Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
Vaccines, masks, carrots, sticks
Masks are back. The CDC says even vaccinated Americans should resume wearing masks as the Delta variant sends case counts skyrocketing. But why are we still talking about masks when the most effective tool to fight COVID is the vaccines? What’s stalling government vaccine mandates for federal employees? Are we using carrots and sticks effectively?
Then: it’s not a bipartisan infrastructure framework anymore — it’s a bipartisan infrastructure deal. It includes hard infrastructure like roads, bridges and resiliency efforts to help adapt to climate change. Is it enough? And why have so many Republicans supported it?
With substantial Republican support in the Senate, progressives may have to pin hopes on the $3.5 trillion budget proposal that’s filled with programs for education, child care and paid family leave. They hope to pass it through budget reconciliation but moderate Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she opposed the price tag on that package in an almost evenly divided Senate. Are progressives going to get what they want?
Also: millions of American renters are still behind on rent, but the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire this weekend. There doesn’t seem to be an effort from the left to extend emergency unemployment insurance, either. Is that surprising? And when would be a good time to sunset pandemic aid programs?
Finally: why it’s okay to let your lawn go. Seriously.
Rush before recess
Congress is in that busy mode before it goes on vacation. What’s moving forward? Right now, it’s the negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure framework and Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package. What’s stalling? Voting rights and police reform. Josh Barro talks with panelists Megan McArdle and Gustavo Arellano about why that’s fizzled and all the homework Congress is trying to finish before summer recess.
Then: the delta variant is continuing to wreak havoc on the unvaccinated, with case rates up nearly fivefold since the third week of June. Do masks make sense again now? What’s the best way to get people vaccinated? And what’s Gustavo saying to the ‘pandejos’ now?
Plus, are billionaires in space annoying or are they good for humanity? And finally: why the Summer Olympics should probably always be held in Los Angeles.
The Democrats’ go-big budget
This week on Left, Right & Center: Senate Democrats have their plates full between the bipartisan infrastructure bill they’re already working on and a new $3.5 trillion spending bill they announced this week. This one would be mostly social spending: paid family leave, child care, universal pre-kindergarten and expanding Medicare to include vision, dental and hearing. Josh Barro, Liz Bruenig and Megan McArdle discuss whether there will be public support for infrastructure and this big social spending package, if the push could turn out to be a political win or liability for Democrats, if the party will remain united or do some necessary hashing out, and the pay-fors. One of the ways to pay for it is empowering the IRS to recoup unpaid taxes and it could mean that lower- and middle-income earners could be audited more frequently. Is that bad?
Then: Rising covid cases and new virus variants are a major concern for public health, the economic recovery, and a return to normal. Are breakthrough infections also a blindspot for our covid analysis? Former Obama administration health policy adviser Dr. Kavita Patel talks about the gulf in infections between vaccinated and unvaccinated people and whether it would help for the FDA to fully approve the vaccines.
And finally — welcome to ECON 101 at LRC. Today we’re talking inflation. Consumer prices rose 0.9% in June, and we’re seeing the most rapid rate of inflation since the 2008 recession. What’s going on, and should you be concerned? We discuss.
On this week’s Left Right & Center, Josh, Liz and Ross talk about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. But what do we have to show for America’s longest war? And should we fear a return of the Taliban to power?
Then: We now know who’s winning the Democratic primary– and likely the mayorship– in New York City. Who is Eric Adams, and does his “Biden-style politics” mark a crucial break from the progressive left?
Also: we take a deep dive into the political and practical justifications for the death penalty, and examine whether the focus on innocence has obscured our moral obligation to the guilty. Finally: we take a closer look at the fight over critical race theory. What are people really arguing about, and is it about children’s education at all? We discuss.
Special presentation of All The Presidents’ Lawyers
This week’s episode is a special presentation of All The Presidents’ Lawyers, a KCRW podcast that Josh Barro and Ken White host. It’s all about the legal problems of presidents and their associates.
This week: the indictments of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and various Trump businesses came down. The charges allege a a fifteen-year tax fraud scheme that protected Weisselberg and other Trump Organization employees from paying tax. In Weisselberg’s case, that’s over $1.7 million in compensation. After years of investigation, was this expected? Was it likely that Trump himself would have been charged?
Next, Ken and Josh discuss Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to decline to investigate the Trump administration’s DOJ, leaving it to the inspector general. And then: Rudy Giuliani has been stripped of his law license for making demonstrably false statements about the outcome of the 2020 elections. Is this the end of his career?
And on this special episode, you’ll get to hear Ken and Josh answer listener questions about all things legal, including why former President Trump can claim such broad legal immunity against lawsuits for statements he made in office, like when he crudely denied E. Jean Carroll’s rape allegation or encouraged his supporters toward the Capitol on January 6.
Left, Right & Center’s regularly scheduled programming will return July 9.
It’s Infrastructure Week, again!
A bipartisan success story: That’s how President Biden wants us to remember the infrastructure deal he announced this week. It was an opportunity for the president to remind people that he gets Congress, he knows how to reach across the aisle, and he’ll still reassure progressives that it won’t stop him from delivering on other Democratic priorities. In this episode: Ross, Liz and Josh discuss what’s in the infrastructure deal, if it’ll get the additional support it needs to be come a reality, and how likely it is that Biden can get to everything on the Democrats’ wishlist.
Then: Sasha Issenberg talks about the massive and relatively rapid success story that was the campaign for same-sex marriage, from a local fight in Honolulu to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. How did public opinion change so quickly, and how integral was it to the fight that it did? Do social movements today have similar advantages? Finally, some Catholic bishops are pushing to deny President Biden communion for his pro-choice views. What does that even mean? Does it matter? We discuss.
Listening from the Netherlands - great concept of hearing different views and having an constructive debate. How it should be. Would recommend!