News Update

Opinion: On Covid, people are making the last mistake

In 1971, John Kerry, then a Navy veteran-turned-antiwar-activist, told a US Senate committee about the horrors of the Vietnam War, posing the devastating question: How can we ask someone “to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
With the US in the midst of a Covid spike caused by the Delta variant, the “last mistake” for many could be a failure to get one of the highly effective vaccines — and to mask up. Those two simple precautions are especially vital as the school year begins.
“The best way to stop the spread of Covid-19 is for everyone 12 and above to get the vaccine,” wrote Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. But vaccines for younger students aren’t approved yet. “To help prevent the spread of Covid-19, which could send everyone home to quarantine for weeks at a time,” Beers argued, “schools should also require everyone to wear a face mask, regardless of vaccination status.”
The disease’s fourth wave is “causing trouble throughout the country, with some areas seeing more daily infections than ever before,” wrote infectious disease expert Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. And this is before “millions of unvaccinated pre-teens are marched off to school, many unmasked and undistanced. This will likely lead to more spread and more soul-crushing tragedy, much of it vaccine-preventable.
And what about the variants of the disease to come — will they be able to elude the protections provided by vaccines? “No one knows. No one can know,” Sepkowitz observed.
On the plus side, nearly 70% of eligible Americans have received at least a single dose of vaccine, he noted, and “within a few months, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likely to approve the current mRNA vaccines for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in pre-teens. There are only so many unvaccinated people at this point who can get infected. While breakthrough cases certainly do happen, they remain a small minority of overall cases — at least for now.”

Vaccines and masks required

Mask mandates are back in many places. A growing number of companies and colleges are mandating vaccines for workers and students, and those decisions are holding up under legal challenges: US Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett turned down a bid to block Indiana University’s mandate.
In Minnesota, David Perry‘s family, all vaccinated, coped with breakthrough Covid-19 infections and looked warily toward the start of school. “While it’s with relief that I’ve greeted the news that more and more states, including mine, are implementing some level of precaution, like returning to masking as the new school year starts, I need something more,” Perry wrote. “Families have been holding out hope for so long that the fall of 2021 would be a fresh start. As we face the grim reality that shows otherwise, parents and kids need clarity. We need state leaders and school districts to support yearlong plans that follow data we (parents, teachers and elected officials) can all track.”
America underestimated the Delta variant, Ed Yong wrote in the Atlantic. “It went all in on one countermeasure—vaccines—and traded it off against masks and other protective measures. It succumbed to magical thinking by acting as if a variant that had ravaged India would spare a country where half the population still hadn’t been vaccinated. It stumbled into the normality trap, craving a return to the carefree days of 2019 …”
We’ll never get to “the ‘zero COVID’ dream of fully stamping out the virus,” Yong pointed out. The end of the pandemic comes “when almost everyone has immunity, preferably because they were vaccinated or alternatively because they were infected and survived.”
The vaccines work so well that many people are clamoring for — or quietly getting — a third booster shot. On Thursday, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized such vaccinations for those with compromised immune systems. But are boosters needed for other people? Bioethicist Robert Klitzman contended that we don’t have enough data to answer that question yet. “Ultimately, if everyone in the US and other wealthy countries who wanted a booster got one, far fewer doses would be available for the rest of the world … people without weakened immune systems should proceed with caution. In the end, such caution can help us all.”

Andrew Cuomo’s resignation

For 22 of the last 38 years, New York has had a Governor Cuomo — first Mario Cuomo, who served three terms beginning in 1983, and then his son Andrew, who took office in 2011. But on Tuesday, the governor, in the midst of his third term and facing likely impeachment, abruptly announced he was resigning, effective August 24. The move came after an investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James supported the allegations of 11 women who had accused Cuomo of sexual harassment.
Cuomo’s decision “is a historic marker driven into the ground, a before-and-after moment, one warning men everywhere there’s a cost for ignoring what women have been shouting for some time now, particularly from social media rooftops,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “That the times have changed; the days when a boss could casually hug his assistant and let his hand slip are in the past now. Even if Cuomo himself still doesn’t seem to quite get it.”
It’s about time, Allison Hope observed. “The constant harassment, condescension, marginalization and abuse of women is not sustainable. Even though women have endured such abuses for generations and even longer, perhaps we have at long last started to reach the overdue point where we have simply had enough.”
In political terms, wrote Julian Zelizer, “the politician who was willing to fight every scandal that plagued his tenure finally met a challenge he couldn’t outmaneuver.” What was striking, he added, was the difference in how the two parties have dealt with these situations. “When (former president Donald) Trump faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct (all of which he denied), the GOP largely stood behind him … In contrast, Democrats have decided to put principle before party or power.”

A trillion here

The fact that the Democratic-controlled US Senate passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill with substantial Republican support Tuesday is one remarkable fact in today’s polarized Washington. Even more striking is that Democrats may be heading toward passing a $3.5 trillion budget resolution with vastly expanded social spending — the largest such initiative in generations.
The big bucks are badly needed, wrote economist Jeffrey D. Sachs. The bipartisan bill only addresses part of America’s needs and “it doesn’t even pay for those investments through offsetting budget cuts or tax increases … the Democrats need to pass a real investment package — by reconciliation, along a party-line vote, this fall. And this package should be financed by tax increases on corporations and the rich.”
The bipartisan bill is going to require skillful maneuvering through the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to pass it in tandem with the larger package favored by progressives, wrote Lincoln Mitchell. “For President Joe Biden, who has made infrastructure one of his key legislative issues, the stakes could not be higher. But he can breathe a little easier because no legislator in recent decades has been as adept as Pelosi at counting the votes — and knowing when she has the votes she needs. In 2009, it was Pelosi who promised then-President Barack Obama the votes on the Affordable Care Act. She delivered then — and she will deliver more than a decade later for Biden, too.”
In the Los Angeles Times, Virginia Heffernan pointed out that the broadly popular hope of fixing America’s infrastructure remained unfulfilled under the previous administration. “During Trump’s term, federal investment in roads and bridges stagnated,” she wrote. “Roads, ports and airports never got fixed. Any hope that Trump’s autocratic proclivities could be channeled into mega-projects to astonish his base fizzled. He couldn’t even add more than 80 miles to his promised big, beautiful wall.”

A changing America

Thursday’s release of 2020 data from the US Census confirmed the picture demographers have sketched — the data told the “story of a rapidly changing America: The relative size of the nation’s White population continues to decline, while ethnic and racial minorities represent the only source of population growth,” wrote political scientist Justin Gest.
“On the surface, these numbers suggest a bleak future for the Republican Party, which finds its strongest support among Whites. Yet the surprising reality is that, overall, these demographic trends may favor the GOP because of the way political power is apportioned in America.”
Peniel E. Joseph wrote that focusing on the declining White population fuels the wrong narrative. “More Americans than ever are self-defining as multiracial, making headlines about the loss of White identity less of the proper focus than one about a 21st century multiracial democracy,” he wrote.
“Over the past two decades, some Republicans have used forecast demographic changes related to the Census for partisan political advantage, helping to sustain and grow a whole ecosystem trafficking in racially intolerant appeals that have remade American politics. The rise of a right-wing public sphere we are now seeing — untethered to science, objective facts and past support for voting rights and racial justice — depends on a narrative that presents democracy as a zero-sum game, with historic White winners on the verge of being replaced by citizens and immigrants of color.”

Biden’s Afghanistan debacle

By withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, the Biden administration may have made the last mistake — an unforced error that is rapidly allowing the Taliban to grab control of most of the country, according to Peter Bergen, who has reported from the country since 1993.
Biden is presiding over a debacle entirely of his own making in Afghanistan — and one that has unfolded more swiftly than even the most dire prognostications,” Bergen wrote. “Since Biden announced a total US withdrawal in April, the Taliban have taken over more than one-third of the 34 provincial capitals in Afghanistan, and they now control more than half of the country’s some 400 districts.”
When the US marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks next month, “the Taliban will surely be celebrating their great victory in Afghanistan,” Bergen noted. “For the global jihadist movement, the victory of the Taliban will be as significant as ISIS victories were in Iraq and Syria.”

A climate warning

The world is on pace for “a catastrophic 3 degrees (Celsius) of warming by about 2100,” wrote John D. Sutter. That number and other daunting ones were part of a bleak report released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“These numbers sound abstract,” Sutter noted, “but they are the keys to how the world looks and feels for us and for future generations — the keys to whether New York is underwater or whether the Amazon dries up; to whether the West remains habitable and whether millions globally continue to die each year from fossil-fuel pollution. Climate change is a complex game of probability, but the underlying truth could not be clearer: We must stop burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, natural gas — as soon as possible. Less pollution equals less warming and less danger.”
Technological advances have made solar and wind power much more competitive in recent years, but to fully replace fossil fuels, they still have to overcome “an enormous shortcoming associated with some of these technologies, easily pointed out by anyone, and that is that the sun doesn’t shine all day, there are cloudy days, and wind is a chancy thing in many locales,” physicist Don Lincoln observed. “The question of energy storage is a very big one. It is unclear which technology will save the day…But we must find a solution, unless humanity chooses to live in a world that is far more chaotic than the one we have now.
She left CNN a voicemail asking where her recycling goes. See what we discovered.

Trump 2024

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Donald Trump will run for president in 2024. Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio agrees, with a caveat. “I part company with Spicer when he explains why he’s certain Trump is ‘in.’ He sees evidence in former President’s confabs with key advisers. But me? I see it in the merch.
Trump is marketing “Official Trump Cards,” D’Antonio noted. “Among all of today’s political leaders, and arguably among all of them going back to the Civil War, none have equaled Trump when it comes to understanding the power of symbols and demonstrating a willingness to use them. With his famous Make American Great Again caps, his easily identified blue flags, and now his membership cards, Trump has equipped his supporters in a way never seen before.”
While Trump continues to push the big lie that he was cheated of victory in the 2020 election, Norman Eisen and Joanna Lydgate wrote that there is some good news: “For all those alarmed by the assaults on democracy in the 2020 election cycle and its aftermath, it will come as a great relief that the rule of law is pushing back. The latest example is a federal judge in Colorado who sanctioned two lawyers for ‘echoing and repeating election-rigging conspiracy theories’ and noted that those allegations ‘are extraordinarily serious, and if accepted as true by large numbers of people, are the stuff of which violent insurrections are made.'”
In an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez revealed her true fears about the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. “She wasn’t just worried about rioters murdering her if they found her — she worried about them raping her,” wrote Jill Filipovic.
“Admitting to the particular fear of sexual violence that women have — recognizing that particular vulnerability — is entirely outside the norm for female politicians, who often have to go to absurd lengths to prove that they’re tough enough for the job. And Ocasio-Cortez told her story at a moment when members of the American political establishment seem to want to move on and put January 6 in the rearview mirror. She’s insisting that we refuse to look away from the reality of that day and saying that if we want that attempted coup to be a lesson and not a test-run, we need to understand it, agree on the facts about it, and level appropriate consequences for it.”

Don’t miss:

‘Who. Has. My. Pig?’

“We don’t get a lot of things to really care about,” says Robin, a widower played by Nicolas Cage in the new movie, “Pig.” Sara Stewart wrote that “of all 2021’s surprises, a movie delivering gentle, minimally violent emotional catharsis and starring Nicolas Cage has to be one of the strangest.
The plot? “A reclusive truffle hunter’s beloved pig is stolen, and he journeys into the underbelly of the city he once called home to get her back.” Cage plays “a master chef who’s slow to anger and can reduce cold-hearted men to tears with his cooking,” and it’s set in the foodie world of Portland, Oregon.
“For sure, there is something inherently hilarious about Cage growling, ‘Who. Has. My. Pig?’ But more than anything else, this enchantingly odd movie grows to enfold you in a lingering sense of melancholy that rings eerily true, especially right now.”
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