose vaccine mandates. And those mandates we should talk about whether that’s even a good idea. But that is one route to more people getting vaccinated.

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S3: In Ohio this week, there was a bill that had to do with school funding and part of the bill had a mandatory vaccination for returning to the school year. Governor to win didn’t support that mandate. And what he said was because DeWine is on the kind of pro vaccination spectrum of the Republican Party. And what he said was that will all be taken care of once the FDA grants full authorization and then based on full authorization, it it’ll kind of the covert vaccine will slip into the normal vaccinations you need to have in order to go back to school. And so that’s emphasizing your point that that’s just one of the many ways the Kaiser poll showed I think it was 30 some odd percent said they would be more likely to get it if there was full authorization. And when I when I interviewed a couple of weeks ago, Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas, one of the hardest hit states, that was his first point about why his efforts to get people vaccinated or failing is that people felt like somehow not being fully authorized was some sign that it wasn’t quite correct. But of course, we’ve had this amazing experiment of, you know, well, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people have gone to

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S2: vaccinations,

S3: Asa billion.

S2: But I understand there are three billion doses worldwide.

S3: Yeah, I was thinking in the States, but my understanding is that what they’re looking at is, is no longer whether it works or doesn’t work, that’s all. The stuff they had to and whether it’s safe or not safe, they had to figure that out to get emergency use authorization, but that this is about stability of the vaccine in doctors offices, how it’s transported, you know, shelf stability and those kinds of issues.

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S2: Look, I understand if you’re a Republican governor, the politics of this are not easy for you to say, like, oh, we’re going to do a mandate. And and I think it’s perfectly reasonable, in fact, for governments to wait and say we cannot do a mandate until there’s an FDA approval. But I also. Find it a little disingenuous for Hutchinson or to whine, to say, oh, that’s the main reason when there is this also entire armature of people out in the world who are casting doubt, discouraging vaccination and ginning up kind of froth and frenzy around it, all of whom are associated with your political party as it happens. It’s not as simple as saying like, well, that’ll solve it, because that will sort of solve it. But you still have this this terrible politics around it.

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S3: Well, you’re mixing two things. One is an actual law that would go into place, which would be mandating vaccines. That’s triggered by that. The other is whether the argument is satisfactory to convince people. And sure, there’s I mean, there are lots of reasons people aren’t getting. And one of one of the main ones is that all the voices they’re hearing are saying that this is suspicious and that this is the big arm of the government. But those are Hutchinson. And Dwina in two different places are facing two different things and talking about two different things.

S1: Can I invoke my trip to Europe here? I mean, you know, Americans have had more access to the vaccine than most other countries, and yet we’ve politicized it more. And it’s pretty tragic. We have this Delta variant, which is more contagious, this like horrible, you know, latest problem. And we have all the vaccine we need. We can’t get people to take it. Meanwhile, in, you know, the developing world, it’s still incredibly hard to get vaccinated. Right? I mean, there are countries where it’s still like one percent. Even in Europe, there are remains less access. It’s been slower and it’s not politicized the way it is here, at least in Germany where I was at, just the whole thing. It’s such an American paradox that people’s definition of freedom is to not get vaccinated, even though that is the clearest route out.

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S2: I don’t think it’s not politicized at all. And I was reading a little bit like the German far right is politicizing it.

S1: I don’t think support is declining like they are a smaller fraction of the country. You don’t hear about it. When I was saying to people like, are people politicizing the vaccine? What about masks? It just didn’t have the same polarizing force.

S3: And what’s amazing is the politicization is going on in real time as the Delta variant is ravaging these neighborhoods. Here’s a good example. Jason Smith, who’s in Missouri, he’s a Senate candidate, is saying that, you know, that that the Biden government is going door to door like the KGB. As we know, Missouri is one of the hardest hit states. Springfield, Missouri, is basically one of the biggest hot spots. I mean, the CEO of Cox Health Care, Steve Edwards, is tweeting about, you know, please get vaccinated so nurses don’t have to zip up more body bags. It’s one thing to be a member of a party whose commentators are casting doubt on vaccinations. It’s another thing in real time when people are dying at rates like near the last winter in your community to be spreading false information and using this for political gain when the downside of your political gain is people getting sicker. I mean, that’s a real time choice to be awful

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S2: John don’t you sense, at least in the last few days, there is there is at least some quiver of doubt that’s entered the general Republican mind about this, that they’re there. You hear more and more Republican politicians saying, go out, get vaccines. That may be that may be opportunistic by a few people, but I suspect, like they have must be seeing some really terrible polling numbers in certain states or they wouldn’t they wouldn’t necessarily start talking about it.

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S3: Yeah, it’s you have to kind of figure out I mean, when Sean Hannity talks about getting Vaccinated, that is a change. So that that seems to have changed in the last week.

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S1: Right. I mean, we have to bring up Fox and social media. Yeah. They’ve had such a role in spreading it.

S2: It is. I want to switch to other things that can be done around vaccination rates in a second. But I just want to make one point, which continues to baffle me, which is it is bizarre to me that former President Trump has run away from the vaccines. It would have been when you think back on like the last, you know, eight months of the of history, the thing that would have, you know, maybe I’m wrong, but the thing that might have made might have made a huge difference, at least in vaccination rates among among Republicans. Is Trump just, you know, bragging, taking credit? He’s so good at bragging. He’s so good at taking credit. And this is a thing where, like, arguably his administration didn’t do a bad job, like, you know, Operation Rolling Thunder or Restless Phalcon or whatever it was called, Operation Warp Drive, warp speed, operation warp speed. Actually, you know, it did it did the job. Like the government didn’t get the way. They got it out. They got out quickly. He was the easy thing. Take credit. He would have made him look good. What if it upped his approval ratings nationwide and he’s just chosen to boot that away? And it’s so it’s so confounding and frustrating and stupid, but whatever.

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S1: So what do we do about the mistrust? Because they’re different flavors of mistrust in different Vaccinated less communities. But mistrust is a common factor here. Would would mandates increase vaccination rates across the board? Are they going to cause a backlash? You know, in my city where the lower rates continue to be more among lower income people. It seems like mandates for work might make a real difference. But I could imagine in a place that’s very Republican that people could revolt and maybe that’s not a good idea.

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S2: I mean, I would say yes and yes, mandates will get more people vaccinated and they will create a backlash. Both of those things are true. I met Yglesias had a nice column where he said, pick the easier targets. Don’t say let’s get mandates and every red state immediately or every even purple state like Democratic governors and very Democratic states should as soon as the FDA approved, should put mandates in there for those places where it’s military. Military should do

S1: it. Yeah, they’re used to being ordered around,

S2: but not not to try to not to not try to force it on every place, at every moment with as much strength and sort of say, like, let’s get the winds where we can get the winds and that every bit helps. That sort of made sense to me.

S3: One of the things that’s working, at least in Springfield, Missouri, is in a conservative community is having pastors and preachers talk about saying things like, I don’t want half of the congregation Vaccinated and the other half, not that plus door to door knocking seems to be paying off a little bit in I think it was France. Yeah, I think it’s France where when they mandated you needed to have vaccination to do certain public things, the requests for vaccination shot up.

S1: Yeah. And then one hundred thousand people, protesters flooded the streets, I believe, in Paris. So there you go. Vaccinations went up and there was a backlash.

S2: So, Emily, I want to hit as we exit this on a point that has been made by a number of people. Ross Douthat, our friend made it in The Times this week, which was just like, why not pay people a lot more to do it? I can can you up vaccination rates by saying, well, we’re going to pay you a thousand dollars to get Vaccinated. A thousand dollars. Do you think that would make a difference?

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S1: Well, it’s it’s an interesting question right now where the government actually is giving out more money and this is something the government wants from people. So, you know, it sort of feels like maybe that could be connected in some way. Do you feel David in D.C.? They’re paying people, I think, in these fifty one dollar gift card.

S2: I got no gift. I got no good. I didn’t the first I heard about it was reading about it yesterday in preparation. I didn’t know nothing about it. Now maybe they started it after I got faxed. Fifty one dollars is pretty mingy though compared to a thousand.

S3: And also you guys know this but. But they’re different. You’ve got different audiences. There’s certain audiences where it is just you know, it’s an irritant to get Vaccinated. So the fifty one gets you past that irritant. But there are other people for whom the ideology is is insurmountable by money or personal relationship with a doctor.

S1: Well, forget those people, right? I mean, those people are the hardest ones. Don’t forget them. But they’re not for WIPA. For a lot of young people, money would make a difference. Right? Because, look, you know, if you’re only thinking about yourself and you’re young, the risks are not so great from covid that it’s obvious in the same way it is for older people that you just have to get Vaccinated. Whereas if someone was going to give you, you know, 100 bucks, 500 bucks, a thousand bucks, like, I don’t know, I bet it would. Some of the young people I’ve talked to just seem like they haven’t gotten around to it. Yeah.

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S3: And judging from the line people used to stand in to get one free scoop of ice cream that Ben and Jerry’s by our old office. Right. For hours, they would stand in line for a free scoop, but damn ice cream. So based on that behavior in certain cities, I think fifty one bucks would make people run over their grandmother to get Vaccinated.

S2: The joke during the Trump administration was that it was always infrastructure weak, the notion being that they were constantly declaring or about to declare it was infrastructure weak and then would get distracted by whatever nonsense was actually preoccupying President Trump. And so there was never any infrastructure, another like total, total own goal by Trump. Like speaking of the vaccines, if he had done infrastructure would have been great for him. But whatever let’s not talk about that. The Biden administration, it feels like it’s never quite infrastructure, weak John. Is it infrastructure weak at last or that, again, not going to be infrastructure weak?

S3: Well, the big difference is it’s always infrastructure weak in the sense that there are conversations going on. There are the details of sausage making that are happening. It looks like, you know, old fashioned legislating and that’s fine. That pace is totally natural and it’s all fine. The big question that is still on the table and that infrastructure points to perhaps above everything else, is that there have been bipartisan agreements, things that have passed huge a. huge competitiveness bill aimed at at thwarting China’s rise that passed with massive bipartisan approval. There have been bills that passed like that. But the question is, which bill and where is it that’s on the line there? That because there’s plenty of stuff that won’t pass, because Republicans won’t vote for it, but infrastructure sits right on the line where you’ve got local reasons that Republicans would want to vote for it. And the question was always, could you, through the old sausage making process, create something that would get 10 Republican votes and overcome the systemic reasons that Republicans would never want to vote for anything that would give the president a win? All of those systemic reasons are the rise of conservative media, the the primaries that are coming up that Republicans have to worry about the fact that control of the Senate is very close and giving a win to the Democratic Party waters down your ability to run and say, hey, they’re doing nothing, elect us and put us in charge. All those structural reasons that have been making politics harder for the last 20, 30 years are all aligned against the self-interest of those who might want to vote for an infrastructure bill. So that’s all going on this week. Chuck Schumer tried to force a vote to at least get conversation going. It didn’t go anywhere, but it looks like it’s it’s all still possible. But in the Trump presidency, there was never a bill. There were never discussions. It was a it was I mean, it was much more of a joke. This is just the slow process of sausage making in our current political environment.

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S2: So what I find both interesting and frustrating about this, this feels like a return to status quo ante. It’s like, yes, there is legislating going on, but also there’s a lot of bad faith legislating going on that it’s clear that a lot of Republicans really don’t want this to happen. They’re they do have this kind of hard infrastructure bill, almost close to a billion dollars for hard infrastructure, roads and bridges. And I think the grid and water. That’s good. It’s fine. It’s good. Good stuff. But the Republicans are objecting to any way of paying for it. So they they complain that it’s not paid for. But then the Democrats are proposing ways to pay for it. So raising gas taxes, rolling back the tax cuts for the rich and the one that really gets my goat is is IRS enforcement. So Democrats want to pay for this by saying we’re going to step up IRS enforcement so that all the people who are cheating on their taxes will start to have to pay. And even that was blocked because Republicans hate the idea of any expansive IRS power. So it’s it’s very it’s very hard to do bipartisanship if one group will not look at the revenue side of the ledger. That’s another obstacle.

S3: When you’ve just said David supports the notion that basically President Obama ended his presidency believing which was and that Joe Biden has actively resisted that you can talk about bipartisanship, but when it comes down to the final details in the final moment, there will always be a reason not to vote for it or always be a reason not to get to. Yes. And that that reason is essentially precooked by the structural forces I went through earlier and that going down the bipartisan road is a fool’s errand. I have a theory about why it isn’t, but I’ll stop talking for a minute.

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S1: This week, though, it seemed like what the 10 or 11 Republicans who might vote for the infrastructure bill were objecting to is that it wasn’t all written out yet. Was that like just a normal process? Objection that suggests that they will still be on board or those votes? Is that just like an excuse for the votes never to materialize?

S3: We’re not sure. They said just give us a little more time till next week and we’ll get on board. So we’ll have to see whether they do. I don’t think it’s dead yet. It may die in its next round, but this won’t kill it, even though they didn’t vote to go into debate because they said there were no details yet.

S2: John, do you think that Biden and his folks are actually perplexed that the deal has become molasses? Biden said this week, Oh, we had a handshake and it sounded so naive. But he’s obviously, you know, an intelligent person with a lot of experience. Is he actually puzzled or is he just posing as puzzled?

S3: I think there is a part of bipartisan theater that is important here for two reasons, because he’s about to pass with 50 votes. He hopes a three point five trillion dollar spending package through the Senate, which on a totally straight partisan party line vote. To do so, he needs two Democrats who care about the appearance of bipartisanship and need to be able to say, look, we really tried it on infrastructure and they weren’t there with us. So we went this 50 vote reconciliation route on the three point five trillion dollar spending. He won’t be able to pass that spending if he doesn’t get those two Democrats. And so participating in the bipartisan dance is necessary to get the legislation passed, but it’s also necessary because I think it has that connective tissue to the next thing that Biden wants. And he can’t just pass it with 50 votes because he doesn’t have 50 Democratic votes yet. And part of the small purchase price is this bipartisan theater.

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S2: I think I want to make two points. One, I find it odd and kind of frustrating that the Washington doesn’t do infrastructure all the time. When borrowing costs are this low, it’s basically almost free for the US government to spend, to build things, anything they want. It’s it’s virtually like it’s it’s really almost free. And it’s it’s kind of weird that they don’t just do it all the time. And if we had a normal functioning political system, there would be so much infrastructure spending right now because it’s very easy for the government to do it. And the payoff generally is is well worth it. That’s one point. But let’s set that aside. The second question for you, Emily, is this is all this hard infrastructure? But there’s this. If you remember back to the conversations we were having several months ago, there was a discussion of softer infrastructure, child care around education, which is not going to get in this bill. Republicans won’t vote for it. Do you think we’re ever going to get to that? Do you think there is going to be another bite at this where where some of these softer things get in or will it be in the three point five trillion dollar spending package?

S1: I mean, I think that this depends on the dance that John was talking about. So if you’re the Biden people, you say, well, once Manchin and cinema see that we’ve done this bipartisan effort, whichever way it goes, then they’ll be much more likely to sign on to this larger Democratic effort because they can say, well, we tried and the Republicans would dance with us until we’re going off and doing our own thing later. And it’ll just depend on them. I mean, I feel like that is the really Boring answer to basically all these questions about legislation.

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S3: Well, and I don’t want to leave the impression that that dance is the only thing that’s going to be required to get the three point five through. I mean, I think there’s concerns about inflation that we’ll have a moment. I mean, it’s having a moment now. Manchin and cinema are tough cats to figure out. So I don’t want to pretend that this dance is the only thing, but it is a part of getting to whatever Democrats are going to get to get their three point five. But they’re going to try and stuff as much of that stuff. You mentioned David into that spending as possible.

S2: John. Can I close the segment with a totally off the off the track question, which is I noticed this week that Republicans may object to the debt ceiling so that so as we learn tediously every few years, there’s this thing where you have to authorize the debt ceiling, even though the government is already spending the money. There’s this law that you have to authorize the government to to to go this much into debt. And there’s always a threat that the U.S. is going to default and came very close. A few years ago. There was the trillion, if you remember, the trillion dollar coin so out. So these days you have to print like four trillion dollar coins. Here is my question to you, John, which is if Democrats have to take a party line vote to extend the debt ceiling, why can they can they not just extend the debt ceiling by like a 10 quadrillion dollars? Eight million, 10 quadrillion? Yeah, like a googolplex dollar. We now authorize the US government to go into to an infinite amount of debt effectively, and that that never has to come back. Now, you take that hard, take that vote once. And it’s like weird because you’ve just said we’re going to spend a 10 quadrillion dollars eventually, but then it never has to come up again. Why don’t they do it? Is it just that they don’t want the politics or they can’t legally do that?

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S3: I, I am afraid I don’t have a satisfying answer because there could be some fantastic Senate rule that I don’t know about that limits the size of the debt ceiling increase, I think. And now they have tried in the past to I think it was Dick Gephardt who popularized and maybe even spearhead it. He spearheaded, but I think maybe even conceived of the basically getting rid of the whole damn debt ceiling and stopping this process, making it, I think, more or less automatic, like

S1: when you stump John on Senate and the rules, that’s like a win for the morning. It takes a lot. But I,

S3: I but I would say

S2: trying to answer, I

S3: yeah. But I would say is that there is like

S1: Gephardt fact

S3: of it is that, is that I just I think you’re right about. Yeah. They don’t want to be seen as I mean the whole reason McConnell is doing this is to say, you know, as inflation fears are are increasing and people on fixed income, you know, worry about inflation. And to the extent that Republicans want to get fixed income voters in states like Florida, you know, they want people to be talking about inflation. And this connects with that. We should mention, of course, that the the size of the debt and the size of the deficit blossomed. Extraordinarily under President Trump, and there was none of this concern that gets forgotten in these conversations, but it’s worth pointing out that this sudden concern about the debt and deficit was largely absent during the last four years. Nevertheless, I don’t think you want, as a Democrat, to increase something beyond all numbers because it would allow Republicans to say, oh, my gosh, they’re they’re increased by increasing the debt ceiling. Ten gazillion googolplex is it’s a sign of their profligacy. So I think basically you’re probably right about the politics of it. I don’t know about the structure of the Senate reasons for it.

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S2: Slate plus members, our topic, Slate plus topic this week is the billionaire space race. Is that cute or is it Folley? It’ll be fun. Slate, dotcom, SlateGabfest plus. The Tokyo Olympics

S3: start on

S2: Friday. They’ve actually started already, but the opening ceremonies are on Friday and it is safe to say that these are the least anticipated, least hyped and least look forward to summer games in a long, long time. Certainly that I can remember, Japan is in the midst of a Delta variant surge. It also has a very slow vaccination campaign. Visitors have been barred from Japan. So have spectators from all the events. Athletes are failing covid test left and right, and they’ll surely be a ton more positive test before the games are over. Plus, Tokyo in July and August are just it’s a horrid place to be. It is so humid at a tropical climate mysteriously, even though it’s so far north, it’s tropically hot and humid. And I just noticed today that there’s a typhoon bearing down on Tokyo as well. Typhoon supposed to hit it this weekend. So there you go. And also the opening ceremonies director was bounced on on Wednesday for having told Holocaust jokes in the past. So there’s a lot there’s a lot going against these games. Milley is it a mistake to hold them?

S1: I mean, I am the last person to stick up for the Olympics. I don’t normally care that much about the Olympics. And the main thing I’ve noticed this year is that Shikari Richardson doesn’t get to run the hundred meter dash because like she smoked pot once after getting some terrible news about her own family that just, like, completely turned me off and infuriated me. I guess if you’re going to try to defend this, you think about all the athletes who’ve trained and what it would mean to miss this. They’ve already postponed it by a year for them. That’s really horrible. I mean, this was meant to be an Olympics. That was a sign that the world was recovering from the pandemic and kind of exiting it. The problem is that the timing just turned out to be wrong on that score. I always think about covid risks as like trade offs, and this just doesn’t seem like the one that’s worth it to me.

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S2: John. So they have the Olympics.

S3: I mean, it depends. There’s such a big question.

S2: There’s a gap. That’s man, we take big questions here.

S3: Yeah, I know. We ask the tough questions.

S2: Trivial Pursuit can

S3: handle whether we should. No, no, no, no. Well, no, because, you know, it’s always a question of time when you’re asking a question, you know. So right now, in this moment, should they cancel them? I mean, that is still yeah. That’s different than should the Olympics exist or should they exist in their kind of quasi corrupt way. And in the larger question, to

S2: be real, it’s fully corrupt. It’s not quite corrupt.

S3: Corrupt? Well, no, but I think what what always I’m going to get this point out, if it’s the last thing I do is in the Olympics, there’s always this tension between the incentives for buck raking and money making on the backs of these athletes. And then the extraordinary moments that you have in Olympics. I mean, it is it is one time when in some of these signature moments, people all across the globe who speak a multiplicity of languages at the very same time, watching their phones or TVs experience the same range of emotions. At the same time, it is like a singular event in human behavior that is that is not nothing and that is weighed against the corruption of the of the games and and that corruption, not the corrupt. Well, there’s corruption then then then there’s just the greediness of all the people who make money off of it, which doesn’t include the athletes. So there’s that constant question of the Olympics. I feel like in in after the globe has been through this, what what has been through with this pandemic? The Games have a chance to do the best of what sport can do, which is remind us of our common humanity, humanity and Jack joy and hope and even the transformational kind of out of yourself experience that happens when you see heartbreak. So I don’t want to get rid of that. But it’s a tough call because how many? There are seventy some odd cases now attached to the Olympics. And it feels like given where we are with the Delta variant, you know, it’s going to get it can’t not get worse. It’s not going to just stop. So I don’t know what you are. It’s your

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S2: question. Here we go. I don’t it’s not even a hard case. Of course, they should have the Olympics. It is it’s ludicrous to think they should cancel at this point,

S1: at this point. So it was even

S2: ludicrous to think, no, they definitely should have had it, too. Definitely should have had it. So there’s always at any Olympics, there’s a tension between these corrupt sport acrobats, these local politicians shilling for glory, the incredibly wasteful spending on these white elephant stadiums that never get used again. And then against that, what John was talking about, which I want to get into, like John was very poetic about what is great about it. And now we have that. We have all of that bad stuff. Plus we have the health risk. Plus we have the fact that most of the Japanese people don’t even want the games at this point that matter. It should matter a little bit. And the fact that the IOC contract I mean, look at the IOC contract, the host government, it’s incredible. Is that like the the Tokyo can basically and the Japanese government can basically not cancel this under. Any circumstance, if they do, they are on the hook for an enormous amount of money and it’s, you know, this outside totally corrupt entity forcing a contract on Tokyo because Tokyo wants to hold the games. That said, the athletes want to do it and billions of us around the world watch it and fall in love with team handball or Greco wrestling, Rayco Greco, Roman wrestling or whatever it is. And we are storytelling people like we’re storytelling humans and we live for story. And the Olympics is the best campfire that we have because it is it creates story without us having to have violence, without us having to have war. Yet there is competition, yet it is a competition that it creates unity, it creates unity across the world. And when you think about the kind of energy and money that’s been invested in the Olympics over the years and all the corruption and waste and terrible politics and, you know, Berlin, 1936 and all of that like it is. Way, way, way, way, way more good has come out of this than has ever been invested, and it’s the sense of uplift and feeling and connection and drama is worth so much to us. And there’s so few opportunities for this. I mean, we saw this in small scale. Those of us who are soccer fans watching this European the

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S1: European Cup, that why can’t we just do that stuff, which seems so much safer than

S2: this? Well, the European Cup is one one version of it. And why was the European Cup much safer? It wasn’t much safer. They had tons of fans in the stadiums that it wasn’t

S1: I don’t know. You’re not having it wasn’t safe from all over the world. Come to this one city. We laid out all the reasons why this is more dangerous.

S2: Well, you did you did have people British. You had people like flying to Baku and Azerbaijan.

S1: I think you had to already. Anyway, I thought you had to already be in the UK to go to the final, at least whatever. Continue maybe to

S2: go to the final. Well, anyway, yeah, sure. To go to the final. But it is. It is, yes. There’s very likely there’s going to be a super spreader or semi spreader event. There will be disease and death that will be increased because of this. But the sum total of human wellbeing, which is not just is their disease and death, but also are we do we feel connected in the world? Do we are we having some experience of exaltation of uplift will be magnified. And if you don’t have the Olympics like it’s a huge loss of that and it’s a huge cost that that’s why the TV contract costs billions and billions of dollars, because people really want to watch and they watch because it makes them feel good and making people feel good. Is it like a positive good in the world? And so you weigh it against all these all the corruption and the loss and the and the illness. But like, to me, it’s not it is like it’s not even close. I mean, watch watch it. Cause like a whole separate new viral pandemic of some other virus and then I’ll regret it. But I really think it’s going to be great. You seem

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S1: to be argued that no matter what the cost, it’s worth

S2: pretty much. I just.

S3: Yeah, well he said or he’s saying it’s worth a big risk because of the I love that line about this is the best campfire we have. I wish I’d had that all yours went. Yeah. Well that’s much more eloquently said than what I was basically trying to say, although I think but I guess I was being chicken and more nervous about. It becoming a super spreader event, which is like just feeling the rapacious nature of the Delta variant is, you know, and the numbers in Tokyo is kind of giving me pause that you should.

S2: Sure.

S1: I just have no romance about the Olympics. I’m not like an Olympics hater. I’m just like and it’s

S2: so hot that Milley because you have a lot of romance about sport generally. Why not the Olympics? I don’t believe you. I don’t even believe you.

S3: I bet I actually I don’t believe I don’t get two weeks.

S2: You’ll be talking about some on Byles left and right.

S1: I’m excited to be proved wrong. I just I like I’m searching my memory for Olympic moments there. Just I just

S3: I don’t know. When Kerri Strug landed, the the unbelievable second Vorlon with a sprained ankle to beat the Russians for the gold that did nothing for you.

S1: Like if

S2: you had the same bolt watching Usain Bolt,

S1: Usain Bolt, that was those I remember who he is. At least I don’t know what to say. I just it’s so episodic, the whole thing, whatever. But I don’t mean the episode.

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S3: But isn’t the episodic nature of it exactly what is part of the beauty that David was describing, which is that that there are these moments that that flare up and the the elements that create that flare up, the chemical compounds of that flare up, are these deeply human, elementally human, because they have to cross all languages and and regions and they just flare up. And the reason we all gravitate to them is because we can all see ourselves in one way or another. Even in the defeat, in the heartbreak in this moment, it’s like this basic language.

S1: All right. I’ll try to watch it in that spirit this time since it is happening.

S2: John, what’s your favorite Olympic sport?

S3: One, it’s the Olympic sport I didn’t know about. And that suddenly became amazing because of some, you know, like, I don’t know. So badminton or Greco Roman wrestling, as you mentioned, or fencing because of some just moment of competition, all those things I was just talking about. But I guess gymnastics is probably the the one that has the most kind of. And the drama kind of goes up on a constant line and then pays off at the end, has the most opportunity for that.

S1: So for me, it’s gymnastics and ice skating. And this, I will say in defense of the Olympics, it makes women’s sports incredibly central, especially for those two very, very exciting competitions. And I do appreciate that about it. That’s it, that’s all I got for the Olympics, I hear they play soccer,

S2: I’m a I love track and field. I was track and field with a big U.S. spectator sport. It’s big in Europe.

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S1: Yeah, that’s a good point. It is the time we pay the most attention to track and field.

S2: I love watching people run. Let us go to cocktail chatter when you are sitting back having just watched hours and hours of the Olympics. Although it’s weird because it’s in Tokyo, so the time zone stuff is going to be all weird, but whatever they’re doing, certain, they’re running certain things in the morning, which ought to be run in the evening just so they can get the U.S. TV audience. But anyway, you’re having your cocktail, Emily. What are you going to chatter about?

S1: So I was just in Berlin and I was struck by all the ways in which Berliners memorialize difficult moments in their history that are small that you literally can, like, stumble over. So one example are the stop berstein. I’m sure I’m saying that wrong. The stumble stones there, 70000 of them now across Europe, that they are right outside of the house of someone who was deported or otherwise affected by the Holocaust. And it says their name and it says what happened to them. And they’re literally under your feet. And I just kept thinking about all our arguments and roiling in the United States right now about how to remember slavery and African-American tragic history and Native American tragic history. And this kind of memorial seems like such an opportunity, the kinds that are small that you just sort of go on with your daily life, but they could affect you in some way. Another example is,

S2: can I sorry. Can I just. That’s amazing. I just on this dorpers, are they do you actually stumble or are they elevated so that you don’t.

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S1: They are I think brassed. There are metal plaques that are like on top of a cobblestone right outside of.

S2: So it’s not that it’s people are tripping, you

S1: don’t trip, but you walk on them. They were like right there, like you walk outside of your house every morning and it’s there in front of you. So another example is called the Empty Library, and it’s a memorial to the burning of books, this giant conflagration by the Nazis in the Bebelplatz in Berlin. And it’s it’s by the Israeli sculptor MCCALMAN. And it’s just this Plexiglas opening, a couple of them in the pavement of the plaza. And you look down and you see these empty bookshelves. I was quite taken with this,

S3: reflecting on that Milley the the danger is forgetting and that’s a great, you know, wonderful way to not forget. I mean, the danger in any of these things.

S2: John, what’s your chatter?

S3: I guess I’ll do two of them because one is one is a column written by Jack Thomas in the Boston Globe, and it’s titled I Just Learned I Only Have Months to Live. This is what I want to say. It’s not very easy to read, but it’s a it was a useful series of meditations for me and in reading it. So I would recommend it, even though it’s it’s hard to read. And the second thing is just one thing that shouldn’t shouldn’t pass by too quickly is there’s been lots of books come out, come out about the Trump administration. But last year, last week’s revelations that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thought the president was going to stage a coup to stay in power should rise above. And Susan Glasser wrote about it in The New Yorker, should rise above the normal, kind of like, oh, this affirms everything we thought about the president. General Milley is not some, like, third rate campaign aide who who is just like telling stories about things. He’s a serious person whose job was to interact with the president regularly and whose job also was to see threats normally was he saw threats coming from abroad to inform the president. In this case, he was worried that the threat itself was the president. That’s a serious and signature event in the Trump presidency. And and everyone should kind of keep that in in their brains as they think about and evaluate what those four years were were like.

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S2: My chatter couple a couple of things, one is so I’m I’ve been up in Vermont, I was unsatisfied with everything I was reading, so I ended up picking up the quiet American Graham Greene book, which I’m not very far into. But it struck me as I started to read it. I had this feeling that I’ve now had with most of the books I’ve read recently, almost anything that I’ve read that was written between, say, nineteen hundred and twenty fifteen in the English language, that they feel oddly irrelevant and historical to me today, because I, I think so much of what guided books in that period was the sense of an American dominance that American dominance was either the text or subtext of everything, the sense of America, which is weighing down on everyone, and either people are aspiring to it or they’re oppressed by it. They hate it. They’re annoyed by it. And that America is pushing forward the world sometimes obliviously, sometimes good heartedly, but always the most important place, always the thing that mattered most, always the center of gravity and reading. Today, it feels kind of nostalgic and almost irrelevant like that. We are such a country in retreat. We’re so divided. We’re so shrinking from the world we have. And there’s this expansive Chinelo like it’s reaching forward into the world. We are withdrawing from international challenges and we’re flummoxed and we’re hiding from the great problem of the age, which is, of course, the climate catastrophe. And so these books in which which which it’s taken as a given that that the American mind, the American power, the American influence is the the thing that is dominant. They feel like history. And it’s a it’s a really alienating experience. And I’m wondering if anyone else is having that that same feeling as they read the the second thing is a great tweet I saw from Susan McPherson, just pointing to some studies about what happened to employment during the pandemic and the fact that now globally, 13 million women, the male employment will be basically back where it was this year, but 13 million women worldwide will have fallen out of the workforce. That was interesting, was most interesting. It looked at the percentage of women in the workforce versus the percentage of men in different parts of the world and generally across the world, it’s about 70 percent of men of working age are in the workforce, and about forty five percent of women are in the workforce. Except if you look in the Arab world where it’s 70 percent of men are in the workforce, but only 14 percent of women are in the workforce. Fourteen percent. That is stunning. Listeners, you have sent us great chatters who tweeted to them to us at SlateGabfest. Thank you. Please keep them coming to us. And our listener chatter this week comes from Ragav, Venkatesan. And it’s about women’s car racing.

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S4: Hi, Gabfest. A few weeks ago, you all chatted about Netflix’s drive to survive and Formula One. Apart from the journalist Jenny Gal, who is the only female in the show, and Sir Lewis Hamilton, who is the only person of color in the show, there was not a lot of diversity depicted in it. Formula racing is much more diverse than that. There are women, mechanics, strategists and even women team principals. There have been women F1 drivers before and across the junior formula there are currently many women racing drivers. Let me bring you to the series. The series is a Formula three spec racing series created entirely for women racing drivers to open up financial opportunities. The twenty twenty one season follows the Formula One circus as support series and will race alongside F1 at the Summit of the Americas at Texas later this year. The lawin friendships among the drivers in these series, similar to F1, are as fierce as a racing on track itself. Some older drivers or even coaches and mentors of the younger drivers. There is even a documentary series hosted by one of the drivers on YouTube, which talks about the backgrounds of some of these drivers. A little teaser. One of the drivers is a princess and another is a working mom. I encourage you all to check it out. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as Jack cocktail’s.

S2: That is our show for today. The gabfests is produced by Jocelyn. Thank our researcher Bridgette Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate Audio. Jack Thomas is managing producer and Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. Please follow us on Twitter at SlateGabfest and please send some chatter to us. It’s summer. You’re surely chattering about things and that’s what you’re chattering about. And I think our best for Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, David Plotz, thank you for listening. We will talk to you next week. Hello, Slate, plus, how are you, unless you are maybe, maybe we have astronaut listening to us, probably we do probably do some astronaut listening to us, but you’re probably ground bound like us. And you did not go to space this week. You’re also probably not a billionaire, although maybe we have billionaires who listen to us, but we have billionaires racing to space. Jeff Bezos went to the edge of space safely in his hilariously phallic Blue Origin rocket this week. This was only days after Richard Branson went to a slightly lower edge of space in his Virgin Galactic rocket. Elon Musk of SpaceX, who is probably the most successful the space tycoons, has not yet been to space, although I’m sure he will be there eventually. So is this folly or is it admirable, like the folly? What’s the case for that? It’s folly.

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S1: Are you kidding? It’s just this grand vanity project that shows how incredible our wealth inequality is that like going to space has become a plaything for a few billionaires while many people can’t pay their bills. And then Jeff Bezos has the gall to thank everyone who’s ever bought anything from Amazon or worked for it and say you paid for this when they’re paying for his, like, weird little pleasure trip. Poo on you billionaires in space, all folly.

S3: I mean, the counter argument, which doesn’t which I don’t find very nourishing in the way that this rolled out, your counter argument is discovery, even in the course of vain pursuits, is a discovery that can be useful and can point us towards grand gestures. And humanity shouldn’t be forced to go the convoy routine by which everybody has to proceed at the pace of the slowest ship that you need act of dash to enliven humanity. And there’s all this other great byproducts. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could aim all of that grandiose language at the challenge of our time, which David articulated earlier, could be climate change. It could also be inequality. It could also be a lot of other things that, hey, let’s just give it a shot, taking one of these big, nettlesome, thorny problems and applying all of this vanity towards it. That would be pretty cool. You might not get a big fancy ride with a lot of stomach drops and five G forces on your face. But but you might also do a lot of really cool and amazing things for millions and millions of people. Yeah. What happens now is you have basically the vain pursuit and then slapped on it like a sticker on the bumper of a Maserati is. And we’re going to give away some money or and we’re going to move all industry into space, which may have been the animating principle for the entire thing. But based on the way it’s been rolled out and how it’s rolled out matters because we’re in the realm here of public uplift and spirit. It feels kind of tacked on after the basic vanity project.

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S2: There’s the kind of let them eat cake quality of them soaring above us. Billionaire Ashley is really quite something. The grossest part to me was not actually Bezos going to space, but his companion, the eighteen year old who won an auction, the proceeds going to a space charity of some sort. But the kid won the auction for the seat, meaning his dad had spent, you know, countless millions of dollars to send little Timmy had enough dosh to send little Timmy up in a rocket. That that felt really gross to me. Bezos, you know, Bezos has earned his money. I mean, you can certainly call into question how he’s earned his money. And it’s it’s disgusting that any person should have that much more money than anyone else. But he did earn it. There was this Twitter thread. Now I can’t find I was looking for it this morning that, yeah, you can mark this. It is ludicrous. I will join in the mockery in a second, but there’s a serious effort behind it there. Musk is aiming to to lower the cost of getting stuff into space a thousand fold like they are hiring, they’re hiring. The technology is masterful. And as with the original space race, the technology will spill out into the world and that these guys, especially Musk and Bezos, are not indifferent to the Earth, even though they do have this kind of dream of colonizing Mars and so forth. But they are musk business is solar power and decarbonizing cars, those that that’s a that’s a like a legitimate, amazing goal for the world. Bezos has invested ten billion dollars, which admittedly is like twelve dollars for me in climate change mitigation. So they’re they’re not just the vanity that said like the different forms of billionaire vanity manifest by these three guys are hilarious like that. Bezos, did you guys see what Bezos look like with his cowboy hat? He was wearing his cowboy hat and he’s just so ripped now. He’s so bulked up. And he’s the classic, like divorced guy who is like, clearly, like, not attractive. He was not an attractive younger guy, but now he’s rich and divorced and worked out and he’s ludicrous in that way. Richard Branson, who is always been the coolest guy on Earth in his own head, who so louche the long hair like you get the sense that the virgin like there was a probably a casting couch on the Virgin spacecraft like that. He probably was like, you know, making use of that. He was like, I’m going to join the mile. I’m going to join the fifty five mile high club while I’m up here. And then Musk is like this other form of freak, but they’re, they’re the vanity is is ridiculous.

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S1: I mean I just think it’s really hard to say, OK, there could be some side benefits to this huge show when clearly, like, it’s incredibly inefficient. And the driver of it is these people’s egos, like there are a lot of, you know, inefficient.

S2: Wasn’t NASA was NASA inefficient?

S1: No, but I’m also not that big a fan of I mean, again, I’m like in the anti romance.

S2: You don’t believe in the imagination.

S1: I’m not that that’s your problem. I mean, I’m like like,

S2: oh, no

S1: space. I’m I’m happy we went to the moon a bunch of times. Like, I’m fine with that. A lot of the rest of it. I like the satellite pictures. I don’t think we need. To send the people up so much, I

S3: think we’re on again, it’s a timeline problem. I think that it’s perfectly possible in 30 years that the the thinking and development that went into this vanity project and it’s either you can either determine that it’s a 98 percent vanity project or it’s a thirty two percent vanity project and then decide whether that’s mitigated by the other beneficial things they do in the world if you’re trying to achieve moral certitude about this whole endeavor. But I think we don’t know the timeline yet of what might of the secondary benefits. Maybe there are none. Maybe there are secondary harms. But we don’t that that we won’t know for 30 years whether the technology

S1: you held out hope for the Mars colony, that will be like, no, I don’t even Elon Musk central. And I just am not.

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S3: No, no, no, no. It doesn’t even need to work that way. It can be an offshoot that has nothing to do with space, are going to space, are giving people, you know, low cost flights into space, but that it can be something discovered on the way to making this happen can be used in some other part of human life that is beneficial.

S1: We did get David’s excellent description of these three sort of weirdo Cuillo dudes. So there’s that

S2: that’s that little bit that’s worth billions. That’s definitely worth billions. So that

S3: I just. No, no. I just think what would imagine a world in which the world’s billionaires competed with all of the energy of vanity to do other things. We have

S1: that. It’s called the Gates Foundation. That’s why I think it’s a lot of money, too. And they do things like try to cure malaria. Oh, I don’t.

S3: But my point was that I wasn’t saying imagine what would happen if a billionaire did this. We do actually have them doing it. But if it became the competitive I mean, I obviously had Bill Gates and Warren Buffett aren’t doing it because it causes them harm. It causes them some benefit in some way. But I’m saying if all of the competitive drive and and vanity that people see in this space race were directed towards. Right. The challenges of our terrestrial world, that be that be real neat to see.

S1: There is this other thing called philanthropy for humans on Earth

S2: by Slate plus.