Congress was convulsed by controversy over the incendiary behavior of a freshman Republican from Georgia. Wall Street was roiled by insurgent amateurs trading in GameStop stock to punish giant hedge funds. But in a week of extremes, the biggest underlying story — and the central challenge facing the Biden administration — was the race to save tens of thousands of lives at risk to Covid-19.
On average, more than 3,000 Americans are dying of the disease every day. If the pace of vaccinations is scaled up, the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model projects, that toll will drop to less than 1,000 by May 1. If 95% of the population wears masks, it will fall even further — to less than 500. But with more transmissible variants of Covid-19 spreading, there’s a risk the outcome will be much worse.
“The new year has brought a fresh raft of concerns in the ongoing struggle to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. “The coronavirus is mutating into new variants and some have displayed characteristics that have unsettled public health officials and the public at large.” Still, he cautioned that research on the variants is preliminary, and it’s unclear whether they make the disease deadlier and significantly reduce the vaccines’ protections.
Aside from wearing masks and social distancing, the vaccines are the best defense against the coronavirus, with two of them showing efficacy greater than 90% in clinical trials and others in the pipeline that offer more protection than influenza vaccines typically do. Yet only a small proportion of Americans are eligible to get one and many of those people haven’t been able to line up appointments.
Carmen Sutherlin, who lives in Michigan with her husband and two children, has been the lifeline for her parents in Maricopa County, Arizona. Her dad is 81 and her mom is 74. “Navigating the system proved to be a challenge,” she wrote. “I can’t imagine what seniors without someone to help them figure out the vaccine scheduling process go through; the online systems, hold times for phone calls, waking early to try to get appointments could make anyone frustrated, especially the senior community that so desperately needs to be vaccinated.”
Kendall Ciesemier was born with a rare liver disease and, in her 27 years, has had two liver transplants. Even though the US Health and Human Services Department encourages states to classify immunocompromised people like Ciesemier as a priority for vaccination in the same category as those over 65, many have not yet done so.
It is as a volunteer sexual assault and domestic crisis advocate in New York City hospitals that she qualifies for a vaccine. “I can’t help but be struck by the irony of the situation. The reason I qualify … has nothing to do with my lifelong health challenges, but rather my extracurricular status as a health care volunteer. It’s not the reason I’d die, but it’s the reason I’m seen by our government as important enough to save.”
Do you qualify for a vaccine? Or are you trying to get an appointment for one of your loved ones? We’d like to hear your stories and we’ll share as many as we can.
When the pandemic broke out a year ago, Bill and Melinda Gates closed the offices of their foundation, which has spent billions to improve health around the world, and began working from home. “For us, the days became a blur of video meetings, startling news alerts, and microwaved meals — and we are well aware of how lucky we are compared to others,” they wrote. “Over the past year, Covid-19 has killed over two million people worldwide, sickened millions more, and thrust the global economy into a devastating recession.”
Until Covid, “‘global health’ was a term that people in rich countries used to refer to the health of people in non-rich countries,” they noted. “But in 2020, a virus that had no regard for borders or geography upended lives all over the world, collapsing some of those distinctions between rich countries and poor countries.” Now there’s a greater chance people realize we’re in it together.
Trump legacy and Marjorie Taylor Greene
Even before Marjorie Taylor Greene was elected as a freshman member of Congress in November, the Republican from northwest Georgia was known for her embrace of the groundless QAnon conspiracy theory. But this week the full measure of her extreme beliefs came into focus when CNN’s KFile reported that in Facebook posts from 2018 and 2019 Greene had repeatedly shown support for executing Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
What’s even worse is that “hundreds of her congressional Republican colleagues have stayed silent about it,” wrote Elliot Williams. “The reality is that her political party has been hijacked by the conspiracy theorist fringe she represents. A vocal element of the party, with Greene as its drum major, has neutered the party’s leadership, and rendered it incapable of condemning even obvious threats to others’ safety.”
It fits with the 45 Republican senators who signaled that they would likely vote to acquit former President Donald Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, according to Williams. “If unrefuted revelations of online behavior calling for murder are not enough for a member of Congress to be asked to resign immediately, what is? Likewise, if using the power of the presidency to subvert and obstruct the certification of election results, and — if that weren’t enough — to whip up a mob that attacked the seat of American democracy, leading to a police officer’s death, isn’t disqualifying from future office, nothing is.”
SE Cupp called Greene “among Donald Trump’s worst legacies” and noted the surfacing of a video this week showing her harassing a victim of the Parkland school shooting. “Now if you thought the Republicans would self-reflect on the damage that Trump did to the country and to their own party, well, you’d be wrong,” said Cupp.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s announcement that he won’t run for reelection next year is another bad sign for the Republicans, wrote Douglas Heye, ex-deputy chief of staff to a former Republican leader, Eric Cantor. Moderate candidates like Portman risk getting squeezed out of the party by extremist figures, Heye noted. “Traditionally, parties have believed it is important to grow their base — not shrink it through loyalty tests. But as the GOP continues to go further down the road of tribalism, mistaking Trumpian tactics and controversy for long-term strategy, they risk further electoral and policy losses.”
In several states, such as Arizona and Georgia, where the GOP suffered losses in November, legislators are proposing bills to make it harder to vote in future elections, Joshua A. Douglas observed. “Republicans are using their lies about massive voter fraud in the 2020 election — which had zero evidentiary support — to propose even stricter voting laws for future elections. They must be stopped.”
Republicans are “stuck, probably irreversibly, in a doom loop of bizarro,” wrote Paul Krugman in The New York Times. “If the Trump-incited Capitol insurrection didn’t snap the party back to sanity — and it didn’t — nothing will.” Who will be the ultimate loser? “Will it be the G.O.P. as a significant political force? Or will it be America as we know it? … It depends a lot on how successful Republicans will be in suppressing votes.”
Terrorism at home
On Wednesday the Department of Homeland Security put out a bulletin warning of a “heightened threat environment” and expressing concern that the Capitol insurrection could have “emboldened” extremists. With that riot, wrote former CIA director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “America crossed a line. Few thought it was possible in the 21st century: American terrorists attacked and occupied the US Capitol and brought our democracy to a halt. We were again at war with terrorism, only this time it was homegrown.” He argued that Jan. 6 needs to be a wakeup call about the domestic terror threat, as 9/11 was about terrorism aimed at the US from abroad.
Irene Butter arrived in the US in 1945 at the age of 15, a refugee from the Holocaust. “Finally, in America, I had choices and could exercise my free will,” she wrote for CNN Opinion in connection with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Unlike the Nazi regime in Germany, where she grew up, in her new country “there were no restrictions. No yellow stars on clothing. No men with guns stopping people to see papers. Only opportunity. Now, 75 years later, I see something I never imagined: echoes of the Nazis and their regime. What happened in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, was an attempted coup of our government and an unraveling of the democracy that protects all of our rights. I saw a T-shirt with the words ‘Camp Auschwitz,’ as well as other anti-Semitic symbols and slogans used by the rioters.” Education is crucial to fight the threat. Everyone has a choice, she wrote, “to fill the world with love and hope, not hate and division.”
Donald Trump claimed that he won the election by landslide — the “Big Lie” that spawned the Capitol riot, Ruth Ben-Ghiat noted. But such overarching falsehoods will have “traction only if the public has been fed many, many smaller lies. It relies on a larger network of falsehoods told by the leader and reinforced by his government officials and compliant media.” Trump told “30,573 untruths” during his presidency, according to Glenn Kessler and the rest of the Washington Post’s fact-checking team.
In the search for a remedy for the media apparatus that enabled Trump’s lies, some writers have suggested reviving the Fairness Doctrine, a federal regulation abolished in 1987. A big mistake, argued Nicole Hemmer. “The poorly understood history of the Fairness Doctrine shows not only that reinstating it won’t fix current political media crises, but also that it won’t be the check on conservative media’s worst offenses that so many want it to be.” A better answer would be “a creative, comprehensive effort by both the private sector and the government to disincentivize conspiracies and misinformation on the many platforms on which they flourish.”
Gaming Wall Street
Like all Wall Street crazes, this will likely not end well. But for a time this week, noted Frida Ghitis, small online traders drove up the stock of the troubled retailer GameStop in a show of force. “Members of an online forum on the social media platform Reddit and Wall Street financiers, who had bet heavily on the failure of the company…clashed in what amounted to financial warfare. The online youngsters headbutted the traders, drawing financial blood in the process.”
It’s worth looking at the context, wrote Ghitis. “The forces fueling the emotions and the mechanics of the clash are not unlike what we’ve seen in other confrontations in recent months. Social media as the organizing environment; a sense of frustration against the establishment; a belief that some sort of injustice is benefitting the powerful, and a newfound source of strength, a way to attack, to inflict fear and pain on those viewed as responsible, or at least benefitting from that injustice.”
Inequality is one of the factors driving the tension, Ghitis observed. A report this week estimated that the surging stock market of the past 10 months delivered a $1.1 trillion increase in paper wealth to billionaires. John MacIntosh, a former finance executive who now runs a nonprofit, estimated that the top 1 percent of US households could each have gotten richer by about $5 million during the Trump administration. It’s time to pay the price, he wrote. “Will the Democrats among us now have the courage to wholeheartedly support …[Biden] who works hard to make us pay more taxes?“
What we owe Gillette
Gillette, Wyoming, looks “heavenly” at dawn, wrote John Sutter. “Winds rattle the sagebrush; cotton-candy skies make a dusting of snow glow in pastel hues. Later in the afternoon, though, you look to the horizon and see the Earth hemorrhaging gray dust as trucks haul coal from pits the size of suburbs.” The region produces 40% of US coal, but now is threatened by the policies of the Biden administration, which is rejoining the Paris climate accords and promising a 100% clean-power electric grid in less than 15 years.
“Moving away from coal is essential to fighting back against worsening droughts, storms and sea-level rise around the world,” Sutter wrote. But don’t forget the harm it will do to people in places like Gillette. Biden should say “workers will not be left behind. That means they should get job training, health care, wage replacement and, when possible, jobs in the new industries that are popping up to replace fossil fuels.”
For nine years — and 279 times — Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has risen on the Senate floor to warn America of the risks of climate change, noted Paul Begala. The senator is ending the streak, now that there’s a new administration promising to focus on the issue. “I just want to salute the man who, day in and day out, raised his voice to save the planet,” Begala wrote.
Harriet Tubman and racial equity
Among a flood of executive actions from Joe Biden this week were four focused on racial equity, wrote historian Peniel Joseph, who credited him for a “laser focus on racial justice,” unseen “at least since Reconstruction or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”
In an important symbolic move, he observed, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced plans to speed up the launch of $20 bills bearing the image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s. “It represents a much needed acknowledgment of the way in which racial slavery helped to create the wealth of this nation and much of the world…Biden seems to understand that this is the kind of truth America must recognize in order to create public policies that leverage justice to produce healing.” Black History Month begins Monday.
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Cicely Tyson captivated audiences in the 1970s with her performances in “Roots,” “Sounder,” and “The Autobiography of Jane Pittman.” Sherrilyn Ifill recalled seeing her “when we were at the age where girls often feel ugly, awkward, self-critical. For brown-skinned Black girls in the 70s, the African-ness of our looks left our beauty, or even our aspirations to beauty, in debate. The color of our skin, our broad noses, the texture of our hair — despite the strong ‘Black is beautiful’ moment — were not the standard of beauty presented on television where we saw ourselves only rarely in prominent roles…”
“Enter Cicely Tyson — a brilliant actress, luminous beauty, and unapologetically Black actress of such exceptional talent that she changed the game.”
Her career endured. Remarkably, Tyson starred on Broadway at the age of 88 in “The Trip to Bountiful” in 2013, winning a Tony Award. She died Thursday.
Ifill observed, “A legend has left us. But what she gave us transformed the self-image of millions of Black women and girls. She is the artistic mother of Lupita and Viola and so many of the Black actresses today who walk in the path she so blazed. Her art enriched us all and remains with us still.”