Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Living with COVID-19 | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european

The Washington Post investigative team of Emma Brown, Jon Swaine, Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, and Tom Hamburger report that a retired general met with Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows about the now infamous PowerPoint presentation on subverting the 2020 election.

Philip Waldron, the retired colonel, was working with Trump’s outside lawyers and was part of a team that briefed the lawmakers on a PowerPoint presentation detailing “Options for 6 JAN,” Waldron told The Washington Post. He said his contribution to the presentation focused on his claims of foreign interference in the vote, as did his discussions with the White House.

A version of the presentation made its way to the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on Jan. 5. That information surfaced publicly this week after the congressional committee investigating the insurrection released a letter that said Meadows had turned the document over to the committee.

“The presentation was that there was significant foreign interference in the election, here’s the proof,” Waldron said. “These are constitutional, legal, feasible, acceptable and suitable courses of action.”

The PowerPoint circulated by Waldron included proposals for Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6 to reject electors from “states where fraud occurred” or replace them with Republican electors. It included a third proposal in which the certification of Joe Biden’s victory was to be delayed, and U.S. marshals and National Guard troops were to help “secure” and count paper ballots in key states.

EJ Montini of the Arizona Republic notes the irony of Trump acolytes who are willing to subvert the U.S. Constitution to achieve their ends, yet also hide behind the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.

Trump supporters and members of Trump’s inner circle are actively proclaiming their love and appreciation for the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that protects individuals from having to testify if they believe what they have to say might incriminate them.

It’s a shame that many of them didn’t show the same love and appreciation for the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, or the other 17 amendments to the Constitution, or the original seven articles, or the lovely preamble.

But, that is the irony of the Jan. 6 insurrection, something that those caught up in their alleged participation either won’t admit or, even sadder, don’t even recognize. It’s coming out more and more as the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 issues more subpoenas to potential witnesses.

We live in a country where those suspected of attempting to destroy our Constitution have the ability to seek – and receive – the protections afforded there.

This is why America is great.

Yasmeen Serhan of The Atlantic, writing about the Summit on Democracy, says that “domestic actors and movements” play far more of a key role in maintaining democracies than foreign diplomacy.

Irrespective of which countries are involved in the summit or how highly they rank on the democratic scale, preventing and reversing global democratic erosion will not be easy for diplomacy to tackle on its own. Democratization is a process that usually takes place within countries, not among them. Some of the gravest threats to democracy are internal: distrust, polarization, voter suppression, and partisan institutions. Diplomatic pressure can encourage and promote more democratic practices, but it is not what drives democracy forward.

Domestic actors and movements play the biggest role in defending—or destroying—democracy. And for good reason: The foundations of healthy democracies, including voting access and civil liberties, are largely domestic matters. Poor access to public services, rising inequality, and declining material prosperity can also lead to democratic decline, experts have warned. “Direct players,” including the political establishment, civil society, the press, and the private sector, are most responsible for protecting democracy, according to the Brookings Institution’s Democracy Playbook, a set of 10 recommendations the think tank updated this week ahead of the summit. Foreign governments’ and international institutions’ role in promoting democracy is largely limited to supporting civil society and, where applicable, making financial aid and trade contingent on democratic outcomes. Although diplomacy can complement domestic efforts, it’s not a sufficient replacement for “a powerful and genuinely domestic movement to hold public figures and institutions accountable to democratic rules and principles,” the Brookings report notes.

Diplomacy is “a critical ingredient in the mix of tools that can have a beneficial effect,” Norman Eisen, the former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic and a co-author of the Brookings report, told me. But ultimately, “the fight against illiberalism, the battle for democracy, has to be led and won by the people and the political leaders of a nation.”

Moving back to the pandemic, on Friday evening I waved to a masked neighbor that he could share an elevator ride with me.

The neighbor remarked that some people were “funny” about riding elevators with others. I said that was understandable, given that no one wants to catch COVID-19. My neighbor replied that there really is no danger in catching and dying of COVID-19 “as long as you are healthy.”

Leaving aside a lot of assumptions implied by my neighbor’s statement (especially about how “healthy” people can appear to be), millions of people that contracted COVID-19 and are even now living with the aftereffects of the virus are not living “well.”

And let’s not forget the stress and the strain on the family, friends, and loved ones who may have to live with someone who has contracted COVID-19, or are a survivor of someone who died from it.

Christopher Rowland of The Washington Post writes about the strain that those living with “long COVID” will continue to place on government safety nets, health care, and employers.

Across America, many of the nearly 50 million people infected with the coronavirus continue to suffer from some persistent symptoms, with a smaller subset experiencing such unbearable fatigue and other maladies that they can’t work, forcing them to drop out of the workforce, abandon careers and rack up huge debts.

Hard data is not available and estimates vary widely, but based on published studies and their own experience treating patients, several medical specialists said 750,000 to 1.3 million patients likely remain so sick for extended periods that they can’t return to the workforce full time.

Long covid is testing not just the medical system, but also government safety nets that are not well suited to identifying and supporting people with a newly emerging chronic disease that has no established diagnostic or treatment plan. Insurers are denying coverage for some tests, the public disability system is hesitant to approve many claims, and even people with long-term disability insurance say they are struggling to get benefits.

Employers are also being tested, as they must balance their desire to get workers back on the job full time with the realities of a slow recovery for many patients.

Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of The Los Angeles Times writes about the present and future ramifications of the rate at which younger Latinos in California are dying of COVID-19.

In California, younger Latinos are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates than their white and Asian counterparts. Younger Black people also are dying at high rates, but the disparity is starkest for Latinos.

As more people get vaccinated, pandemic restrictions lift and the economy rebounds, the families of the young Latinos who died will feel the loss for decades to come — not just the grief but the long-term financial hardships.

It will be harder for their children to get an education and achieve upward mobility, potentially widening the class divide in the coming decades.

In California, Latinos ages 20 to 54 have died from COVID-19 at a rate more than eight times higher than white people in the same age group, according to a study by USC’s Department of Preventive Medicine.


“Latinos are getting hit from all angles,” said Christina Ramirez, professor of biostatistics at UCLA. “This is going to be felt for generations to come.”

Dylan Scott of Vox notes that with the emergence of the Omicron variant, millions of Americans who have only received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are at a much greater risk.

There appear to be millions of Americans walking around who have received a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, who may think they are protected against whatever the virus can throw at them — and who could be sorely wrong.

“I’m not sure we should regard them as equivalent to unvaccinated people,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, told me. “But they are at higher risk than fully vaccinated and boosted people.”

That was the early consensus among the experts I consulted, and the preliminary data shows, as expected, low effectiveness against omicron after one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The effectiveness against omicron also declines over time after two doses but is restored to high levels (76 percent efficacy against infection) after a third dose. This was a fairly small study out of the UK, and more data will be forthcoming, but it gives an initial picture of how the vaccines are holding up against the new variant.

People who have received only one dose of a vaccine could conceivably be almost as vulnerable to infection from omicron as the unvaccinated. They may still have some level of protection against severe illness because of the multiple layers of immunity induced by the vaccines. But it’s an open question at this point — and may soon become an urgent one for the Americans who fall into this camp.

Inspired in part by this week’s announcement of a Senate run by certain TV doctor known for pushing pricey weight loss “miracles” upon his viewers, Tressie McMillian Cottom writes for The New York Times about the social costs of tolerating scams and those who participate in them.

In our exploration of scams, this is the definition I will be drawing on: A scam is a strategy or arrangement intentionally designed to benefit a few participants by obscuring the risk or cost for other participants.

Some scam artists often do this by making a fundamental claim about what they’re trying to sell you on (something like “There is an endless supply of new customers”) that implies a natural truth that cannot be violated. In “The Dream,” a podcast about multilevel marketing that I listened to, as promised, one of the co-hosts, Jane Marie, says that in multilevel marketing and pyramid schemes, this claim is called the endless chain — you can never run out of recruits. It is a truth claim that cannot be supported and that someone in the scheme knows to be false. It is a norm violation. And when we realize that this norm has been violated, it makes us feel tainted and maybe a little angry. Every scam plants a small seed of social distrust. That brings me to the reason it is important that we talk about scams now.

So much of everyday life seems rigged against us. That is reflected in studies, like a 2018 Pew Research survey of Americans and social trust, that support the claim that we just do not trust our institutions or one another. There are the big things, like the outsize role that money and influence play in electoral politics. When I do fieldwork at public political events, I hear over and over again from people across the ideological spectrum just how unheard they feel. How is it possible that an elected representative can get away with meeting with lobbyists but rarely, if ever, talking to his or her constituents?

Kendra Pierre-Louis, writing for Nieman Journalism Lab, predicts a dark future for the field in 2022.

There will be allegedly neutral articles that drip with derision at the idea that the government has a responsibility to the wellbeing of its citizens. This concept will remain beneath those who see the role of journalism as being above it all. The public will continue to be told to care about Biden’s Peloton and that Harris eschews Bluetooth headphones in slanted stories that paint real security risks as phobias. Meanwhile, stories on policies that actually affect people’s lives will be told in sweeping terms that are difficult to parse. As a result, citizens will feel a certain way about elected officials unrelated to those officials’ actions.

I know that things will continue this way because I’ve spent the past year and a half — as has almost every reporter I know who covers climate — looking, with rising despair, at the way many national media organizations handled Covid-19 reporting.

Here was a massive problem — a global problem — with visible cause and effect. But at every turn, much of the national media chose to sensationalize when they should have been a mollifying voice, to muddy the waters instead of clarifying. They chose to center calls to “open up” — some the result of coordinated astroturf campaigns — even as the vast majority of people in the United States wanted things to remain closed. If we can’t give clear, accurate messages about something as transparent as an infectious disease, what hope do we have for the complexity of climate change?

Parker Malloy, also for Nieman Journalism Lab, offers her own predictions about the complicity of journalism in subverting democratic norms, from something of a different angle.

Trump himself isn’t the threat, as his ability to return to power will hinge entirely on the actions of congressional Republicans and election officials around the country. If the Republican Party was willing and able to take a stand in favor of our democracy, they would — but they aren’t. They’re all in on it. Even the rare Republicans who “stand up” to the more anti-democratic segment of the party (Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger) still either won’t help fight the attacks on democracy (Cheney and Kinzinger both voted against election reform bills proposed by Democrats) or will quietly continue the attacks themselves (Raffensperger supported the passage of Georgia’s new voting-restriction law earlier this year).

When I was asked for my 2021 predictions, I wrote that the press would risk elevating a Shadow President Trump, treating him as a leader in temporary exile — and I was right. With that in mind, I take no pleasure in offering my next prediction: 2022 will be the year that journalists either change everything about how they cover politics…or it will be the year they enable a party dead set on obliterating whatever guardrails are left between the representative democracy that the U.S. is supposed to be and the minority-rule competitive authoritarian government they have been trying to build for decades.

I want to believe that journalists and their employers will heed the alarms being sounded by experts around the world and break from the “both sides” narratives that have emboldened the increasingly radicalized Republican Party. I want to believe that they will stop viewing anger from both the left and the right as a sign that they must be doing their jobs right. I want to believe that they will take necessary care to ensure that the public understands what it means for democracy if Republicans retake power at a national level in 2022 or 2024. I want to believe all of this, but I can’t.

Jan Puhl and Walter Mayr write for Der Spiegel on the evolution of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, from an “anti-communist” crusader to a “populist” autocrat.

Today, three decades later, the lanky provocateur of yesteryear is hardly recognizable, and not just on the outside. As a long-time prime minister and the eloquent leader of the ruling Fidesz party, Orbán is challenging the legal and moral norms of the European Union. After the fall of communism in 1989, he said that Hungarians and other Europeans believed “that Europe is our future.” But that is no longer the case. “Now, we feel that we are the future of Europe.” Anyone looking for a symbol of the failure of Western elites, he says, need only look to Brussels: to the European Commission.

Patience with Orbán within the European Commission, the EU’s executive, and within the European Parliament appears to be running out. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is holding back the disbursement to Budapest of the first tranche of a total of 7.2 billion euros from the EU’s coronavirus reconstruction fund. Last week, the Commission sent what is known as a “blue letter” to Hungary accusing the Orbán system of being plagued by nepotism and of having a weak and biased judiciary. Budapest could soon lose out on billions in EU subsidies.


Of all countries, why did one that played a significant role in the rapprochement between East and West in the late 1980s take the path toward autocracy? And how did Hungary go from being a model pupil in Europe to a pariah? How can it be that Viktor Orbán, the intrepid anti-communist of 1989, is winning over a majority of voters as a populist firebrand decades later?

Finally today, I end this APR on a sad note with author Christopher Rice’s announcement of the passing of his mother, Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles (i.e. Interview With the Vampire) and so many other books.


Everyone have a great day!

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