The World and Everything in It - October 13, 2021
WORLD Radio - The World and Everything in It - October 13, 2021
On Washington Wednesday, the Democrats’ bid to pare down their social spending package; on World Tour, kidnapping victims in Nigeria and a new malaria vaccine; and the church in Japan struggles with pandemic isolation. Plus: commentary from Joel Belz, and the Wednesday morning news.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Good morning!
Democrats are used to fighting with Republicans over spending priorities. But now they’re facing off with each other over how to cut back their $3.5 trillion dollar social spending package.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: We’ll talk about what’s on the chopping block during Washington Wednesday.
Also today, World Tour.
Plus the pandemic, government restrictions, and the church in Japan.
And what happens when Social Security benefits start to shrink.
BROWN: It’s Wednesday, October 13th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
BUTLER: And I’m Paul Butler. Good morning!
BROWN: Up next, it’s time for news. Here’s Kristen Flavin.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, NEWS ANCHOR: House votes to raise debt limit » NATS: On this vote, the yays are 219 and the nays are 206. The resolution is adopted.
House lawmakers voted Tuesday to extend the nation’s debt limit through early December.
The temporary extension was tacked on to another measure governing floor debate. That convoluted process protected lawmakers uncomfortable with the extension from having to vote on it directly.
Before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi underscored its importance.
PELOSI: If we don’t lift the ceiling there could be a loss of 6 million jobs, $15 trillion in household wealth, and drastically increase the cost … car loans, mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and other borrowing.
Tuesday’s vote will prevent the government from running out of cash by October 18th. Despite that significance, nearly 200 lawmakers opted not to cast votes in person. Instead, they used a pandemic-related proxy procedure that allows lawmakers to have someone else cast their vote for them. It was the highest number of proxy votes cast since House leaders adopted the policy in May 2020.
The Senate approved the debt limit extension last week. President Biden is expected to sign it into law before the end of this week.
Nuclear scientist and wife ordered held in jail » A federal judge has ordered a Maryland couple charged with espionage to remain in jail for now. WORLD’s Josh Schumacher has details.
JOSH SCHUMACHER, REPORTER: FBI agents arrested the couple over the weekend. Jonathan and Diana Toebbe are accused of trying to sell sensitive U.S. submarine secrets to a foreign government.
During a brief court hearing Tuesday, prosecutors called the couple a flight risk. The judge will hold a formal detention hearing for the pair on Friday.
They could face life in prison if convicted.
Jonathan Toebbe is a Navy nuclear engineer. He is accused of sharing submarine secrets with someone he thought represented a foreign government. But his contact was actually an undercover FBI agent.
Dianna Toebbe is accused of assisting her husband. Agents observed her with him at “dead drop” locations, where he left information for his contact. She sometimes served as a lookout.
The government built its case against the couple over the course of a year. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Josh Schumacher.
Reaction to Texas governor’s vaccine mandate order » The White House on Tuesday blasted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for issuing an executive order banning workplace mask mandates.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki accused the governor of putting politics ahead of public health.
PSAKI: Implementing these mandates creates certainty. It reduces the number of people who are out of work sick, and worse. And that is good, ultimately, for businesses, it’s good for the economy. But also, saving lives is something fundamentally business leaders can do by continuing to work to implement these mandates.
Late Monday, Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting any entity, including private business, from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers. Abbott supports vaccines and has encouraged Texans to get them. But he said they must always be voluntary.
His order sets up a potential showdown with Washington. The Biden administration is preparing to issue new rules for companies with more than 100 workers. Company employees must get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Several Texas-based companies, including airlines American and Southwest, have already said they plan to comply.
Texas is not the only state challenging Biden’s vaccine mandates. Lawmakers in Arkansas have approved a measure creating mandate exemptions. Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota, Utah, Ohio, and New Hampshire are considering similar moves.
Oil, gas prices hit seven-year high » Crude oil prices hit a seven-year high on Monday. And that is leading to sticker shock at the gas pump.
Trilby Lundberg is an analyst with the Lundberg Survey.
LUNDBERG: Gas prices moved up 6 cents a gallon to $3.31 cents. It is $1.07 cents higher than it was a year ago.
And if crude oil prices don’t drop soon, Lundberg says we could see even higher gasoline prices in the coming months. The lowest average prices in the nation right now are in Houston, and the highest are in San Francisco.
The United States isn’t the only country feeling the effects of high prices. Costs have also spiked in Europe and Asia due to widespread energy shortages.
Demand for fossil fuels has jumped as the global economy recovers from pandemic shutdowns. But production has not kept pace with demand, and so far, oil-producing nations have resisted calls to increase their output.
Record number of workers quit jobs in August » A new Labor Department survey showed a record number of American workers quit their jobs in August. WORLD’s Leigh Jones has that story.
LEIGH JONES, REPORTER: The survey showed nearly 3 percent of the U.S. workforce quit in August—about 4.3 million workers.
That’s up from 4 million in July and the highest number since December 2000.
The bulk of the resignations came from employees in restaurants, bars, and hotels. Retail positions, healthcare, and social assistance jobs also had high turnover.
Economists usually equate higher numbers of resignations with a healthy job market. Workers usually don’t quit unless they have another job lined up. But in this case, analysts say higher rates of COVID infections linked to the delta variant could have driven numbers higher.
Most workers who quit in August held public-facing jobs in the South and Midwest, where COVID cases were the highest.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leigh Jones.
I’m Kristen Flavin. Straight ahead: the fight among Democrats to cut back on spending.
Plus, anticipating a customer service disaster.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 13th of October, 2021.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.
First up: Democrats are plowing ahead with their attempt to pare down President Biden’s massive social spending package—to an amount moderate members of the party can stomach. Despite weeks of pressure from progressives, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have held the line on their refusal to pay the $3.5 trillion price tag. Manchin has said $2 trillion is more in line with what’s reasonable. So now, Democrats are trying to figure out where to cut.
BROWN: The first draft of the spending package included expanding programs related to a wide swath of American life—health, education, childcare, and climate change. All are priorities for the Biden administration. Many were part of campaign promises the president and his allies made in 2020. So how will they decide what to keep and what to give up?
Joining us now to break it down—line by line—is Brian Reidl. He is a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute.
Brian, good morning!
BRIAN REIDL, GUEST: Good morning to you.
BROWN: Ok, so paring down this bill from $3.5 trillion dollars to around $2 trillion seems like it could be pretty hard. But that’s assuming they actually do pare it down. You recently wrote that the bill’s backers may use some political tricks to make the smaller version actually look smaller than it really is. Can you explain what you mean and what that might look like?
REIDL: Sure. Democrats have already done some of this with the current version of the bill. And what they do is they use what's called timing gimmicks to make the bill appear smaller. For instance, the Democrats want to continue the extended child tax credits. That was raised to $3,000 or $3,600 for a child under six last year. They don't want that to expire and have it go back down to $2,000. But it costs $130 billion a year to continue that program. What they're going to do is they're going to have it expire at the end of 2025. Now what the gimmick here is that everybody knows it's not actually going to be allowed to expire. There is no way either a Democratic or Republican Congress at the end of Christmas 2025 is going to take away a popular middle class benefit like the child tax credit once it's already been in place for five years. So everyone knows it's going to continue. But by having it expire in the bill, they don't have to pay for it after 2025. And that lowers the cost of the bill by $750 billion over 10 years. Now that the Democrats need to pare back the bill even further, there is talk that other policies—such as childcare, pre-k, paid leave, expansions of the earned income tax credit—could also have fake expiration dates after just a couple years in order to make the cost appear smaller. Similarly, there's a Medicare dental benefit that Democrats want to create and they would not have that actually be created until the eighth year of the 10 year window so that the 10 year cost looks small, but the permanent cost blows up after 10 years. These are kind of the games that are being played. So ultimately, if you assume that these policies will be extended, the ultimate cost of the policies still could end up being $3.5 trillion to $4 trillion.
BROWN: Is this the kind of financial shell game that could give moderates like Manchin and Sinema some political cover for supporting the measure, even though it might not be substantively different from the original version? In other words, is this going to work, do you think?
REIDL: This will reveal whether Senators Manchin and Sinema are really interested in keeping the cost of the package down or just want to create the illusion of a low cost package. If they really truly believe that we can’t afford all these permanent programs, they won't fall for these gimmicks. They will say, look, I know what you're doing. Even if the sticker price is $1.5 trillion, I know that this is really going to cost $3.5 or $4 trillion. If they're really committed to keeping the cost of the package down, they won't fall for that. However, if they're just looking for a headline that says they reduced the cost of the package, even if it's not reality, then they might say well, as long as I get my headline, that's good enough. So, this will kind of reveal whether this is about really keeping the cost of the package down or just kind of giving a good headline. We'll see what they say.
BROWN: We hear a lot about Senators Manchin and Sinema. But are they the only ones holding out here?
REIDL: There's kind of a joke in Washington policy circles that Manchin and Sinema, they're not two senators. They're a broad concept. Manchin and Sinema really, in many ways, refer to as many as eight to 10 senators, and many House members who are all uncomfortable with the cost of this package, but a lot of them aren't saying anything because it's a lot easier to let those two senators take all the incoming fire, all the criticism, all the hate mail, all the harassment, all the people following them in the bathrooms yelling at them.We saw this with the minimum wage. Democrats talked about raising the minimum wage to $15. And one or two senators said we aren’t comfortable with this. But then when they actually voted, I believe 12 Democratic senators actually voted no, including about 10 more who had kind of been quiet about their reservations.
BROWN: Democrats have set themselves an Oct. 31st deadline to pass both the social spending package and the infrastructure bill. Do you think they’ll reach a compromise by then? And if not, what do you think might happen?
REIDL: Democrats may reach a compromise by then on the basic outlines of a deal. I think that could happen anytime they sit down at the table and negotiate the outlines of how to get to $1.5 trillion. They're not going to pass the bills by October 31 however, because the bills aren't written yet. And it is an extraordinarily complicated task to write bills that are in the trillions of dollars that cover dozens of different areas of government. The 2017 tax cuts took about 10 months to put together and write. And the Democrats are trying to pass this bill in as little as two months. Not only is there a negotiation delay, but it just takes a long time to actually craft the bills, and then get them scored and ready to pass. I can't see this happening before Thanksgiving. But even then, that would still be pretty fast given the huge magnitude of these bills, and how long it has taken to pass and write other similar bills historically.
BROWN: Any chance the social spending package won’t get passed at all?
REIDL: There's always a chance that the entire house of cards could collapse. Passing bills in Congress this big is very rare and very complicated. That being said, I think that at least something will pass because there is a Democratic consensus for at least a small package of policies. There is a Democratic consensus for extending the child credit, more money for child care, pre-kindergarten, money for paid family leave. That smaller set of policies unites virtually the entire Democratic Party and could even pick up a few Republican votes. Ultimately, Democrats, even if they lose Congress next year, have about 14 months to pass a bill like this and even if they brawl and fight for the next several months on the size of the bill, at some point, it would be inexplicable for them to just not pass the basic low hanging fruit that they all agree with even if it's a smaller package.
BROWN: One last question before we let you go. Democrats had planned to raise taxes to help cover the cost of the original bill. If they cut back the spending, will they also cut back the tax increases?
REIDL: The tax increase portion is a challenge in that, clearly, they're not going to tax more than the spending. In fact, one would assume the taxes will be less than the spending levels. But it's not just a matter of paring back the taxes to match the spending. There's also the bigger issue that Democrats have had trouble actually building support for their tax policies. It turns out that for all the talk about taxing the rich $2-3-4-5 trillion, when you actually design the policies and the rubber meets the road, a lot of these policies are much more complicated, much more damaging, and much less popular than they thought. And even bigger, a lot of them won't raise as much revenue as they thought. So all of a sudden Democrats are going to have a problem even getting to a trillion dollars in taxes. I think ultimately, we're probably going to end up with the corporate tax rate rising from about 21 to 25 percent. The individual top tax rate will probably rise from 37 to 39.6. I think there'll be more money for tax enforcement, maybe a slight increase in capital gains tax rates, but that might be about it. The big overhauls, the creation of brand new tax systems and whole new overhauls of the tax code for upper income individuals has turned out to be much more complex, unpopular, and low revenue raising than they thought.
BROWN: Brian Riedl is a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute. Thanks so much for joining us today!
REIDL: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: World Tour with our reporter in Africa, Onize Ohikere.
ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: Nigeria frees hostages, others escape—We start today here in Africa.
AUDIO: [Man speaking quietly]
Six women and nine children kidnapped from Christian villages in northeast Nigeria escaped from captivity this week.
Local officials welcomed them home Monday and praised their determination to seek freedom.
AUDIO: They trekked for six days from the forest of Buni Yadi to Damboa. We follow by example, and I think that's why even in the bush, they told me they are looking at what their father is doing, and they want to make him proud.
Jihadists took half of the women a year ago. They kidnapped the other half in May. It’s not clear which terror group the kidnappers belonged to. Both Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province operate in the area.
On Friday, officials in another northern state announced they had freed 187 people kidnapped by bandits several weeks ago. It was one of the largest successful search and rescue operations in northern Nigeria.
Government forces have cracked down recently on lawlessness in the region, blocking cell phone networks and restricting gatherings and movements. Security analysts say the ongoing attacks by terror groups and heavily armed criminal gangs have had a “suffocating effect” on the region’s economy.
WHO endorses first malaria vaccine—Next we go to Europe.
GHEBREYESUS: This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.
That’s World Health Organization Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus announcing a new vaccine for malaria.
GHEBREYESUS: Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.
Last week, the WHO recommended widespread use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly African children.
Matshidiso Moeti is the WHO’s Africa director.
MOETI: Today's recommendation therefore offers a glimmer of hope for the continent. We expect many more African children will be protected from malaria and grow into healthy and productive adults.
The WHO’s recommendation followed the conclusion of a pilot program started in 2019 in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has been working on the vaccine since 1987. It is only about 30 percent effective at preventing severe malaria. But health experts say even that relatively small benefit will help save lives.
Shiite cleric’s party gains seats in Iraqi parliament—Next to the Middle East.
AUDIO: [Sound of chanting, car horns]
Supporters of Iraq’s Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr celebrated on Monday. That after initial election results showed his political allies taking the largest share of seats in the country’s parliament.
Al-Sadr is best known in the West for leading an insurgency against U.S. forces in 2003. He opposes all foreign influence in Iraq. While his allies appear to have the largest bloc of seats in the parliament, they are far from a majority.
Election observers from the European Union said they found no signs of fraud or other problems.
AUDIO: The results might be contested, that's not new for this country, I guess, but what we have seen, what we have observed, technically, was calm and orderly, there was nothing on the technical level in the majority of the polling stations, of the polling centres, where we observed during the election day.
Only 41 percent of eligible voters participated in the election, a record-low turnout. The government held elections months ahead of schedule in response to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement. But many of the young activists called for a boycott of the vote to protest the heavy-handed reaction to rallies in 2019 and 2020.
That’s this week’s World Tour. Reporting for WORLD, I’m Onize Ohikere in Abuja, Nigeria.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: A piece of literary history just sold at auction. And wait till you hear the price!
The item in question: a broken down old wooden bridge.
It has gone by a couple of names but the one that stuck was Poohsticks Bridge.
If that doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps this excerpt narrated by John Cleese might help.
CLEESE: One day Pooh gathered with his friends, Rabbit, Piglet, and Roo, on the old wooden bridge to race their Poohsticks in the river below.
This is the bridge on which author A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin invented the game “Poohsticks” roughly a century ago.
The bridge stood south of London until authorities determined it was too weatherworn and no longer safe to cross. Officials replaced the bridge in the 1990s, but kept the original bridge in storage.
For this piece of Winnie the Pooh history, the winning bid was nearly $180,000.
The news probably will surprise residents of the hundred acre wood. And no one more than Eeyore, who I’m sure is confused that any one would want it after seeing it from beneath.
It’s The World and Everything in It.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 13th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Paul Butler.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: how to pray for the church in Japan.
These days, many Japanese citizens continue to deal with isolation caused by COVID-19. While new cases are decreasing, many government restrictions remain in place.
BUTLER: WORLD’s Emily Whitten recently spoke with Tokyo missionary Roger Lowther about current challenges to the gospel in Japan as well as how we can pray.
LOWTHER: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
EMILY WHITTEN, REPORTER: That’s missionary Roger Lowther speaking to Japanese viewers in a YouTube video last Christmas. He explains, with helpful English subtitles, that the organ piece he is about to play begins with sorrowful, meditative tones. But like the Christmas story, it ends in joy.
Before COVID lockdowns began, Lowther helped organize many in-person concerts as director of faith and art at Grace City Church Tokyo. But recently, like many Christians around the world, he’s turned to videos and streaming.
LOWTHER: Japan was one of the first countries to shut down because of COVID-19. We have not been able to meet as a church since February of last year. And during the Olympics, we saw that even get worse. The spikes were five times higher than had ever been before.
The Japanese government continues to regulate church gatherings. Out of 180 members of his church, only 20 at a time can attend worship in-person. They need roughly 10 team members to create and stream worship, so that leaves room for ten worshippers. Translation: the church gets virtually no fellowship.
LOWTHER: That's been devastating for the church. Even last week, I was on a phone call with a teammate who said that it's been so hard for her to find volunteers to continue doing video online, the streaming of worship, the audio, the music team. People are just worn out…
Roger Lowther has lived in Japan for 17 years. Before COVID, he and other missionaries saw new openness to the gospel in Japan. Much of that began after the March 2011 tsunami. In the wake of that disaster, missionaries and churches organized to meet needs like food, water, and medicine. Lowther saw busy, professional people in Tokyo come together in a new way.
LOWTHER: When they saw that the church was leading the way and bringing relief work up north, that was a huge testimony to a lot of people, built a lot of trust. They came alongside us. It was like short term mission trips.
Many Japanese people experienced loving Christian community for the first time. And they kept coming back, even after the emergency faded.
LOWTHER: There's something different about Christian community - it's much more freeing, there's things you can say, and you know you won't be judged for it. Because you know, there's such a thing as grace, and that God has already forgiven you.
Lowther saw God’s grace change the conversation in his church in a number of ways. Here’s one example:
LOWTHER: One meeting, a friend of mine shared about his son, and everyone in the room was shocked. You have a son? He had never mentioned that before and was from a previous marriage. And he just had not felt comfortable sharing something like that, because that, shame comes with that in Japan.
For now, COVID-19 has pushed the pause button on that kind of in-person, gospel-centered community. Lowther and his church try to take advantage of the opportunities they do have—streaming worship, recording podcasts, writing books. But they long to see more of the fruit they saw before COVID.
LOWTHER: Please do pray for the church in Japan now, during this time when people are so discouraged and depressed and disappointed. But also pray for the months and years ahead. We really can see how God is going to work through this. People want community now more than ever before. And it is a tremendous opportunity for the growth of the church in Japan.
God loves for His people to pray, especially for brothers and sisters in Christ who need encouragement. So, if you can pause what you’re doing for just a moment, would you join Lowther in this prayer for Japan?
LOWTHER: Dear God, thank you so much for how you have shown yourself to us. That you have a relationship with us. We are your children. You are our Father. You are the God of America. You are the God of Japan and God of every nation, every people. We praise you in every language that humans know. We glorify you but not as we should. Lord, we so long to see more and more worshipers of you in Japan. We pray that you would work there for Your glory; that when the sun rises and shines in the nation of Japan, that more and more people would know you and every Sunday morning be worshipping you.
We pray especially for the church during this time of the lockdown with COVID. And how hard that's been, how discouraging. So many pastors, so many church leaders and volunteers are burned out. They need your grace. They need to know especially be a close to your presence. And Lord, we pray for this time beyond. We pray, as COVID lifts, that you would then give renewed energy to the church planting work. And more and more people would come to know you and be drawn into your community. May your kingdom grow in Japan and around the world. We pray in your name. Amen.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emily Whitten.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 13th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.
Many American retirees are counting on their Social Security benefits. What happens when they discover their monthly checks are much smaller than expected? WORLD founder Joel Belz says, it won’t be pretty.
JOEL BELZ, COMMENTATOR: It was the most audacious demand I had ever heard from a disgruntled customer anywhere.
There he was at the customer service desk asking for his money back on a full set of tires that he thought had worn out too fast. “That’s OK,” the clerk said, without an ounce of condescension. “Our store has never, ever, carried that brand of tire. But if you’re unhappy about this, we’ll give you a full replacement at no cost. Of course.”
It’s not usually that easy. Even when you know that the service you’ve received has been horrible—or perhaps even non-existent; or that the product you’re complaining about is deficient in every manner conceivable, even then you choose your strategy thoughtfully and rehearse your words carefully. Having lost Round #1, why throw the contest away by doing something dumb?
I’ve been thinking about all this because of the likely record-breaking crowds a few short years from now at customer service desks at your local office of the Social Security Administration. That’s when dismayed retirees will discover the monthly support they’ve enjoyed since is coming in smaller and smaller amounts.
Rumors of such budget-busting realities in SSA’s basic structure have been around for years. But unexpected new phenomena like the COVID-19 pandemic meant that millions of people who had been working, earning wages, and contributing their share of SSA support, lost their jobs.
A new report warns SSA revenues will be lower for the next decade than anticipated. That at a time when a wave of baby boomers is retiring. All of them, because of their age, face especially uncertain futures stemming from the unpredictable variations of the coronavirus surge.
Recent reports, primarily from the federal government itself, focus on the solvency of various federal agencies. The questions seem to start with identifying just when the grim “tipping point” comes—when SSA trust funds go empty and annual expenditures exceed revenues. A rough compilation of the major reports anticipates that to happen sometime in 2034—one year sooner than most experts previously predicted.
It is that fluid and unsteady nature of the “tipping point” that most bothers many observers. “If the nature of my work,” said one Wall Street analyst writing for his client newsletter, “is to help my clients make thoughtful choices for the future, and if 90 percent of the data they’ve been given is slippery and subject to annual revision—or maybe even monthly revision—why would we expect them not to raise the roof when judgment day comes?”
“Raising the roof” is what people typically do at the customer service desk. And it’s not hard to imagine that the crowd at that desk will be both immense and boisterous when folks realize a significant chunk of the savings they’ve been counting on simply isn’t there.
I’m Joel Belz.
PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Tomorrow: legalizing marijuana. We’ll tell you what’s behind the renewed push to decriminalize the drug.
And, abuse in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. We’ll have the latest developments facing the Southern Baptist Convention.
That and more tomorrow.
I’m Paul Butler.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.
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