Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: An infrastructure week to remember

Let’s dive right in!

Li Zhou of Vox writes about Friday night’s passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package,and the concerns of the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus about the eventual fate of Build Back Better bill.

The result was a major step forward for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but a blow to progressives who’ve long pushed for the two bills to be tied together. Progressives were able to extract a commitment from House moderates to vote for the spending measure by November 15, although that pledge came with an important caveat.

The infrastructure bill passed the House 228-206, with 13 Republicans voting in favor. The legislation was a compromise between a bipartisan group of lawmakers and includes major investments in roads, bridges, water quality, and broadband internet. It’s known as BIF — the bipartisan infrastructure framework — because members of both parties have backed it. Because it has already passed the Senate, it now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law.

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The fate of the social spending bill, however, is now uncertain. Moderates are holding out for a score from the Congressional Budget Office before they move forward. And the CBO could find the spending bill would have more than the expected budget deficit impact. In that case, moderates did not say they would commit to voting for the bill, though most of the holdouts did promise to try “to resolve any discrepancies in order to pass the Build Back Better legislation.” Some could conceivably refuse to vote for it at all. In the best-case scenario, a vote on the bill isn’t expected to take place until later this month and then, should it pass, it must still get through the Senate as well.

Aaron Blake of The Washington Post reports that Republicans are in disarray following the 13 GOP votes in favor of the BIF package.

Friday’s GOP defections were even more significant than during the last Trump impeachment, when 10 Republicans voted to impeach the president — a historically high number. And the fact that on Friday they provided the votes necessary for passage makes this even more fraught.

They were also more significant than many, including McCarthy, suggested they might be. While McCarthy previously kept his powder dry on whipping against the bill, he ultimately pushed for his members to vote against it. As recently as last week, McCarthy said, “I don’t expect few, if any, to vote for it, if it comes to the floor today.” In another interview, he was asked about the infrastructure bill and said, “It will fail.”

Circumstances change, but the defections from McCarthy’s party line were significant for the modern era; they notably included Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), whom McCarthy had made part of his whipping operation just earlier this year — the same whipping operation that failed Friday.

John Cassidy of The New Yorker writes that Friday’s positive jobs report numbers could be the beginning of good news for President Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Glenn Youngkin, the victorious Republican candidate in Virginia, used education as a culture-war wedge issue, but he also emphasized the economy, claiming that Virginia was lagging other states in recovering from the pandemic and contending that Democratic rule is throttling job growth. (Surprise, surprise: many of his claims were exaggerated.) In New Jersey, the G.O.P. gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli, who almost pulled off a shock victory, made the economy and taxes the central issue of his campaign, depicting his opponent, Phil Murphy, as an out-of-touch liberal whose big-spending policies were driving businesses from the state.

At the national level, too, there is evidence that concerns about the economy are hurting Biden and the Democrats. In an NBC News survey released last weekend, the President’s approval rating on handling the economy was at forty per cent, down from fifty-two per cent in April. Asked which party would do a better job handling the economy, the respondents to the poll gave the G.O.P. an eighteen-point advantage over the Democrats. This was the Republicans’ biggest lead in thirty years on this question from this pollster.

Rebecca Solnit, writing for The Guardian, shares the good news for progressives arising out of last Tuesday’s elections—and there’s a lot of it.

As for this week’s election, it swept in a lot of progressive mayors of color. The most prominent was Michelle Wu, who won the Boston mayor’s seat as the first woman and first person of color. Elaine O’Neal will become Durham, North Carolina’s, first Black woman mayor, and Abdullah Hammoud will become Dearborn’s first Muslim and Arab American mayor. Aftab Pureval will become Cincinnati’s first Asian American mayor. Pittsburgh elected its first Black mayor, and so did Kansas City, Kansas. Cleveland’s new mayor is also Black. New York City elected its second Black Democratic mayor, and Shahana Hanif became the first Muslim woman elected to the city council (incidentally, New York City and Virginia have about the same population). In Seattle, a moderate defeated a progressive, which you could also phrase as a Black and Asian American man defeated a Latina. A lot of queer and trans people won elections, or in the case of Virginia’s Danica Roem, the first out trans person to win a seat in a state legislature, won reelection.

In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, who in 2017 was the first of a wave of ultra-progressive district attorneys to take office across the country, swept to a second term with 69% of the vote. “I want to congratulate him. He beat my pants off,” said his Republican rival. In Cleveland, Austin, Denver and Albany, citizens voted in police-reform measures, and while a more radical measure in Minneapolis lost, it got a good share of votes. 2021 wasn’t a great election year for Democrats but it’s not hard to argue that it wasn’t a terrible one, and either way it just wasn’t a big one, with a handful of special elections for congressional seats, some state and local stuff, and only two gubernatorial elections.

It is true that the Democratic Party is large and chaotic with a wide array of political positions among its elected officials, which is what happens when you’re a coalition imperfectly representing a wide array of voters, by class, race, and position from moderate to radical on the political spectrum. It’s also true the US is a two-party system and the alternative at present is the Republican party, which is currently a venal and utterly corrupt cult bent on many kinds of destruction. It’s the party whose last leader, with the help of many Republicans still in Congress, produced a violent coup in an attempt to steal an election.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share Solnit’s interview with Amanda Marcotte at Salon, where Solnit points out that even George Orwell stopped to smell the roses … and even tended to them.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe writes about why a majority of white women continue to vote Republican.

White women who vote Republican seek to maintain their privilege. This means voting against candidates who back policies that could alter the racial inequalities that keep the deck stacked in white supremacy’s favor. I’ve long suspected that some white people oppose legislation that would help all regardless of race because what they’re really against is anything that could erode their unearned power by leveling the field for historically disadvantaged groups.

It’s why 63 percent of white Alabama women voted for Roy Moore, a Republican and accused sexual predator, when he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2017. It’s why only 31 percent of white women in Georgia voted for Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, whose victories in that state’s two runoff elections this year gave Democrats a fragile majority in the Senate.

“The elephant in the room is white and female, and she has been standing there since 1952,” Jane Junn, a University of Southern California professor of political science and gender and sexuality studies, wrote in her essay “Hiding in Plain Sight: White Women Vote Republican.” It was published days after Trump defeated Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Like Graham (I suspect), I wish that we could retire the phraseology that voters vote “against their own best interests.” Voters can and do have multiple interests and voters can and do prioritize those interests.

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review urges caution in latching onto narratives about last Tuesday’s elections being pushed by the pundit class.

In the days since Youngkin, a Republican, beat McAuliffe, a Democrat, in Virginia’s gubernatorial election—and Phil Murphy, the incumbent Democratic governor of New Jersey, narrowly won a closer than expected race—journalists, pundits, and politicos have collectively unleashed an avalanche of analysis as to the reasons Democrats had a bad night. No single reason, of course, has unifying explanatory power; indeed, many of those listed above are perfectly compatible with one another. Different voters are motivated by different issues, and often themselves contain multitudes: a given parent, for instance, might both have been frustrated with COVID protocols in their child’s school and also receptive to the Youngkin campaign’s dog whistles around the teaching of race; the latter can be both a local grievance against a specific school or teacher and also part of an explicit, nationalized campaign to make “critical race theory” a catch-all boogeyman for the Trumpian right. To the extent that different media takes have privileged different explanations in isolation, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is, rather, how political debate tends to work in the public sphere.

Still, there are a number of reasons why we should approach debates about electoral wins and losses—and this week’s wins and losses, in particular—with care. Firstly, some of the explanations for the results appear less compatible than others, in ways that call for considered elucidation. It’s hard, for instance, to see how Biden’s actions in office have been both too progressive and not progressive enough; it’s possible that voters who instinctively think the former might have been swayed by the timelier passage of his agenda if its benefits accrued directly to them, but those benefits aren’t usually tangible overnight, and in any case, gubernatorial elections are not federal elections. It’s likewise tricky to reconcile the take that COVID has fundamentally restructured American politics with the take that there’s nothing to see here because the new president’s party almost always gets cleaned out in Virginia a year in. It makes more sense to conclude that Youngkin replicated an old political trend but for new reasons, and with the support of a shifting coalition. Disentangling what seems old and what seems new is always an urgent challenge for the press, and COVID has supercharged it.

Jonathan Watts of The Guardian offers a summary and commentary of the first week of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Even with a stronger US presence, the global roll call remained incomplete. If this were a school register, the teacher would note that some the naughtiest kids in the climate class were all absent: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, president of the world’s biggest deforesting nation; Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of the world’s second biggest oil pumper; and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, president of the world’s second biggest gas producer. China’s Xi Jinping, president of the biggest coal consumer and carbon emitter, was also missing, though at least he had a sicknote owing to the Covid crisis.

India provided the biggest fillip of the high-level segment when its prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced that the country would get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030 and go net zero by 2070. That is three generations away, but still a big advance compared with previous plans. Along with the unveiling of Nigeria’s first carbon-neutral plan this week, countries representing more than 70% of the world’s emissions have now signed up to long-term goals.

If Cops have any value, it is in forcing those who have profited from the climate crisis to look into the eyes of the victims. But are the leaders of the US, EU and China and the CEOs of Exxon, Shell and BP still able to see? This was the question posed by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, in an opening-day speech that brought goosebumps to many of those watching.

Stephanie Zimmerman of the Chicago Sun-Times reports on an investigation into the administration of the GI Bill, spurred by a whistleblower’s complaint.

A long-secret investigation of a whistleblower’s complaint has found widespread and longstanding problems with the federal government’s administration of the GI Bill that could be at fault for veterans and their families having been denied money they were entitled to for college.

The investigation found that, because of bad record-keeping, some vets were shortchanged on their service time — a key element in qualifying to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their children to pay for school.

In a series of reports since 2019, the Chicago Sun-Times has documented how such bureaucratic errors led to the children of long-serving veterans losing out on Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for college. In some cases, families were told they had to repay college money the government already paid on their behalf.

The Defense Department investigation into whistleblower Nicholas D. Griffo’s complaint was completed in January 2020. But the federal agency never released its findings. Griffo provided the report to the Sun-Times, saying he was frustrated that the government hadn’t made it public after 22 months.

Sudhakar Nuti pens for STAT a personal and intense account of his own burnout from treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Academy of Medicine defines burnout as “a syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work.” In medicine, there’s a lot of talk about burnout because it is so prevalent. It’s especially common among trainees like me, where an 80-hour workweek is the expectation. I’m supposedly among the up to 75% of trainees who experience burnout, but I find it hard to imagine that 25% of residents are feeling hunky-dory during this pandemic. And Covid-19 has only increased stress and burnout among interns, residents, and other trainees.

It’s not like vaunted medical institutions like the one I’m working for don’t know about burnout. They devise all sorts of ways to reverse exhaustion, like free dinner for a week, listening sessions, or a thank-you-for-working-during-the-pandemic Patagonia jacket, imagining my life can be fixed with an opportunity for reflection and another fleece.

There’s an underlying assumption in burnout discussions: that it can always be remedied with some notion of self-care. What’s never spoken is that burnout is the remnant of a fire. I’ve never seen a piece of charred wood and thought that some time by itself and some water will restore it to its former state. Burning can cause irreparable damage, and I haven’t heard anyone admit that about becoming burned out.

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic writes about a scientific funding program called Fast Grants—a program that arose because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that could be an alternative way to fund American scientific research.

Most scientific funding in the United States flows from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. This funding is famously luxurious; the NIH and NSF allocate about $50 billion a year. It is also infamously laborious and slow. Scientists spend up to 40 percent of their time working on research grants rather than on research. And funding agencies sometimes take seven months (or longer) to review an application, respond, or request a resubmission. Anything we can do to accelerate the grant-application process could hugely increase the productivity of science.

The existing layers of bureaucracy have obvious costs in speed. They also have subtle costs in creativity. The NIH’s pre-grant peer-review process requires that many reviewers approve an application. This consensus-oriented style can be a check against novelty—what if one scientist sees extraordinary promise in a wacky idea but the rest of the board sees only its wackiness? The sheer amount of work required to get a grant also penalizes radical creativity. Many scientists, anticipating the turgidity and conservatism of the NIH’s approval system, apply for projects that they anticipate will appeal to the board rather than pour their energies into a truly new idea that, after a 500-day waiting period, might get rejected. This is happening in an academic industry where securing NIH funding can be make-or-break: Since the 1960s, doctoral programs have gotten longer and longer, while the share of Ph.D. holders getting tenure has declined by 40 percent.

Fast Grants aimed to solve the speed problem in several ways. Its application process was designed to take half an hour, and many funding decisions were made within a few days. This wasn’t business as usual. It was Operation Warp Speed for science.

Next, here are two stories about the continuing efforts to form a coalition government in Germany.

First, Laurenz Gehrke and Joshua Posaner write for POLITICO Europe about disagreements among the three political parties about climate change.

Coalition talks between the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) are stuttering over climate policy, with the three sides squabbling over how far-reaching their plans should be. The dispute has prompted the Greens to call on environmental groups to ramp up pressure as global leaders meet in Glasgow for the COP26 summit.

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The Greens want to bring forward Germany's coal phaseout date from 2038 and end the sale of combustion engine vehicles by 2030. They also want to create a climate ministry that would have the right to veto any other government decision to ensure policies fall in line with the Paris climate agreement.

The Free Democrats are against such a veto, for example, as well as any bans on cars. The parties are also split over carbon pricing, with the Greens cautious on EU plans to expand the bloc's emissions trading system — a market to buy and swap emissions allowances — to cover fuels for road transport and heating.

Next, the Der Speigel investigative reporting team of Christiana Hoffman, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Christoph Schult, Severin Weiland, and Matthias Gebauer present a fascinating and detailed behind-the-scenes look at the sausage-making of a German coalition foreign policy working group.

The working group is hammering out policy for three portfolios: foreign policy, defense and development. Very little was said about these issues during the campaign, and the exploratory talks didn’t touch on them much either, with the three parties preferring to paper over their differences. Now, though, clarity must be found on the most significant issues: Germany’s relationships with the U.S., China and Russia; the future of NATO; the German military’s overseas profile; and Germany’s role in the world.

The bickering began already with the length of the joint paper. The leaders of the three parties involved decreed that the working group could only produce a maximum of five pages in Calibri font size 11, with 1.5 line spacing. No time is allowed for renegotiations and the finished paper must be submitted by 6 p.m. next Wednesday.

Some Green Party working group members, though, are rebelling against these parameters. It is impossible, they say, to outline the policy of three cabinet portfolios on just five pages. The SPD, meanwhile, has held firm. "It’s not going to change,” says an SPD member involved in the negotiations. "You can complain all you want, but it won’t help.”

Finally, while I frequently disagree with The New York Times columnist John McWhorter’s more political takes on language and linguistics, when he leans more into the linguistics side of the spectrum, he’s a wonderful read. Granted, the line between politics and linguistics can sometimes be so thin as to not even be recognizable. 

All of this is to say that McWhorter put his foot in this column on the evolution of the English language.

[B]ecause English doesn’t have the long lists of endings that some languages have, it can seem as if our language’s grammar is kind of dull. But there’s so much that we just aren’t trained to see. In Cantonese, for example, there are lots of particles that you place at the end of a sentence to convey countless degrees of sentiment. “Nei hai gam jat faan uk kei?” means just “You’re returning home today?” But “Nei hai gam jat faan uk kei gaa?” can lend a note of displeasure, as in “You’re returning home today? Seriously?”

English doesn’t have as much as Cantonese by way of particles like this. But think about what the “be” in “Don’t be telling me you can’t make it” means — that same skeptical note. Similar is “go and” if we say, for example, “Now he’s going to go and shut it all down.” It conveys disapproval of what’s about to happen, even though by itself “go and” means no such thing (nor does “be”). In terms of marking the passive, the way we’re taught is with forms of “be”: “He was included.” But what about the one with “get”? “He got hurt,” “He got laid off,” “He got hit.” English has a neutral passive — and a special passive that you use for something negative or unexpected. Note how saying, “In the battle he was hurt” sounds more clinical and less real than saying that “he got hurt,” because “be” elides that getting hurt was something bad that came as a surprise.

I also hear English as having all kinds of coded ways to throw shade, of a kind that learners could be taught just as carefully as they are taught something as straightforward as putting an “s” on a verb in the third person singular. These aren’t idioms in the sense of “call it a day” or “on the ball”; they’re grammar. Black English has even more such constructions, using the otherwise neutral verb “come”: “He come saying nobody knew until today” implies that you’re not happy with him. Black English even has a future perfect of disapproval: “I’ll be done left if she tries getting here late again.” (I owe this observation about this construction to the linguist and poet Alysia Harris.)

If The New York Times Magazine were to revive William Safire’s “On Language” column with McWhorter as the columnist, I’d put up with McWhorter’s occasionally wretched political opinions, tbh.

Everyone have a great day!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Hurricane Ida closes in on Louisiana

Wishing safety to everyone in the path of Hurricane Ida as the storm closes in on the Louisiana coast. As of this writing, Ida is forecast to make landfall in Louisiana about 60 miles west of New Orleans, in the city of Houma, on Sunday.

Frida Ghitis of CNN examines some of the strategic choices that the U.S. has left when it comes to Afghanistan.

Listen to US officials speak and it's clear they are watching their words, trying to avoid antagonizing the radical jihadis for fear of jeopardizing the airlift that has carried more than 104,000 souls to safety since August 14. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gingerly sidestepped a question about the future of the US Embassy in Kabul on Wednesday, saying, "With regard to diplomatic engagement, we're looking at a series of options, and I'm sure we'll have more on that in the coming days and weeks, but we're looking at a variety of options."
But we don't all need to watch our words. Let me say unequivocally: The United States cannot recognize a Taliban-led government -- certainly not any time soon.
Judging by the conciliatory tone the Taliban spokesmen struck after the takeover, the group is interested in repairing its reputation and gaining international recognition. But words mean little, especially when there's a long track record of repugnant behavior. This is the group that sentenced women and girls to crushing restrictions that prevented them from studying, working or leaving their homes on their own. The Taliban forced women to cover their faces in public, buried them up to their necks and stoned them to death after claims of adultery. They also killed homosexuals, chopped off the hands of suspected thieves, and generally forced an entire country to live under draconian rules. Their words alone won't do.
Robin Wright of The New Yorker asserts that the strike against ISIS-K will not deter extremist groups or terrorist operations in Afghanistan.
The United States may indeed manage to kill more isis-k fighters and destroy some of their modest arsenal. But the central flaw in U.S. strategy is the belief that military force can eradicate extremist groups or radical ideologies. On Friday evening, a senior Biden Administration official acknowledged that the United States “can’t physically eliminate an ideology. What you can do is deal, hopefully effectively, with any threat that it poses.” Past Administrations have tried lethal strikes. In August, 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered Operation Infinite Reach, a series of cruise-missile attacks on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and on a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that U.S. intelligence erroneously linked to Osama bin Laden. The strikes were in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than two hundred and injured more than four thousand. That U.S. operation had limited impact. Three years later, Al Qaeda operatives carried out the 9/11 attacks, killing nearly three thousand in the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Despite the killing of bin Laden, a decade ago, the more skilled Al Qaeda fighters were the force multipliers in the Taliban’s sweep across Afghanistan this year.
“The bottom line is that kinetic action by itself cannot significantly counter terrorist organizations,” Seth Jones, a former adviser to U.S. Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, told me. “It is very limited in what it can do. It can disrupt operationally and take people out. But tactical and operational impact is very short-term.”

Sarah A. Binder and Molly E. Reynolds of the Brookings Institution take a look at the impact of the 9/11 attacks on today’s Congress.

The 9/11 attacks reshaped the business of Congress in at least two ways.

First, the attacks have had lasting effects on congressional budgeting for defense. According to the Congressional Research Service, the federal government spent an estimated $2 trillion in emergency funding to support its response to the 9/11 attacks; Other analysts tally the costs at over $6 trillion. Legislative critics on the left and right have at times derided such emergency monies as slush funds since Congress does not account for the funding in its regular appropriations, allowing it to evade spending limits put in place in 2011. But the parties have generally been complicit in exempting such amounts from legal limits placed on other avenues of government spending. Two decades later, Congress still affords special treatment to the fiscal demands of the government’s war on terror.

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For anyone who works on or visits Capitol Hill today, the changes made in the months and years immediately following the attack are readily apparent. Congress allocated funding to speed up the Capitol Visitors’ Center to serve as a security screening point for visitors to the Capitol itself; closed streets around congressional office buildings; constructed additional vehicle barriers; and made other changes to emergency procedures. By 2004, Congress had expanded the U.S. Capitol Police force (which today comprises almost 10% of the legislative branch’s budget) by roughly 27%.

These operational procedures were significant. But Congress left much bigger-picture, longer-range planning of importance undone. Despite calls for major reforms that would allow the House and Senate to continue operating and, if necessary, repopulate themselves in the event of catastrophe, Congress did little to address its own continuity.

Luisa S. Deprez of Washington Monthly asserts that conservatives have been singing the same song since the 1960s (at the very least), and Donald Trump is no exception at all.

Conservative elites can adjust their anti-government targets depending on the circumstances. Fried and Harris chronicle how Republicans’ arguments changed about how government should operate, depending on who was in control. Newt Gingrich’s rise to power was fueled by the charge that Congress had become too powerful. After Republicans won a House majority in 1994, Gingrich flipped to arguing that Congress should be the dominant power. The same way a broken clock is right twice a day, Gingrich might have stumbled into the truth since executive branch power has grown disturbingly large since World War II.

This can lead to infuriating hypocrisy. Despite Republicans’ portrayal of their complaints about “big government” as rooted in a consistent ideology, Fried and Harris show they’re situational. In the same press conference where President Reagan said “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” the conservative icon also announced “record amounts of assistance” to farmers. Later in the same news conference, the Gipper rebuffed Chicago Mayor Harold Washington’s contention that cuts in the federal budget were hurting his city’s residents.

In this telling, Donald Trump is no exception to decades of Republican party demagoguery. Granted, Trump’s anger, xenophobia, racism, and railings against the “deep state” were more uncivil and overt; he was unusual in espousing overtly undemocratic norms. But Trump fit comfortably into a Republican tradition of arousing Americans’ suspicions of government. Trump sought to intimidate, “attack and scapegoat” immigrants, attempting to ban “aliens” from benefiting from social programs. That contrasts sharply with Reagan’s grant of amnesty to around 3 million undocumented immigrants, many of them poor. But Trump’s anti-immigrant policies extended Republicans’ long-standing project of radically reducing government—for certain groups and not others.

Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe writes about the increasing and dangerous use of the “shadow docket” by the United States Supreme Court.

While it is certainly the role of the court to decide issues including the limits of presidential authority, such weighty judgments have traditionally come during the court’s regular term, with a full examination of the arguments and in public view. But lately, the rulings come in the form of terse summary orders, drafted out of sight, often issued at night when few are watching.

And for those challenging a presidential order or other matter, the process of getting to the shadow docket is a lot easier than convincing the court to take up a case on the merits. Any litigant can appeal to one justice, who then decides whether to forward the matter to the rest of the court.

If that happens, an order can follow quickly, sometimes within days. Consider the host of shadow docket rulings in favor of churches and other organizations seeking to opt out of pandemic safety measures imposed by cities and states since last year — giving the court leverage to dramatically expand the scope of religious freedom claims in the process.

Chris Joyner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution looks at some of the factors influencing judicial decisions being made with regard to some of the Jan. 6 insurrection defendants.

In their initial appearances, magistrate judges were making decisions to keep defendants in jail “more along the lines of the nature of the offense” and siding with prosecutors concerned about a possible continued insurrection against the government, he said.

“As time went on, there was more of an understanding of the types of activities that different defendants engaged in, some merely entering into the Capitol building, walking around and leaving,” he said.

Some of the rioters benefit from the fact that United States does not have a domestic terrorism law, so the charges some face are more mundane.

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The people who battled police in fierce hand-to-hand combat on the Capitol steps and forced their way inside, kicking in doors and calling out for congressional leaders as they attempted to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election, face more serious charges. And some have been less successful winning release.

Paul Krugman of The New York Times examines trends regarding gentrification in California and the larger national perspective.

Since the 1980s America has experienced growing regional divergence. We have become a knowledge economy driven by industries that rely on a highly educated work force, and firms in those industries, it turns out, want to be located in places where there are a lot of highly educated workers already — places like the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, most of these rising knowledge-industry hubs also severely limit housing construction; this is true even of greater New York, which is much denser than any other U.S. metropolitan area but could and should be even denser. As a result, housing prices in these metros have soared, and working-class families, instead of sharing in regional success, are being driven out.

The result is that there are now, in effect, two Americas: the America of high-tech, high-income enclaves that are unaffordable for the less affluent, and the rest of the country.

And this economic divergence goes along with political divergence, mainly because education has become a prime driver of political affiliation.

Brown University professor and emergency physician Jay Baruch writes for STATnews, proposing a “harm-reduction” strategy in order to deal with vaccine hesitancy.

I’m not free of the frustration and anger about unvaccinated people voiced by my clinician colleagues as we once again don N95 masks and goggles and other protective gear. Mustering sympathy for patients who don’t take precautions to protect their health and safeguard the well-being of others can be difficult, whether they’ve chosen not to wear masks or get vaccinated, drove drunk, or lit matches near flammable oxygen. But this challenge cuts to the heart of what it means to be a physician in a moral profession.

I recognize that “moral” is a term open to distrust and eye rolling. The premise that medicine is a moral profession might sound like a hallucination in today’s profit-driven health care climate. But medicine has a rich tradition as a moral profession based on ideals — placing patients’ interests first, using medical knowledge to benefit others, and acting in a manner that promotes societal trust — that are foreign to health care providers today or often flouted by them.

The anger I feel toward vaccine-hesitant people becomes a more complicated emotion when I witness them reckoning with their choices. Many of the unvaccinated people I’ve talked with are hard-working, loving individuals struggling to catch a break in a life that hasn’t been fair. They’re unmoored and don’t know what to believe when truth itself has supply-chain problems and the health care system has been letting them down for years.

Rich Miller, publisher of the indispensable newsletter of Illinois politics, Capitol Fax, writes for The Chicago Sun-Times about his carelessness in possibly exposing himself to COVID-19 (he turned out to be negative).

Wednesday’s Republican event on the lake was mostly confined to a large room packed with people, including some (like GOP gubernatorial candidates Darren Bailey and Gary Rabine) who have publicly said they aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19. There were no ceiling fans, the doors were closed and the air conditioner was having real trouble keeping up. It was hot and close. And nobody, of course, was wearing masks.

I didn’t stay longer than 15 or 20 minutes.

[...]

I called a close friend on my way home to say that I’d probably just made a mistake. I’m fully vaccinated, but if I was going to get one of those “breakthrough” cases, that was going to be the place.

On Friday of that week, Leader McConchie, who is also fully vaccinated, announced that he had a mild breakthrough case. I received a text message later that evening from someone else who was at the lake party at the same time as me to tell me he had been exposed to the virus. He suggested that I get tested.

I read Capitol Fax about once a week, but it should be one of my daily must-reads.

Glenn Sacks, a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District, pens an opinion piece for The Washington Post on the need for the College Board to add a current elections component to the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics exam.

Not only are elections relevant and interesting, but my students, who are seniors, are often involved in them. Some serve as poll watchers, some even vote. What could be wrong with AP Government teachers devoting class time to elections?

They're not on the AP exam.

Every minute spent on these engaging current events is a minute I should have spent explaining the difference between client politics, entrepreneurial politics, interest group politics, and majoritarian politics, between layer cake, marble cake, cooperative and competitive federalism. It’s time we should have spent reading and analyzing all of Federalist Papers 105170 and 78, and on a raft of other generally worthy but somewhat arcane topics.

Taking the time to properly cover our current elections harms my students’ ability to pass the AP exam. I can’t complain about their scores — they’ve done much better than the national average each year. But the perverse incentives built into AP Government mean I’m continually forced to choose between the best things to teach them vs. teaching to the test.

Finally today, Jeff Grabmeier writes for Phys.org about an interesting study conducted at THE Ohio State University regarding consumer behavior with “just-below” ($0.99) pricing.

In one field study, the researchers set up a coffee stand on the Ohio State campus for two days, rotating the prices regularly. About half the time, they offered a small coffee with a "just below" price of 95 cents or a larger cup upgrade for $1.20. In order to choose the upgrade option, customers had to cross that $1 round-number boundary.

Roughly every hour, they changed the price of the small cup to $1 and increased the price of the larger cup by 5 cents to $1.25.

While the larger cup was now more expensive than before, so was the smaller cup. Critically, both prices were on the same side of the $1 boundary, which the researchers predicted would make customers more likely to choose the upgrade.

How did customers respond? Well, 56 percent of them upgraded to the larger cup when they didn't have to cross the round-number boundary to upgrade ($1 to 1.25). But only 29 percent did when the smaller cup was at the just-below price of 95 cents and they had to cross the $1 threshold for the larger cup.

Everyone have a great day!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Why Barack Obama still matters

Peniel Joseph writes for CNN on why the 44th President of the United States (who turned 60 Wednesday), Barack Hussein Obama, still matters.

As he approaches 60, Obama's hair has turned grayer, he looks even thinner now than he did as commander in chief and one can see the impact of time -- and being President -- in the wrinkles and creases that appear visible on a once unlined face.
Last summer, Obama said that "Black Lives Matter" but decried efforts to "Defund the Police" as bad politics that alienated potential allies.
Yet, time out of office has radicalized the preternaturally cautious Obama into calling for an end to the filibuster, if that's what's required to preserve democracy. His characterization of the filibuster as "another Jim Crow relic" offered further proof that Obama 2.0 displays a willingness to confront America's long history of structural racism with the kind of bracing candor he rarely embraced as President.
Obama continues to serve as a Rorschach test for the American political imagination. He likely always will. The first Black president didn't so much as flip the script of American politics as write himself into it. Obama proved to be a fervent believer in American exceptionalism.

E J Montini writes for The Arizona Republic that the four Capitol Police officers who have died by suicide since (and because of) the Jan. 6 insurrection should be remembered as “casualties of war.”

The four officers who responded to the insurrection of Jan. 6 In Washington, D.C., and have since died by suicide – two announced just this week – are casualties of war.

They range in experience from nearly 20 years on the job to barely five. But when the call went out about a mob breaching the U.S. Capitol, they answered. Now they’re gone.

Officer Howie Liebengood, Officer Jeffrey Smith, Officer Gunther Hashida and Officer Kyle DeFreytag.

They will not get proper credit for being casualties of war.

But that is what they are.

And, sadly, they died as a result of a conflict with domestic – not foreign – terrorists.

Mary C. Curtis writes for Roll Call on the tendency of Republican politicians and other “tough guys and gals” to “punch down” at others.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s recent, threatening words involved actual hitting, in this case the speaker of the House and third in line for the presidency, Nancy Pelosi. At a Republican fundraiser in Nashville, Tenn., over the weekend, when presented with an oversize gavel, McCarthy said: “I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel. It will be hard not to hit her with it.” According to audio, the crowd of about 1,400 laughed.

McCarthy can almost taste the speakership, with voting restrictions in the states and new gerrymandered districts being teed up, and the Supreme Court and a Senate stalled on voting legislation helping to clear the way. He’s already referring to Pelosi as a lame duck. For him and his followers, the angry rhetoric isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s dessert, a way to rile up the base and rake in the cash.

[...]

Does he remember or care, as he’s piling on, that the rioters particularly targeted Pelosi, defiled her office and called out “Where’s Nancy?” in their best impression of Jack Nicholson’s demented howl in “The Shining”?

Jason Johnson of The Grio (and MSNBC, of course) explains why Nina Turner lost in her bid to succeed Marcia Fudge as the representative for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District.

Turner didn’t lose because of “dark money,” she lost because local voters don’t live their lives on Twitter, don’t read puff pieces in The New York Times and didn’t want the Progressive Establishment carpetbagging into town and telling people how to vote. Not to mention, Shontel Brown is actually a pretty darn good public servant.

If you could liquefy schadenfreude and inject it directly into your veins, I know a lot of Democrats who’d be high as a kite right now after Turner’s loss, but dunking on Turner or the Progressive Establishment doesn’t do anybody any good. The progressive model of success, finding a local activist or politician, training and funding them to run against an out-of-touch or do-nothing incumbent is a good model. That’s how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Joe Crowley and Jamal Bowman beat Eliot Engel in New York; it’s how Cori Bush beat William Lacy Clay in Missouri, and how Ayanna Pressley beat Michael Capuano in Massachusetts.

The Progressive Establishment model didn’t work in Ohio because Turner wasn’t an underdog and hadn’t been in the district recently but also because mainline Democrats ignore progressives at their peril. At the same time, progressives shouldn’t be calling Black voters in Ohio stupid or blaming outside money when they simply ran a candidate who had every technical advantage but couldn’t reconcile half a decade of attacking the Democratic Party with running in a heavily Democratic district.

Speaking of former Rep. Michael Capuano ... this morning, Mr. Capuano and former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas jointly penned an opinion piece for The Boston Globe about various ways in which the U.S. might be able to heal a divided nation.

Compiling interviews with public figures — Democrat, Republican, and independent — the report finds that many agree on the major issues from which our political problems stem. One is low voter turnout, especially in primary elections. When turnout is low, it increases the power of the most polarized voters, who are more likely to vote in primaries. This allows a small number of people to have a disproportionate impact on which candidate runs in the general election.

One reason voter turnout in primaries is low is the lack of attention many primary races garner. What may help draw more attention to primaries would be for each region of the country to move all their primaries to the same day. Another option would be for each state to hold its primary on the first Tuesday of the month, mimicking the presidential election. Instead of having primaries scattered over the course of several months on different days, states should coordinate with each other to develop ideas for consolidating primary dates or other changes that would draw increased attention to primaries.

Dana Rubenstein and Katie Glueck of The New York Times report that in the wake of the release of the damning investigative report detailing the repeated pattern of sexual harassment by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whatever political allies that Cuomo had continue to abandon him.

The pillars of Mr. Cuomo’s political base now appear to be cracking beneath him, as he suffers consequential defections from core constituencies, including labor, white suburban lawmakers and Black political leaders.

His only apparent hope is that, during the time it takes to draw up impeachment papers as the State Assembly advances its investigation, the reservoir of public good will he earned early in the pandemic will stifle the sentiment against him in the legislature and elsewhere.

Certainly, in interviews on Wednesday across the state, not all voters saw the report as decisive.

“He is a single man, he is a human being, so mistakes can be made,” said Melissa Edwards, 39, as she began her workout routine in Southeast Queens, suggesting that the accusations paled in comparison to those by women who “are being raped and molested by people — look at Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby.”

Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati of The Washington Post report that Infrastructure Week has brought out the lobbyists.

The organizations working to shape the package — ranging from powerful trade associations representing agricultural and energy giants to small-time firms working for cities in Alabama and Kansas — mentioned either “infrastructure” or President Biden’s initial proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan, on their lobbying disclosure forms during the most recent quarter this year, according to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks money and influence in Washington.

Those groups collectively have spent more than $426 million in their lobbying efforts, which includes trying to sway lawmakers and regulators on far more than just infrastructure, the center’s data show. The activity reflects a dramatic uptick from the same period one year ago, when more than 1,300 lobbying operations sought to target Washington on infrastructure. Their total spending on all issues over that period exceeded $291 million.

Already, these lobbyists have secured a number of victories. A push publicly and privately by conservative advocacy groups including FreedomWorks ultimately helped prompt a bipartisan group of senators to halt efforts to increase new funding for the Internal Revenue Service. Some Democrats, along with the Biden administration, had hoped to include the funding boost as a way of beefing up tax enforcement on corporations and the wealthy, and raising government revenue.

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times writes about two different “kinds” of protest.

One kind of protest is like the massive, unprecedented protests following the murder of George Floyd. They are somewhat organic reactions to an individual outrage that epitomized a pattern of outrages. They are tragedy-specific, breaking-point protests that often have policy grafted onto them after the initial outbursts by smart activists.

But what we have seen recently are different kinds of protest: organized, policy specific protests, sparked not by individual tragedy, but born of plan and strategy. They are nonviolent. Many of their participants and leaders are older. They are crowdsourced on social media and may never go viral.

These protests harken back to the Civil Rights Movement and even borrow some of its language, philosophy and tactics.

As Bishop William Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and a co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told me Wednesday about the difference in protest styles, on the one hand there are those who either “want to ride a wave or have a moment,” and then there are those who engage in protest, “direct actions,” where the act of protesting itself is the thing that “creates tension.”

Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News brings the good news that 90% of America’s seniors are now vaccinated against COVID-19.

Amid the latest surge in covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, the United States on Tuesday hit a milestone that some thought was unattainable: 90% of people 65 and older are at least partly vaccinated against the disease.

[...]

Wohl said political leanings that have skewed vaccination rates across the country have had much less of an impact on older adults. “The threat of covid-19 is so real for those 65 and over that it transcends many of the other issues that are complicating vaccination rates,” he said. “Wisdom and fear have really led to impressive immunization rates.”

The pandemic has been especially vicious to older adults. Nearly 80% of deaths have been among people age 65 and up. Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were hit hard, and many banned family members and other visitors from entering, isolating residents. Even older adults living at home often kept their distance from family and friends as they sought to avoid the coronavirus. So when vaccines became available in December, many states targeted seniors first.

That effort has proved successful, although rates vary among states. Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Vermont vaccinated more than 99% of their seniors, while West Virginia ranks last with 78%.

Stephen M. Walt of Foreign Policy has an interesting take on the positive use of utilizing “nationalism” to defeat COVID-19.

A depressing aspect of the erratic U.S. response to the pandemic is the absence of a powerful, unified, can-do, “we’re all in this together” spirit. To be sure, medical personnel, public employees, and many others have made enormous and courageous sacrifices for the common good, and many others have adjusted their behavior by wearing masks, supporting local businesses, increasing charitable contributions, and taking other steps to help the country defeat the pandemic and move on. But in sharp contrast to the broad spirit of national sacrifice that animated the U.S. response during World War II—like scrap drives, war bond campaigns, rationing, and volunteering for military service—the campaign against COVID-19 has been undermined by widespread selfishness from the start.

It began with Trump, who was more concerned with what the virus might do to his electoral prospects than he was with the well-being of the nation. It continued with the millions of people—most but not all from Make America Great Again-land—who became convinced wearing a simple cotton mask was not a rather trivial sacrifice for the good of their country and community but a dangerous infringement on their liberty. In other words, their personal comfort and egos were more important than either the health of their fellow Americans or the broad common goal of putting the pandemic behind us. And it has continued with all those against vaccinations, whose selfish refusal to be inoculated has allowed the delta variant to spread rapidly and bring the latest wave of infections.

The most despicable of all are the politicianspundits, and grifters who have sought to advance their careers by feeding their audiences patently false information and reinforcing vaccine reluctance. Even worse, such dangerous misinformation comes primarily from some of the same people who have their hair on fire about dangers from other countries and are quick to accuse Black Lives Matter protesters of being unpatriotic. They say they want to “make America great,” but their actions are prolonging the pandemic and weakening the nation relative to others. It may not be treason, but it sure ain’t patriotism.

Megan K. Stack of The New Yorker writes about the near-blackout on press coverage in Afghanistan now that the U.S. is ending their military presence in the country.

I went to Afghanistan in 2001, as a young reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and I’ve recently been talking with others who fought, documented, and studied the war. I spoke with old friends and journalism colleagues, with academics, with people in the military and retired from it. I asked everyone the same question: How will the war be remembered? And, strikingly, they all said the same thing: they don’t know, because an answer requires a coherent understanding of the war’s overarching purpose, which nobody has possessed for more than a decade. An occupation that began as an act of vengeance against the planners of September 11th and their Taliban protectors evolved into something more abstract and impossibly ambitious, a sort of wholesale rebirth of Afghanistan as a stable and thriving country. It was a project that few U.S. leaders knew how to complete, but nobody had the strength to stop. And so the United States will end the longest foreign war in its history, and few can articulate what it was for. Naturally, there is dysfunction among the propagandists.

Finally this morning, of course I am not going to migrate to the Front Page and leave my bestie The Angry Grammarian behind. This morning, he writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer on the evolution of the use of the term “woke.”

Dating back at least to a 1938 folk song by Lead Belly, woke resided in African American Vernacular English to describe “awareness of racial or social discrimination and injustice,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The term’s definition and connotations, along with its usage frequency, were steady because white American English largely ignored it. Published dictionaries didn’t include woke.

Then in the late 2000s, “I stay woke” was the catchy refrain of Erykah Badu’s 2007 song “Master Teacher.” Lead Belly didn’t have Twitter, but after #blacklivesmatter took off as a hashtag in 2014, #staywoke frequently accompanied it. [...]

In 2021, conservatives have cannily identified woke’s catchiness — and they’ve pounced.

Donald Trump never once publicly uttered the adjective woke when he lived in the White House, but he seems to have learned the word recently, calling out “woke” generals in June and saying that “woke politics” accounted for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s disappointing Olympics performance. Since the start of 2021, Republican politicians including Pat Toomey, Brian Fitzpatrick, Scott Perry, Mitch McConnell, Elise Stefanik, Mike Pompeo, Brian Kemp, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, Dan Crenshaw, Rick Scott, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Rand Paul, Matt Gaetz, and Louis Gohmert — to name a few — have all derided “woke” liberals/socialists/military/culture/mobs/banks/whatever.

Everyone have a great day!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: A political movement at the Olympic Games?

Good morning, everyone.

Karoun Demirjian, Marianna Sotomayor, and Jacqueline Alemany write for The Washington Post that the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection still needs to investigate if and how the committee can forces relevant members of Congress to testify through subpoena.

...legal experts said there is little precedent for forcing lawmakers to testify as part of a congressional inquiry if they resist a subpoena, an issue members of the Jan. 6 panel said they have yet to fully investigate or plan for as they plot out the next steps for their probe.

“I don’t know what the precedent is, to be honest,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the committee who oversaw the first impeachment trial of Trump and has one of the heftiest investigative resumes in the House. “Obviously we will have to look into all those questions.”

Members of the executive branch have often avoided or delayed for years appearing before Congress by asserting executive privilege. Members of the Jan. 6 panel are hoping that tactic will be less useful to former Trump administration officials after the Justice Department recently said it would break from tradition and not invoke that privilege with regard to inquires regarding the attack on the Capitol.

But while the steps are clear — if arduous — for compelling administration officials to testify, that’s not the case when it comes to lawmakers.

Shai Akabas of Roll Call writes with familiarity regarding the approaching urgency to extend the federal debt ceiling: Here we go again.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans won’t provide the votes necessary to further extend the debt limit, while others in his party have demanded that it be paired with equal spending reductions. Democrats insist they won’t negotiate or accept demands from the opposition but may not be able to tackle the issue along party lines. Based on history, we might expect another eleventh-hour deal in which both sides shake hands and agree to do it again next year. But with the full faith and credit of the United States on the line, waiting for one side to blink is a dangerous strategy.

In these conditions, it’s time for both parties to take the off-ramp. While the debt limit was once viewed by many as an opportunity to force action on the country’s unsustainable fiscal path, that illusion should be long dead. Since 2012, debt limit extensions have most often ridden on legislation that actually increased deficits.

As bipartisan infrastructure negotiations and Democratic spending ambitions slog on through the summer, time is of the essence to resolve the debt limit problem. In modern history, the U.S. has never defaulted on its obligations, an outcome most commonly associated with banana republics.

Paul Krugman of The New York Times walks on his “wonky side” to talk about … Keynesian Republicans?

When justifying their own plans for tax cuts, Republicans generally didn’t argue that those cuts would increase demand. Instead, they invoked supposed supply-side effects: Reduced taxes, they claimed, would increase incentives to work and invest, expanding the economy’s potential. Democrats generally ridiculed these claims.

[...]

But a funny thing has happened. Republicans are now warning that Biden’s spending plans will cause the economy to overheat, feeding inflation — which is basically a Keynesian position, although it’s being used to argue against government expenditure. I guess the confidence fairy has left the building. Or maybe G.O.P. economics is situational — Keynesian or not depending on which position can be used to argue against Democratic spending plans.

Democrats, on the other hand, are arguing that their spending plans, while partly about social justice, will also have positive supply-side effects, raising the economy’s long-run potential.

What can we say about these claims on each side?

Mike Littwin of the Colorado Sun feels no sympathy for those Republicans who willfully choose to be misinformed by the GQP and right-wing media. None.

So sympathy? Sure, I understand that many of the vaccine resisters have been manipulated by the Tucker Carlsons of the world, by the Rand Pauls of the world (did you enjoy, like me, Dr. Fauci’s most recent takedown of Paul?), by the many GOP politicians who don’t have the guts to admit to their political base that they and their families have actually been vaccinated, by social media platforms that clearly play a role (although not nearly as big a role as Biden seems to think), by the misinformation and disinformation running rampant across the country.

But misinformation, particularly when it’s opposed in so many forums with valid information, does not survive, and certainly does not thrive, without a willing audience.

So when I’m asked to be sympathetic to the 44% of Republicans who, according to a YouGov poll, believe Bill Gates wants to use the COVID vaccine to implant microchips in people so he can track them digitally, my sympathy quotient all but disappears. This isn’t about anti-vaxxers. It’s about lunacy.

Nicole Hemmer writes for CNN that women athletes at the Tokyo Olympic Games are making bold and perhaps long-lasting political statements.

The deep resistance that seems to emerge every time women athletes advocate for themselves suggests that, even as women's sports evolve, athletes still contend with a continued fear of female autonomy. They are facing a more specific version of what plagues and often prompts backlash against so many women who demand autonomy in all aspects of public life. That struggle has been especially visible at the Olympics, where patriarchal demands are wrapped in the language of nationalism and patriotism, and women athletes stand accused not only of betraying gender expectations but the nation itself.

At the women's gymnastics qualifications on Monday, the German team swapped the traditional high-cut leotards for leg-covering unitards for the team competition, a choice the country's gymnastics federation called a protest "against sexualization in gymnastics." They first debuted the uniforms at the European championships but wanted to bring their message to the world stage at the Olympics, where gymnastics is one of the most watched events. The athletes were clear about their message: They were not arguing that gymnasts should dispense with leotards, but rather wanted to remind gymnasts that they have a choice. "Every gymnast should be able to decide in which type of suit she feels most comfortable," said Elisabeth Seitz, a member of the German team, at the European championships this spring.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe writes about America’s “empathy gap,” and what constitutes a true show of strength.

On “The Sopranos,” HBO’s much-revered drama, Tony Soprano, a mob boss battling depression and panic attacks, lamented what he perceived as a lost era of stoicism. “Nowadays, everybody’s got to go to shrinks and counselors and go on ‘Sally Jessy Raphael’ and talk about their problems,” he grouses to his psychiatrist. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, the strong, silent type? That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings; he just did what he had to do.”

Tony’s primitive view of the human condition permeates this country. From childhood, we’re conditioned to walk off pain or suck up heartache. Some have compared Biles unfavorably to Kerri Strug, the 1996 Olympian who completed her vault on a broken ankle and sealed the gold medal win for the US women’s gymnastics team. Strug’s actions have long been hailed as an exemplar of American perseverance and grit. Rarely mentioned is how Strug was pressured by her coach, Bela Károlyi, to make a vault she didn’t want to make. After Biles withdrew from some Olympic competitions, Strug tweeted her support.

Strength belongs to those willing to express their fears and emotions, not those who deride someone’s pain — which is also what happened after a bipartisan House select committee hearing to investigate the deadly Capitol insurrection. In sworn testimony, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell and Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police and officers Michael Fanone and Daniel Hodges of the DC Metropolitan Police told in shattering detail what they witnessed and endured on Jan. 6. Their recollections left some legislators in tears.

Stephen Leahy, writing for The Atlantic, notes that the June heat wave in the Pacific Northwest did incalculable (and still to be determined) damage to the area’s ecosystem.

Billions of mussels, clams, oysters, barnacles, sea stars, and other intertidal species died during the late-June heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, Christopher Harley, a zoology professor at the University of British Columbia, told me last week. Yes, that’s billions, plural. What I call “extreme, extreme heat events”—because the term extreme events doesn’t quite cover the dire situation—not only kill people; they kill plants and animals. In changing our planet’s climate, we’re permanently altering the natural world that is our life-support system. And we’re seeing this happen in real time.

Harley, who is investigating the extent of the June die-off, has learned from marine scientists at various institutions that an estimated 100 million barnacles died on a 1,000-yard stretch of shore near White Rock, British Columbia. While not all sites are as bad as White Rock, large numbers of dead marine animals have been found along much of the Salish Sea shoreline, from Olympia, Washington, to Campbell River, British Columbia. The situation is so alarming that Harley said it could lead to the collapse of the region’s maritime ecosystem.

Finally today, John Feinstein writes for The Washington Post that, in spite of all the drama of the Tokyo Olympics, he is enjoying watching the athletes. 

For most competitors, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To tell your kids and grandkids that you were an Olympian — regardless of whether you bring home a medal — is a rare honor, especially in sports that don’t produce dozens of multimillionaires or household names. For archers, table-tennis players, kayakers and fencers, this is the pinnacle.

Delaying the Games in 2020 dashed the Olympic hopes of some athletes. Canceling or again postponing these Games would have ended even more dreams. Most of the athletes who didn’t get to compete in the Moscow Games in 1980, thanks to President Jimmy Carter’s boycott, or the Eastern Bloc’s boycott of Los Angeles in 1984, have never gotten over it.

And it’s not just the competitors who miss out. Dave Gavitt was supposed to coach the 1980 men’s basketball team. Olympic trials were held. Among those who made the team were Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre and Maryland’s Buck Williams. None ever got to compete in an Olympics.

Gavitt was preceded as the coach of the U.S. team by Dean Smith and succeeded by Bob Knight — both of whom led the U.S. men to gold medals. “I’d have loved to have done what Dean and Bob did,” Gavitt said in later years

Everyone have a great day!

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: One step closer, I guess

Good morning, everyone!

Last night, the United States Senate voted 67-32 to advance to debate on an infrastructure package. Tony Romm of The Washington Post has the details.

The twin developments marked an early victory for lawmakers who have struggled for years to turn their shared enthusiasm for infrastructure into actual investments in the country’s inner-workings. Several past presidents had called for robust, new public-works spending to replace old pipes and fix cracked bridges, yet only on Wednesday did the Senate actually move toward delivering on those promises.

[...]

The news sparked jubilation at the White House, where Biden this spring put forward a roughly $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan funded largely through tax increases that Republicans swiftly rejected. But the administration’s top aides ultimately proved willing to be flexible in the months that followed in how they pursued some of the president’s priorities. Asked about the deal while traveling in Pennsylvania, Biden sounded a hopeful note, telling reporters: “I feel confident about it.”

Yet the progress still threatened to prove politically fragile in a debate that is only just beginning. Lawmakers must still draft their legislation, which had not been written by Wednesday evening, and calibrate it in a way to survive the narrowly divided Senate. The absence of actual legislative text troubled some Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who said in a speech on the chamber floor he could not vote to forge ahead Wednesday because the bill is “not ready.”

Jeremy Stahl at Slate says that there is a perfectly good reason that the Select Committee investigating the 1/6 Insurrection seemed to run smoothly.

Indeed, after 3½ years of covering Democratic oversight efforts since Democrats took back control of the House majority at the start of 2019, I can honestly say that this is the first and only time I can remember witnessing a hearing into misconduct perpetrated by Trump and his minions that maintained its presence in objective reality the whole time. (While the House Intelligence Committee’s hearings during Donald Trump’s first impeachment were illuminating and powerful, they were consistently derailed by partisan nonsense.)

Instead of the usual circus, Tuesday’s hearing was four consecutive hours of clean fact-finding and emotionally constructive first-person witnessing to the horrors of Jan. 6. This was possible only because Jordan (and to a lesser extent Banks) was kept off of the panel. Jordan has previously found enormous success as an oversight arsonist on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee, and on the House Intelligence Committee during impeachment. I know Jordan would have derailed any fact-finding effort into Jan. 6 because he already announced how he would have done it had he been allowed to participate during a press conference with Republican House leadership on the Capitol steps on Tuesday.

Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post says, in large part, that Beltway journalists need to “reframe” how they cover The Beltway.

Mainstream journalists want their work to be perceived as fair-minded and nonpartisan. They want to defend themselves against charges of bias. So they equalize the unequal. This practice seems so ingrained as to be unresolvable.

There is a way out. But it requires the leadership of news organizations to radically reframe the mission of its Washington coverage. As a possible starting point, I’ll offer these recommendations:

Toss out the insidious “inside-politics” frame and replace it with a “pro-democracy” frame.

Stop calling the reporters who cover this stuff “political reporters.” Start calling them “government reporters.”

Stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it.

Stop being “savvy” and start being patriotic.

German Lopez of Vox says that the time has come for mandating the COVID-19 vaccine wherever it can be mandated in the U.S. can. 

Unvaccinated people, whether they’re apathetic or resistant, are the reason the coronavirus remains a threat in the US. The country and everyone concerned about the rising case rate should do everything in their power to push these people to get a shot.

The federal government could require vaccination for its own employees, as President Joe Biden is reportedly considering, and offer incentives, financial or otherwise, for others to do the same...

[,,.]

I’ve been talking to experts about mandating vaccines for months. Earlier this year, when I wrote about vaccine passports, many argued that mandates should only be tried as a last resort — we should try improving access and offering incentives first. Only if those options failed should we rely on the more drastic steps.

Well, we’re here. America has made the vaccines much more available to just about everyone who’s eligible. The nation has tried rewards, ranging from free beer to gift cards to a cash lottery, to nudge people to get a shot. Yet we’re stuck. Half of the US population still isn’t fully vaccinated.

It’s time to try that last resort.

Jason DeParle of The New York Times reports that there has been an astonishing drop in poverty across the board but that the historic drop may only be temporary.

The number of poor Americans is expected to fall by nearly 20 million from 2018 levels, a decline of almost 45 percent. The country has never cut poverty so much in such a short period of time, and the development is especially notable since it defies economic headwinds — the economy has nearly seven million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic.

The extraordinary reduction in poverty has come at extraordinary cost, with annual spending on major programs projected to rise fourfold to more than $1 trillion. Yet without further expensive new measures, millions of families may find the escape from poverty brief. The three programs that cut poverty most — stimulus checks, increased food stamps and expanded unemployment insurance — have ended or are scheduled to soon revert to their prepandemic size.

While poverty has fallen most among children, its retreat is remarkably broad: It has dropped among Americans who are white, Black, Latino and Asian, and among Americans of every age group and residents of every state.

Ben Brasch of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the process has begun to remove the elections chief of Fulton County.

A letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows two dozen state senators support a performance review of Fulton elections chief Richard Barron. The letter was written Tuesday, the very same day a front-page AJC story examined the prospect of a takeover of elections in Fulton, home to a tenth of all Georgians.

“We’re asking them to simply correct a record they say is easily corrected. Is it or isn’t it? The people of Georgia deserve answers,” wrote Republican Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, who signed the letter.

As written into Senate Bill 202, the State Election Board can replace a county’s election board following a performance review/audit/investigation. Then, a temporary superintendent would enjoy full managerial authority of how the county counts votes and staffs polling places.

Barron was not available for comment due to a scheduling conflict, according to a county spokesman.

A performance review begins upon request of at least two state representatives and two state senators from the county.

Lauren Michele Jackson writes for The New Yorker that she is personally “exhausted” by the ways in which some liberals have chosen to rebut conservative critics of critical race theory.

None of these summations is incorrect, exactly—in an appearance on CNN, Crenshaw herself described critical race theory in similar terms, as a rejection of the idea that “what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” And yet there is something about the homogeneity of these definitions, their recourse to coddling cliché, that makes critical race theory seem like just another version of a fluffier and more familiar three-word initialism, D.E.I.—diversity, equity, and inclusion. As with the less robust term “privilege,” the words “structural” and “systemic” are called upon with a suspiciously breezy regularity these days. Rather than carry on the edifying work that these words are meant to undertake—the project of implicating ourselves in the world that contains us—they have become a lullaby by which liberals self-soothe: it’s never you; it’s the system. Ibram X. Kendi, the best-selling author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” told Slate in a recent interview that the divide over critical race theory is based on a misunderstanding that it “seeks to attack white people” rather than “to attack structural racism.” Late last month, Twitter gathered in praise of General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for expressing an “open mind” about critical race theory before the House Armed Services Committee: “What is wrong with understanding—having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?” This expression of tolerance from the seat of power exhibits how defanged the popular apprehension of racial critique has become.

Rasha Younes of The Nation asserts that, in large part, notions of a unified “imagined community” of LGBTQ people is just that: imagined and not based in reality.

While imagined communities serve a purpose, including as a political tool, the assertion that people with a shared sexual orientation or gender identity form a relatively uniform community is depoliticizing. It risks obscuring other intersecting factors that lead to stratification even within the “LGBT community.” Clearly there are issues that affect people based on identity, such as discriminatory laws and policies. But other factors need to be considered when looking at the relative impact of discrimination—almost invariably, those on the social and economic margins are most affected.

Yet, shorthand is necessary, and “LGBT” does help in discussing access to the international human rights framework. To be granted asylum, for example, a queer or transgender person must prove that the basis for their claim is experience of violence or discrimination because of their LGBT identity.

The term “LGBT community” has activist origins signaling political solidarity. But it has also become a convenient acronym in a neoliberal economy where the “LGBT community” has come to be seen as an indispensable niche market—whether for selling rainbow flags or a political candidate. It creates a false dichotomy between “‘in” and “out” groups.

I don’t think that there are many stories that better illustrate what Ms. Younes is saying than our next and final story of this morning.

Two days ago, California-based Democratic donor Ed Buck was found guilty on all charges of a nine-count indictment involving the deaths of Gemmel Moore  and Timothy Dean. L.A.-based journalist and activist Jasmyne Cannick has worked tirelessly on the Ed Buck case for four years.

I have to remind the powers that be that LA’s homeless crisis puts men like Ed Buck’s victims in a position where they feel they have no other choice but to play Russian roulette with their life and subject their bodies to torture just to have a roof over their head–even if just for one night.

Lastly, Black parents, stop kicking out your sons and daughters for being gay or trans.  Men like Ed Buck are waiting to take advantage of them in the worst way. I can’t tell you how many men I interviewed told me that’s why they ended up where they did.

Ed Buck only got away with it for so long because he was white and because we still don’t believe Black victims–even when they tell us what happened to them.

Y’all have no idea of the number of people who were working on documentaries while we were working on getting Ed Buck arrested, tried and convicted. Most of them are white but some Black people lost their minds too.

— Jasmyne Cannick (@Jasmyne) July 29, 2021

Everyone have a good day!