Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Making it personal

Benjamin Wallace-Wells of The New Yorker writes about Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh,  the “architect” of the economic and financial sanctions against the Russian Federation.

The two great surprises of the first month of the war have been the strength of the Ukrainian resistance and the severity of the Western sanctions, which seem likely to prevent Russia from accessing its currency reserves. The effects of economic sanctions are just now beginning to be seen, but Sergei Guriev, a professor of economics at Sciences Po, in Paris, told me that he foresaw “Soviet stagnation, Soviet decline.” (There was a slight Soviet ambience this week, as viral videos showed Russians fighting over sugar in grocery stores, and a Russian government minister appeared on television to urge the public not to panic-buy essentials such as buckwheat.) If Russia’s misestimation of the Ukrainians was psychological, then its misestimation of Western sanctions was political and technical. The sanctions have a complex architecture—based on rules, economic levers, and the responses of Western companies and investors—but they also have an architect, a former Obama official told me. “The architect of these sanctions was Daleep Singh.”

Singh’s generation of liberals—those who graduated college around the time of 9/11—have returned to power from a very tense, four-year hiatus with two entangled challenges: to embody a return to sober order, after the mania of Donald Trump, and to pursue a bolder and more expansive response to the pressures of inequality and authoritarianism, problems that have come to seem far more acute since the Obama years. Singh himself has a slight throwback quality, to the manner of late-twentieth-century American liberalism—the casual language and formal suits, the Sorkinesque quickness, the tendency to talk about human mechanisms with the simplicity of economic graphs. When it came to sanctions, he had a characteristic mission: to expand on an Obama-era project. Run that scene again, but different this time.

Apoorva Mandavilli of The New York Times writes about the public health catastrophe that may be unfolding in Ukraine.

Ukraine has alarmingly high numbers of people living with H.I.V. and hepatitis C, and dangerously low levels of vaccination against measles, polio and Covid-19. Overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions for refugees are breeding grounds for cholera and other diarrheal diseases, not to mention respiratory plagues like Covid-19, pneumonia and tuberculosis. […]

Ukraine and the surrounding region also make up a world epicenter of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, a form of the disease impervious to the most powerful medications.

The Ukrainian health ministry in recent years had made progress in bringing these epidemics under control, including a 21 percent drop in new H.I.V. infections and a 36 percent decline in TB diagnoses since 2010.

But health officials now fear that delays in diagnosis and treatment interruptions during the war may allow these pathogens to flourish again, with consequences that ripple for years.

Jacob Silverman of New York magazine says that with the revelation of the Ginni Thomas/Mark Meadows text messages, the QAnon takeover of the Republican Party now seems complete.

The signs of the Republican slide toward full epistemic crack-up are all around us. One can see it everywhere lately, not only in the “why do you want to hurt children?”–type questions hurled by Republican senators at Jackson, but also in the revanchist anti-LGBTQ laws being introduced in Texas and Florida and in fearful talk of teachers “grooming” children on Fox News. The ginned-up moral panic, centered around the child-exploitation themes that helped give life to QAnon, is now a regular part of Republican political rhetoric.

This phenomenon’s origins go back decades, with important mile markers appearing under the George W. Bush administration, which gave us “truthiness” and the “reality-based community.” How else to explain General Mike Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and, briefly, national security adviser to the president, who now supports QAnon? Flynn’s full tilt toward Strangelovian madness may be partly because it’s popular on the speaking circuit, but he has also draped himself in some of the most unhinged and bloodthirsty language of the QAnon prophecy — and seemingly delighted in doing so. (He thought Myanmar’s military coup was a good model for the U.S., for example.) It may be just another right-winger’s embrace of the troll’s ethos — riling the enemy being the great credo of the modern Republican Party — but again, the effect is the same: The free-associative, crazed accusations of conspiratorial thinking stand at the core of modern Republican politics.

If you had any lingering pretensions that our political elites know better than the average QAnon-pilled zombie, it’s past time to let them go. The people in charge of the Republican Party are mostly old and poorly informed operators who believe some of the most asinine theories to emerge from social-media bilge. Granting them some measure of savviness — saying that this is red meat for the Republican base, or that it keeps the checks from right-wing billionaires coming in — is to offer too much credit. More than that, it risks absolving them through some nod toward political practicalities when, mostly, this is all pretty evil and disturbing.

John Nichols of The Nation writes about The Cato Institute’s endorsement of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court.

The Cato Institute, the think tank that declares its vision “is to create free, open, and civil societies founded on libertarian principles,” greeted President Biden’s nomination of the judge with an observation that “There are plenty of reasons to celebrate Judge Jackson’s nomination—most importantly, the professional diversity she would bring to the Court.” As the judge’s hearing approached, Clark M. Neily III, Cato’s senior vice president for legal studies, urged the Senate to confirm Biden’s nominee, noting that “Of course, as with any justice appointed by a Democratic or Republican president, we expect to have plenty of disagreements with a Justice Jackson; but as committed, consistent libertarians, we anticipate significant areas of agreement as well.”

Neily, a former constitutional litigator, submitted a letter to thae (sic) Judiciary Committee’s ranking members in which he wrote that Jackson would bring “professional diversity” to a high court bench that has “not had a Supreme Court justice with significant criminal defense experience in more than 30 years.” […]

Cato scholars are not the only libertarians who have kind words for Judge Jackson. Former representative Amash, a Michigan Republican who left the party during Trump’s presidency as it moved in an increasingly lawless and authoritarian direction, said this week, “Happy to see President Biden nominate someone to the Supreme Court who holds more than a few truly liberal views. Compare Ketanji Brown Jackson, a public defender who fought the government, to the last Democratic nominee, Merrick Garland, a stalwart defender of government abuses.” Amash was referring to the classical definition of liberalism—more commonly used in Europe than the United States—which places an especially high emphasis on individual liberty and government accountability.

New York University law professor Melissa Murray writes for The Washington Post that Republicans won’t be satisfied with simply overturning Roe v. Wade.

What explains the GOP’s almost-obsessive focus on unenumerated rights, given Roe’s possible demise in just a few months? Critically, the reach of these unenumerated rights are not limited to abortion. Since 1923, the Supreme Court has recognized a range of rights that are not explicitly articulated in the Constitution’s text. These include the right of parents to raise their children in the manner of their choosing, the right to procreate, the right to use contraception, and the right to marry the person of your choice. The constitutional protections for intimate life that we take for granted proceed from the court’s recognition of rights that are implied from, but not explicit in, the Constitution’s guarantee of liberty.

In focusing on these rights, Republican senators are giving us a glimpse of the culture war clashes to come. There are already warning signs — including the Texas directive that prohibits parents from legally providing gender-affirming treatment and therapies to their children, as well as various state officials’ questioning whether the Constitution sanctions contraceptive use. Indeed, some Republican senators have gestured toward these future conflicts. In his questions to Jackson, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) repeatedly sought her views of Obergefell v. Hodges, the court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, pressing her as to whether the decision was properly decided. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) took her turn at the microphone to criticize Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that legalized contraception use. It’s not a stretch to imagine this revisionism extending to Loving v. Virginia, the ruling that legalized interracial marriage. A Republican senator recently said he was open to overturning that ruling. He later walked back his comments.

All this underscores that abortion was never the conservatives’ endgame. It is merely a way station on the path to rolling back a wide range of rights — the rights that scaffold the most intimate aspects of our lives and protect the liberty and equality of marginalized groups.

Sharon LaFraniere of The New York Times reports on plans for the Biden Administration to offer a second COVID-19 booster shot for those ages 50 and over.

Major uncertainties have complicated the decision, including how long the protection from a second booster would last, how to explain the plan to the public and even whether the overall goal is to shield Americans from severe disease or from less serious infections as well, since they could lead to long Covid.

Much depends on when the next wave of Covid infections will hit, and how hard. Should the nation be hit by a virulent surge in the next few months, offering a second booster now for older Americans could arguably save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations.

But if no major wave hits until the fall, extra shots now could turn out to be a questionable intervention that wastes vaccine doses, deepens vaccination fatigue and sows doubt about the government’s strategy. The highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 is helping to drive another surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and is responsible for about a third of new cases in the United States, but health officials have said they do not anticipate a major surge caused by the subvariant.

Melody Schreiber of the Guardian points out that that there may be a couple of problems with that expanded plan to administer second booster shots: lack of funding and public interest.

A $15bn funding package for testing, treatment, vaccines and more was cut unexpectedly from an omnibus spending bill in Congress on 9 March.

Health officials spoke to Democratic senators about the urgent need for Covid funding in a meeting on Wednesday, Politico reports, but the plan may meet with opposition: Republicans, who were not at the meeting, say the White House’s $22.5bn request must be accompanied with equal cuts to government spending elsewhere.

There is enough funding to give fourth doses of the vaccines to immunocompromised people, who already qualify for the shots, and for those over 65, if the shot is authorized for them in coming weeks, the coronavirus response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said at a White House briefing on Wednesday.

But wider booster campaigns would not have funding under the current budget shortfalls, and first- and second-shot campaigns could also be affected in the longer term.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester of Kaiser Health News writes about public health officials that increasingly want to utilize wastewater surveillance in tracking infectious diseases other than COVID-19.

Across the country, academics, private companies, public health departments, and sewage plant operators have been working to hone a new public health tool, one with uses that could reach well beyond covid. Wastewater surveillance is not a new concept, but the scale and scope of the current pandemic have vaulted the technique over the narrow walls of academic research to broader public use as a crucial tool for community-level tracking of covid surges and variants.

Sewage surveillance is proving so useful that many researchers and public health officials say it should become standard practice in tracking infectious diseases, as is already the case in many other countries. But whether that happens — and which communities get access — depends on the nation’s ability to vastly scale up the approach and make it viable in communities rich and poor.

Like many other public health tools, wastewater testing initially took off in big cities and university towns with access to research expertise, equipment, and money. The Modesto project offers a glimpse of the challenges and opportunities involved in making this technology available in communities with more limited resources.

Finally today, Alison Spencer and Cary Funk write for the Pew Research Center about the generally positive views that Americans have toward science.

About two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say science has had a mostly positive effect on society, while 28% say it has had an equal mix of positive and negative effects and just 7% say it has had a mostly negative effect, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Over the past few years, around two-thirds or more of Americans have seen science’s effect on society as mostly positive.[…]

In a January 2019 survey, the Center asked Americans who said science has had a mostly positive effect on society to explain, in their own words, what they had in mind. The most common answer – given by 56% of those asked – referred to health and medical advancements, such as disease eradication, medical devices and new medications, and cancer research leading to longer lifespans and improved public health.

Medical science was also top of mind for some of those who said science has had a mostly negative effect on society. Some in this group lamented the wait for cures of serious diseases while others cited concerns about developments in biotechnology, such as cloning and “designer babies.”

Everyone have a great day!

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