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Republicans double down on lack of CARE

Email sent: Jul 31, 2020 2:41pm

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Last week, I wrote here that we would “know more” about the future of the $600 pandemic benefit by this time today, but—as a smarter newsletter writer might have predicted—we do not. (Did I even believe it myself when I wrote it?) The benefit is about to expire and Congress is still locked in the same stalemate, with Democrats pushing to maintain it as is and Republicans countering with a temporary $200 supplement that will later become a 70 percent wage replacement. The Republican proposal is a joke, which they understand on some level and still don’t care.

There is nothing new to write about the consequences of this malicious dysfunction. Most of the last month, and really the whole of the pandemic, has been a stream of solid reporting on what happens when people lose income but still need to buy food and, eventually, pay down accumulating debts. There is no mystery left about what this looks like.

On Thursday, Sam Levin, The Guardian’s Los Angeles correspondent, threaded together a series of stories from tenants who, despite a nominal eviction moratorium, had been experiencing relentless harassment from their landlords. When one tenant was unable to make an in-person deposit at the bank because of reduced hours during the pandemic, she received the following voicemail: “Get my rent in the fucking checking account, I don’t care what the fucking issue is. I don’t give a fuck if you’ve got to leave work.” In another message from the same landlord, she was told: “I’m going to evict you, I don’t give a shit about this virus thing.”

In my own reporting, people told me over and over again how the $600 check was their only safeguard against some kind of catastrophe. “The pandemic unemployment benefit has been the only thing keeping our family afloat,” one of them said. “Our daughter, our first child, is eight months old. I never imagined we’d be in financial distress and at risk of losing our health insurance.” And another: “The $600 let me not go back to a job in the tourism industry where they were not taking proper steps to protect us.... In the announcement of their plans to open, they told us they couldn’t guarantee PPE for workers, and, most damning to me, they wouldn’t require masks for customers.” That last person worked on a boat that drives circles around a lake so people can drink cocktails. Those are the sorts of activities being prioritized right now over the ability to stay home without getting sick. A shitty margarita with a view.

This style of reporting is exactly why my desk exists. I’m proud of it. But it’s also easy to become overly enamored with the idea of what journalism like this actually does. There’s an accountability function (people must know) and an empathy function (people should care). But it’s a mistake to believe that’s how real change happens.

The filmmaker Blair McClendon wrote about this last month in n+1, and I have returned to the piece a couple of times in the weeks since.

“Shortly after Trump’s election, an email circulated among my former film school classmates. It announced that there would not be an election party after all, considering the result. But there was reason for optimism: ‘Stories are the most powerful things on the planet,’ it read. ‘We need to become the best storytellers we can be, and to ensure that the stories we tell reach the largest amount of people possible ... the storyteller shall inherit the earth.’”

Of course this isn’t true, right? (“We will not inherit the earth,” McClendon responded at the time. “We have to fight for it.”) If stories—film, literature, reporting—were enough to free us from the death grip of violent structures, they would have been enough already. “The insistence on empathy and representation for both politicians and storytellers is a way to avoid reckoning with a moral catastrophe,” McClendon writes earlier in the same piece. “It is not that people have treated each other this way simply because they do not recognize another person’s humanity, but that humanity is no shield against untethered power. We should be willing to demand more than fellow feeling.”

The expiration of the pandemic benefit is just one face of the overlapping and long-festering crises that make this moment so obscene. My hope is that our work here captures those things, their origins, and possible escapes. But those alternatives—the horizon of something more decent—aren’t being built here. You have to look outside for that.
 
—Katie McDonough, deputy editor

New York City Cops Take a Lesson From the Feds in Portland 
“The kinds of anti-protest policing we’re seeing challenged in Portland is, for lawmakers and elected officials, unacceptable when the feds are doing it but ignored or defended when their own police do it,” Melissa writes of the parallel tactics emerging in both cities. “Is there really a difference, based on which law enforcement agency has kidnapped someone?”
The Growing Fight Against the School Death Trap
“It is easier to bring a child back up to their level than it is to bury a child,” a nonunion school health aide, whose son has autism and is nonverbal, told reporter Susie Armitage about the idea of going back to work in a school in the middle of a pandemic. She is just one of the education workers fighting to protect themselves, their students, and their own children in the face of a dangerous push to reopen. “So if it means keeping the kids safe and they’re behind a little bit, then so be it.” 
The Pandemic Is Blowing up Our Best Response to the Overdose Crisis
“What does overdose prevention and harm reduction look like when people are more isolated than ever?” reporter Zachary Seigel writes. “Or when the public and private infrastructures that made the work possible are at risk of collapsing under austerity regimes?”
In a bright spot this week, workers at Hearst finally got their union
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