Biden, Supreme Court, Cider: Your Weekend Briefing


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Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.

1. House progressives flexed. President Biden threw in with them. Now his agenda is in doubt.

Progressive lawmakers feared that moderates would vote for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill currently before the House and peel away from bigger social policy legislation, so they blockaded the bill. The nine centrist lawmakers who had tried to force an infrastructure vote by the end of September were enraged.

When Biden ventured to the Capitol on Friday to help House Democrats, he had to choose sides. He effectively chose the left, which vociferously opposed him in the primary, and an agenda that is widely popular with the public and with many Democrats in Congress.

But he also conceded that both pieces of legislation won’t pass until the progressives’ priorities are pared down to meet the approval of the centrist Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. He also conceded that reaching a deal could take weeks.

2. Back on the bench, the Supreme Court faces a blockbuster term.

During the new session, which begins Monday, the court will consider eliminating the constitutional right to abortion, vastly expanding gun rights and further chipping away at the wall separating church and state.

The highly charged docket will test the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts. At a time when the justices have become uncharacteristically defensive in public, one poll found that only 40 percent of Americans approved of the job the court was doing.

In other legal news, experts have for years testified that prone restraint by police is safe. Now the research is on trial.


3. In Alaska’s Covid crisis, doctors must decide who lives and who dies.

Overloaded facilities in the lower 48 states are able to transfer patients to neighboring cities and states. In Anchorage, most of the help is 1,500 miles away in Seattle. As Alaska struggles with the nation’s worst Covid outbreak, doctors are rationing oxygen, treating patients in hallways and sometimes denying emergency surgery.

The Nobel Prizes will be announced beginning Monday. Speculation about this year’s recipient of the Nobel for Medicine has turned to Covid vaccine pioneers, after two vaccine researchers won the Lasker award on Friday.

Two new studies suggest that newer variants of the coronavirus, like Alpha and Delta, are more contagious in part because they are better at traveling through the air.

4. As Afghan refugees wait for homes in the U.S., military bases are turning into small cities.

About 53,000 Afghans have been living on eight military installations since the summer. Afghan evacuees said they were grateful for the warm reception they have received, but for many, the long wait has been grueling.

One reason for the delay is housing — many wish to settle where they have friends or relatives, but officials have said that a dearth of affordable apartments could postpone their resettlement. Among the refugees are a group of 148 young women who are hoping to finish their university education in the U.S., the principal of an international school and an Afghan Air Force pilot who learned to fly Black Hawk helicopters in Alabama and Texas.


5. Migrants are surging at the Mexican border. Tens of thousands are passing through a deadly South American jungle to get there.

The Darién Gap, a roadless, lawless land bridge connecting Colombia and Panama, was considered so dangerous that only a few thousand people a year tried to cross it. But the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic in South America has been such that 95,000 migrants, most of them Haitian, attempted the crossing in the first nine months of the year.

“We very well could be on the precipice of a historic displacement of people in the Americas toward the United States,” a former national security adviser said. “When one of the most impenetrable stretches of jungle in the world is no longer stopping people, it underscores that political borders, however enforced, won’t either.”

In other international news, Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president, whose term ends next year, said that he will retire rather than seek the vice presidency.


6. Trams, cable cars, ferries: Cities are rethinking transit to slow climate change.

Berlin is reviving electric tram lines that were ripped out when the Berlin Wall went up. Bogotá, Colombia, is building cable cars to serve working-class communities. Bergen, Norway, is running battery-powered ferries and buses. Where cities are succeeding in these and similar efforts, they’re also finding benefits in cleaner air and greater transit equity.

7. How much care will you need when you’re older? Researchers are figuring it out.

A recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that 38 percent of 65-year-olds will develop moderate needs, almost one-quarter will have severe needs, 22 percent will have minimal needs and 17 percent will have no care needs.

Many older adults don’t have enough money saved. But others scrimp too much, lowering their quality of life.

“I think that’s actually a bigger risk than the more conventional idea of taking an around-the-world cruise and then ending up with nothing,” said the center’s director, Alicia Munnell.

8. Rookie quarterbacks are rarely good. This year’s batch has been uniquely bad.

Pushed to lead N.F.L. teams that are rebuilding, Zach Wilson of the Jets, Mac Jones of the Patriots and Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars have combined to go 1-8 this season, with 17 interceptions and nine touchdowns. But there’s no reason yet to worry — some great quarterbacks started very badly, and a lack of early success might actually help these rookies by dimming the national spotlight.

Kickers, by contrast, are booming. Justin Tucker of the Ravens kicked a 66-yard field goal last weekend, a record. Longer ones are possible, but place-kickers rarely get the chance to push the limit.


9. It’s cider season, and here’s how to enjoy it.

Whether it’s English (traditionally dry and tannic), French (sweeter and lighter) or Spanish (funky and tangy), cider is enjoyable on its own as an aperitif or served alongside a meal. It’s also great in a cocktail, paired with vermouth or something more spirited.

On the issue of enjoyment, the actor Stanley Tucci has some insights. About three years ago, radiation therapy for tongue cancer left anything he ate tasting like wet cardboard “slathered with someone’s excrement.” He didn’t fear death — just losing his sense of taste. He tells the story in his new memoir, “Taste.”

To welcome the fall food season, our columnist David Tanis has put together an October menu of romaine salad and butternut squash pie, with poached pears in red wine.


Have a lovely week.


David Poller compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.

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