Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: A criminal conspiracy?

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Let’s dig right in!

Hugo Lowell of The Guardian reports that the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack is seeking to determine whether former president Donald Trump and his Administration oversaw a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

House investigators are interested in whether Trump oversaw a criminal conspiracy after communications turned over by Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows and others suggested the White House coordinated efforts to stop Biden’s certification, the sources said.

The select committee has several thousand messages, among which include some that suggest the Trump White House briefed a number of House Republicans on its plan for then-vice president Mike Pence to abuse his ceremonial role and not certify Biden’s win, the sources said.

The fact that the select committee has messages suggesting the Trump White House directed Republican members of Congress to execute a scheme to stop Biden’s certification is significant as it could give rise to the panel considering referrals for potential crimes, the sources said.

Members and counsel on the select committee are examining in the first instance whether in seeking to stop the certification, Trump and his aides violated the federal law that prohibits obstruction of a congressional proceeding – the joint session on 6 January – the sources said.

Historian David Blight writes for the Guardian that the time has come for citizens to “fight” (non-violently) to preserve American democracy.

The lies have now crept into a Trumpian Lost Cause ideology, building its monuments in ludicrous stories that millions believe, and codifying them in laws to make the next elections easier to pilfer. If you repeat the terms “voter fraud” and “election integrity” enough times on the right networks you have a movement. And “replacement theory” works well alongside a thousand repetitions of “critical race theory”, both disembodied of definition or meaning, but both scary. Liberals sometimes invite scorn with their devotion to diversity training and insistence on fighting over words rather than genuine inequality. But it is time to see the real enemy – a long-brewing American-style neo-fascist authoritarianism, beguilingly useful to the grievances of the disaffected, and threatening to steal our microphones midway through our odes to joy.

Yes, disinformation has to be fought with good information. But it must also be fought with fierce politics, with organization, and if necessary with bodies, non-violently. We have an increasingly dangerous population on the right. Who do you know who really wants to compromise with their ideas? Who on the left will volunteer to be part of a delegation to go discuss the fate of democracy with Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy or the foghorns of Fox News? Who on the right will come to a symposium with 10 of the finest writers on democracy, its history and its philosophy, and help create a blueprint for American renewal? As a culture we are not in the mood for such reason and comity; we are in a fight, and it needs to happen in politics. Otherwise it may be 1861 again in some very new form. Unfortunately it is likely to take events even more shocking than 6 January to move our political culture through and beyond our current crisis.

And if and when it is 1861 again, the new secessionists, namely the Republican party, will have a dysfunctional constitution to exploit. The ridiculously undemocratic US Senate, now 50/50 between the two parties, but where Democrats represent 56.5% of the population and Republicans 43.5%, augurs well for those determined to thwart majoritarian democracy. And, of course, the electoral college – an institution more than two centuries out of date, and which even our first demagogue president, Andrew Jackson, advocated abolishing – offers perennial hope to Republicans who may continue to lose popular votes but win the presidency, as they have in two of the last six elections. Democracy?

When a Civil War historian like David Blight uses the word “fight” to describe what must be done to preserve American democracy, we need to pay attention.

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Michael Osterholm, and Celine R. Gounder write for the Journal of the American Medical Associaltion (JAMA) Network that policy makers need to formulate and conduct public health policy addressing “the new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal for the “new normal” with COVID-19 does not include eradication or elimination, eg, the “zero COVID” strategy.2 Neither COVID-19 vaccination nor infection appear to confer lifelong immunity. Current vaccines do not offer sterilizing immunity against SARS-CoV-2 infection. Infectious diseases cannot be eradicated when there is limited long-term immunity following infection or vaccination or nonhuman reservoirs of infection. The majority of SARS-CoV-2 infections are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and the SARS-CoV-2 incubation period is short, preventing the use of targeted strategies like “ring vaccination.” Even “fully” vaccinated individuals are at risk for breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infection. Consequently, a “new normal with COVID” in January 2022 is not living without COVID-19.

The “new normal” requires recognizing that SARS-CoV-2 is but one of several circulating respiratory viruses that include influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and more. COVID-19 must now be considered among the risks posed by all respiratory viral illnesses combined. Many of the measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (eg, ventilation) will also reduce transmission of other respiratory viruses. Thus, policy makers should retire previous public health categorizations, including deaths from pneumonia and influenza or pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19, and focus on a new category: the aggregate risk of all respiratory virus infections.

What should be the peak risk level for cumulative viral respiratory illnesses for a “normal” week? Even though seasonal influenza, RSV, and other respiratory viruses circulating before SARS-CoV-2 were harmful, the US has not considered them a sufficient threat to impose emergency measures in over a century. People have lived normally with the threats of these viruses, even though more could have been done to reduce their risks.

Ed Yong of The Atlantic says that the omicron variant is poised to severely and continually damage an American health care system that’s already been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Omicron is so contagious that it is still flooding hospitals with sick people. And America’s continued inability to control the coronavirus has deflated its health-care system, which can no longer offer the same number of patients the same level of care. Health-care workers have quit their jobs in droves; of those who have stayed, many now can’t work, because they have Omicron breakthrough infections. “In the last two years, I’ve never known as many colleagues who have COVID as I do now,” Amanda Bettencourt, the president-elect of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, told me. “The staffing crisis is the worst it has been through the pandemic.” This is why any comparisons between past and present hospitalization numbers are misleading: January 2021’s numbers would crush January 2022’s system because the workforce has been so diminished. Some institutions are now being overwhelmed by a fraction of their earlier patient loads. “I hope no one you know or love gets COVID or needs an emergency room right now, because there’s no room,” Janelle Thomas, an ICU nurse in Maryland, told me.

Here, then, is the most important difference about this surge: It comes on the back of all the prior ones. COVID’s burden is additive. It isn’t reflected just in the number of occupied hospital beds, but also in the faltering resolve and thinning ranks of the people who attend those beds. “This just feels like one wave too many,” Ranney said. The health-care system will continue to pay these costs long after COVID hospitalizations fall. Health-care workers will know, but most other people will be oblivious—until they need medical care and can’t get it.

Renée Graham of the Boston Globe laments the continued ineffectiveness of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Omicron and Delta driving COVID cases to terrifying new heights, Americans should be able to look to the CDC as its compass for navigating yet another wave in yet another year of this pandemic. Instead, a stream of murky, contradictory messages has Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, spending as much time defending and amending her COVID guidelines as issuing them.

[…]

After the Trump administration’s malicious incompetence during the pandemic led to hundreds of thousands of preventable COVID deaths and damaged the CDC’s reputation, there was a reasonable expectation that a new president and CDC director would raise the very low bar set by their predecessors.

There have been some successes. On the Biden administration’s watch, more than 62 percent of Americans are now “fully vaccinated.” That still means at least two shots administered. However, for some unknown reason the CDC has yet to change that definition even as its officials emphasize the need for a booster.

[…]

Certainly, the CDC wants to get its COVID response right not only to restore its image but to save lives. Yet the agency has been vexed by unforced errors that have public discontent spiking right along with caseloads. Sadly, this isn’t new.

Blake Farmer writes for Kaiser Health News that Meharry Medical College, an HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee, has decided to give a portion of the funding they received through the CARES Act directly to their students.

After deep consideration, Meharry’s administration decided to give roughly a third of its CARES Act funding — $10 million — directly to its future doctors, dentists and public health researchers. All told, 956 students received payments.

Meharry’s students had already been heavily involved in the pandemic response, staffing Nashville’s mass covid testing and vaccination sites. But the money isn’t so much surprise compensation for volunteer efforts as it is an investment in a future career — and an assist in overcoming financial hurdles Black students especially face to become medical professionals.

While Black Americans make up roughly 13% of the population, the Association of American Medical Colleges finds Black doctors account for just 5% of the nation’s working physicians — a figure that has grown slowly over more than a century. And studies have found that Black patients often want to be cared for by someone whom they consider culturally competent in acknowledging their heritage, beliefs and values during treatment.

Meharry graduates more Black physicians than almost any other U.S. school. And half of its M.D.s enter the high-demand but lower-paying specialty of primary care.

The Editorial Board of the Philadelphia Inquirer says that the Fairmount rowhouse fire that, to this point, has killed 12 people (including eight children), is “a wake-up call” to the living conditions of many Philadelphians.

The death of the most vulnerable Philadelphians is harrowing, but with so much loss occurring in our city on a daily basis, it is anything but unimaginable. The fire on North 23rd Street might have started around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday — but the injustices that made the blaze so catastrophic were long in the making — and are the story of families all over Philadelphia grasping for a place to live.

The two-unit rowhouse was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority and at least 26 people called it home — overcrowding that Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy called “a tremendous amount of people.” The Housing Authority told The Inquirer that 15 people were living in a single unit of the building as of last year.

[…]

The fire in Fairmount needs to be a wake-up call about the living conditions of Philadelphians — a city in which an estimated half of rental units are unlicensed, meaning that there is no way to know if they are up to code and safe for habitation.

Wednesday’s fire should also serve as a reminder of the unrelenting levels of resilience that Philadelphians — particularly Black Philadelphians — are forced to endure. Yes, a dozen people died in a fire. On a typical Wednesday over the last year, at least three people have died of overdoses and one or two others were murdered. And that does not begin to take into account the daily death toll from COVID-19. All told, it is an unbearable level of loss.

Eva Hartog of POLITICO Europe writes about the challenges— and opportunities— that Russian President Vladimir Putin is encountering thanks to his intervention in Kazakhstan.

Geopolitically, what is happening in Kazakhstan is a distraction from the Kremlin’s carefully crafted game plan on Ukraine. With more than 100,000 Russian troops, tanks and artillery massed on the border with Ukraine, Putin has won himself a seat at the table for security talks with the U.S. and NATO next week. The situation in Kazakhstan, however, threatens to weaken that agenda.

“Looks like Ukraine and NATO are no longer the only main focus of the future Russia-U.S. talks, there is a new hot-button issue for negotiations with [U.S. President Joe] Biden, plus it’s harder for Putin to make a concerted effort on his key diplomatic front,” said Alexander Baunov of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

For Putin personally, the optics are not good either. Protesters’ chants of “Shal Ket” — Kazakh for “old man, go” — echo jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s mockery of Putin as “the old man in the bunker.”  

And after uprisings against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakhstan provides yet more proof that no “Father of the Nation” — no matter how big his victories in doctored elections or how enthusiastic the official accolades — is safe.

Finally today, Lina Verschwele of Der Spiegel reports that some in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, insist on partying like it’s 1999, in spite of threats of a Russian invasion.

Indeed, there is more of a party atmosphere in Kyiv right now than worries of war. A poll taken in December found that people see a possible escalation in eastern Ukraine as the fourth greatest threat facing the country – behind rising gas prices, the growing economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Even the citizens’ militia, which regularly conducts exercises to rehearse the defense of the city on weekends, is taking a break.

How are people able to remain so calm? “We’ve been living with this stress for almost eight years,” Stavychenko says. Ever since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in the spring of 2014 in violation of international law, and pro-Russian rebels occupied the east of the country soon thereafter, Moscow has repeatedly threatened Kyiv with an escalation of the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin began amassing troops on the border with Ukraine back in the spring. Stavychenko insists that she has stopped worrying, saying she has better things to do.

Stavychenko is the executive director of the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra. This week, the ensemble is performing Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” for the Orthodox Christmas. In the new year, Stavychenko plans to tour with the orchestra to Germany, where she went to university. She’s also hoping to travel to Venice and Salzburg.

Everyone have a great day!





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