Bangkok, Shanghai, the Florida Keys, Fire Island, Kitty Hawk, swaths of Italy’s northeastern coast; much of Alexandria and Amsterdam—by 2050, these places (and many more) are projected to be below the annual flood line. Within our lifetimes, we will see more and more cities harmed by rising tides. Will we be prepared when those cities start to disappear?
The scientific community has come to the consensus that sea level rise is largely attributed to melting ice sheets and the absorption of more thermal energy into the ocean, both of which are caused by global warming. The best defense against rising tides would be drastic, immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions by going net zero emissions to “stabilize” global warming. But until that happens, public policy must be dedicated to creating programs and legislation that can help mitigate the human toll of rising seas.
In 2017, one of the largest companies in the world, Amazon, announced a decision that had the potential to transform any city in North America—they were looking for a second headquarters. The announcement immediately set off a fierce bidding war among cities and states for the grand prize consisting of 50,000 jobs and economic opportunities galore.
Amazon, however, was not offering this prize for free. In its Request for Proposal (RFP), the Internet giant asked for outlines of incentives cities and states would offer to offset construction costs, land acquisition, relocation fees, permits, and more, as well as the types of tax breaks and credits they would be willing to provide. Cities got creative in the types of packages they proposed, with Tucson, AZ shipping a cactus to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters and Stonecrest, GA offering to annex part of the city to the corporate giants and officially rename itself “Amazon, GA.”
After a lengthy process, Amazon ended up selecting New York City and Arlington, VA as dual winners of the new headquarters, as well as choosing Nashville for a new operations center. Just three months later, Amazon ended its plans to build part of their second headquarters in New York. What happened is part of a larger trend unfolding in cities, suburbs, and towns across America with increasing regularity in the past few years: pushback to development incentives, largely due to fears of resultant economic inequity in local communities.
One March day, a white man kills eight people, six of whom are Asian women. The man claims he has a “sex addiction” and was acting to remove his “temptation.” He drives for miles between three spas, carefully choosing his victims.
One day later, our president responds: “I am making no connection at this moment to the motive of the killer.” Two days later, FBI Director Christopher Wray claims the attack “does not appear... racially motivated.”
This is in spite of the outcry from the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community and beyond. They argue that only blindness could obscure the clear motivations of the killer, placing his attack in a long history of violence against the AAPI community. Many demand that the shooter be charged with a state or federal hate crime, yet no commitments to do so have emerged.
What, you might ask, is going on here?
The week of March 21, 2021, rumors began circling among students at the University of Virginia and other localities across the Northern regions of the state that a mass Covid-19 vaccination site in Danville, Virginia, was vaccinating all individuals with a valid ID. This practice was not made public, as the Pittsylvania/Danville Health District recently entered vaccination Phase 1c, which expands eligibility for some essential workers, but does not include all adults. College students spread this information via word of mouth and social media posts on Twitter and Reddit.
The Danville mass vaccination site is one of four of its kind that opened across the state last month. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conducted analyses in collaboration with state governments to install mass vaccination centers in regions where Covid-19 disproportionately impacted residents. As of 2019, nearly a quarter of Danville residents lived at or under the federal poverty line.
By Wednesday of that week, the City of Danville released a public statement requesting that individuals stop visiting the mass vaccination site. Additionally, the Blue Ridge Health District, where UVA is located, stated that any resident who traveled to Danville would have to return to receive their second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Students became discouraged as they felt they were hearing contradictory information from a variety of sources. Some claimed that the nurses working at the facility wanted more out-of-district individuals to come, fearing wasted doses due to slow vaccine rollout. Others believed that UVA students created an equity issue as wealthy students entered a low-income space to get vaccinated before members of the community. Additionally, others thought that shots in arms are the most important metric of success, and anyone should get vaccinated when given the opportunity.
President Joe Biden and the 117th US Congress have taken office at a precipitous moment in American history. The worst pandemic in a century, accompanied by an unprecedented economic crisis, has spurred the federal government into action. With the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, total pandemic relief spending will equal 27.1% of US GDP, a staggering sum. On the foreign policy front, intensified competition with near-peer nations such as Russia and China has opened a furious debate within policy making circles over proper American military posture as well as how to balance defense spending with other domestic and foreign policy priorities—including pandemic relief.
The Pentagon is the US government’s largest discretionary investment. Defense spending has increased in recent years from $513 billion in 2009 to $730 billion in 2019, when it represented over 53% of federal discretionary spending. Debates over the bloated defense budget often center on overarching questions regarding America’s overall military goals—the costly “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, the merits of a confrontational approach in the South China Sea, and the value of a sprawling military deployed over hundreds of bases worldwide. However, these discussions rest on the assumption that policymakers have access to unambiguous information about where tax dollars appropriated for military use actually end up and can make adjustments accordingly.
The Pentagon’s accounting and financial bookkeeping are famously inscrutable, making it extremely difficult for policymakers to accurately keep track of military readiness and inventory. Therefore, it is a challenge to ensure that appropriations are being used for their intended purposes.