October 23, 2021

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The new confederacy


Hello there! Let’s dive right in.

Lucian K. Truscott IV writes for Salon that a new confederacy is already here.

All of the states that refused Medicaid expansion and have passed restrictions on voting and abortion are controlled by the Republican Party. Many of those same states have also passed bans on mask and vaccine mandates, and nearly all of them have endured more cases per capita of COVID-19, more hospitalizations and more deaths from the virus. In effect, without any states (yet) seceding from the Union, we already live in two Americas.

One of those countries-within-a-country, in the words of the esteemed lawyer and Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, “has no set of constraints, no belief in the norms, no commitment to the Constitution or the rule of law, while the other side is trying to observe the rules.” He said this on Wednesday night on “All in With Chris Hayes” on MSNBC, while discussing the challenges we face going into the 2022 and 2024 elections.

[…]

This is what I mean when I say that Republicans have already seceded. They’re a white party and they’re forming a white country with white laws and white companies and white jobs where white votes count and others don’t. They can live in the states that comprise that country, but they can’t survive there without our money. It was the same way with the South before the Civil War. They lived in their states with slavery, but they couldn’t survive without the economy of the North, so they started a war. They never intended to “secede.” They intended to win, and run the new country, which would be the South writ large, with slave-owners in power and slavery everywhere.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman of The New York Times is (surprisingly?) optimistic about the future.

But what if the current gloom is overdone? As regular readers know, I’m not an optimist by temperament — and I’m as terrified as everyone should be by the threat right-wing radicalism poses to U.S. democracy. But there’s a good case that in the quite near future we’ll see substantial progress against the three C’s: Covid, containers (i.e., supply-chain issues) and crime. We didn’t get our summer of joy, but we might be heading for a spring of relief.

Start with the state of the pandemic. At this point the Delta wave is clearly receding in the United States. Furthermore, there are reasons to hope that this won’t be another false dawn, because the federal government and a growing number of private employers have been getting serious about requiring that workers be vaccinated.

And the wall of vaccine resistance is proving a lot less solid than it may have seemed. A few months ago surveys suggested that many workers would quit their jobs rather than accept mandated vaccinations. In reality, employers that have already imposed such mandates, for example in health care, are typically seeing only 1 or 2 percent of their workers make good on this threat.

Over at The Washington Post, Colby Itkowitz takes a look at what some of the initial redistricting maps indicate for overall redistricting efforts, namely “a coming decade of even more deeply entrenched partisanship for Congress.”

Most House lawmakers already represent solidly partisan constituencies. Every two years, party control is determined by the outcome of only a few dozen seats. Next year, Republicans need to flip only a handful of seats to wrest power away from Democrats.

Of the country’s 435 congressional districts, Trump or President Biden won just 50 of them by five or less percentage points. Those swing districts could be reduced by at least a third after redistricting, experts estimate.

“There are really only about three dozen truly competitive seats anyway and partisans have realized in these polarized times the best way to flip a district is to gerrymander it after the Census,” said David Daley, a senior fellow for FairVote, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy organization, and author of two books on modern redistricting. “Now partisans are coming back for more.”

Nicola Davis of The Guardian writes about a new study showing that global mental health has worsened during the pandemic, especially for women and young people.

“We believe [that] is because women are more likely to be affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic,” said the lead author, Dr Damian Santomauro of the University of Queensland.

“Women are more likely to take on additional carer and household responsibilities due to school closures or family members becoming unwell. Women also tend to have lower salaries, less savings, and less secure employment than men, and so are more likely to be financially disadvantaged during the pandemic,” he said, adding a rise in domestic violence may also play a role.[…]

“Youth have been impacted by the closures of schools and higher education facilities, and wider restrictions inhibiting young people from peer interactions,” said Santomauro, adding that young people were also more likely to become unemployed after an economic crisis.

Chabeli Carrazana of The 19th News points out that the September 2021 jobs report showed a steep decline in jobs for women.

The number of women in the labor force now is nearly identical to the number that were working or seeking work in July 2020, said economist Kathryn Anne Edwards. About 1.3 million men joined the workforce in that same time.

“The gains of the recovery are not lasting for women,” Edwards said. “This is not progress, this is treading water.”

One of the challenges for women is that public education was one of the industries that saw the most job loss in September. About 161,000 public education jobs were lost last month, in addition to 19,000 jobs in private education. BLS noted that the pandemic has made it difficult to make their typical measurement adjustments that take into account seasonal hiring in education. What’s clear, BLS said, is that the numbers for public education are lower than usual.

Some of that drop-off may also be driven by difficulty hiring for lower-paid positions in public education, such as bus drivers, substitute teachers and food service workers, positions that usually go to older workers who may be more concerned about getting sick at work, economist Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute said on Twitter.

Casey Cep writes for The New Yorker about a Pew Research Center study of the content of U.S. church sermons.

In the past few years, though, the Pew Research Center has found a novel way to survey American preaching similar to how it has long surveyed Americans themselves. Taking advantage of the technologies that have allowed churches to stream services and post them online, Pew has studied the length, language, and content of tens of thousands of sermons, by denomination and tradition, most recently for the nine Sundays before and the Sunday after last fall’s Presidential election. Pew’s latest analysis builds on an earlier survey from 2019, in the eight weeks from April through June that included Easter. This time, the center was aided by churches that moved their work online because of the coronavirus pandemic; this provided Pew with a welcome body of materials that researchers could use to analyze how beliefs, religious and otherwise, spread through our country every Sunday.

[…]

Vocabulary analysis by Pew revealed how common some language is across these four major Christian traditions—words like “know” and “God” appeared most often, not surprisingly—but also how distinctive certain words are within each of those traditions. Evangelicals referred most often to “eternal Hell,” “salvation,” “sin,” “Heaven,” and “the Bible”; mainline Protestants relied more on the words “poor,” “house,” “Gospel,” and “disciple”; historically Black Protestants were most likely to hear “hallelujah,” “neighbor,” and “praise.” The data suggest that preachers from all traditions were more likely to refer to the New Testament than the Old Testament, although the eight weeks initially surveyed fell during Lent and Easter, so the findings might have reflected the liturgical calendar as much as anything else.

Of the sermons studied during that initial period, the researchers found that just four per cent “discussed abortion even once—and when they did, it was rarely mentioned repeatedly.” In their analysis of sermons last fall, on the other hand, the researchers found that two-thirds of congregations heard at least one sermon addressing the Presidential election. Catholic priests were least likely to mention politics, whereas evangelical preachers were most likely to do so; nearly half of the historically Black churches—almost double the other traditions—explicitly mentioned voting, using words like “register,” “early voting,” or “suppress” in their discussion of the election.

Issac J. Bailey writes for Nieman Reports that the drop in overall crime is real—but that we wouldn’t know that based on what the mainstream media reports.

And yet, overall and major crimes fell last year, defying expectations and expert analysis that have long told us that shocks such as bad economic times and periods of uncertainty usually push the rate upwards. Not only that, despite New York becoming the early epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., the number of homicides there remained at about a fifth of its peak in the 1990s even with a small uptick between 2019 and 2020.

It’s the kind of result that should have criminologists rethinking everything they thought they knew about a subject that has always confounded them. They know violent crime usually peaks and dips in cycles. They don’t really know why, when spikes will begin or end, what ignites them, or where. That’s why, even as researchers in the 1990s were predicting waves of “super predators,” what had been a historically-high level of violence had already begun to subside — a trend of falling crime rates that would last for three decades.

But that’s not the story many journalists have been telling, or at least not emphasizing. Headlines and leads focused on the spike in homicides could be found in numerous major news outlets, including The Washington PostNPRUSA Today, and The Associated Press . Vox bucked the trend with the headline “Murders are up. Crime is not. What’s going on?”…

Jim Leape writes an interesting essay for Al Jazeera about the need to expand the development of aquatic “blue” foods, which he defines as “fish, shellfish and algae that are caught or cultivated in fresh or saltwater.”

With demand for aquatic foods already predicted to nearly double by 2050, researchers found that expanding blue food production even further could make a big difference for public health. Their models indicate that an additional increase of 8 percent in supply would drive down blue food prices, making it easier for poorer households to buy and eat and preventing an estimated 166 million cases of malnutrition around the world as a result. What’s more, in three out of four countries, these benefits accrued even more so to women.

To make the most of this rising demand, however, improvements are urgently needed to drive the sector towards greater efficiency, sustainability and equity. Here’s what we need to do to make the most of that potential, and truly begin to turn the tide against the global challenges of climate change and malnutrition.

First, we need to recognise that blue foods are important foods. The policies and programmes that shape our food systems have long focused on agriculture, leaving blue foods on the sidelines. Blue foods already provide vital nutrition to more than three billion people – and they can play an even more essential role in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

On Thursday, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Polish law has primacy over the laws of the European Union (EU). Bartosz Dudek of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle doesn’t believe the ruling by the Polish court will lead to Poland leaving the EU.

Simply put, it’s an intractable conflict over who’s the chef and who’s the waiter. Even Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, which has a reputation of being extremely pro-European, has repeatedly put the ECJ in its place — most recently in May 2020 in a ruling on government bond purchases by the European Central Bank.

The main issue behind all this is that the European Union is not a federal state. An attempt toward establishing one by passing a European constitution failed in 2005 after referendums in France and the Netherlands. Despite all the enthusiasm for the idea of a federal, increasingly cohesive Europe, democrats must accept that 2005 decision, along with the fact that the European Union in its current state is an unfinished construction built on compromise.  

It is also true, however, that the ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal allows the national-conservative government in Warsaw free rein in undermining the rule of law and the independent legal system. As can now be seen, the attempt to stop this development by means of legal action has failed. The problem can be solved only politically.

Yet Lili Bayer and Maia de la Baume report for POLITICO Europe that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is talking tough about the Polish ruling but carefully weighing options.

The Polish ruling “undermines the cornerstones of the EU,” Finnish Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen told POLITICO, noting that “eyes are now on the European Commission as guardian of the EU Treaties.”

[…]

The Commission now has several options: triggering a new mechanism that links EU funding to rule-of-law criteria; continuing to hold up approval of Poland’s plan for EU pandemic recovery funding; and launching legal proceedings against Poland — or a combination of these moves.

But much depends on von der Leyen’s political calculations, and how Warsaw chooses to play its cards. The Commission president has wagered her political legacy on implementing the bloc’s recovery plan and making the European Green Deal a reality — two goals that require Poland’s cooperation to fully succeed. And she has thus far stalled on using the rule-of-law mechanism.

Olivia Goldhill and Rosa Furneaux of STATnews have an investigative report on the failures of the COVAX initiative to “vaccinate the world.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and STAT reviewed confidential internal documents and spoke with officials from two dozen countries, many of whom described confusion and frustration with COVAX. Although grateful for what COVAX is trying to do, they describe struggling to get information from COVAX personnel and being left in the dark over when, if ever, deliveries would arrive.

Conceived at the start of the pandemic, COVAX had lofty goals, promising fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for every country worldwide, and giving them for free to the poorest. For richer nations, COVAX would be an insurance policy, buying vaccines from multiple manufacturers to boost the chances some of them would work. For poorer ones, it would be a lifeline.

The first 18 months have not gone as hoped. As richer countries roll out booster shots, 98% of people in low-income countries remain unvaccinated. COVAX, described as “naively ambitious” by one expert, has contributed less than 5% of the all vaccines administered globally and recently announced it would miss its 2 billion target for 2021.

Jessica Brandt of The Brookings Institution reports on Russian state media’s use of the Pandora Papers to discredit the United States and other governments in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Russian state media have been amplifying some of the project’s most troubling findings — including the United States’ emergence as a leading destination for sheltering dark money — while simultaneously trafficking in conspiracies about the origin of the leaks. State-controlled media have repeatedly boosted skepticism over the absence of U.S. officials in the documents, suggesting that Western leaders might have been “screened out” from the data and that “recurring peculiarities” point to “Washington’s hand behind” the disclosures. In some cases, state-controlled media outlets have gone as far as to promote the idea that the revelations are a “political ploy” and the work of Western intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.

In its efforts to use the revelations as a means to discredit democratic governments, Moscow has also been highlighting details of wrongdoing by Latin American heads of state, including the presidents of EcuadorChile, and the Dominican Republic and the vice president of Colombia, among others. This focus on Latin America is in part because more than 90 of the more than 330 politicians and public officials identified in the data are from the region. But it also belies a focus on reaching a part of the world where Russia has frequently sought to advance its geopolitical interests, including, in recent months, using concerted information manipulation campaigns.

Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers of The New York Times report on China’s increasing military provocations against Taiwan. 

After holding out against unification demands from China’s communist rulers for more than 70 years, Taiwan is now at the heart of the deepening discord between China and the United States. The island’s fate has the potential to reshape the regional order and even to ignite a military conflagration — intentional or not.

“There’s very little insulation left on the wiring in the relationship,” Danny Russel, a former assistant secretary of state, said, “and it’s not hard to imagine getting some crossed wires and that starting a fire.”

China’s military might has, for the first time, made a conquest of Taiwan conceivable, perhaps even tempting. The United States wants to thwart any invasion but has watched its military dominance in Asia steadily erode. Taiwan’s own military preparedness has withered, even as its people become increasingly resistant to unification.

All three have sought to show resolve in hopes of averting war, only to provoke countermoves that compound distrust and increase the risk of miscalculation.

Finally, Brian Hioe of The Diplomat offers a view on the Chinese military provocations from a Taiwanese perspective.

For her administration’s part, President Tsai Ing-wen asserted that she would not back down in the face of Chinese threats in an article published in Foreign Affairs on Tuesday. Tsai touted her administration’s efforts to contribute to regional security, as a responsible stakeholder, and stressed that “The story of Taiwan is one of resilience – of a country upholding democratic, progressive values while facing a constant challenge to its existence.”

The flybys may be intended to send a signal not to just Taiwan, however. Over the weekend, two U.S. carrier strike groups conducted exercises with a U.K. carrier strike group and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s JS Ise in the Philippine Sea. On Monday, the U.K. carrier strike group, led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier, then moved through the Luzon Strait in preparation for joint exercises with the Singaporean navy.[…]

Either way, apart from the psychological warfare aspect, the flybys could be potentially aimed at influencing domestic Taiwanese politics. Chinese incursions into Taiwan’s ADIZ can benefit the pro-unification Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party, which has sought to attack the Tsai administration with the claim that it has been unable to maintain stable cross-strait relations. The KMT has attributed this to Tsai’s failure to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus, while depicting the Tsai administration as having been overly provocative toward China. Although the Tsai administration has shifted away from overt pro-independence advocacy and toward a pro-status quo position, the KMT has sought to frame the DPP as seeking to advance its pro-independence agenda in a way that is fundamentally destabilizing to cross-strait relations.

Everyone have a great day!





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