News Updates

Matt Taibbi: America This Week, August 21-27

Fauci goes down, student loans forgiven, Zuckerberg wilds out on Rogan, a U.S.-sponsored “covert influence campaign” is outed, Powell plays the heavy, finance headlines and more

Clockwise from top left: A Tony Fauci votive candle, Biden’s microphone-eating worsens, car-killer Newsom is stoked, the head shot of Glenn Hegar, Zuck in the wild, Fed Chair Powell extends one hand for each big testicle

 

[Note from Matt Taibbi: As I’m unfortunately ill with Covid, ATW is going to be abridged this week. The podcast with Walter Kirn has been postponed. Apologies to all and the feature should be back at full speed next week.]

 

The big stories in America This Week:

Fauci Exits Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to both Donald Trump and Joe Biden and the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), resigned this week after roughly 50 years in government service. Fauci came to be an incredibly divisive figure both during the AIDS crisis (for slowness of government response) and during the Covid-19 years (when he became a symbol of imperious elites, of mask mandates and shutdowns, and of the unresolved questions surrounding Covid’s origin). On the Democratic side, Fauci remains a lionized, almost saintly figure, whose legacy is that of a martyr to “science” in an age of an increasingly conspiracy-minded, mistrusting populace. Republicans meanwhile were not so appreciative of Fauci’s predilection for confusing himself with “science,” a la this infamous reply to critics: “They’re really criticizing science because I represent science.” Some pundits believe the polarizing doctor’s exit will help Democrats in the midterms, while Republicans are seething that Fauci is “conveniently” stepping down before a possible congressional investigation. Goodbye quotes: Georgetown law professor Lawrence Gostin, who specializes in health and calls himself a friend, said Fauci “got caught in the rabid politicization of American culture, and he has got caught right in the crosshairs of the COVID culture wars.” Probable Republican Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, said, “Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac.” Wherever the octogenarian goes in the “next chapter” of his career, Fauci will likely forever be defined by his seeming embrace of the idea that a post-Covid return to normal “might not ever happen,” because “the threat is there.” Are we happy with the “new normal”?

Biden Seemingly Fulfills Student Debt Promise President Joe Biden announced a plan for “targeted student debt cancellation” that would allow holders of education loans to cancel “up to” $10,000 in debt, $20,000 if they’re “low-income” borrowers. An independent analysis by University of Pennsylvania economists put the potential price tag of the program at $300 billion, others say less: CNBC estimated the cost at $2000 per person nationally. Biden’s student loan move reportedly fulfills a promise to former rival Bernie Sanders, and significantly, it extended for a “final” time the pause on student loan payments begun under the Trump administration. This will allow Biden to elude the political fallout that might have come from ending the pause before midterms. The debt cancelation plan got favorable reviews from many, though far from all, mainstream analysts (“Is this the best use of $200 billion?” mused Paul Krugman) and some student debt activists worried that language like “up to $10,000” along with an array of means-testing procedures could make it difficult for student debt holders to take advantage. The federal government doesn’t have the best record on debt repayment plans. For instance, the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) program had several million enrollees, but as of 2021, only 32 beneficiaries. Still, this was a “day of joy and relief” for people like Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, while Texas Republican Ted Cruz denounced it as “Insane — and illegal!” It’s difficult to judge the plan until we see how it works in the end, and it doesn’t address the key issue of education costs skyrocketing thanks in large part to basically unlimited federal lending, but the government extending any multibillion-dollar relief gesture to anyone but Wall Street banks is at least a little bit notable.

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