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Biden is proposing a $3 trillion infrastructure, education, and family package.

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Biden is proposing a $3 trillion infrastructure, education, and family package.
Biden is proposing a $3 trillion infrastructure, education, and family package.

Biden is proposing a $3 trillion infrastructure, education, and family package.

 

President Joe Biden is putting together the next major White House priority, a $3 trillion package of infrastructure and domestic needs projects, fresh off the passage of the COVID-19 relief bill.

Biden met privately with Senate Democrats late Monday, as Congress has already begun setting the groundwork for building bridges, hospitals, and renewable energy systems as part of Biden’s campaign pledge to “Build Back Better.” The proposed program would include family-friendly policies, similar to the $1.9 trillion virus rescue proposal signed into law earlier this month. This time, the emphasis would be on education and paid family leave.

According to a person familiar with the options who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, the White House plans are still preliminary, with a total of $3 trillion in spending proposed to boost the economy and improve quality of life.

Although a compromise package is the target, Democrats in Congress have shown that they are willing to go it alone if Republicans block them.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said ahead of a virtual meeting with Biden at the senators’ annual retreat Monday evening, “We need to get it done.”

Biden’s outreach to Senate Democrats comes as the White House faces criticism for its handling of the border between the United States and Mexico. Migrant crossings are on the rise, with images of overcrowded detention centers presenting a humanitarian and political quandary for the administration and its congressional allies. The emphasis on infrastructure refocuses attention on goals that are more likely to be common among Americans and to be bipartisan.

A $1 trillion infrastructure plan will include, among other things, highways, bridges, rail lines, electric vehicle charging stations, and the cellular network. The aim will be to make it easier for people to switch to cleaner energy while also increasing their economic competitiveness.

Another element will be investments in jobs, such as free community college, compulsory pre-kindergarten, and paid family leave.

The budget has not been finalized in any way, and the final details of any spending could change.

Since the start of Biden’s presidency, the overall price tag has been circulating on Capitol Hill for weeks, according to The New York Times. The reforms are expected to gain support from all corners of Congress now that the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the House of Representatives asked Democratic committee chairmen to begin working with their Republican counterparts earlier this month to “craft a major, bold, and transformational infrastructure package.”

The goal, according to Pelosi, is to build quickly on the coronavirus relief plan by developing an economic relief plan that will help “people in every zip code by creating good-paying jobs for the future.”

After financing its $1.9 trillion relief package entirely with debt, the administration is repositioning its goals at a politically and fiscally sensitive period. According to the Federal Reserve, spending could drive growth to 6.5 percent this year, and further spending will only add to the strain on an economy that is already expected to be hot.

Biden’s campaign proposed raising corporate taxes and raising taxes on people earning more than $400,000 per year, effectively undoing much of his predecessor, Donald Trump’s, 2017 tax cuts.

Even though the details are only now beginning to emerge, a White House official said the president has been very clear about his agenda. To discuss private conversations, the official insisted on anonymity.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee debated a $300 billion-plus bill on Monday that would fund drinking water, broadband, and other priorities. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will testify before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday. The Senate Finance Committee is set to release a white paper next week that will look at the overseas tax code again as a way to pay for some of the spending.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, used his opening remarks to blast the infrastructure proposal, warning that it would only result in tax hikes and “left-wing policies.”

“We’re hearing that a so-called infrastructure plan may be a Trojan horse for major tax hikes and other job-killing, left-wing policies in the coming months,” he said.

He compared the Democratic plans to the Green New Deal, a broad initiative to fix climate change that would cost “unbelievable sums,” according to him.

Biden is expected to release his budget in the coming weeks while Congress works on an infrastructure plan that could be ready by summer, according to lawmakers.

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Battenfeld: Michelle Wu so confident heading into final week she requests transition office space

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Battenfeld: Michelle Wu so confident heading into final week she requests transition office space

Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu, riding high in the polls, is so confident of her victory next week that her campaign has requested transition office space and police details for after Election Day, sources say.

Wu’s campaign and representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The person helping to lead her transition office search, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, told Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s administration he wanted office space in City Hall “befitting” Wu, according to sources. Janey’s chief of staff, Chris Osgood, was present during the meeting.

Gonzalez, an attorney at Hinckley Allen, did not respond to an email from the Herald requesting comment.

Wu’s opponent, Annissa Essaibi-George, has not requested transition office space or police details, sources said.

Essaibi-George, a city councilor at large, trails Wu, who is also a city councilor at large, by 32 points, according to the latest polls.

Essaibi-George’s campaign has been meeting with the Janey administration about the transition, but they are mostly issues briefings.

Janey herself met with Wu and Essaibi-George last month at the city-owned Parkman House “to discuss the transition timeline” for the next administration.

But the request for office space and a police detail on Election Night came in the last few days, sources said.

Because of Janey’s acting mayor title, the next mayor will take over on Nov. 16 —  not January as is usual for most elections — the day when the election results are certified.

So there will be precious little time for the next mayor to prepare her incoming administration for the transfer of power.

“Starting these conversations with Councilors Wu and Essaibi George now helps ensure the new mayor will be ready to do her job and address the concerns of Boston’s residents on day one,” Janey said in a statement last month.

Janey, the former city council president, was sworn in on March 24 to replace former Mayor Marty Walsh, who departed to become President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Labor. But Janey finished fourth in the preliminary election, just a few thousand votes out of the two-woman final.

Wu has not taken her foot off the pedal over the last few weeks, campaigning hard despite the fact that she holds a commanding lead in the polls.

Her campaign has tried hard to avoid even the appearance of overconfidence.

But requesting an office to use for the transition might qualify as at least confidence.

Essaibi-George and Wu debated on Monday night in their final televised clash of the campaign.

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Facebook’s language gaps weaken screening of hate, terrorism

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Facebook’s language gaps weaken screening of hate, terrorism

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As the Gaza war raged and tensions surged across the Middle East last May, Instagram briefly banned the hashtag #AlAqsa, a reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flash point in the conflict.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, later apologized, explaining its algorithms had mistaken the third-holiest site in Islam for the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party.

For many Arabic-speaking users, it was just the latest potent example of how the social media giant muzzles political speech in the region. Arabic is among the most common languages on Facebook’s platforms, and the company issues frequent public apologies after similar botched content removals.

Now, internal company documents from the former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen show the problems are far more systemic than just a few innocent mistakes, and that Facebook has understood the depth of these failings for years while doing little about it.

Such errors are not limited to Arabic. An examination of the files reveals that in some of the world’s most volatile regions, terrorist content and hate speech proliferate because the company remains short on moderators who speak local languages and understand cultural contexts. And its platforms have failed to develop artificial-intelligence solutions that can catch harmful content in different languages.

In countries like Afghanistan and Myanmar, these loopholes have allowed inflammatory language to flourish on the platform, while in Syria and the Palestinian territories, Facebook suppresses ordinary speech, imposing blanket bans on common words.

“The root problem is that the platform was never built with the intention it would one day mediate the political speech of everyone in the world,” said Eliza Campbell, director of the Middle East Institute’s Cyber Program. “But for the amount of political importance and resources that Facebook has, moderation is a bafflingly under-resourced project.”

This story, along with others published Monday, is based on Haugen’s disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were also provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. The redacted versions received by Congress were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including The Associated Press. This follows similar reporting by The Wall Street Journal, sourced from the same documents.

In a statement to the AP, a Facebook spokesperson said that over the last two years the company has invested in recruiting more staff with local dialect and topic expertise to bolster its review capacity around the world.

But when it comes to Arabic content moderation, the company said, “We still have more work to do. … We conduct research to better understand this complexity and identify how we can improve.”

In Myanmar, where Facebook-based misinformation has been linked repeatedly to ethnic and religious violence, the company acknowledged in its internal reports that it had failed to stop the spread of hate speech targeting the minority Rohingya Muslim population.

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Robbins: President Biden taking punches from the left and right

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Robbins: President Biden taking punches from the left and right

The immutable laws of politics and of human nature make one thing clear: It’s easier to be angry than it is to be rational, and it’s more satisfying. Leaders to whom citizens owe a great deal are often punished, undone by undercurrents of “What have you done for me lately?”

Just two months after he had finished rescuing his nation from the brink of national obliteration, winning a once impossible-seeming victory over Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill was overwhelmingly voted out of the prime minister’s chair. Churchill’s countrymen chose Labor Party head Clement Attlee to replace him in Britain’s 1945 election, persuaded that Attlee was the one who could deliver competence in government.

In 1946, American voters rejected the Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt, who had delivered them from a Great Depression spawned by Republican policies under Republican presidents and who had defeated the Axis coalition in the World War just recently ended. Defections from within the Democratic party contributed mightily to massive Republican gains, resulting in Republican control over Congress for the first time since 1932.

In 2016, the fact that President Barack Obama had rescued America from financial collapse, and expanded health care for tens of millions of Americans, presiding over an administration that was clean as the proverbial whistle, did not inoculate him from the white-hot white rage that catapulted Donald Trump into an Oval Office in which he most assuredly did not belong

So it isn’t surprising that the laws of politics and human nature have combined to batter President Joe Biden’s approval ratings. A president who has done an admirable job of lifting America out of an abyss has been subjected to a frenzied whipsaw by both the right and the left.

Biden assumed the presidency of a country riven by divisions not seen since the Civil War, whose economy had been decimated by a global pandemic that was taking 43,000 American lives a month. His administration has battled through dumb and dishonest misinformation campaigns in order to orchestrate the delivery of at least one dose of COVID vaccine to 220 million Americans. Within weeks of being inaugurated he enacted a $1.9 trillion stimulus package for a country on the ropes, and he has nudged historic infrastructure and social safety net bills down the field, positioning them for passage in some meaningful form in the near future.

But half of Americans reside in a world of angry fantasy, lapping up the fiction that Biden lost an election that he won. They cheer what for them is the somehow excellent news that the president is unable to wave a magic wand and make a global pandemic disappear. Meanwhile Fox News personalities deride vaccinations, discouraging Americans from receiving them, thereby fostering illness and delaying our recovery. By mocking vaccinations, Fox’s entertainers encourage their viewers not to take simple measures that will save their lives — even as the entertainers make sure to get themselves vaccinated, and even as Fox itself demands that they do so.

For their part, progressive Democrats squat in the Land of Make Believe. They make believe that Democrats hold a majority of the Senate, rather than merely 50 votes. They make believe Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema do not exist. They make believe that Democrats have something more than a razor-thin majority in the House, one likely to be erased next year. They make believe that if President Biden simply stamps his feet the political realities that make it impossible for them — and him — to achieve all they wish to achieve will be replaced by different, more favorable realities.

So they take to the airwaves and social media to criticize the president in terms that are unfair, inviting others to join them in their bubble.

Caught in a vise between the unhinged and the irrational, Biden has his work cut out for him. As history has shown, a good and admirable job leading a country is no guarantee that his countrymen will judge him fairly.


Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

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