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What does American Power Mean by Social Spending?

What does American Power Mean by Social Spending?

It began as a sprawling, once in a generation expansion to the social safety net: ambitious $3.5 trillion planAccess to health care, public schooling, and paid parental leaves, to be extended. nearly every American’s life. The Daily reported this week that the social spending bill was reduced to a smaller size. Senators Kyrsten SinemaArizona Joe Manchin IIIWest Virginia repeatedly objected to certain provisions.

The show featured an explanation of the dramatic domestic implicationsThe Democrats are negotiating legislative compromises. As the president departs for a diplomatic marathon with world leaders this weekend, we want to use this newsletter to pick up where we ended today’s episode — and ask how the impacts of these bills will ripple beyond our borders.

The Daily strives for a fresh idea in each episode. Below are some details about one of the episodes this week.

The Biden administration is facing a week that could determine the president’s legacy.

Biden made it very clear at home: his presidency, the Democrats’ electoral prospectsDemocrats are in control of the midterm elections and the social security of millions of Americans. negotiate a compromiseon his social spending bill. But before leaving for two major international summits, the G20 Summit and COP26, he also framed this moment in terms of America’s international standing: “It’s about leading the world or letting the world pass us by,” he said.

So we wanted to ask a few experts: Is this moment really a referendum on America’s global power, as Biden said? Here are three ways they said the president’s bill matters for American diplomacy.

Biden arrives at two major summits facing a test: Can he take over global leadership and assure allies that America can be trusted as a reliable partner?

“There is general concern among the allies and friends about what is happening to our democracy,” said Joseph S. Nye Jr., a Harvard professor who coined the term “soft power.” He added that while many allies were “delighted to see America return to multilateral institutions,” many now wonder whether entrenched polarization could make American leadership unreliable — and subject to increasingly dramatic swings based on which party is in power.

“They’re wondering: Are we going to see flip-flopping back and forth?” Dr. Nye said. He added that allies were particularly concerned about disinformation, as well as the lack of public and congressional consensus about the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.

To Leslie Vinjamuri, a director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House, the social spending bill is a chance to prove that “American leadership cannot only sound good and look good, but that it can actually deliver,” she said. She noted that creating consensus and overcoming entrenched partisanship was “the great promise of Joe Biden.”

Now, the social spending bill is both “a referendum on President Biden and whether any president can make a system that the rest of the world probably perceives to be a little bit broken” actually work, she said.

As a result of political polarization, Dr. Nye believes that allies will be less willing “to treat us as the North Star to guide their policies” in the long term. He sees bold climate action as a way to regain some global leadership lost during the Trump era.

Donald Trump formally pulled the USA out of the Paris climate agreement. Biden immediately rejoined Paris after he took office and climate is now the largest category of his social spending bill. The climate crisis is now the center of his party’s domestic agenda ahead of the global climate summit in Glasgow. (It was not clear this week whether all Democrats would support it.

“There are very few people on this planet who think that America is on the right side of climate change in terms of its cars and its energy use,” Dr. Vinjamuri said. But getting Democrats to vote for the proposed $555 billion for climate programs would be a start in helping the “U.S. meet its targets,” she added, giving the country the “legitimacy to put pressure on others to meet their targets.”

With the spending bill yet to be finalized, Dr. Vinjamuri notes that what is left out of the legislation could also have implications for America’s standing abroad, sending a clear signal to foreign citizens about what the U.S. values.

“Our soft power is massively negatively affected,” she said, by the news that paid family leave — a public good provided by other developed nations — is likely to be removedFrom the social spending bill. People who experience these benefits “just do not understand, and they can’t imagine that it can be anything but crippling for the U.S. in the long term,” she added.

Dr. Nye argues that, in regards to the social safety net, “America has always been inadequate in European eyes,” he said. While he supports the proposals and believes a lack of paid family leave “hurts us,” he believes “other sources of influence,” such as expanding U.S. vaccine diplomacy, would do more to improve America’s standing abroad.

Both agree that the world leaders are more concerned with threats to America’s political system than they are about American democracy. “The fact that we might lose the quality of our democracy which has been a bedrock for American standing in the world,” Dr. Nye said, “that is the real threat to our soft power.”


You may recall hearing the ominous string music this week. Monday’s episode on Evergrande, or the deep drone and pulsing dulcitone behind yesterday’s recap of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing. Our audio team has three dedicated composers — Elisheba Ittoop, Marion Lozano and Dan Powell. Below, we asked Elisheba & Marion some questions about their music making process.

Each morning, the Daily team meets up to discuss upcoming episodes and exchange ideas. The three composers are divided into teams and then we discuss which stories could benefit from original music.

Sometimes more than one of us wants to create music for an episode. We tend to tag-team. We assign a lead composer who is responsible for communicating with the episode’s producers and understanding their vision for it, and then clearly translating that vision to the other composers.

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There’s a saying that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” If a producer were to tell us, “This moment should sound like blue,” we’d all probably come up with dramatically different music cues. Elisheba might go the sunshine-and-butterflies route, while Marion might come back with a death-and-destruction motif. This has actually happened! That’s why it’s vital for us to assign a lead composer to each episode. If one of us is lost, the lead composer will return us to our place.

Earlier this month, The Daily ran an episode called “Which Towns Are Worth Saving?” about the effects of climate change on two towns in North Carolina, Avon and Fair Bluff. Elisheba is originally from North Carolina so she felt a personal connection to the story.

Elisheba spoke to Michael Simon Johnson, the producer, about the mood he wanted to create for the episode. Elisheba wanted Michael to be on the same page so she made a playlist of songs that felt very “North Carolina” to her: warm but a little melancholy, with flat-picked guitar and sparse instrumentation. Michael said that the mood of the playlist was just right.

The episode’s music was composed by Elisheba Marion, Dan, and Chelsea Daniel, an audio fellow. They used the playlist as a starting point.

Here’s a song Marion wrote that’s meant to sound as if you’re walking down the streets of Fair Bluff. She used both an electric guitar and an acoustic because she wanted the grit and roundness of the electric. You will also notice subtle imperfections such as timing and pitch issues. These are signs of the town’s turbulent history with flooding.

Here’s a song Elisheba’s beautiful, warm, and mournful words. It conveys the idea of how, even though the town can save itself in a short-term, climate change is urgent and inevitable.

This happens quite often. For every cue a composer creates, there are three others that don’t make it into the final episode. It comes down to variables like texture, tone and whether or not there’s a good scene for it.

We add a cue to our Daily music library. It has more than seven gigabytes worth of original music. Here are some examples.

You may recall hearing Elisheba’s song called “A Fine Needle” Our episode is about a young man. Afghan woman named N. The producer Lynsea Garrison was drawn to the song for its “eerie quality” — like a “ballerina spinning in a jewelry box,” she said. “There was innocence and tension in it that I loved and, of course, just sadness.” Take a listen:

And Marion’s song “Cash Money” found a home in Monday’s episode on EvergrandeThe collapsed property developer in China is. It’s in a minor key, and it features strings and piano engaging in dark tones. Her inspiration was the theme music of the TV show “Succession.” Listen here:


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