Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Uncanny



Heather Digby Parton writes for Salon on The Damn Fool’s mounting legal problems.

Let’s look at all of the legal cases and investigations that seem to be pushing forward against Trump despite his best efforts to repel them with lawsuits and delaying tactics. The good news for Trump is that it appears the Department of Justice (DOJ) has decided that all of the obstruction of justice Trump perpetrated in plain sight during the Russia investigation is not worth prosecuting. Unless they make a move very quickly, the statute of limitations is about to run out on that front. So much for Robert Mueller’s sanguine pronouncement that we needn’t worry about his refusal to recommend indictment because, of course, they could always do it after the president left office.

But that’s the only good news on this front that Trump’s received in recent days.

The former president is still facing a flurry of legal investigations from New York to Georgia while the evidence is piling up at the January 6th committee and the DOJ. The case that seems to be closest to coming to a head is the civil investigation by New York State Attorney General Leticia James. Last Tuesday, James filed a response to one of Trump’s frivolous arguments with a filing and a statement that her office has “uncovered significant evidence indicating that the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading asset valuations on multiple properties to obtain economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions for years.”

Of course, Parton concludes that the only possible shelter that TFG has from his fast-multiplying legal troubles is to seek the legal insulation of the presidency.

The editorial board of the Miami Herald writes about Florida Senate bill SB148, the bill that seeks to make white people that feel “discomfort” in learning about certain subjects in certain ways illegal (more or less).

Under the conservative narrative, discussing slavery, segregation and discrimination is fine as long as it’s a thing of history or an abstract concept that doesn’t make people question whether they are complicit in perpetuating bigotry.

The WOKE bill, filed by Hialeah Sen. Manny Diaz, has a veneer of social righteousness. It starts off stating that no training or instruction should compel people to believe that “members of one race, color, sex or national origin are morally superior,” and that no “individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex or national origin.”

Sounds good, except the legislation leaves plenty of room for someone to claim “discrimination” based on discomfort — which is sometimes bound to be part of discussions that seek to make people reflect on their own prejudices.

The bill bans training that makes people feel they “bear responsibility” for “actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin,” or that compels people to believe they should “receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion” — which appears to be aimed at affirmative action.

JoNel Aleccia of Kaiser Health News reports that a number of states continue to use COVID-19 medical treatments that are ineffective and largely “useless” against the omicron variant.

Use of the newly ineffective treatments produced by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly and Co. is highest in a dozen states. They include several Southern states with some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, but also California, which ranks in the nation’s top 20 for fully vaccinated residents, a KHN analysis of federal data shows. Many hospitals and clinics are still infusing the costly treatments — often charging hundreds of dollars a session — that public health officials now say are almost certainly useless.

That’s because of the near-total dominance of omicron, which accounted for 99.5% of new covid infections in the U.S. during the week that ended Jan. 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Respectively, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Louisiana, California, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Ohio, New York, and Mississippi used the most courses of the Regeneron and Lilly treatments from Jan. 5 through Jan. 18, KHN’s analysis showed.

In Florida, which used more than 5,200 courses of the outdated treatments during that two-week period, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he is not convinced that the Regeneron and Lilly products don’t work against omicron. In Florida, omicron accounted for 97% of cases as of Jan. 20; delta accounted for 3%.

So now Gov. Ron DeSantis is a medical doctor and/or a public health professional…got it.

Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times writes that Trump-era politics continues to take a significant toll on the nation’s mental health.

“Politics is a pervasive and largely unavoidable source of chronic stress that exacted significant health costs for large numbers of American adults between 2017 and 2020,” writes Smith in “Politics Is Making Us Sick: The Negative Impact of Political Engagement on Public Health During the Trump Administration.” “The 2020 election did little to alleviate those effects and quite likely exacerbated them.”

Around 40 percent of Americans, he found, “consistently identify politics as a significant source of stress in their lives.” Shockingly, about 5 percent have considered suicide in response to political developments. Smith told me he was skeptical of that figure when he first calculated it, and still isn’t wholly sure it isn’t a statistical fluke, but it’s remained fairly consistent in three surveys. (After publishing results from the first survey a few years ago, he said, he got a call from someone who worked at a suicide hotline who reported experiencing an uptick in calls after the 2016 election.)

I’m fascinated by Smith’s work for a couple of reasons. The first is partisan. People from both parties reported that political stress during the Trump years has damaged their health, but Democrats have, unsurprisingly, had it worse. While Donald Trump was in office, they were able to turn their rage and fear into fuel, but I’m not sure how sustainable this is. The more politics becomes a pageant of infuriating Democratic impotence in the face of relentless right-wing spite, the more I fear people will disengage as a means of self-protection.

I think that Ms. Goldberg and Lili Loofbourow, writing for Slate about these “uncanny” times, are essentially writing about the same thing; Loofbourow’s social diagnosis is a bit more precise and goes into more depth, IMO.

It’s true that medical professionals are experiencing an unprecedented level of alienation from their communities. They’re being called murderers or monsters by sick patients who claim that the nurses and doctors are part of a huge conspiracy to control or misinform or harm the public. Hospitals are badly understaffed and it’s getting worse; people are burning out and leaving. Those who remain are being subjected to conditions that are increasingly untenable.

But what the medical community is experiencing is an extreme version of what might be recognizable to many of us: the sense that competing realities are simultaneously asserting themselves. This makes existing right now an exercise in the uncanny. It is easier to agree that things are bad than it is to acknowledge that matters are in some respects improving. That no one is quite sure how or on what scale those are improvements are taking place has generated a moment of unusual ambiguity in which no account of the present quite adds up or makes sense.


This strain of confusion isn’t confined to public health. The United States’ economic recovery in 2021 was correctly hailed as stronger and faster than almost anywhere in the world, and the stock market rose 27 percent despite the pandemic even as the unemployment rate fell. The historic pandemic stimulus made a big dent in the U.S. poverty level. On paper, these indicators of prosperity have made meaningful differences in people’s lives. But they are also in competition with what Americans see on the ground, including high gas prices and global ramifications of the supply chain crisis, including grocery store shelves starting to go bare once again, a shocking uptick in car prices, and inflation. People have more money but they feel worse off—in an early January CNBC/Change Research poll, 60 percent blamed Biden for his handling of the economy.

And yes, I looked at what Wikipedia says about the “uncanny.”

Alexander Vindman and Dominic Cruz Bustillos write for Foreign Affairs about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, with the prospect of limited or wide-ranging Russian military intervention seeming imminent.

Regardless of whether Russia opts for a more limited incursion or a broader attack, the consequences it faces from the United States and its allies and partners must be unprecedented, as the Biden administration has previously warned they would be. U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has already introduced a bill—the Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act of 2022—that resembles a wish list for advocates of Ukrainian sovereignty. It includes provisions for the use of the Department of Defense lease authority and the Special Defense Acquisition Fund to support Ukraine; additional loans to support Ukraine’s military; enhanced Ukrainian defensive capabilities; increased support for U.S.-Ukrainian military exchange programs; additional assistance for combating disinformation in Ukraine; the public disclosure of ill-gotten assets belonging to Putin and members of his inner circle; sanctions on Russian state officials who participate in or aid an attack on Ukraine; sanctions on Russian financial institutions; sanctions requiring the disconnection of major Russian financial institutions from financial messaging services such as SWIFT; a prohibition on transactions involving Russia’s sovereign debt; a review of sanctions on Nord Stream 2; and sanctions on the Russian energy and mining sectors. Although the bill provides potential waivers in several instances and an exception for the importation of goods, its passage would still represent a bold step toward defending Ukraine.

The Biden administration has already signaled its backing for Menendez’s bill. Biden should take one step further and shepherd it through the Senate and the House, maneuvering carefully to ensure that these critical measures do not become another casualty of partisan bickering. Biden got off to a good start with a recent meeting on Ukraine with senators from both parties. To further ease partisan divides, Democratic senators should consider adding elements to the Menendez bill from a competing bill introduced by Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

A team of 13 reporters at Der Spiegel report that Germany is hesitant to sign onto any response that the United States and the West may have to the threat that Russia poses to Ukraine.

Western intelligence agencies and military officials believe the possibility of a Russian invasion is real, but the parties united in the coalition government in Berlin have shown a recent preference for emphasizing what leverage they are not interested in using against Moscow. Excluding Russia from the SWIFT international payment system? Not a great idea, they say, because it would also affect the German economy. Weapons deliveries to Ukraine? Purportedly incompatible with German arms export guidelines. Putting a stop to Moscow’s prestigious Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that could increase direct Russian gas exports to Germany and Europe? It shouldn’t be “lumped together” with Russia’s Ukraine policy, says Kevin Kühnert, the secretary general of the chancellor’s center-left Social Democratic Party.

It’s true that no one knows exactly what Putin’s goal is right now – whether he’s trying to gain ground diplomatically with the help of military threats or if he is planning a military operation under the pretext of a lack of concessions from the West. Within Chancellor Scholz’s SPD, there is a strong tendency to downplay the threat of war. Many within the SPD, but also within the Green Party, share the Kremlin’s opinion that Russia had been deceived during the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union.

Still, the Germans’ wavering course weakens the strategy of Berlin’s Western allies – a strategy aimed at driving the price of a military attack “as high as possible,” as one EU official puts it. And the window of opportunity to deter Putin could close soon, one senior NATO diplomat told DER SPIEGEL. Once Putin had made the decision to attack Ukraine internally, he would hardly be able to back down without weakening his domestic political position, the diplomat says. That’s why it is crucial for the EU, the U.S. and NATO to act as united and resolutely as possible. Any hesitation could be interpreted by the Russian president as a signal that he can take the next step.

Finally today, Elizabeth Wellington of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes personally and poignantly about her friend and mentor, the late André Leon Talley.

Talley and I became friendly early in my fashion journalism career. As we exited New York Fashion Week shows — some of which I strolled into with him because nobody stopped André — we did more than chat about the season’s polka dots and pleats.

He schooled me on why Michael Kors skirt suits were reminiscent of Dior’s New look. He made sure I knew what elements of Carolina Herrera’s evening wear collection were influenced by American couture designer Main Rousseau Bocher. One time, I admitted to not knowing who the grand dame of American sportswear Claire McCardell was, and, I swear, Talley rolled his eyes. “You must know who Claire is,” he said before we parted. It was in these moments I learned that history was crucial to fashion journalism.


But through his memoirs and documentaries, we learned that inside, he tried to fit into a world that treated him poorly. The fashion world is notoriously unkind. It’s particularly unkind to Black people. And it’s even more unkind to fat people. Talley wasn’t immune from the nastiness. In the 2018 documentary, The Gospel According to Andre he told us that a well-known designer implied he slept his way to the top. They basically called “me a Black buck,’ he said. A few scenes later, he cried when he recalled a fashion editor who referred to him as “Queen Kong.”

Talley swallowed his pain as many older Black people do when white people in powerful positions dehumanize them. His billowing caftans evoked strength and appeared dignified. Weakness was not an option.

Everyone have a great day!


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