News Update

Opinion: The last big Covid mystery

As Covid-19 has rampaged around the world for the past two years, the disease has defied simple forecasting. The latest mysteries: Why is it surging in highly vaccinated nations like Germany? Is the US in for another, and perhaps final, “winter wave” — or will vaccinations and immunity from past infections limit a significant rise in cases?
“It’s not clear what proportion of the population must be inoculated to attain community immunity,” wrote Dr. Jonathan Reiner, “but Belgium currently has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 case rates despite having completely vaccinated 74% of its population.” Germany, which “has vaccinated 10% more of its population than the United States,” is seeing its disease rate hit record levels.
But the vaccines are working. “To prevent a large winter Covid-19 spike, we must first and foremost vaccinate millions of people and do so quickly,” Reiner observed. “The latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 20% of American adults say they will definitely not get the vaccine or will do so only if required. For many in this hard-core resistant minority, only a mandate linked to their job is likely to sway their decision.” The US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit temporarily blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, which was set to fully take effect in January.
Vaccines are widely available in the US, with children ages 5 to 11 now eligible and with boosters on offer for adults.
“When you become a parent,” wrote first lady Jill Biden, “you look at your baby and feel a mix of overwhelming love deep in your bones, and absolute terror, knowing that this fragile life is depending on you. From that moment on, you see the world differently. Every step, every street corner, every bite of food is a danger that you never even noticed before. So, we buy baby gates and cover our electrical outlets.” To fend off the danger of Covid-19, “we can help take care of at least one of those worries” by vaccinating young children. It’s “not just another way to protect your kids against Covid-19, but the best way. It’s been thoroughly reviewed and rigorously tested. It’s safe. It’s free and it’s available for every eligible child in the country.”
In the Atlantic, Sarah Zhang summed up the mystery: “The U.S. has fully vaccinated 59% of the country and recorded enough cases to account for 14% of the population. (Though, given limited testing, those case numbers almost certainly underestimate true infections.) What we don’t know is how to put these two numbers together, says Elizabeth Halloran, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. What percentage of Americans have immunity against the coronavirus—from vaccines or infection or both?
For more on health:

Gosar and the Republicans

With only two votes from Republicans, the Democratic-controlled House censured Rep. Paul Gosar for sharing an anime video altered to depict him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Joe Biden. “It signaled that violence and misogyny have no place in our politics — and neither do politicians like Gosar who promote them,” wrote Kara Alaimo.
“Gosar’s video was straight out of former President Donald Trump’s playbook, which we’ve learned had a toxic effect. In his book ‘Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It,’ Helio Fred Garcia found that after Trump verbally attacked groups — including Hispanics and Muslims — hate crimes against them increased.”
The day after the House censure, Trump endorsed Gosar, calling him “a loyal supporter of our America First agenda.” Meanwhile, the Wyoming Republican party voted last weekend to no longer recognize Rep. Liz Cheney, who has denounced Trump for setting the stage for the January 6 Capitol riot.
As Frida Ghitis wrote, “There’s plenty of evidence that those who stand up against the vindictive Trump will end up crushed by either his bullying ways or by his loyal followers, with little support from the rest of the GOP. And yet, it is noteworthy that in the past few days we have heard from two major figures in the conservative camp telling Trump that he should stop whining about the election he lost and let the Republican Party focus on real issues, instead of his self-serving fantasies.”
Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire includes hosts who have promoted the false narrative about the 2020 election, and Chris Christie, a former Trump ally, urged the party to move on and focus on the future. “They both helped Trump throughout his presidency, and it’s significant that they are the ones now speaking out against him. Their plea that he stop complaining about the last election, however, will only fall on deaf ears, since Trump is simply incapable of admitting he lost. But Murdoch and Christie are sending an important message to other members of the party — and the rest of the country — that to continue supporting Trump is a dangerous folly.”

Steve Bannon and ‘podcaster privilege’

The Justice Department charged former Trump strategist Steve Bannon with criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the committee investigating the events of January 6.
Bannon’s lawyer said he told his client not to cooperate because Trump was claiming executive privilege as a shield against the committee’s inquiries. “Trump’s attempt at invoking the privilege is especially weak here because he wasn’t acting as chief executive when he planned and implemented his effort to overturn the election,” wrote Norman Eisen, Joanna Lydgate, and Joshua Perry.
“He was acting as a defeated candidate, and there is no candidate privilege. Second, there’s no such thing as podcaster privilege. Even if Trump could invoke the privilege, it wouldn’t protect Bannon — he was a podcast host, not a White House advisor, on January 6. Bannon’s whisperings with other conspirators also aren’t Oval Office advice to the president.”
Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted Friday of all charges in the shooting of three men in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The trial came down to two dueling narratives,” wrote legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers. “To the prosecutors, Rittenhouse was a vigilante with an AR-15-style weapon who went looking for trouble. To the defense, Rittenhouse was the sobbing teenager who testified that he found himself under attack and in those lightning-fast moments made a reasonable decision to protect himself.”
The jury’s verdict, “given the facts, the law and other circumstances of the trial, is no surprise.” Rodgers concluded, “If public concern about Rittenhouse’s conduct and its results leads to a re-examination of Wisconsin’s gun laws, that will be one positive thing to come out of this tragic episode.”
Van Jones observed that people can differ over whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense but worried that the verdict “sends the signal to others that they are free to launch armed attacks to impose their version of the law — and then claim self-defense. The likely impact of this verdict will be to turn the American political landscape into even more of a ‘wild, wild west’ scenario…”
“No Black person could show up anywhere in the United States armed with an AR-15 and shoot down three people — and then get acquitted and hailed as a national hero. So the jury’s decision to free this young man is an especially bitter pill to swallow.”
Before the jury rendered its verdict, legal analyst Paul Callan warned that its meaning would be limited. “Intense media coverage pushes a public already sharply divided by political differences to expect a social and political message from the jury’s verdict,” wrote Callan. “But the law requires something entirely different: a strict analysis of the facts and law by 12 ordinary citizens insulated from outside pressure.

BBB and the Democrats

In legislative terms, last week was a sparkling triumph for Democrats. On Monday, Biden signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that attracted bipartisan support and fulfilled a self-proclaimed goal of Trump, who never could make it happen in his four-year term. On Friday, the House passed an ambitious $1.9 trillion social spending bill, sending it to the Senate. And despite the challenge of inflation, the economy appears to be growing strongly.
But at the same time, Democrats are in deep despair over Biden’s falling approval rating and the prospect that their lease on power could be cancelled by voters a year from now in the midterm elections.
In the Guardian, Robert Reich asked, “What explains the wide gap now between how well the country is doing and how badly Biden and the Democrats are doing politically?”
In two words: dashed hopes. After four years of Trump and a year and a half of deathly pandemic, most of the country was eager to put all the horror behind — to start over, wipe the slate clean, heal the wounds, reboot America. Biden in his own calm way seemed just the person to do it.” But he couldn’t do it all quickly, and Covid’s Delta variant set the country back. “Hopefully, a year from now the fruits of Biden’s initiatives will be felt, Covid will be behind us, bottlenecks behind the current inflation will be overcome, and the horrors of the Trump years will become more visible through Congress’s investigations and the midterm campaigns of Trumpers.”
It really is all about Covid, wrote Julian Zelizer.
“Covid-19 ravaged the world and inflicted an enormous death toll while upending our way of life, widening racial and economic disparities, and inflicting a psychological toll that could have a lasting impact on people for years to come.” That’s why Biden won, but, Zelizer observed, “Too often, Biden has not done enough to explain how his legislative push is as integral to our country’s recovery as the vaccine rollout.
Former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, offered a different explanation for the President’s troubles. “Biden presented himself successfully to Democratic primary voters in 2020 as a moderate alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who advocated for expansive and transformative government. Sanders and his message lost. And since Biden wasn’t elected by his party to go big, why is he pandering to Sanders and the left wing, which has resulted in a bloated Build Back Better bill?”
One wild card in the run-up to the 2022 midterms lies with a case before the US Supreme Court that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that made abortion legal nationwide. A new poll found that “fewer than a third of Americans want Roe to be overturned,” wrote Jill Filipovic. “If the Supreme Court overturns Roe either formally or functionally — by allowing states vast leeway to curtail abortion rights — the Court and the Republican Party may see just how much of a minority abortion opponents actually are, how crucial abortion and contraception are for American women to be free and how angry women (and those who love them) will get when our rights to our own bodies are taken away by five or six conservative judges who are unaccountable to the voting public. The GOP faces a guaranteed backlash if the anti-abortion movement gets what it wants…
Fatima Goss Graves, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and Ai-jen Poo: Congress is one step closer to fulfilling its promise to women voters

56 years later

Two men found guilty of the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X were finally exonerated Thursday after a review initiated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office found that they had not received a fair trial. Only one of them was alive to see justice served.
“These exonerations are especially relevant now,” wrote Peniel E. Joseph, “not only because they represent another instance of Black defendants receiving unfair treatment before the justice system but because they reframe history at a moment when the failures of that system continue to reverberate through national politics in the United States…
“The right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence and an investigation led by ethical servants of the public trust is sacrosanct — yet, in large parts of this nation, woefully absent then — and for some, now. The struggle for Black dignity and citizenship to which Malcolm devoted his whole life continues.
Are the courts capable of rectifying historic injustices, particularly when it comes to issues around extremism? That was the question Nicole Hemmer took on in a piece that led with the civil suit seeking to hold the organizers of a far right rally accountable for the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, confrontation that resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.
“Courts are currently clogged with cases that chart much of the right-wing extremism and misinformation campaigns of the last decade. The cases also reveal the makeshift nature of legal responses to those campaigns, an array of tools that might be able to act as deterrents — though not able to deliver real justice.”
“It is at once both dispiriting and hopeful,” Hemmer observed. “Dispiriting, because it is a sign of how rapidly the far-right has grown and how deeply it has penetrated US politics. Hopeful, because it shows how robustly the legal system is responding to the twin dangers of extremism and disinformation.”

Don’t miss:

“Passing,” the new film about race and identity based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, is shot in black and white — a “deliberate choice” by actress Rebecca Hall in her directorial debut. She “wanted to evoke the classic look of Depression-era domestic melodramas,” wrote critic Gene Seymour.
Two former classmates meet by chance in the café of a Manhattan hotel. Irene, played by Tessa Thompson, discovers that Clare, played by Ruth Negga, “has been ‘passing’ — living as White in her marriage to a wealthy White man named John (Alexander Skarsgård) whom Irene also meets at the café. Unaware that Irene is Black, John injects into their casual, friendly conservation his hatred of African Americans. Irene and Clare go their (very) separate ways after their impromptu reunion. But not for long.”
As Seymour notes, the film resonates because “the whole notion of a ‘color line’ and the hurtful, often ferocious means America devised to patrol it during and after slavery haunt memories to this day.” Seymour’s father “was light-skinned, yet during World War II, when the armed forces were still racially segregated, he proudly identified himself as Black when enlisting in the US Army…”
“Once, while donating blood to help his fellow GIs, he noticed that the container with his blood was designated ‘colored’ and put on a shelf with other such donations. His outrage was so deep over this that he refused to donate blood for the rest of his life, even after legal segregation was long gone. At the same time, he remained as proud of his military service as he was of his Blackness, raising the American flag in front of his home for all national holidays and for every day of the Iranian hostage crisis and the 1991 Iraqi war.”
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