Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Choices


Let’s dive right in!

John Blake of CNN writes that Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol insurrection, and Jan. 15, the birthday of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offer “two radically different visions” of what the United States of America stands for.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been called a socialist, a Republican, an “angry Black man” and a “teddy bear.”

It’s an annual ritual on the birthday of the iconic civil rights leader: Pundits offer provocative interpretations of King to make him relevant for a contemporary audience.
But these commentators won’t have to work as hard this year to explain why King matters. Anyone who wants to remind Americans about the urgency of King’s message can now cite January 6, 2021.
That’s when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol and tried to block Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election because they wrongly believed Trump had won.

Lawrence H. Tribe and Dennis Aftergut write for NBC News, applauding Thursday’s “historic indictment” of 11 people by the Justice Department, focusing on the specific charge of “seditious conspiracy.”

There are three major respects in which Thursday’s indictment signals a pivotal moment. It confirms that the Justice Department believes the plotters of the Capitol siege specifically intended to overturn the election, prevent the lawful transition of power and shatter our democracy. In addition, the new conspiracy charge sends a message that the prosecutorial door to everyone involved in the seditious scheme has officially swung open.

Finally, it shows the Justice Department is indeed methodically working its way up the chain of command of what it believes to be an exquisitely organized, multipronged plot.

As to the first pivotal marker, the indictment establishes for the first time the Justice Department’s confidence that it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the violence was meant to intimidate Congress to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election. “The purpose of the conspiracy,” the grand jury has charged, “was to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force, by preventing, hindering, or delaying by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of power.”

Kimberly Atkins Stohr writes for The Boston Globe that the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack should and must, if necessary, subpoena fellow members of Congress.

There are political risks to subpoenaing members of Congress, particularly in the acerbically partisan atmosphere in Washington. Fewer things have energized Republicans, particularly those bent on painting the Jan. 6 probe as a partisan witch hunt, more than the prospect of a fight — particularly a legal one. It has been part of Trump’s playbook for decades, which his acolytes have followed.

Subpoenaing McCarthy or other congressional Republicans who were in contact with Trump and his inner circle on or around Jan. 6 will surely be followed by swiftly filed legal challenges alleging that the panel is stepping beyond its constitutional boundaries.


Some have warned that subpoenaing fellow members of Congress would open a political Pandora’s Box in a way Democrats will regret when Republicans are in charge of the House and Senate. But that argument, like the similar argument some make about Democrats’ push to end the filibuster for voting rights, has a fatal flaw: There is every reason to believe that Republicans will do so anyway, regardless of what Democrats do now.

But the consequences of failing to assert the full power of the Jan. 6 committee would give a victory to Trump and his supporters at the highest levels of government in their efforts to weaken any institution that dares to hold him responsible for his dereliction of duty. It would prove that obstruction works. Congress will be irretrievably broken.

Paul Rosenberg of Salon interviews former Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper about the powerful yet quiet role that state legislatures continue to play in destroying American democracy.

[ROSENBERG]: As you lay it out, the heart of the problem is the relative invisibility of state representatives, combined with their great power, which the public may not be aware of. Two questions: Why are state legislatures so powerful? And why is there so little awareness?

[PEPPER]: It’s a the toxic combination: great power and total anonymity, at least for the average citizen. The power comes all the way back, from the founding. State legislatures were given a lot of power over our day-to-day lives — economic policy,  energy policy, criminal justice, education, the things that we care about. Statehouses have a huge effect on those.

But in our system the Constitution and our overall balance of powers also give statehouses enormous power over not just state elections but federal elections. They draw the district lines, as we’re seeing right now. They set the rules of elections. They have control, to some degree, over how the Electoral College is calculated. It’s a huge amount of power. It’s something James Madison worried about: My gosh, we’re giving statehouses a huge amount of power. If they’re in the wrong hands, undemocratic hands, they can threaten our entire nation’s democracy.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times says that in spite of a record number of American adults being alarmed by climate change, necessary action by state and federal leadership remains at a standstill.

The share of the U.S. adult population alarmed by global warming nearly doubled over the last five years from 18% to an all-time high of 33%, with about half of that increase occurring between December 2020 and September 2021, researchers with Yale University and George Mason University reported Wednesday as part of a twice-a-year nationwide survey. About 59% of Americans are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change and overall are becoming more engaged and supportive of policies to reduce planet-warming pollution.

The shift in public opinion is surely being driven by experience. A recent Washington Post analysis found that more than 40% of Americans live in a county that was hit by climate-related disasters in 2021 — extremes that will get worse as the greenhouse gas-fueled rise in temperatures continues.

But what should alarm us even more is how out of step our government remains with Americans’ fast-evolving views on climate change, and how little state and federal leaders have done in the face of an escalating emergency. Instead of acting decisively to slash emissions, switch to renewable energy and phase out fossil fuel production, our government is still stuck in the mud, even as U.S. greenhouse gas emissions roar back after a pandemic-induced lull.

Chabeli Carrazana of The 19th News reports on the expiration of the expanded child tax credit.

This week will mark the first time since July that parents will go without a monthly payment.

The expanded child tax credit fell short of some of its biggest promises: It didn’t quite cut the child poverty rate in half, and millions of the most vulnerable families were still left out of receiving money. The full potential of the credit hinged on extending the new benefits permanently, advocates say — it was never expected to cut child poverty in just six months.

Now, the future of the credit hangs in the balance now as Congress debates whether to include any form of a permanent expansion in the Democrats’ Build Back Better package. Those negotiations are taking place as parents brace for another wave of COVID-19 cases that could shutter schools, limit job opportunities and undo some of the financial breathing room the credit created.

When the credit worked best this year, parents could count on it to manage the soaring cost of child care, pay for food, or cover the unexpected expenses that piled up during the pandemic, like the ones Rosa Walker’s family faced.

Jason Silverstein of STATnews says that especially in a time where the American Red Cross has declared a national blood shortage, it is time to lift the ban that prohibits men who have sex with men from donating blood.

For the first time ever, the American Red Cross this week declared a national blood shortage crisis and hospitals are putting out calls for donors — yet the Food and Drug Administration continues to ban men who have sex with men from donating blood.

It is long past time for the FDA to eliminate this ban. No other group is similarly banned from donating blood. Prohibiting only men who have sex with men from donating blood is the definition of homophobic, because it presumes that this sexual orientation is unsafe. That is provably false: Studies report no risk to the blood supply in other countries that do not ban donations from this group of men.

The assumption that blood from sexually active gay and bisexual men is deadly is deadly. UCLA researchers say lifting the ban would mean as many as 350,000 new donors and could treat more than a million people.

The FDA’s current policy is this: A man who has had sex with another man in the last three months may not donate blood. It is an outdated artifact of the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Graciela Mochkofsky of The New Yorker writes about the COVID disinformation campaigns that continue to target Latinx communities. 
Soon after the efforts to discourage covid-19 vaccinations began, in late 2020, Latinx people were among the groups more hesitant to get the shots. Researchers from First Draft, a pioneering group that tracks misinformation and disinformation campaigns, tried to find out why, with a working hypothesis that such campaigns played a role. For almost a year, researchers monitored unverified Facebook pages and groups, Twitter and Instagram posts, and Spanish-language discourse on social-media accounts, including on messaging platforms such as Telegram. Their report, which was released in early December of last year, warns that a history of discrimination and medical racism, and a lack of access to health care, may have created “a foundation of doubt and mistrust that allows misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines to flourish on social media.” By that time, though, the national vaccine-hesitancy gap had almost disappeared, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, with fifty-eight per cent of white people and fifty-six per cent of Latinx people having received at least one shot. In fact, in fourteen states and the District of Columbia, the vaccination rate was lower among the white population. (Latinx patients, however, were still dying at a higher rate.) And, according to an earlier K.F.F. poll, unvaccinated Latinx people were not primarily discouraged by lies or scaremongering about the vaccines but by concerns that registering for one could lead to immigration-status problems, or that possible side effects of the shot might cause missed days of work—and pay.
But many observers believe that misinformation is one of the main reasons that Latinx people who are still unvaccinated remain so. In a national poll by Voto Latino published in April, 2021, slightly more than half of all unvaccinated Latinx people believed that the vaccine was unsafe; that figure rose to sixty-seven per cent among those who primarily spoke Spanish. (Thirty-eight per cent of respondents declared that they were vaccinated; at that point, between twelve million and fifteen million Latinx people were unvaccinated nationwide, according to the study.) Almost eighty per cent of all respondents (vaccinated and not) thought that covid-19 misinformation was a serious or somewhat serious problem. Four months later, Salud America!, an organization at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio that promotes health measures for Latinx children and families, pointed to misinformation as one of the main reasons that sixty per cent of the city’s Latinx population remained unvaccinated.
Laura Kuenssberg of BBC News reports on the increasing fallout against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the revelations of COVID-lockdown parties that were held at 10 Downing Street. 

The mood among ministers is that the situation is pretty desperate. But they don’t seem to be trying to take concerted action together, either, to find a way out.

For one member of the cabinet, that’s in contrast with memories they have of regular discussions about how to manage the political horror during the worst days of Theresa May’s premiership. This may be in part down to the fact we are now in very different political times.

There aren’t bonds between groups at the most influential table in the land in the same way – no Brexiteer band determined to get their way whatever the cost, and no group like the one that was determined to protect Mrs May.

There is, however, an acceptance that Boris Johnson faces a moment of real peril and has to change. One says: “A lot of people say he has three months to significantly raise his game.”

The question of whether the prime minister himself believes he has to change, or can, is an argument for another day.

Finally today, John McWhorter of The New York Times writes about the varieties of the “Black voice,” specifically focusing on why Sidney Poitier became “the first real Black matinee idol.”

Poitier was Bahamian (he was born in Miami but spent his early years in the Bahamas) and always sounded it, especially in more passionate moments. Indeed, in 1967’s “To Sir, With Love,” he played a teacher of Guyanese descent working in a struggling multiracial working-class London school. As a kid, it never occurred to me that I was to process him in his roles as someone who had grown up on, say, Chicago’s South Side. In “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” I saw him as, well, a young Caribbean gentleman coming to dinner.

And while the Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy characters in that film wouldn’t have been at all thrilled about a Caribbean gent marrying their daughter, it seemed to me that they would have been even less enthusiastic if the suitor was a Black man from somewhere like Chicago’s South Side — a point that would have been underscored if the part had been played by a different Black actor of the period, such as the lacrosse and football great Jim Brown, who was in dozens of movies after his N.F.L. career, or Billy Dee Williams, of “Lady Sings the Blues” and “The Empire Strikes Back” fame (though both were a few years younger than Poitier). A “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with Williams, no matter how gracefully he would have played the lead role, almost certainly would never have been made in 1967.

Poitier was certainly a pioneer — but in the sense that he was transitional. In a mid-20th-century America that feared and scorned Blackness and especially Black maleness that came with a hint of sexuality, the first real Black matinee idol was almost inevitably going to be someone who didn’t talk (or move) in modes more typically associated with American Black men. A more local, less global Black voice would have made (or have been assumed to have made) white audiences back then too uncomfortable for a big studio to have greenlighted Poitier’s classic films. He was, quietly but decisively, different. He was from somewhere else, even if you only thought of that subconsciously — as we do to a major degree about language in all of its facets.

And I think that the same would be true of even a famous Black actor that was theater-oriented, like James Earl Jones.

Everyone have a great day!

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