A potential government shutdown and the political battle for public perception

Welcome to a new edition of The Weekender… Will Congress be able to hammer out a deal before the government shuts down, or will they be too fixated on the battle for public perception? And as America is wrestling over COVID-19 vaccine expansion, Apple is working on mental health technologies. Will a new video from the southern U.S. border prompt changes to immigration and border control? And finally, if you are already ready to get a head start on decorating for Christmas, you have the right idea this year. Catch up on this week’s headlines in The Weekender. Thanks for joining us.
 
 
THE BIG FIVE
As government shutdown looms and Congress fights about it, who will win the battle of public perception? 

On the agenda for Congress this week are the two words no Washingtonian (or average citizen, for that matter) ever wants to hear: government shutdown. As the clock ticks toward shutdown, Republicans and Democrats alike are scrambling for solutions that will make their party come out on top of the great debt ceiling debate. Of course, this isn’t a unique situation for the two parties – politically driven shutdowns have been around for decades. Remember the historic 21-day shutdown during the Clinton administration? The misalignment between Democratic President Bill Clinton and Congressional Republicans over spending cuts ultimately made Clinton look like a winner in the public eye as Republicans were widely considered to hold the blame. Will today’s Congressional Democrats and party leader President Joe Biden look like winners after this round? A new poll from Politico and Morning Consult suggests the answer is likely no. The survey found that 42 percent of respondents would blame both parties equally, 33 percent would blame Democrats more, and 16 percent would blame Republicans more. Those numbers are accompanied by President Biden’s approval rating hitting an abysmal new low of 43 percent. Americans historically dislike shutdowns – that is not bound to change this time around. The two political parties continue to duke it out over solutions on Capitol Hill while the economy prepares itself for a significant blow. Who will be the public winners, and who will be left holding the blame? We likely won’t know until the dust has settled. Read more in The Associated Press.

Americans struggle over the next steps for COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout promised light at the end of the tunnel for what has been a very long, brutal ordeal for the nation. That light, however, continues to be out of reach as the country wrestles with the next phase for vaccine expansion. As COVID-19 becomes a pandemic primarily afflicting the unvaccinated, vaccine mandates are touted as the next phase of fighting the disease. Spearheaded by President Biden’s recent controversial mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees, more elected officials and leaders across the nation are rolling out their version of a vaccine mandate. However, these mandates are not going unchecked—they are met by staunch opposition from those arguing a violation of civil liberties and individual rights. While some leaders focus on mandating vaccines for the general public, others seek to protect two distinct population groups—children and the elderly. U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulators have fully approved booster shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as an option for older Americans to bolster immunity. Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech have announced consistent positive results within the age group from five to 11 years old, arguing the necessity of vaccinating younger children because of a 240 percent increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases. However, not all parents are sold on giving a new vaccine to their children. As America argues over how to reach every citizen with the vaccine, vast swaths of the global population are still unvaccinated. The United Nations-backed vaccine program is extremely behind schedule, with some poorer countries not even having 10 percent of their population vaccinated. The White House has set a new goal of seeing 70 percent of the global population vaccinated in the next year, and as America donates more vaccines, other nations have joined the effort. Read more in Reuters. 

Apple to expand iPhone wellness features to include mental health technology.

Walk into any public space, and it’s almost a guarantee that you will discover at least one person, if not multiple people, using Apple technology to monitor their health. From the interconnected Apple Watch and iPhone to the plethora of apps targeting a specific area of health, technology has become a significant factor in keeping Americans moving and living healthy (or at least healthier) lifestyles. Now Apple wants to expand its mental health capabilities past meditation apps and reminders to stop and breathe. The company is working on technological developments that would allow it to detect depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline in its users. While the company notes that they are including privacy guardrails in the new development, this technological upgrade will break down and analyze numerous factors about how someone uses their iPhone. Facial expressions, frequency and pace of walking, heart rates, typing speed and errors, and much, much more have all been listed as considered factors. The technology company plans to start testing this development this year. Apple’s wellness feature is not the only tech company to implement mental health in its digital resources. From meditation apps to text message counseling, there is no shortage of digital mental health programs… but at what cost? All these mental health apps that help you unplug from the world are the very ones keeping you on your device. Regardless, experts say there are benefits found in signing onto your phone for wellness’ sake. Read more in The Wall Street Journal.

New video adds fuel to the immigration debate fire.

The border control debate is nothing new for our country, but an influx of Haitian migrants at the southern U.S. border is fanning policy and procedure arguments into flames once more. Even after the Department of Homeland Security moved 3,000 people to processing facilities, roughly 10,000 migrants, primarily Haitian, still live in squalor underneath the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas. Many of these refugees are believed to have moved to South America after their nation faced a destructive earthquake in 2010 but are now seeking refuge in the United States as the pandemic takes its toll on the region. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited Texas, highlighting deportations to Haiti and issuing a stark warning to those considering immigrating illegally to the country. To make matters worse, this announcement comes just as a new video revealed the harsh treatment of Haitian migrants by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the southern border. While the Biden administration has denounced the video, it has also fallen under fire for its treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and has been blamed by Republicans for exacerbating problems at the southern border. As many groups petition the White House to change its treatment of Haitian migrants, others highlight the cost of deportation to the American taxpayer. The administration’s current policy has even prompted the resignation of U.S. special envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote over “inhumane” treatment of Haitians. Read more in The Associated Press. 

Supply-chain disruptions come for Christmas too.

If you are a person who is already thinking about decorating for Christmas, you have the right idea this year. Supply-chain disruptions have impacted so much found on American shelves, and artificial Christmas trees are not an exception. Sellers are warning the public that they should prepare to spend up to 25 percent more for their faux tree this year. However, increased costs for holiday decorations are not the only thing impacting American pocketbooks. Alongside shipping disruptions and delays, shipping rates are also set to increase. While FedEx plans to raise rates in 2022, consumers may see additional fees tacked on for their holiday shipments as early as November 1st. The United States Postal Service is also eyeing holiday season fee hikes and anticipating shipping delays. This year, coal under the Christmas tree takes on a whole new meaning. Read more in CNN

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

Evergrande debt repayment suspense sends shockwaves through the global economy.
Evergrande is one the largest real estate developers in China—not to mention one of the biggest businesses in the world. However, this status came at a price: Evergrande owes roughly $300 billion in debt. The company is dangerously close to defaulting, and much is riding on whether it will meet some upcoming payments. The suspense has sent shockwaves through the global economy. Markets worldwide have tumbled while waiting on the news, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have also fallen. While the Chinese government could always intervene, investors are still incredibly nervous. The situation has been compared to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Until the future of Evergrande is decided, investors worldwide will be left biting their nails. Read more in BBC

DATA POINTS

 5,255: The projected number of Afghan refugees California is expected to receive, the largest number of all 50 states, followed by 4,481 in Texas. Hawaii, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming are the only states not slated to receive refugees.

33%: The percentage increase in global food prices in August from the same time in 2020. Reports find that global food prices are close to the highest they’ve been in decades, and experts are warning consumers to buy their holiday foods earlier than usual. 

70%: The percentage increase from Q2 2019 to Q2 2021 for Airbnb bookings for three- and four-day weekends. Experts say the industry that is bouncing back quickest from COVID-19 is the travel industry.

65,000: The number of deaths in Alabama in 2020, compared to 58,000 births—a gap of 7,000 and a first in state history.

44: The number of awards Netflix shows won at the 2021 Emmy Awards. Netflix’s “The Crown” and “The Queens Gambit” won big, along with Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso,” proving streaming services have cemented their rise to prominence in the television industry. 

670,000: The number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus, officially surpassing the estimated 675,000 Americans that the 1918 pandemic killed.

$2.1 billion: The amount of money Google is paying for a New York City office building, making it the most expensive sale of a single U.S. office building since the start of the pandemic.

2025: The year McDonald’s plans to phase out plastic toys in Happy Meals worldwide, replacing them with playthings made from recycled or bio-based and plant-derived materials.

24+: The number of world leaders appearing in person at the UN in New York this week for the first time during the pandemic.

FEATURED TWEET

Ted Lasso positivity – is it just a show, or does it tap into something? 
Credit: Variety
 
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