December 2, 2021

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Crunch time

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Annie Linskey, Sean Sullivan, and Matt Viser write for The Washington Post that President Joe Biden is beginning to take a more vocal role in getting his agenda items passed.

In private meetings with members of Congress this week, Biden outlined particular trade-offs, explaining for example that he wants universal prekindergarten care rather than free community college tuition, citing research that shows money spent on younger children has more impact.

He has floated the idea of giving seniors a debit card loaded with $800 to spend on dental benefits as part of an expansion of Medicare. He has revealed that he’s feeling pressure from his wife, Jill, who teaches at a local community college, to push for higher-education spending, joking that otherwise he would have to find somewhere else to sleep.[…]

Biden’s stepped-up involvement comes as a rapid succession of deadlines loom, including the expiration of federal highway funds Oct. 31, the president’s appearance at a climate summit in Scotland on Nov. 1, and a Virginia governor’s election that’s become a referendum on the Democratic agenda Nov. 2.

However those working closely with Biden or familiar with his meetings say that the president is now more clearly setting guidelines for what should stay in his social-safety-net bill and what will have to go as it gets whittled down from $3.5 trillion to $1.9 trillion or less. These guidelines do not carry an ideological cast, the people said, but rather seem aimed at shaping a deal that can pass.

Kara Alalmo of CNN says that Facebook needs a leadership change and not a name change.

There’s a glaring reason Facebook’s name change is such a smart move from a branding perspective, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the company may want to create a single umbrella brand for the three major platforms it owns — Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — or that it wants to focus on the metaverse. It’s because the public has lost faith in Facebook. And rightly so. For all the family photos shared or funny videos consumed that the company has made possible, “Facebook” is now also a name associated in recent years with misinformation, privacy violations, the spread of hate and autocracy.

But a new name won’t get to the root of the problem: Facebook’s bankrupt reputation. Going by a different name won’t magically create a brand in which consumers will place their blind faith.[…]

 …many who study misinformation remain concerned, and recent whistleblower Haugen asserted that Facebook continued to put profits before people. It’s essential for the company to truly tackle the problems it has already unleashed before it helps build a future “metaverse” in which technology will play an even bigger role in our lives than it already does.

The place to start is with Zuckerberg’s resignation.

“Right now, I see two courts in action,” said Lee Epstein, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies the Supreme Court. “We see a standard Roberts court that leans conservative but has a serious amount of consensus and tries to look pretty nonpartisan. Then, within that court, we have an aggressive, socially conservative court led by the three Trump appointees plus [Justice Clarence] Thomas and [Justice Samuel] Alito.” Epstein told us that was likely why the justices decided to hear two extremely high-profile cases on abortion and gun rights this term — a signal that at least some conservative justices thought they now had the numbers to push the law to the right on those issues.

We don’t know how those cases will come out, of course, but the justices don’t have to overturn Roe this year for the court to still be deeply conservative. Friction among the conservatives isn’t necessarily a sign that the court is moderating; it may simply take time for the GOP-appointed justices to work out their plans for the enormous amount of power they now wield. Life tenure grants them plenty of space to hash out these differences. This means we need to start watching the court in new ways — and stop waiting for the justices to suddenly accomplish all of conservatives’ legal goals at once. It’s the overall trajectory of the court that matters, and there’s no sign that it will disappoint conservatives in the long term.

Oni Blackstock, Alexandra Skinner, and Julia Raifman of The Washington Post say that the little bit of data that we do have shows that people of color are more susceptible to COVID breakthrough infections.

The little data that we do have on breakthrough cases show concerning racial and ethnic inequities. For example, data from King County, Wash., suggest that hospitalization rates among fully vaccinated people are higher for Black, Indigenous and Pacific Islander residents than their White peers. These data likely underestimate breakthrough inequities because age-specific rates within each race and ethnicity are not reported, and White populations are older than populations of other races and ethnicities.

That there would be potential racial and ethnic inequities in covid-19 outcomes among vaccinated people should be no surprise. Historical and present-day policies, driven by structural racism, have created striking racial and ethnic inequities in wealth, health, education, work, housing and medical care. Non-White Americans are thus more likely to hold front-line jobs, less likely to be able to work from home and more likely to live in crowded homes or neighborhoods. These factors increase the risk of coronavirus exposure regardless of vaccination status.

On top of the elevated risk of exposure, the impact of weathering — the physiological toll of ongoing exposure to racism — and inequities in access to high-quality health care contribute to higher rates of comorbidities that increase the risk of hospitalization or death due to covid-19. Vaccines reduce that risk, but they cannot eliminate the structural drivers that lead to these inequities.

Andrew Joseph and Helen Branswell of STATnews report that with the new FDA approvals of a variety of COVID booster shots, administering the booster shots in proper dosages may have gotten more difficult.

When the shots arrived late last year, the message from health officials was simple: Get vaccinated when you become eligible, and get whichever jab is offered to you. But with boosters becoming available for select groups of people, and a lower-dose shot for young children expected shortly, the campaign is moving from a simple set of instructions to more of a messy flow chart for people organizing and delivering the jabs.

Take the Moderna booster. It won authorization Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration and is expected to be recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people 65 and older and those with certain risk factors — the same populations for whom the Pfizer-BioNTech booster is authorized. But unlike the Pfizer shot, the Moderna booster is a half dose; it requires using the same vials that the full doses come in, but just drawing out half as much for each shot. Separate from that are the third, full doses of these mRNA shots that are already approved for people who are immunocompromised.

Two different boosters for two different adult populations means plenty of room for mixups.

“Our workforce is just exhausted and they’re trying to plan for [vaccinating] kids,” said Claire Hannan, the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “Some of our members didn’t even know that the Moderna was a half dose and we just started talking about it and … their jaws just dropped.”

Jacqueline Jones and James Grossman write for The Hill that Texas Senate Bill 3 (SB3) will result in “absurd situations” for teachers of history.

The vague wording of SB3 not only creates absurd situations that require teachers to figure out how to offer “opposing viewpoints” on slavery, but also gives license to parents and administrators looking to challenge the teaching of incontrovertible facts relating to controversial issues.

The result is confusion and fear on the part of K-12 teachers, who are certified in pedagogy and age-appropriate instruction and remain vulnerable to misinformed parents and school board members; administrators who support their professional staff have already been subject to unwarranted pressure.

Let us be clear here: SB3 and similar legislation in other states is meant to require social studies not to promote the idea that chattel slavery, lynching and other forms of racially motivated violence and the long history of legally mandated racial discrimination “are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” This is not true.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe is tired of national “litmus tests” concerning the murder of Black people that seem doomed for failure.

Certainly it matters that Chauvin was convicted and sent to prison. The same with Michael Slager, the former officer who killed Scott in South Carolina. Yet those convictions don’t address the culture that allowed such crimes to occur. Both Chauvin and Slager lied about what happened and never expected to be challenged. Video uncovered the truth.

With Arbery’s death, the men who killed him never bothered to lie. The McMichaels and Bryan killed a man, then went on with their lives for months. Only after the video became public were they finally arrested. Last month, Jackie Johnson, a now-former Georgia district attorney, was charged with interfering in the original investigation by “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest, contrary to the laws of said State, the good order, peace, and dignity thereof.” Travis McMichael was the alleged shooter.

[…]

 What they won’t talk about is how little has changed since last summer’s so-called reckoning after Floyd’s murder. Expect no denouncement of corporate America’s performative activism, which has barely nudged the needle toward racial equity. Headlines have already faded on the failed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which died in the Senate last month because Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina refused to budge on ending qualified immunity, the police reform bill’s key component.

Justin Rowlatt and Tom Gerken of BBC News have exclusive reporting that some countries are pushing to change a critical report on climate change ahead of the COP26 climate summit next month.

A huge leak of documents seen by BBC News shows how countries are trying to change a crucial scientific report on how to tackle climate change.

The leak reveals Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia are among countries asking the UN to play down the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels.

It also shows some wealthy nations are questioning paying more to poorer states to move to greener technologies.

This “lobbying” raises questions for the COP26 climate summit in November.

The leak reveals countries pushing back on UN recommendations for action and comes just days before they will be asked at the summit to make significant commitments to slow down climate change and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The leaked documents consist of more than 32,000 submissions made by governments, companies and other interested parties to the team of scientists compiling a UN report designed to bring together the best scientific evidence on how to tackle climate change.

Finally today, Charles Blow of The New York Times argues that at a time when fewer people are getting married, that it may be time to take a look and change taxation and policy that favors married couples.

…This month, the Pew Research Center published an analysis of census data showing that in 2019 the share of American adults who were neither married nor living with a partner had risen to 38 percent, and while that group “includes some adults who were previously married (those who are separated, divorced or widowed), all of the growth in the unpartnered population since 1990 has come from a rise in the number who have never been married.”

[…]

As a society, we have to start asking ourselves whether it is fair and right to continue to reward and encourage marriage through taxation and policy when fewer people — disproportionately Black ones — are choosing marriage or finding acceptable partnerships.

Is marriage always the ideal? And should single people pay a loner tax — part of what The Atlantic’s Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell in 2013 called “institutionalized singlism” — for not pursuing it?

Everyone have a great day!



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