Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t deny it. Last weekend he posted a 38-second video on Instagram, the platform his company owns, of him sailing with his wife and friends, scudding briskly along, a hilly coast in the distance.
The post came as his company faced its biggest crisis. On Tuesday, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen “testified before Congress that Facebook is indeed damaging girls’ body image, dividing the nation, and allowing extremism to thrive — and worse, that the company knows it, and chooses to largely ignore the problem to protect its profits,” Jill Filipovic wrote.
“Facebook’s algorithm, Haugen said, organizes content based on engagement, which can lead to the most inflammatory and shocking posts getting preferential treatment and moving their way to the top of any given person’s feed. Essentially, the company makes decisions about what it wants you to see, and it keeps those decisions secret from the public, according to Haugen; changing the algorithm, she said, might impact the company’s earnings.”
“It’s been quite a week,” Zuckerberg observed in a Facebook post Tuesday. On Sunday, “60 Minutes” had broadcast a revealing interview with Haugen. On Monday, Facebook and Instagram had suffered an outage of about six hours. But it was his Tuesday post that responded to Haugen’s allegations. “The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” he wrote. “We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content.” Donie O’Sullivan wrote that Zuckerberg’s defense doesn’t hold up: “Unfortunately for Facebook, Haugen is on to something.”
Financially, Facebook’s strategy is working — the company is worth nearly a trillion dollars on the stock market. Morally, the company is adrift, Haugen and other critics maintained.
“These revelations should be a wake-up call,” wrote Kara Alaimo. “If we’re not going to abandon these platforms en masse — which, let’s face it, is not likely to happen — it’s time to devise ways to protect ourselves and our loved ones… to start relying on other information sources for joy and edification — like parks, hobbies, friends and legitimate news sources. It’s probably also the only way to get the company to take the threats it poses to users seriously and try harder to fix them.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed uncharacteristically adrift, too, last week. After insisting that it was up to the Democrats to stave off a disastrous default on America’s national debt, McConnell suddenly offered GOP support for a two-month increase in the borrowing limit. It was a crisis averted, and many sighed in relief, for the moment. But McConnell took heat from former President Donald Trump and some Trump-supporting senators.
“Senators Tom Tillis and Josh Hawley, among others, made clear Wednesday that this is all about blaming the Democrats, not about paying our bills,” wrote Joe Lockhart. “Another potential credit downgrade, a stock market plunge or a worldwide financial crisis are all worth it if it inflicts political damage on President Joe Biden and the Democrats.”
Former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew wrote for the CNN Business Perspectives section that delaying the “fiscal cliff” to December “is no way to manage a great nation. Congress must act quickly to significantly extend or raise the debt ceiling for the long term, so that our nation does not lurch from crisis to crisis. That is the only way for the United States to avoid a catastrophic self-inflicted disaster.”
The GOP’s outrage at the soaring national debt conveniently resurfaced in Congress after a Democrat won the White House. Under Trump, the debt grew by $7 trillion dollars while Republicans stayed mostly silent.
The most important issue
The more urgent matter, SE Cupp observed, is that “Biden is, well, floundering, and ceding the most important issue to the GOP. That issue isn’t infrastructure, it isn’t the debt ceiling…The most important issue is neutralizing Donald Trump. The future of our democratic republic hangs in the balance and is quite literally determined by how much power Trump is allowed to grab again.”
A “blockbuster report” by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jennifer Rodgers noted, “added significant details to what was previously known about how Trump tried to subvert DOJ authority by attempting to turn what is meant to be an independent law enforcement agency into a co-conspirator” in the then-President’s bid to overturn the 2020 election results.
Four Trump loyalists are resisting subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. As Norman Eisen and Hank Sparks wrote, they may be trying to run out the clock in hopes that Republicans will win control of Congress next year and shut down the investigation.
“Congress and the public must do everything in their power to support the courts’ moving quickly,” Eisen and Sparks argued. “It is the duty of these judges to our Constitution, laws and democracy itself to allow us to get to the truth of January 6 and to brush aside specious executive privilege claims.”
As Michael D’Antonio wrote, the mob “attacked the US Capitol with shouts of ‘Hang Mike Pence’… But now, eight months later, Pence is indignant about how much coverage media is giving the people who came for him at the Capitol and suggested that the goal of the coverage is to tarnish the reputations of the millions of people supporting Trump.” The former vice president’s political ambitions rest in the hands of a party where the loyalty test for many is allegiance to Donald Trump. “Pence is behaving like the middle school kid intimidated by a bully’s lunch money protection racket. Fearful of fighting back, he instead brings a little extra money for the gang every day and says the head bully is really his good buddy.”
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In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson gave voice to some troubling questions: “Why is the news dominated by ridiculous controversies that should not be controversial at all? When did so many of our fellow citizens become full-blown nihilists who deny even the concept of objective reality?”
He noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham was heckled in his home state of South Carolina for recommending that people get vaccinated. “Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease that has killed more than 700,000 Americans,” wrote Robinson. The “vaccines all but guarantee that recipients will not die from Covid. I have, or had, an acquaintance who refused to get vaccinated, despite pleas from his adult children to protect himself. He got Covid-19, and it killed him. Most of the deaths the nation has suffered during the current delta-variant wave of the disease — deaths of the unvaccinated — have been similarly needless and senseless.”
On Thursday, Pfizer asked US regulators for emergency approval of its vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, potentially a major step forward in fighting the disease. Moira Szilagyi, a pediatrician for 41 years who’s president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is looking forward to the day her grandchildren, ages 5 and 8, will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine.
“More than 13 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 have already received the vaccine, and there is a lot of evidence it is safe and effective. Now, nonpartisan scientific advisory boards at the FDA and the CDC will review the data from the clinical trials in children aged 11 and younger. This review is an important step and will ensure the dosage is correct, effective and safe for the younger age group.”
Covid has killed more than 115,000 health and care workers around the world, according to a May estimate by the World Health Organization. “Vaccinating all health and care workers globally is both a moral and practical imperative,” wrote Strive Masiyiwa and Tom Frieden. “Prioritizing these workers makes all of us safer. Yet based on a WHO estimate of 140 nations in July, only one in eight health and care workers across the world had been vaccinated, with most of those who have been vaccinated working in high-income countries.”
Nikki Haley is no moderate
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley blasted liberals in a speech Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “She said that the US was in the middle of ‘a clash of civilizations’ and slammed President Joe Biden’s leadership, saying he ‘thinks retreat is a sign of strength,'” Julian Zelizer noted. “Going further, the former diplomat flexed her deeply partisan muscle, saying that Democrats didn’t believe in America anymore.”
The same politician who strongly criticized Trump after January 6 now says the former president is a friend and “we need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump.”
Zelizer wrote, “Haley reflects the nature of the GOP in 2021. The radicalization of the party means that even those who are seen as moderate often fold in the face of Trump’s tactics and take up his talking points. Haley’s red-meat rhetoric at the Reagan library was utterly predictable and the speech was likely a preview of what Republicans candidates will sound like going into 2024. There’s no going back.”
Nobel Prize week 2021 honored an array of leading scientists — and two journalists. The Peace Prize went to Maria Ressa, a former CNN reporter who founded Rappler in the Philippines and is “an icon in the drive to defend democracy against autocrats who manipulate public opinion, misuse the legal system against perceived enemies, unleash hordes of social media followers against their critics,” wrote Frida Ghitis.
Ressa shared the award with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta. “Muratov founded the paper with a group of journalists back in 1993, and they have managed to continue their vital investigative work even as Vladimir Putin’s regime crushes other truth tellers,” Ghitis observed.
The physics prizes attracted the attention of Don Lincoln, who pointed out that the three laureates were honored “for developing methods to understand complicated physical systems. And winning this award reaffirms what should be accepted science: The phenomena driving climate change is well known. It’s basic physics, albeit playing out in the ever-changing atmosphere. Big picture, the conversation should no longer be on debating the science itself, but rather on deciding what society should do about it.“
The second season of the popular Apple+ show “Ted Lasso” ended this week with drama on the soccer pitch and a sign of bitter rivalry to come. Many have hailed the show for centering the narrative around the big heart of an American football coach who skillfully adapts to managing a UK team playing a different sport — what the rest of the world calls “football.”
Two medieval historians sized up the show in a fresh way: “Although the show’s superficial focus over the first two seasons has been on Ted as a ‘nice guy,'” wrote David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele, “that’s not really what the show is about. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky dramatization of optimism, but about the work and necessity of building communities in which we draw strength from one another…“
“In the midst of a pandemic, when so many of us feel fundamentally alone, we see glimmers of this in our own world when we remember that we wear masks not just for ourselves but for everyone else too.”
California’s oil spill
Tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean from a ruptured pipeline, damaging wildlife and closing beaches in Southern California.
“For those of us lucky enough to live near this iconic stretch of coastline, the sight of it awash in oil is heartbreaking,” wrote Pete Stauffer. “Sadly, this devastating incident is part of a larger pattern of offshore drilling harming our coastal environment and the communities that depend on them. According to the federal government, there have been at least 44 oil spills that have each released more than 10,000 barrels (420,000 gallons) of oil into US waters since 1969… it is long overdue for our federal leaders to permanently ban new offshore drilling in US waters.”
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Biden’s job ratings have plunged in the past several months — CNN’s average of six recent polls shows 45% approval, with 50% of Americans disapproving of the president’s performance.
“Democrats have completely misread Biden’s 2020 election mandate,” wrote former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican. “The 2020 election was a repudiation of President Donald Trump, and it was not an endorsement of a big spending agenda. Full stop.”
In 13 months, the Democrats will have to defend their narrow majority control of Congress before the voters, Dean Obeidallah noted. “Democrats don’t have many seats to lose given their less than 10-seat majority in the House and the 50-50 tie in the Senate. If they don’t pass this social spending overhaul, what is their argument for reelection in 2022? Telling constituents to give them control of the House and Senate again, and this time they just might be able pass something? That’s not the type of argument that animates voters.”
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Venice without the crowds
At any time, the city of Venice is a miracle to be savored — a 1,600-year-old city made up of 118 islands knit together by bridges. But now, “one of the world’s most spectacular cities” is free of the hordes of tourists that have choked it over the past several years, wrote Frida Ghitis.
“The throngs are no longer here, and the city, with its palazzos seemingly floating on rippling waves of what looks like melted Murano glass, their majestic doors lapped by the ever-rising water, can again be admired in all its glory,” she observed.
“The gondoliers maneuvering their sleek black craft, expertly twisting that long single oar that mysteriously propels them in the direction of their choice; the monuments, the museums, the cafes, can be enjoyed as one would in a normal city, without the pushing and shoving of harried tourists, without long waits, without obstructed views…”
“There’s never been a better time to experience this enchanted place — if you’re willing to endure the complications of pandemic-era travel and face the risks that it entails.”