What's Rhino? And Congress flexes its judicial override muscles

+ Some thoughts on Israel/Palestine, and school re-openings

Hi 👋 happy Friday.

I will try to keep this one brief, but I have a few things I wanted to share.

1.Readers of this newsletter may remember a story I co-wrote in November about judicial overrides (sometimes called “statutory overrides” or “Congressional overrides”.) They are an important federal tool that has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years. While courts get to interpret laws, and can deem laws illegal, Congress can then go and clarify laws, or change them, to withstand judicial scrutiny.

Congress used to do this a lot more often, and in our piece from last year, we listed a number of Supreme Court decisions that Congress could effectively tackle, often by simply just adding one or two lines into the statute.

In a new story for The Intercept, I highlight two instances this spring where Congress has moved to do just that, i.e amending federal law to strengthen consumer protections in the wake of unfavorable Supreme Court rulings. It’s good news! And there are a whole lot more decisions hopefully Congress will consider.

2. In a second piece, also for The Intercept, I report on a little-known real estate startup called Rhino, which promotes a product that allows tenants to pay a small monthly fee in lieu of a large refundable security deposit. They argue this is a win-win for both landlords—who will be able to fill vacancies faster—and tenants, who will no longer have to come up with effectively two months’ rent at once and keep their money languishing in an escrow account.

Rhino has been lobbying local governments to require landlords to offer their product as an alternative, under the banner of giving renters “choice.” So far laws have been passed in Cincinnati, Atlanta and most recently Baltimore. But in Baltimore, virtually all housing and consumer protection groups have opposed the legislation and are urging the mayor to veto it. I looked at why advocates have raised concerns and what we know about how it’s worked so far in other cities. This is definitely something that could be coming to a city near you, soon. You can read the story here.

As violence escalates in Israel and Palestine, this op-ed by Peter Beinart on Palestinian refugees I found excellent and definitely recommend.

I don’t write about Israel and Palestine much here, or anywhere anymore, but it was a major part of my life in college. I founded my school’s chapter of J Street U, and I eventually rose up to national student leadership. I also interned one summer at Open Zion, the now-defunct blog that reported on Israel-Palestinian issues. I graduated college just two months before the 2014 Gaza incursion, and I remember feeling so ashamed of what was going on, and despondent that anything would change. I was sick of the way that I felt responsible for a country that I didn’t live in, couldn’t control, and that my own government was subsidizing dispossession and displacement and wouldn’t use its power to force change. I was burnt out, and wanted to focus on domestic issues, where I felt I could actually make a difference.

Some of my closest friends from J Street U stayed very involved. Some went on to found If Not Now, some went to work for other nonprofits and foreign policy organizations. My dear friend Jacob became the publisher of Jewish Currents, revitalizing it into the incredible publication it is today. I’m so proud of them, and I still remain conflicted about how involved to be.

It’s antisemitic to blame diaspora Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. But that said, I also think it’s an issue we as Jews are morally obligated to speak up about, partly because these actions are taken in our name. My friend from college Shereen, who was one of the few non-Jewish members of our J Street U chapter, had a thread on Twitter yesterday I’m going to post here because I think it was very sharp.

  1. I appreciate Shereen and know she has had many long conversations with Jewish people, including me. I also was lucky to go to college and explore “perspectives” and travel to the Middle East and meet Palestinians and spend time learning about the occupation. I agree with Shereen, it’s untenable and immoral to say we can only take action at the point at which everyone who has feelings about this issue has had time to do all that travel and dialogue. The military occupation has been going on for decades.

  2. In a brief shift of gears, a new economics working paper was published on Monday looking at the impact of open schools in fall of 2020. It’s a pretty provocative paper. The researchers say they find “robust evidence that reopening Texas schools gradually but substantially accelerated community spread” — leading to at least 43,000 additional COVID-19 cases and 800 additional fatalities within the first two months.

    Part of their research suggested that the median time spent outside the home on a typical weekday increased substantially in neighborhoods with large numbers of school-age children, suggesting open schools also meant a return to in-person work for parents and/or increased outside-of-home leisure activities among parents.

    Obviously this all has far less policy significance now, because this looks at a period before vaccines, and vaccines are just a huge game-changer for everything.

    But it still matters to understand, because these were extremely high-stakes policy decisions that impacted millions of people. My friend Matt Barnum, a national education reporter at Chalkbeat, wrote an article about this paper and talked to other epidemiologist and economists for their thoughts on the study.
    What I also think is important about this study (and it’s fine to debate its methods, conclusions, etc) is that there have been some very prominent voices in this debate all year who have insisted that the right way to evaluate the impact of open schools was only in-school transmission. (Which, to be clear, we assessed largely with weak contact tracing, voluntary reporting, & virtually no asymptomatic testing.)

    This never made sense to me. We never talked about the impact of opening colleges as only transmission in college classrooms, but often about how campus life, with its parties and dorms on so on, then had impacts on the broader college towns. Open schools meant thousands more riding public transportation, meant not just school staff but also more parents going into their workplaces (a stated goal of politicians) and more people just going socially around society (as this new Texas study suggests families did). I think the real crux is that this study attempts what some folks long resisted, which is to look at how open schools as institutions impact *other* things and behaviors. I suspect we’ll continue to get a clearer picture in the coming months.

    And to close out, just some encouraging polling I saw this week on vaccine hesitancy:

And a good thread on the relatively surprising CDC guidance issued yesterday (click to read full thing)

Thank you for reading. And as always, if you like this kind of thing, please do consider subscribing.