December 2, 2022

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1805, a British fleet commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson soundly thrashed a combined French and Spanish fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain.

Four (more) politics stories that aren’t directly about politics

The Daily 202 got a lot of positive feedback last week when we devoted the top of the column to four significant pieces about politics that didn’t fit the mold of traditional politics pieces. As we said, reporting about politics “shouldn’t require its beating heart to be a candidate, a race, an elected official, a poll, a federal agency or a social movement.”

You let us know via email and social media that you liked the template and the effort to reach beyond the standard model. So we’re doing it again today. (This may become a weekly feature, so if you spot pieces that fit this general mold, send links our way via email.)

The ‘foreign servants’ series

Forget the old “revolving door” image of public servants going to make bank in the private sector, often in policy areas over which they had control, then back to government, then back to corporate America. This series from Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones conjured up more of a conveyor belt image.

Retired military personnel, often people who served in very senior roles (generals! admirals!) in the Defense Department, are getting major payouts from working for foreign governments, notably Persian Gulf monarchies, Craig and Nate found in their multipart series.

“Most are hired by countries known for human rights abuses, political repression” so that might help explain why The Washington Post had to sue to get about 4,000 documents, including “case files for about 450 retired soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”

“Fifteen retired U.S. generals and admirals have worked as paid consultants for the Saudi Defense Ministry and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. spy agencies say ordered the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Other findings: Americans’ work for the Saudis expanded after Khashoggi’s assassination, apparently with the U.S. government’s blessing; the United Arab Emirates is the biggest employer; requests to work for foreign governments are basically rubber-stamped.

Racial disparities in covid deaths

The Washington Post analyzed every death during more than two years of the pandemic, and my colleagues Akilah Johnson and Dan Keating have the results: At first, Black people were more likely to die from covid. Now, White people are more likely to die.

“At the start of the pandemic, Black people were more than three times as likely to die of covid as their White peers. But as 2020 progressed, the death rates narrowed — but not because fewer Black people were dying. White people began dying at increasingly unimaginable numbers, too, the Post analysis found.”

It’s a very complicated phenomenon, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

But here’s one sobering part: “After it became clear that communities of color were being disproportionately affected, racial equity started to become the parlance of the pandemic, in words and deeds. As it did, vaccine access and acceptance within communities of color grew — and so did the belief among some White conservatives, who form the core of the Republican base, that vaccine requirements and mask mandates infringe on personal liberties.”

Is that dying of covid, or of politics?

Hey, let’s make it harder to track products made with abused workers

Over at the Associated Press, Joshua Goodman has a piece up about how a group of major American businesses — including household names like Walmart, General Motors and Intel — is looking to hide trade data in a way that “would make it more difficult for Americans to link the products they buy to labor abuse overseas.”

At issue is a push to make data from vessel manifests confidential, Goodman reported.

“The information is vitally important for researchers and reporters seeking to hold corporations accountable for the mistreatment of workers in their foreign supply chains.”

I particularly appreciated this explanation: “Here’s how it works: Journalists document a situation where laborers are being forced to work and cannot leave. They then use the shipping manifests to show where the products end up, and sometimes even their brand names and whether they’re on a shelf at a local supermarket or a rack of clothes at a local mall.”

“For more ears! For more ears!” When government listens, hearings aids get cheaper

Did you hear the one about hearing aids becoming available over the counter, available more easily and at less expense for the millions of Americans who rely on them?

My colleagues Christopher Rowland and Amanda Morris reported:

“Backers of the change say the move to over-the-counter hearing aid sales will usher in a revolution of lower prices and new technologies, and expand access for millions of people with untreated hearing loss.”

“But while the shift holds the promise of improving the lives of millions of people who have untreated mild to moderate hearing loss, it also is a sweeping test of consumer-driven health care.”

Government regulation? Consumer advocacy? Vast economic effects? This political story has it all.

Mar-a-Lago classified papers held U.S. secrets about Iran and China

Some of the classified documents recovered by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and private club included highly sensitive intelligence regarding Iran and China, according to people familiar with the matter. If shared with others, the people said, such information could expose intelligence-gathering methods that the United States wants to keep hidden from the world,” Devlin Barrett reports.

  • At least one of the documents seized by the FBI describes Iran’s missile program, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation. Other documents described highly sensitive intelligence work aimed at China, they said.”

Bannon sentenced to four months prison for contempt of Congress in Jan. 6 probe

“Bannon is set to become the first person incarcerated for defying a congressional subpoena in more than half a century under a statute that is rarely prosecuted. The judge said he would stay imposition of the penalty pending Bannon’s expected appeal,” Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Documents detail plans to gut Twitter’s workforce

Twitter’s workforce is likely to be hit with massive cuts in the coming months, no matter who owns the company, interviews and documents obtained by The Washington Post show, a change likely to have major impact on its ability to control harmful content and prevent data security crises,” Elizabeth Dwoskin, Faiz Siddiqui, Gerrit De Vynck and Jeremy B. Merrill report.

An autistic teen needed mental health help. He spent weeks in an ER instead.

The problem is a national one, with kids and teens from California to Maine languishing in ERs. Many are deeply depressed or suicidal — mental health issues that were already on the rise before the pandemic but have since reached unprecedented levels,” William Wan reports.

“A children’s hospital in Colorado became so overloaded last year with psychiatric patients that it declared a state of emergency. A group representing more than 200 other children’s hospitals warned that the number of kids showing up in mental crisis has far outstripped resources.”

TikTok parent ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor the physical location of specific American citizens

“TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said that TikTok collects approximate location information based on users’ IP addresses to ‘among other things, help show relevant content and ads to users, comply with applicable laws, and detect and prevent fraud and inauthentic behavior,” Forbes’ Emily Baker-White reports. 

But the material reviewed by Forbes indicates that ByteDance’s Internal Audit team was planning to use this location information to surveil individual American citizens, not to target ads or any of these other purposes. Forbes is not disclosing the nature and purpose of the planned surveillance referenced in the materials in order to protect sources. TikTok and ByteDance did not answer questions about whether Internal Audit has specifically targeted any members of the U.S. government, activists, public figures or journalists.”

How disinformation splintered and became more intractable

“Not long ago, the fight against disinformation focused on the major social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. When pressed, they often removed troubling content, including misinformation and intentional disinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic,” the New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers and Sheera Frenkel report.

Today, however, there are dozens of new platforms, including some that pride themselves on not moderating — censoring, as they put it — untrue statements in the name of free speech.”

‘No quick fixes’: Walensky’s push for change at CDC meets reality

“In August, Director Rochelle Walensky ordered an overhaul of the CDC after its bungled Covid-19 response, including a drive to share research and data sooner and be more open with the public about what agency scientists do — and don’t — know,” Politico’s Krista Mahr and Erin Banco report.

But the CDC’s inability to compel states to share information about disease outbreaks is getting in the way of the effort, said Walensky, who added that the agency needs more money from Congress to draw in new talent and train the public health workforce to speed up the information flow to the public.”

Lawmakers cry foul as Biden mulls lifting some sanctions

“Biden has readily imposed sanctions against U.S. adversaries throughout his presidency. Now he’s finding out that lifting them is a lot harder. In recent months, as Biden has mulled reducing such penalties against countries such as Venezuela and Iran, he’s run headlong into opposition in Congress. Some lawmakers, knowing the topic will play well on the campaign trial, vow to do everything they can to stop the sanctions from being lifted,” Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports.

It’s the type of drawn-out political fight that could make U.S. sanctions less effective over time if adversaries come to believe that, no matter what they do, Washington will never lift penalties on them. It’s playing out as the United States, determined to limit its military exposure abroad, has grown more reliant on sanctions, including against Russia.”

Pentagon will pay for service members to travel for abortions

“The Pentagon will pay for service members to travel to obtain abortions, in a move the military says will ease the burden on troops who wish to receive reproductive care and are stationed in states where the procedure is no longer legal, the department announced Thursday,” Politico’s Lara Seligman reports.

Judge dismisses GOP-led states’ lawsuit to block student-loan forgiveness plan

A federal judge on Thursday denied a bid by six Republican-led states to block the Biden administration from moving forward with plans to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student-loan debt for more than 40 million people, days after borrowers began signing up for relief,” Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports.

Redistricting in the U.S., visualized

“Republicans need to flip only five congressional seats to win back the House majority in 2022, and Democrats fear the GOP’s advantage in state legislatures could help tip the balance,” The Post explains.

Where are the Democratic stars? Few party leaders hit the trail.

“The gap between [Biden’s] declaration that Nov. 8 is a pivotal moment in American history and a campaign schedule that hardly reflects that urgency is matched by other top Democrats who have also been scarce on the campaign trail. A big reason: From former president Bill Clinton to Vice President Harris to former nominee Hillary Clinton, few Democratic heavyweights are in demand in the political climate today,” Tyler Pager, Annie Linskey and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report.

‘It shows that a lot of these campaigns are smart and they know how to read the polls and the history books,‘ said Democratic strategist Lis Smith, who was a senior adviser for Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign. ‘If you are from the party in power in the midterms, it is not all that helpful for you to nationalize your race.”

Republicans propose bill barring lessons on gender, sexuality for children

“Republican legislators have proposed a far-reaching new law that would prohibit public schools from offering young students lessons or literature that discuss gender identity, sexual orientation and transgender individuals,” Hannah Natanson reports.

“The legislation, introduced in Congress this week by a group of 33 House Republicans led by Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), is called the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act. It would prohibit the use of federal funding ‘to develop, implement, facilitate or fund any sexually-oriented program, event or literature for children under the age of 10.’

Biden will leave for Andrews at 1:10 p.m., where he’ll fly to Dover, Del. 

At 3:15 p.m., Biden will speak about student debt relief at Delaware State University.

Biden will leave Dover for Rehoboth Beach, Del., at 5:25 p.m.

Background: Why Taylor Swift’s self-loathing ‘Anti-Hero’ already hit a nerve with fans

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

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