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President Biden speaks about COVID vaccinations last Friday in the State Dining Room of the White House. Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters

We're #28! Or 10. Or 35.

Driving the news: For anyone comforted by President Biden's "America is back" mantra, N.Y. Times columnist Nick Kristof stacks up a sobering array of data to warn that the U.S. is actually weak on many vital fronts.

  • "Greeks have higher high school graduation rates," Kristoff writes (subscription).
  • "Chileans live longer."
  • "Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts."
  • "[O]ne-fifth of American 15-year-olds can't read at the level expected of a 10-year-old."

Why it matters: "How are those millions of Americans going to compete in a globalized economy?" Kristof asks. "[T]he greatest threat to America’s future is less a surging China or a rogue Russia than it is our underperformance at home."

  • The column contends that Biden proposals for a child tax credit, national pre-K, affordable child care and broader internet access would all help: "Our greatest threats today are ones we can’t nuke."

Just last week, Times columnist David Brooks looked through the other end of America's telescope and found that the COVID reset had "cleared the way for an economic boom and social revival."

  • Many Americans used the grievous, anxious year "as a preparation period, so they could burst out of the gate when things opened up," Brooks argued in the column, "The American Renaissance Has Begun."
  • Millions started new businesses "after decades of slowing entrepreneurial dynamism," Brooks wrote, and many workers used the time to get additional training and education.

The bottom line: After surviving the COVID shock, America doesn't get a break. Now we're on another perilous national journey.

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Go deeper

Sen. Patty Murray: Pre-pandemic, child care costs a "silent epidemic"

Photo: Axios

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, figuring out and affording child care was a "silent epidemic" for working parents, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said at an Axios event on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The pandemic has pushed the child care conversation into the forefront. In April, the White House announced that it would release $39 billion from the American Rescue Plan to address the child care crisis stemming from COVID-19.

15 mins ago - World

Social Democrats' win in Germany could shake up Europe

Olaf Scholz caught the bouquet on Sunday. Photo: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty

BERLIN Angela Merkel's political farewell was spoiled Sunday night when the Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly claimed victory in Germany's elections, just four years after suffering their worst loss since World War II.

Why it matters: The stunning political comeback could swing the balance of power in Germany leftward after 16 years of rule by Merkel's conservative bloc, and it could lay the groundwork for a more ambitious European Union.

55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans sink short-term government funding, debt limit bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Republicans on Monday voted down the House-passed bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt limit.

Why it matters: Congress is just 72 hours away from a potential shutdown, so now comes Democrats' Plan B. Democratic leadership is expected strip the short-term funding bill of language about raising the debt limit — the part that Republicans' reject — in order to pass a bill before federal agencies close down on Friday.