The Lianeon Weekly Topics | Biden’s Stimulus Passes, but is it Too Much?

Week of March 8th

The Essential Five

California housing crunch: Is the answer to end single-family zoning?

Now famous as a bastion of liberal politics, the Northern California enclave of Berkeley established a first-of-its-kind policy in 1916 that prohibited multifamily housing on residential land. City planners at the time cast the regulation as a preemptive move to protect neighborhoods from “the intrusion of the less desirable and floating renter class.”

The restrictions served to segregate minority tenants from white homeowners, and in the ensuing decades, as cities and suburbs coast to coast followed Berkeley’s example, single-family zoning contributed to California’s and the country’s affordable housing shortage and a rise in homelessness. In the San Francisco Bay Area – a constellation of 101 municipalities that includes Berkeley and is beset by some of the country’s highest housing prices and rents – a meager 18% of residential land allows for multifamily development.

The push to revitalize the so-called missing middle of housing – and unwind the legacy of exclusionary zoning and other discriminatory housing policies – has gained momentum since Minneapolis became the nation’s first city to jettison single-family zoning in 2018. Oregon lawmakers banned the policy in much of the state in 2019, and last year Portland officials approved a comparable measure to nurture multifamily housing.

Strict zoning laws time has come. While especially acute in CA, zoning laws are long established to be a major cause of high housing prices. With all of the talk about raising the minimum wage and how you cannot live on $7/hour, there is little discussion as to why. My view, removing market distortions in education, healthcare, and housing would reduce cost of living and make the discussion of a $15/hour minimum wage moot.

Biden signs $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill

The latest: White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing shortly after the signing that Americans with direct deposit set up can expect to see relief payments hitting their bank accounts "as early as this weekend."

Why it matters: The enactment of the massive coronavirus relief plan cements Biden's first major legislative victory and comes exactly one year after the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization.

The big picture: Federal agencies will now face the daunting task of implementing one of the largest economic relief packages in U.S. history, which is projected to lift millions out of poverty in addition to supporting businesses and other institutions hit hard by the pandemic.

Key provisions of the bill include direct payments to Americans, an expansion of the child tax credit, aid to state and local governments, billions for the distribution of vaccines and more.

With the unemployment rate falling, vaccine rollout going well, and expected 4-8% GDP growth in the first quarter, one has to wonder what precisely the impetus is behind spending such a huge amount of money. That money would be better spent investing in the country’s future.

New study warns Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could be far less effective against South Africa variant

Moderna’s vaccine candidate was found to be 12.4 times less effective against the South African variant, and Pfizer’s was found to have a reduced effectiveness by about 10.3 times.

First originating in its namesake South Africa, B.1.351 has quickly spread across the globe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 81 confirmed cases across 20 separate jurisdictions in the U.S. The first known case was detected in the U.S. in January 2021, with official CDC statements calling for more research on the variant.

Want to unite the country? Learn to argue better

Political polarization among Americans has been escalating for a decade, with some 30% of both Democrats and Republicans now holding the view that the other party poses a threat to the nation's very well-being. A divisive 2020 presidential campaign season marked by demonstrations, riots and a storming of the capital building, doesn't bode well for a future of u

Screen time, scream time

It's probably no coincidence that polarization has arisen alongside the expansion of the internet into every facet of public discourse. Algorithms now feed people only the news that aligns with their world view, inflammatory headlines and Twitter threads are rewarded with the most engagement (and the most ad dollars), and the impersonal way we communicate is making people disinhibited and less empathetic to the other person in the comments section.

Disinformation is part of the problem. We live in a society that has blurred the distinction between facts and opinion. I discussed how social media is quite conducive to sharing misinformation here.

It’s not just a social media problem: How search engines can spread misinformation

Search engines are one of society’s primary gateways to information and people, but they are also conduits for misinformation. Similar to problematic social media algorithms, search engines learn to serve you what you and others have clicked on before. Because people are drawn to the sensational, this dance between algorithms and human nature can foster the spread of misinformation.

There are two aspects to this misinformation problem: how a search algorithm is evaluated and how humans react to headlines, titles and snippets. Search engines, like most online services, are judged using an array of metrics, one of which is user engagement. It is in the search engine companies’ best interest to give you things that you want to read, watch or simply click. Therefore, as a search engine or any recommendation system creates a list of items to present, it calculates the likelihood that you’ll click on the items.

Traditionally, this was meant to bring out the information that would be most relevant. However, the notion of relevance has gotten fuzzy because people have been using search to find entertaining search results as well as truly relevant information.

Worth a read. Ironically, Gary Vee also holds that media comes in two forms, education or entertainment. This study argues that the blurring of the two is part of the problem.


Biden Tells States to Make All Adults Eligible for Covid-19 Vaccine by May 1

President Biden pressed states to widen Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to all U.S. adults by May 1, calling for an all-hands effort to defeat the coronavirus to set the stage for small gatherings during Independence Day weekend.

“If we do this together, by July the Fourth, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Mr. Biden said during a Thursday night prime-time address from the White House, his first as president.

Let’s be real, this was going to happen anyway.

George Floyd Case: Jury Selection In Chauvin Trial Delayed Over Murder Charge Appeal

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill postponed the start of Derek Chauvin's trial in the killing of George Floyd on Monday, after an appeals court ordered him to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer. The decision came as a pool of potential jurors waited to start the selection process.

The delay comes as Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, said he is finalizing an appeal asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the question of whether Cahill should consider reinstating the murder charge.


SpaceX prepares for Air Force test connecting an aircraft to its Starlink satellite internet

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is preparing to further test its Starlink satellite internet in a demonstration for the U.S. Air Force, the company revealed in a recent request to the Federal Communications Commission.

“SpaceX seeks to make minor modifications to its experimental authorization for additional test activities undertaken with the federal government,” the company wrote to the FCC in a filing on Thursday.

“The tests are designed to demonstrate the ability to transmit to and receive information from (1) two stationary ground sites and (2) one airborne aircraft at one location, and would add to these (3) limited testing from a moving vehicle on the ground,” SpaceX said.

Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites, known in the space industry as a constellation, designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers anywhere on the planet.

The impact of the Starlink network on global communication cannot be overstated. Elon deserves praise for his vision and tenacity on this, he really is risking the company. My only concern is that other countries and companies may follow, creating a ring of space debris that may inhibit future space exploration.

Congress reintroduces the RISE Act

The legislation authorizes $25 billion in supplemental funding for federal research agencies to restart research and support researchers whose research or facilities suffered losses because of COVID-19. It would attend to the many impediments to research at “research institutions, public laboratories, and universities throughout the country to continue their work on thousands of federally backed projects” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It would also provide $10 billion to the National Institutes of Health.


IRS started processing stimulus checks Friday, money begins arriving in accounts

The Internal Revenue Service on Friday began processing stimulus checks, which have already started to hit Americans’ bank accounts and should continue to arrive throughout the weekend.

Officials from the Treasury Department and the IRS told reporters Friday afternoon that most Americans do not need to take any additional action to receive their payments and most will be delivered via direct deposit.

“Even though the tax season is in full swing, IRS employees again worked around the clock to quickly deliver help to millions of Americans struggling to cope with this historic pandemic,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a press release.

IRS officials said that full $1,400 payments are slated to go to individuals with adjusted gross incomes of up to $75,000, heads of households that make up to $112,500 and married couples filing jointly with annual income up to $150,000.

U.S. companies face record $10.5 trillion in debt—Here’s what to know about the corporate bond ‘bubble’

Nice fun intro video on corporate bond market. Worth a watch.

Republicans call the COVID-19 relief bill a 'liberal wish list.' Democrats are owning that

Republicans call the massive COVID-19 relief package making its way through Congress a “liberal wish list.” Increasingly, Democratic lawmakers and the Biden administration have chosen to own that.

One measure of the bill’s sweep is a host of provisions Democrats have long sought — on topics including health insurance premiums, child care and pensions — that would amount to major pieces of legislation on their own. As part of the nearly $1.9-trillion package, however, they’ve gotten little public attention, overshadowed by debate over who should receive $1,400 direct payments and whether the bill should increase the minimum wage.

As much as I agree that the stimulus is too large, wasteful, and inappropriate, the GOP’s messaging here needs to be careful. A great deal of Americans are going to get $1400 checks, plus many are going to get their child tax credit in the form of checks.

The more the GOP frames this as “its the democrats stimulus” the more it can backfire. Remember that the GOPs signature tax cut legislation was similar in total price tag but most people directly felt little benefit. In fact, Paul Ryan celebrated the fact a high school teacher saw her paycheck go up by $1.50 a week...enough for a costco membership.

New child tax credit could slash poverty now and boost social mobility later

A direct cash transfer, then, can be both a powerful anti-poverty policy, and likely to be a pro-mobility policy, too: the policy equivalent of a two-fer. These may be important considerations in the coming arguments over whether to make the new child tax credit permanent.

I’d like to explore this idea with Baby Bonds. Seems like low cost and (potentially) egalitarian means of helping preserve social mobility.


Turns out Americans actually like competent government

President Joe Biden is riding high on a public job approval rating his predecessor could only dream of as Americans are giving the 46th Commander-in-Chief high marks based clearly on his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. In new polling from Ipsos, Biden enjoys a 58 percent approval rating among registered voters, including 56 percent of independents — a critical voting bloc that helped deliver him the presidency. At the highest point in his tenure, former President Donald Trump had just a 49 percent approval rating — back in January 2020, on the heels of his first impeachment acquittal in the senate

With final passage and signing of the American Rescue Plan this week — the sweeping $1.9 trillion package that has a remarkable level of public approval — Biden is riding a wave of public support specifically based on his response to the COVID-19 crisis. From ABC News: “More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) approve of Biden's approach to the pandemic — a consistent result since he took office in January. At a moment of deep political polarization, his steady approval is also reinforced by positive marks from 35 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of independents and an overwhelming 98 percent of Democrats in the poll.”

Why America Needs a Tech New Deal

Biden needs a “Tech New Deal” to accelerate the deployment and adoption of high-speed broadband access for economic recovery and greater social integration. Ubiquitous technology access can also help execute a complementary range of pandemic response programs.

I’ve long supported the idea of mass government investment in science, technology, and basic research to compliment the private sector.

Shame Corner


An image shared on Facebook claims line 17 of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill grants members of the House a $25 million bonus.

Verdict: False

The bill does not include a $25 million bonus for members of Congress.

Fact Check:

The Senate voted March 6 on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, CNBC reported. The House is scheduled to vote on the Senate’s version of the bill on March 10, according to CNN.

A March 5 Facebook post claims “line 17” of the American Rescue Plan Act gives a $25 million bonus to House representatives. (RELATED: Did Nancy Pelosi Hide $25 Million For Congressional Pay Raises In The House Coronavirus Stimulus Bill?)

Lines in Congressional bills are numbered based on their position on a page rather than their place in the entire document, as seen in other bills, so the act contains hundreds of line 17s. The Facebook post fails to mention which “line 17” of the act states there is a $25 million bonus for representatives.

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