News Update

Opinion: A timely message from 'The Fly'

“Be very afraid.”
That chilling line came, oddly enough, from comedy impresario Mel Brooks. His company produced the film, which echoes the dreadful narrative of the classic novella, “The Metamorphosis.” Franz Kafka’s story begins: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
This Halloween people have more than dreams and giant insects to be uneasy about. Last week, a man stood up at a right-wing youth activist rally to ask, in effect, whether it’s time to shoot the winners when Republicans lose elections. A US senator defended a man who gave a Nazi salute as a protest at a school board meeting. And a Republican member of Congress tried to justify the January 6 Capitol insurrection as a case of people opposing tyranny.
As The Washington Post reported, last winter members of former President Donald Trump’s team set up a “command center” in Washington’s Willard Hotel to push the false election fraud narrative that dozens of judges around the country had already rejected and to encourage then Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify Joe Biden’s victory, as the law required him to do.
“This is what an attempted coup looks like,” wrote Dean Obeidallah. “Coups are not just tanks rolling in the streets. It’s an illegal attempt to overturn the will of the people to retain political power. And if the organizers of the failed coup are not punished, what’s to stop them from attempting another in the future?
It was at a Turning Point USA event at Boise State University Monday that a member of the audience asked organizer Charlie Kirk, “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”
SE Cupp said, “Now, to his credit, Kirk denounced the idea of, you know, killing people because you don’t like election results. Not because it’s wrong, but because, quote, ‘they want that.'”
“Imagine how low we’ve sunk as a country, how deranged, how conspiratorial and vicious we’ve become,” said Cupp, “when this is an actual idea floated — publicly, out in the open for anyone to hear.”
Another bizarre moment came in a US Senate hearing room. “You have to hand it to Sen. Ted Cruz,” wrote Frida Ghitis, “His timing was impeccable. On the anniversary of the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, Cruz raised his voice in the Senate to defend an American’s right to brandish the Nazi salute. ‘My God!’ he exclaimed as he slammed his desk, railing at Attorney General Merrick Garland during a hearing Wednesday over the Justice Department’s attempt to address harassment and threats of violence at public school board meetings. ‘A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because they thought the policies were oppressive!’ Then he asked Garland, ‘is doing a Nazi salute … protected by the First Amendment?’ Garland responded calmly. ‘Yes, it is.'”
But free speech isn’t the real issue here, Ghitis observed. “The issue is whether Americans and their political leaders will act on the basis of a higher principle than political point-scoring, and ultimately be able to douse the flames of hatred and division that are weakening the country. Ted Cruz, it seems, doesn’t get it.”

Confronting fear

Stoking division in America has long been the aim of right-wing extremists who peddle “White Replacement Theory,” noted Michael D’Antonio and James Cohen. Only now, some on the right are trying to mainstream the idea.
“With the midterm elections on the horizon, influential talkers on Fox News and some of Trump’s more prominent surrogates are pushing the ‘Replacement Theory’ … Tucker Carlson has even gone so far as to declare the Democrats are implementing an actual plan to change the nation’s racial makeup for some malign purpose.
Ahead of Tuesday’s election for governor of Virginia, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin released an ad starring an activist, “Laura Murphy, who campaigned against the teaching of (Toni) Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, ‘Beloved,’ on the grounds the story’s grueling depiction of racial violence gave her son — then a high school senior — nightmares,” wrote Peniel E. Joseph.
The Nobel laureate’s “work calls upon all Americans, but especially our young people, to interrogate the past to create a better democratic future,” Joseph observed. “Censoring the American past does not make White students less vulnerable to feelings of despair about the challenges of racial inequity, discrimination and violence we face as a nation.”
Jim Kolbe and Miles Taylor: How the specter of Trump haunts the House

‘Rust’ shooting

Rob Ackerman headed the prop department for Saturday Night Live’s film unit for 20 years. “During our most difficult moments, I reminded my team that this was fun, a form of make-believe for grown-ups, an honorable and blessed craft,” he wrote. “We had to stay alert and persist … it was always about keeping our collective eye on the ball.” What Ackerman has heard about conditions on the set of the movie “Rust” has disturbed him — and many others.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed on that set as Alec Baldwin was practicing drawing a prop gun during rehearsals on October 21. The investigation is still ongoing, but media reports have raised many questions. As Ackerman noted, “A gun was accidentally discharged at least twice earlier in the film shoot, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing accounts of ‘people familiar with the daily operations of the production.’ And accounts that a slew of camera crew workers walked off the job just ahead of the fatal shooting incident speak volumes. How many red flags does a production need?
Legal analyst Paul Callan wrote, “Something had to be seriously amiss on the set of ‘Rust’ for this tragic shooting to occur. Who put live rounds in a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks, if anything at all? Why would any live rounds ever be placed in a gun slated for use by an actor on set?
Dave Brown helped write the online training course in gun safety for theater and film technicians. “I don’t love guns,” he wrote. “But as a firearms safety specialist, they are the tools of my profession. I respect them, and I teach others to respect them too. After 30 years of working with firearms in the film industry, I’ve learned one very important lesson: When handled responsibly, firearms are as safe as any other prop on a film set.
“The difference is firearms require the undivided attention of an experienced expert. There is zero tolerance for error. If actors make a mistake on set, they get another take. If the weapons handler makes a mistake, it could end a life.

Covid-19 vaccinations for kids

Syra Madad is ready. As early as this week, shots could be going into the arms of children aged 5 to 11, the latest group to be included in the Covid-19 vaccination program that has markedly reduced the spread and severity of the disease. And Madad, an epidemiologist in New York, says she plans to have her children vaccinated — two of the three are in the newly included age group.
“Once inoculated, they will be at a decreased risk of suffering from illness, hospitalization, long Covid and even death,” Madad wrote. “They’ll be less likely to have disruptions from their schooling, given that, once vaccinated, they will not have to quarantine every time they’ve been exposed to someone who has Covid-19.
It will be a big step toward normality, she added. “We will be able to go back to engaging in activities we enjoyed as a family, those that would be too high risk to do while they were unvaccinated. This includes traveling internationally, going to mixed indoor gatherings like weddings or to the movies, and dining at restaurants indoors.”
For more on Covid-19:
Dr. Sean T. O’Leary and Dr. Yvonne A. Maldonado: Why you should vaccinate your 5-to-11-year-old

Facebook goes Meta

A flood of news reports painted a devastating portrait of Facebook’s failure to control the rampant spread of misinformation that has had real and often harmful consequences around the world. Documents provided by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen portrayed the company as one so eager for profits that its platform helped amplify anger.
Jill Filipovic asked a fundamental question: “As damning information about Facebook leaves the company increasingly besieged by accusations that it does far too little to prevent misinformation, radicalization, human trafficking, girls’ low self-esteem, hate speech and even physical violence, I’m asking myself the same question a lot of people are: Why am I still on this platform?
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, made clear Thursday that he has his sights set on other things. He unveiled a new corporate name — “Meta” — for the company owning Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and invited us into his new “metaverse.” As Douglas Rushkoff wrote, it is “Facebook’s proprietary new virtual world of worlds where we are supposed to do our working, playing and socializing forevermore.”
It’s a striking, and perhaps scary, vision: “Instead of making human facial expressions, our avatars can make iconic thumbs-up gestures,” Rushkoff observed. “Instead of sharing air and space together, we can collaborate on a digital document. We learn to downgrade our experience of being together with another human being to seeing their projection overlaid into the room like an augmented reality Pokemon figure. The less like humans and more like robots we can be, the more at home in the metaverse we will feel.”

Biden’s bills

In a dizzying week of meetings, news conferences and speeches, Biden and the Democrats who control Congress may have inched closer to the passage of two bills that would provide nearly $3 trillion to rebuild America’s physical infrastructure and to greatly expand its social spending. If progressives stand behind them and if two maverick senators remain on board, the bills could become law within weeks.
The events, Russell Berman wrote in the Atlantic, “have been confusing for seasoned veterans of the Capitol Hill sausage mill, not to mention the hundreds of congressional Democrats who must vote for the proposal and the millions of people whose lives stand to improve because of it. A brand-new billionaires’ tax? In one day and out the next. Paid family leave? First 12 weeks, then four weeks, then gone altogether. Expanding Medicare and Medicaid? That depends on what Sen. Joe Manchin ate for breakfast. Biden and Democratic leaders … seem to be disassembling and then frantically reassembling a plane in the minutes before takeoff.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton set an ambitious goal — a national health insurance program — and asked first lady Hillary Clinton to head the task force devising it. “The legislative negotiations were rocky,” wrote historian Julian Zelizer. “Small employers rallied against the plan, running ads on television featuring a fictional couple — Harry and Louise — talking about how confusing and frightening the plan seemed to be. Republicans gradually coalesced against the legislation.” Democrats split over aspects of the plan, and it died the next year. Months later, Republicans won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
If Biden’s agenda goes down to defeat, Zelizer warned, “Democrats once again will face the worst of all worlds. They won’t have bold legislation to boast about when speaking to Democratic voters and they will have energized Republicans to attack the threat of big government liberalism going into the midterm campaigns.”

Taxing the billionaires

When Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema nixed the idea of raising individual and corporate tax rates, many Democrats briefly rallied around the idea of a brand-new tax: on the assets controlled by billionaires, who often are able to escape paying meaningful amounts in taxes. “The plan,” wrote tax expert Edward McCaffery, “rests on a surprisingly simple idea: that billionaires should pay tax on their incomes, just like tens of millions of working Americans do every year.” The wealthy don’t rely on paychecks and so can avoid the regular income tax, McCaffery explained. They can borrow money based on the increasing value of their investments and hold onto them — without paying taxes — till they die.

On climate, the world is watching

Biden’s bills would commit half a trillion dollars to fight climate change. As he flew to Europe Thursday for the G20 summit and the COP26 climate conference, the world was watching, wrote David A. Andelman. “Clearly, he must act decisively at home if he is to sell himself abroad, particularly in the area of climate change, an area where Europe has found the United States wanting since the Paris accord was reached at COP21.
One audience is watching particularly closely, wrote Britt Wray, a Human and Planetary Health fellow at Stanford University. “It’s no secret that young people everywhere are worried sick about the climate crisis. Their heavily reported eco- or climate anxiety (now becoming familiar terms to many), have awoken adults to the mental health burden that a warming world puts on our children and youth. Recent research my colleagues and I conducted showed for the first time that this psychological distress is linked to feelings of government betrayal and being lied to by leaders who are failing to take adequate climate action — many while pretending to do otherwise.”

Don’t miss

Morgan Ortagus and David Stilwell: The risks Americans face in traveling to China

A ‘Donnie Darko’ Halloween

“Donnie Darko” was released 20 years ago, with the kind of ingredients that made it a cult movie: a cast including Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Seth Rogen, Patrick Swayze, Katherine Ross, Jena Malone, Noah Wyle and Beth Grant, a man in a giant bunny suit, teenage angst and the 1988 presidential election.
“I first discovered ‘Donnie Darko’ as a midnight movie in the East Village, years after its release,” wrote critic Sara Stewart “and have found myself going back to it around this time every year. But in 2021, its existential melancholy and cultural anxiety feel highly relevant, like director Richard Kelly pulled off a little time travel of his own and got a glimpse at the mess that is 2021. Its odd tone feels strangely familiar, as does the juxtaposition of suburbia’s slightly manic sunniness with Donnie’s growing sense of bewilderment, isolation and sense that something is very off.”
That feeling is familiar to poet Tess Taylor. “While I am fond of a good scare, Halloween this year feels different than the macabre, plasticked-up horror film version of the holiday that can run on repeat this time of year (cue spooky laugh here). It feels more like Samhain, the Celtic festival where the grave mounds open, where the light shifts and time thins, and where people might leave a bit of food out for their ghosts and honor their ancestors,” Taylor wrote.
“After all, these have been harrowing times, times of real graveyards, real death on a scale most of us haven’t really ever been asked to live through before. While plastic skulls and bones and witches are up on my house and around my neighborhood and probably yours, we each also live in shadow — of friends and family gone, and the wider, ricocheting losses of the pandemic — collapsed institutions, frayed health care systems, broken supply chains, shrunken public life.”
Taylor is still finding joy in the holiday. Her daughter is going to trick or treat today as a Dalmatian, her son as a werewolf. “Perhaps next Halloween or the Halloween after will feel more carefree, more silly. But there’s also a chance that this pandemic was partly a warning, a stern reminder of being a fragile species on a fragile earth.”
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