November 30, 2021

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Crunch time?

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Let’s dive right in.

Lindsey McPherson, Laura Weiss, and David Lerman of Roll Call report that President Joe Biden is continuing to play for time in passing both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act.

The president’s visit to the Capitol resolved a weeks-long dispute between centrist Democrats who wanted a quick vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill and progressives who said they’d oppose it without passage of the tax and spending budget reconciliation package.

Biden ultimately sided with progressives on process but asked them for a concession on policy: The budget package needs to be scaled down from $3.5 trillion, which progressives already viewed as a compromise, to $2 trillion, give or take, while still addressing key party priorities like family leave, child care and climate change.

At the same time, the president counseled patience for centrists who’d been demanding action this week on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. Instead, the House on Friday passed a 30-day extension of surface transportation programs that lapsed at midnight, leading to furloughs of thousands of Transportation Department workers.

“I’m telling you we’re going to get this done,” Biden told reporters after meeting with House Democrats for about 30 minutes at the Capitol. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.”

Paul Krugman of The New York Times, at his wonky and snarky best, suggests that President Biden should just go ahead and mint that $1 trillion coin.

During the Obama years, Republicans used the debt limit for blackmail, refusing to raise it unless President Barack Obama agreed to spending cuts — spending cuts the G.O.P. wouldn’t have been able to get passed through the normal legislative process, despite having partial control of Congress.

What’s happening now is even worse. Democrats control both houses of Congress, but Republicans are using the filibuster to block an increase in the debt ceiling with only weeks to go before we hit a wall and default on payments — and they aren’t even making specific demands. They simply don’t want to share any responsibility for governing. “There is no chance Republicans will help lift Democrats’ credit limit so they can immediately steamroller through a socialist binge that will hurt families and help China,” declared Mitch McConnell. If that sounds to you like meaningless word salad, that’s because it is.

Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic is puzzled by the overall Democratic reaction to Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

She isn’t one of you.

She wasn’t one of you in March, when she voted thumbs down on a minimum wage increase slipped into a bill on pandemic relief.

She wasn’t one of you in April, when she posted a picture of herself on Instagram wearing a ring that said “— off”, as Democrats pressured her to break the filibuster logjam so that liberal proposals could flow forth.

And she isn’t one of you now, as you fume about her refusal to support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that you know and she knows will die without her support.

That’s because she wasn’t one of you when she was elected.

Yet Democrats across the land are aghast that she won’t support a bill that would boost spending on social-welfare and climate programs to the tune of $3.5 trillion?

Kali Holloway writes for The Nation that the “feel-good” stories in the nation’s news media—about how Americans are surviving nowadays—are a cover-up and propaganda that indicate the extent of America’s economic suffering and need for a rebuilt social safety net.

In attempting to normalize the crushing oppression of capitalism—in our health care, labor policies, education system, law enforcement—and the abysmal state of our social safety nets, these stories reveal the inventive work-arounds folks have developed to survive and aid in the survival of others. They serve as representations of just how bad things are for so many. Multiple recent studies and polls indicate most Americans live paycheck to paycheck; minimum wage earners working 40 hours a week can only afford to rent in 7 percent of US counties; and 600,000 people are unhoused. Congress’s decision not to extend pandemic unemployment benefits mean those numbers will surely rise. Meanwhile, the federal eviction moratorium is no longer in effect, and more than 3 million people who responded to a Census Bureau poll this August said they are likely to face eviction in the next two months. One-third of Americans have delayed medical procedures because they can’t afford treatment, and health insurance deductibles have risen at eight times the pace of wages over the past 13 years (yet the country’s biggest health insurance companies made $11 billion in profits in just the last quarter). Desperate Americans are using GoFundMe as a stand-in for our tattered social safety nets, prompting its CEO to note earlier this year that the “platform was never meant to be a source of support for basic needs, and it can never be a replacement for robust federal Covid-19 relief that is generous and targeted to help the millions of Americans who are struggling.”

Mary Skelton Roberts writes for The Boston Globe about how Afro-Latinos are a “minority within a minority.”

The Pew Research Center estimates there are between 12 million and 15 million Latinos of African descent in the United States, numbers that are likely an undercount. Some of it is due to self-identifying; not everyone considers themselves to be an Afro-Latino. Secondly, some of the estimated 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., have consistently led to a Latino undercount. And considering that 95 percent of all enslaved people were first brought to the Caribbean and South America, our countries of origin are racially diverse.

[…]

So what’s it like being a so-called minority within a minority? Sometimes it’s difficult and exhausting. I have been passed over for seats on commissions, boards, and a couple of jobs that seemed earmarked for a “Latina.” I remember getting a call from a board I served on to inquire whether I had “accidentally” checked off “Latino/Hispanic” on a form. Or the white colleague insisting that I couldn’t really be Cuban because all Cubans looked white (at least a third of Cuba’s 11 million+ population consider themselves Black).

It is also true that throughout Latin America and the Caribbean diaspora, Latinos have a complex relationship with race, often perpetuating the same racial hierarchies that we see in the United States. Every social, health, and economic indicator places white European-presenting Latinos at the top of the food chain, with outcomes getting progressively worse the darker one’s skin color.

Bruce Beehler writes for The Washington Post on why we should care about the extinction of the ivorybill woodpecker and other species.

Conservative cost-cutters in Congress and prior administrations have sought to defund the Endangered Species Act. Our citizenry, however, wants to see concrete action taken to keep species from dying out. The Endangered Species Act’s success in the recovery of the bald eagle, osprey, whooping crane and California condor has been applauded by the country at large. Americans do not want to lose their most iconic wildlife species.

That is encouraging. But this week’s ivorybill story confirms a grim reality. Largely lost in the news coverage is the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service announcement actually mentioned 22 other species that have gone extinct, a list that crosses taxonomic classes and broad geographies, from Hawaii to Mississippi. There is no longer any denying the start of the great extinction pulse that is taking off in our Anthropocene era — the Earth’s sixth major extinction. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, we are losing plants, birds, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and mammals.

In reality, this list merely hints at the losses we’ve already incurred — because it is so hard to document the disappearance of a species. Many species of bees and other arthropods will have been lost long before they ever even make it onto the endangered species list. The arthropod extinction crisis is just beginning to be recognized, and the scale of loss may be enormous. The same may apply to plants.

David M. Herszenhorn of POLITICO Europe reports that EU Council President Charles Michel is preparing to further address the EU’s need to develop its military capabilities.

Longstanding worries about Europe’s military capabilities and a lack of coordination between EU member countries have recently returned to the center of political discussions following the chaotic and rushed U.S.-led withdrawal from Afghanistan. Compounding tension was the announcement by Washington of a new Indo-Pacific strategic alliance with the U.K. and Australia that blindsided EU allies, notably France.

But as he called for greater strategic autonomy in his speech on Saturday, Michel also seemed to concede that Europe’s primary source of power will always be its pocketbook, not its firearms.

“We want less dependency. We want more influence, because we have values to promote — they are strong as we just said — interests to defend, and citizens to protect,” Michel said. “Our greater autonomy must be based on two strategic pillars — social economic development and security. The first pillar is economic and social.”

“The second pillar is that of our security,” Michel added. “The Atlantic Alliance is its backbone. Strengthening Defensive Europe means strengthening the Alliance. Stronger allies make stronger alliances. 2022 therefore will be the year of European defense.”

Christiane Hoffman, Martin Knobbe, and Konstantin von Hammerstein of Der Spiegel interview the leader of Germany’s Social Democrat Party, Olaf Scholz, the probable future Chancellor.

Scholz: People know that, unlike a few decades ago, there are a few countries with industrial capabilities similar to ours. This creates a feeling of uncertainty. It is also why right-wing populist parties are on the rise in Europe’s rich societies, why Donald Trump succeeded and why there was a majority for Brexit. Their misleading promise is that we can return to the past. We have to have answers to that.

DER SPIEGEL: Which ones?

Scholz: We need to modernize our industry so that we will still have good jobs in 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Many fear that, at some point, we will be gazing sadly at the prosperity of other continents. The voters want us to tackle the tasks that are facing us. That’s what people told me in the steel mills, the chemical companies, the mechanical engineering companies and in the car industry. Germany must dare to lay the technological and industrial foundations for the future. And the aim is to become a climate-neutral industrialized country in just under 25 years. This can create new confidence.

Tamara White of The Brookings Institution does a roundup of news from the African continent that includes the EU Court of Justice’s annulment of two trade pacts with Morocco, the Ethiopian elections, and, as excerpted, various moves related to COVID-19 vaccinations on the continent.

On Tuesday, September 28, Algerian Prime Minister Aymen Benabderrahmane announced that the country will begin producing the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine this week under a partnership between China and the Algerian state pharmaceutical company Saidal. The country plans to first meet domestic demand for the vaccine before exporting any surplus. Monthly production capacity is expected to ramp up from 1 million doses in October to 5 million doses in January. Algeria also plans to initiate production of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine before the end of the year.

In related news, Zimbabwe’s vaccine mandate, which will require employers to bar unvaccinated workers from entering the workplace, faces criticism for threatening the livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Critics fear that such mandates—in combination with immense difficulties in obtaining the vaccine—will lead to terminations and, thus, further financial insecurity. As  Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said, “The Zimbabwe government should first focus on making sure that vaccines are equally available to all people without any obstacles before considering making them mandatory.”

Notably, Zimbabwe’s vaccination rate of 15 percent is far above the African average of 4 percent, but, according to the Associated Press, inconsistent vaccine supplies at local clinics and enduring vaccine hesitancy, fueled by distrust of authorities and low reported COVID-19 caseloads in in the country, limit voluntary participation. While procuring doses is still a pervasive problem for African nations, Zimbabwe claims it now has ample supplies from China. Other African governments may follow suit in instituting vaccine mandates, as the challenge shifts from acquiring vaccines to administering them and reaching herd immunity. Most countries have not reached that point and are, like South Africa, implementing incentives, such as permitting the fully vaccinated to attend previously shuttered sports and music events, in order to promote vaccine uptake.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan writes for The Diplomat of various moves being taken by the “Quad” alliance (Australia, Japan, India, and the United States) to develop and regulate outer space capabilities.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden put an emphasis on emerging and critical technologies including space, cyber, AI, 5G, and 6G in their bilateral meeting. Significantly, they agreed to finalize by the end of the year a “Space Situational Awareness Memorandum of Understanding,” which will facilitate data sharing as well as sharing of services in order to ensure long-term sustainability of outer space.

China’s military space prowess is the key reason for this focus. Ensuring a safe, secure, and sustainable outer space has become critical in the face of growing space competition among a number of space players. On the one hand, it is triggering new competitive dynamics, especially in the context of global governance debates; but on the other, the competitive dynamic in space is pushing for new collaborative partnerships with a focus on a number of technological and normative aspects.

These new competitive dynamics are evident in the development of counterspace capabilities including kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and electronic and cyber warfare capabilities by a number of countries. China, in particular, has made impressive strides in outer space, including its pursuit of counterspace technologies. While the risks from China’s military space program may be directed primarily at the United States, countries like India and Japan cannot afford to ignore the consequences for their national security.

Finally today, Charles Blow of The New York Times reacts to The Met premiere of the Terrance Blanchard-composed opera that’s based on and named after Blow’s memoir, Fire Shut Up in My Bones.

So I accept and am honored by the idea of being an inspiration. But it was hard for me at times to see myself in the character on the stage, and that is a good thing. When I wrote the memoir, I had already dealt with my traumas. That is not to say that trauma doesn’t have a long tail, but rather that in my life, the tail had grown exceedingly thin.

For me, the writing was excavation, exhumation: digging up something buried.

It seems to me that the interviewers were asking a question which they wanted me to answer by saying: It’s wonderful, I’m so honored, I never thought this would happen.

All of that was true, I suppose, but I didn’t write the book to grab a spotlight. The cost is too high for many memoirs, especially mine, for you to do it simply for selfish reasons. Memoirs often strain families. Some, it tears apart.

Everyone have a great day!



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