• July 29, 2021

Exclusive: COVID-19 disinformation, dodges, and data

 Exclusive: COVID-19 disinformation, dodges, and data

Good morning everyone! In case you missed yesterday’s announcement, welcome to my very first Front Page Abbreviated Pundit Roundup!

So…come along and ride on a fantastic voyage into Pundit-land!

Paul Krugman of The New York Times lists some of the reasons why big government spending policy is being increasingly embraced.

First, Covid-19, and the extraordinary policy measures America took to limit economic hardship during the economy’s induced coma, had a lasting impact on economic ideology. Large-scale disaster relief was obviously necessary; even Republicans voted for it. But the positive role played by the government during the pandemic helped legitimize an active role for government in general.

Second, the legend of Reaganomics has become unsustainable. It used to be common for conservatives to assert that Reagan’s tax cuts and deregulation ushered in an era of unprecedented economic success; in fact, I still hear that sometimes.

But these days the response to such claims is, “Do you even FRED, bro?” That is, have you even looked at the numbers available in places like the wonderfully usable Federal Reserve Economic Data site? Overall economic growth has been slower since 1980 than it was in the decades before; thanks to rising inequality, growth for the typical family has been much slower. Real wages for most workers have stagnated.

Joan Donovan and Jennifer Nielsen, writing for NBC News, say that social media disinformation should be treated just like the surgeon general treated smoking in the 1970s.

The historical precedent for the surgeon general as an advocate for product regulation dates to the 1970s, when grassroots activists and independent scientists linked smoking to poor indoor air quality and physical harm. In 1986, the then-surgeon general and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued two critical reports that profoundly shifted how policymakers and the public viewed tobacco consumption.

Instead of treating smoking as a consumer choice, the government reports documented the harms caused by “secondhand smoke” and provided scientific proof that the disease in nonsmokers was caused by proximity to these products. The surgeon general’s report spurred changes to the design of tobacco products and laid the groundwork for federal and state taxes on nicotine products to pay for smoking cessation programs.

For social media companies, misinformation is like secondhand smoke, spreading falsehoods to millions before the truth can be known. It causes harm to the public’s health by contributing to vaccine hesitancy and sometimes prompting life-and-death decisions based on lies.

Lisa Lerer of The New York Times writes about (recent) past and present vaccine opposition within the Republican Party.

A wave of opposition to Covid vaccines has risen within the Republican Party, as conservative news outlets produce a steady diet of misinformation about vaccines and some G.O.P. lawmakers invite anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists to testify in statehouses and Congress. With very little resistance from party leaders, these Republican efforts have elevated falsehoods and doubts about vaccinations from the fringes of American life to the center of our political conversation.

It’s a pattern that was seen throughout the Trump administration: Rather than rebuke conspiratorial thinking and inaccuracies when they begin spreading among their party’s base, many Republicans tolerate extremist misinformation.

Some conservatives promulgate the falsehoods as a way to rally their political base, embracing ideas like a stolen election, rampant voter fraud and revisionist history about the deadly siege at the Capitol. Many others say very little at all, preferring to dodge questions from the news media.

Those who do speak up remain reluctant to specifically name colleagues who have given voice to misinformation, or to call out media personalities who have done so, like Tucker Carlson of Fox News.

Amanda Holpich reports for The Guardian that there continues to be a severe lack of race and ethnicity data as it relates to COVID-19 statistics.

The Cares Act requires people administering Covid-19 tests to collect data on race, but the federal rule is not enforced. As of 14 July, race and ethnicity data was not known for 40% of US Covid-19 cases, according to the CDC. Nationwide, race and ethnicity data was missing for 32% of fully vaccinated people as of 14 July, according to the CDC.

In California, a national leader in promoting health equity, race and ethnicity data is missing from a standard it uses to set benchmarks for reopening. California reserved 40% of its vaccine supply for census tracts in the lowest quartile of this standard, known as the Healthy Places Index (HPI).

The HPI brings together data on 25 factors such as income and education to show which areas are most socially and economically vulnerable during the pandemic. But race and ethnicity data are separated from the combined factors in a “complementary” data set, a legacy of the state ban on affirmative action.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer proposes that, perhaps progressives should lean more into innovative approaches to public safety issues.

And yet, as many conservatives and mainstream-media contrarian types have been so quick to point out, rising murder rates — occurring right now in most American big cities — haven’t been a front-burner for the political left in 2021. Indeed, there’s been a habit, at least on social media, of tsk-tsking the problem by pointing to “if it bleeds, it leads” media sensationalism (a real thing) or noting that overall crime rates, including the violent crime category, haven’t really spiked and remain near historical lows. This seems prompted by fears that making urban gun violence a top-tier issue will both hurt the movement against social injustices like police brutality and mass incarceration, and also distract from other issues on the progressive to-do list.

On the same day that doctors were treating those life-altering wounds to four Philadelphia teenagers, progressives were hailing the first payments under the ambitious, up-to-$300-per-child-per-month tax credit enacted by President Biden and the Democrats in Congress. It’s a huge political and social breakthrough, but that investment is worthless for a child who won’t live to be 18, and it’s hard for any kid to reach their full potential growing up in fear of the next fusillade. People on the left want a world in which human rights are respected and everyone has a shot at happiness — so is there a more progressive cause than curbing gun violence?

Instead of shying away from the homicide conversation, I’d love to see the left take ownership of it. That means a) making sure people know the facts about crime in America and b) taking the lead on pushing solutions that will bring real public safety to urban neighborhoods, rather than ducking, and allowing conservatives to repeat the insanity of the same over-policing and mass-incarceration regimes that have failed us for so long.

In other words, being far more specific than simply sloganeering “defund the police” as a matter of practice.

Patricia Murphy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on some of the ways that Macon-Bibb County, Georgia is answering the call of its citizens to improve public safety.

While most mayors and city commissions struggle to find money to cover the bare minimum, Macon-Bibb County is slated to receive $75 million from the American Rescue Plan, the $1,9 trillion stimulus bill Democrats passed through Congress earlier this year.

It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do more than the bare minimum. Much more. On Tuesday night, Miller and the commission decided to focus nearly all of the first $18 million on crime or improving neighborhoods where crime is most pervasive.

First, they voted to make the temporary homeless shelter permanent. They also funded a $2 million violence prevention program, allocated $5 million to clear out some of the city’s 2,000 blighted properties, and additional money to attract grocery stores with fresh produce back to low-income neighborhoods to act as anchor businesses.

Elie Mystal of The Nation writes about what he considers to be Black folks’ “greatest generation.”

White Americans my age are one step removed from their “Greatest Generation.” It was their grandparents who went to Europe to fight the Nazis and then returned and settled right back into the apartheid system that was well-established here. The Black civil rights generation, our greatest generation, fought those forces of fascism and white supremacy here, on the home front, several years later, and in so doing forced America to live up to its empty promises of freedom and equality for all.

Thanks to their efforts, my generation was born into more opportunity than any generation of Black folks in the history of the New World. We haven’t squandered it. My Black generation has enjoyed unprecedented social and cultural influence. Some of us have achieved wild economic success. We even got to see the very first Black president. If you start the clock in April 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball, you’ll see that Black Americans have accomplished one of the most successful nonviolent political and social revolutions in human history.

But my generation has not been the cause of those victories, merely the beneficiaries of our parents’ and grandparents’ successes. Even Barack Obama understood that. When he met Ruby Bridges, the woman who, at the age of 6, integrated the first elementary school in Louisiana, Obama said, “I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here today.”


Bridges’s generation made Obama possible. My generation has lived to see white people try to erase those gains.

Jelani M. Flowers writes for The Conversation about the place where some of that “Greatest Black Generation” (e.g. Rosa Parks, Septima Clark, Diane Nash) attended workshops and even taught: The Highland Research and Education Center.

Highlander was the brainchild of Myles Horton, a white Southerner who grew up under the crushing weight of poverty in rural Tennessee in the early 20th century. As his parents scratched out a living doing odd jobs, Horton grew increasingly bitter regarding the social and economic system that produced such stark contrasts between the privileged few and the struggling masses. He also became an avid reader.

During the Great Depression, Horton went to graduate school at Union Theological Seminary in New York and the University of Chicago.

There, he was mentored by John Dewey, a philosopher who believed in the need for education aimed at “correcting unfair privilege and unfair deprivation.” American social movements at that time, when the nation’s economic and racial divisions were becoming deeper, were intensifying their critiques concerning the wealth gap and the color line that violently threatened and undermined the lives of millions of African Americans.

Subsequently, Horton founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. Nestled in the tiny backwoods town of Monteagle, Tennessee, it aimed “to educate rural and industrial leaders for a new social order.”

As Britney Spears continues to fight for autonomy, The Boston Globe’s Kimberly Atkins Stohr takes a brief look at how conservatorship law works.

Roughly 1.3 million American adults are under such court-ordered arrangements, which control more than $50 billion in assets. Such orders can be useful tools to help Americans who have physical, mental health, or medical disabilities that make it impossible for them to care for themselves or look after their own affairs. They are governed by state law, with no real federal framework, meaning that the rules governing them — including how someone under conservatorship can seek to end it — vary across the country.

Some legal experts were quick to seize on Spears’ case as an example of, among other things, sexism.

“The idea that it’s news that a grown woman is allowed to choose her own lawyer is absolutely shocking,” attorney Nancy Smith said in an MSNBC interview.

But look at it another way: If a rich, world-famous white woman can find herself in this situation, what about the vast majority of other Americans who don’t have nearly that amount of privilege?

An eight-person reporting team of Der Spiegel speculates on the political ramifications that the flooding that is ravaging Germany could have, as it pertains to the September elections.

It will take a few weeks before we know what was right and what was wrong, what had an effect and what didn’t. In any case, the consequences of the mass flooding on Thursday in Germany will reverberate for some time to come.

So, far the campaign running into the September election for Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, which will also determine who becomes Angela Merkel’s successor as chancellor, has been characterized by a disturbing imbalance. The issues at stake could hardly be greater: Most importantly, the climate crisis – and the question of how humanity can keep the planet habitable – demands answers. Instead, the debate has focused on the resumé of the Green Party candidate and passages in a book she wrote that appear to have been copied. And the fact that the CDU dressed up female employees at their party headquarters as policewomen or nurses and printed photos of them on posters. So far, the campaign has been petty and lacked the gravitas of an election of this importance.

That phase may now be over. Anyone who wants to continue discussing book chapters and resumés after the images of the flooded Ahr valley, after dozens of dead, missing and destroyed lives, after the images from a German disaster area, will have to ask him or herself whether they have lost their mind. The campaign is being reshuffled with the kind of force that only forces of nature can create.

Melissa Conley Tyler of The Diplomat covers a wide range of topics regarding trade, security, and diplomatic issues with Taiwan.

On the security side, there are demands to help Taiwan build a next generation military, including consistent arms sales (of the right type and at a cost that Taiwan can afford), covert or overt military exchanges, and even joint military exercises. And among some there is an expectation that the United States will help Taiwan improve its defense effectiveness, even push for reform in Taiwan’s military.

On the diplomatic side, there will continue to be a desire for high-level contact to normalize the relationship and support for Taiwan’s international participation, such as in the World Health Assembly. One specific test will be Biden’s Summit for Democracy, a campaign promise, which looks like it may be held in 2022. Finding a way to include Taiwan – one of only seven societies in Asia rated as free by Freedom House – is crucial. This means that it cannot just be a summit of states.

 The wider issue is how the United States will respond to Chinese pushback whenever and however it occurs. China has continued to ramp up pressure on Taiwan with incremental increases, such as a record incursion of Chinese planes into Taiwan’s air defense zone following the G-7 Summit. The question is whether there will be a change in the type of pressure, rather than in intensity. If China does change tactics, how will the United States respond?

Everyone have a good morning!

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