Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Stunts

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

During the various debates involving gay rights over the past 15-20 years, I have been surprised to find out how little of the bigot playbook had changed over time with regard to tactics and strategies. So I cannot say now that I am all that surprised to find out this information about Blacks in the south being shipped to Hyannis, Massachusetts. Given the dates of these stories, I have to wonder whether the shipping of Black people to Massachusetts was also a dig at President John F. Kennedy.

John Cassidy of The New Yorker also wonders what DeSantis is up to with these “stunts.”

In trying to position himself as a viable conservative alternative to Donald Trump, DeSantis is using emotive issues such as immigration and abortion and school curriculums to raise his national profile as a culture warrior. His strategy reflects the makeup of today’s Republican Party. As my colleague Benjamin Wallace-Wells pointed out in a piece earlier this week, on the midterms, focussing on culture-war issues enables the G.O.P. to energize its electoral base of white voters without college degrees, and also to gloss over the growing chasm in the Party between those actively supporting Donald Trump and his Big Lie about the 2020 election, and those trying to maintain some semblance of independence. With Trump’s latest legal troubles dominating the news, and with the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade having detonated a bomb under what was left of the Republicans’ old base—affluent suburbanites—this strategy doesn’t seem to be working very well this year, but DeSantis will almost certainly run with it again in 2024.

The forty-four-year-old’s central insight, Wallace-Wells pointed out, is that the best way to unify a party of the right these days is to mercilessly attack educated progressives wherever they can be found: in politics, the media, education, business, or wherever. To DeSantis, at least, flying undocumented Venezuelans from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard fits this model neatly. In response to questions at an event in the Panhandle, he conceded that his action wasn’t really about the migrants, or the struggle of the border cities to take in larger numbers of them. It was about owning the libs. “All those people in D.C. and New York were beating their chest when Trump was President, saying they were so proud to be sanctuary jurisdictions,” he said. “The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk, and they’re so upset that this is happening. And it just shows you that their virtue signalling is a fraud.”

In addition to calling into question the legality of the transport flights, Democrats pointed out that DeSantis and his fellow G.O.P. governors are playing politics with vulnerable and defenseless migrants. “I think DeSantis and Abbott are overplaying their hands,” Cristóbal Alex, a former senior official in the Biden White House, who worked on immigration issues, told Politico. “They are using families, children as political pawns. It’s shameful—and will backfire on them.” Some senior Democrats, Joe Biden included, seemed to dial down their reaction to avoid giving DeSantis more publicity. With the polls having generally moved in their favor over recent weeks, Democrats are also wary of media attention shifting to an issue that doesn’t favor them. In a new poll from the New York Times/Siena College, fifty-one per cent of respondents said they agreed with the Republican Party on illegal immigration, compared to thirty-seven per cent who said they agreed with the Democratic Party.

Renée Graham of the Boston Globe finds Boston to be in a state of “dread and unease” because of the number of incidents involving attacks and threats by the right wing  that specifically target the Boston area.

Recent events have heightened the city’s anxiety, perhaps spurring the response at Northeastern. Boston Children’s Hospital has been inundated with threats and harassment. It established the nation’s first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in 2007, and the hospital is now being targeted with false accusations fostered by the far right on social media.

Boston Children’s does not perform genital surgery on people under age 18. But truth has never been a deterrent to hate. At least twice in the past month, the hospital has received bomb threats from unknown callers, causing the medical facility to contact authorities and go into lockdown.

Imagine how vile someone has to be to target a building filled with ailing children, concerned families, and medical professionals devoted to taking care of kids. These are the depths we’re contending with. In a statement after an August bomb scare, hospital officials said, “We remain vigilant in our efforts to battle the spread of false information about the hospital and our caregivers.” […]

Of course, the point is to intimidate and demonize. That’s also the motivation behind white supremacist groups marching on Boston’s streets. Last month, they invaded the Seaport district and targeted a drag queen story hour for children. It was the second time Patty Bourrée, a Boston drag performer, was singled out. Her July appearance in Jamaica Plain was also protested by a local neo-Nazi group, NSC-131.

Jacob Stern of The Atlantic laments that the daily deaths of hundreds of Americans due to COVID-19 is the “new normal.”

COVID deaths persist in part because we let them. America has largely decided to be done with the pandemic, even though the pandemic stubbornly refuses to be done with America. The country has lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions, and emergency pandemic funding has been drying up. For the most part, people have settled into whatever level of caution or disregard suits them. A Pew Research survey from May found that COVID did not even crack Americans’ list of the top 10 issues facing the country. Only 19 percent said that they consider it a big problem, and it’s hard to imagine that number has gone anywhere but down in the months since. COVID deaths have shifted from an emergency to the accepted collateral damage of the American way of life. Background noise.

On one level, this is appalling. To simply proclaim the pandemic over is to abandon the vulnerable communities and older people who, now more than ever, bear the brunt of its burden. Yet on an individual level, it’s hard to blame anyone for looking away, especially when, for most Americans, the risk of serious illness is lower now than it has been since early 2020. It’s hard not to look away when each day’s numbers are identically grim, when the devastation becomes metronomic. It’s hard to look each day at a number—491, 382, 494—and experience that number for what it is: the premature ending of so many individual human lives.

People grow accustomed to these daily tragedies because to not would be too painful. “We are, in a way, victims of our own success,” Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia who has written one book on the psychology of pandemics and is at work on another, told me. Our adaptability is what allowed us to weather the worst of the pandemic, and it is also what’s preventing us from fully escaping the pandemic. We can normalize anything, for better or for worse. “We’re so resilient at adapting to threats,” Taylor said, that we’ve “even habituated to this.”

Karen E. Knudsen and David Frederickson write The Hill suggesting a few best practices for President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative.

The President’s Cancer Moonshot aims to reduce the cancer death rate by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years and to improve the experience of people living with the disease. We were proud to join the Cancer Moonshot Goals Forum a few months ago, which convened a cross-section of leaders and voices in cancer research, advocacy and patient perspectives.  

This ambitious goal is within reach thanks in part to robust private and public partnerships, particularly investment in cancer research. As a result, between 1991 and 2019, U.S. cancer deaths decreased by 32 percent. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, greatly frustrated this progress. As people stopped seeking routine screenings and visiting their doctors, patients missed an estimated 9.4 million screening tests that normally would have taken place in the United States in 2020. Average weekly new cancer diagnoses plummeted by 46 percent across major cancer types, including leading killers like breast and colorectal cancers. While diagnosis and treatment rates are rising again, COVID-19 continues to disrupt progress given the potentially lethal ramifications of delays in prognosis and treatment.  

Our country’s changing demographics also present challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) project that cancer incidence rates will increase in the U.S. by almost 50 percent between 2015 and 2050 due to the growth and aging of the population. This number rises even higher among communities of color, particularly Black Americans, who have the highest death rates from cancer in the U.S., despite lower overall incidence.  

Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage writes for Foreign Affairs about the crossroads that Russian President Vladimir Putin finds himself at after the recent Ukraine “counteroffensive.”

Putin is now confronted with a set of harsh choices. He can keep Russia’s military commitment limited, maintaining current troop levels and continuing to insulate Russian society, or he can order a mass mobilization. Either option poses a serious threat to Putin’s legitimacy. In choosing the former, Putin would give up the prospect of Russian victory and run the risk of outright defeat. Already, the nationalist pro-war forces he has released have become more and more dissatisfied with the conduct of the war. They had been promised land and glory in a rapid campaign. Instead, they have received a staggering death toll for minor territorial advances, which now look increasingly precarious. Continuing the status quo could create dangerous new fissures in Putin’s regime.

Mobilization, on the other hand, would radically upset the Kremlin’s careful management of the war at home. Dramatically increasing Russia’s manpower might seem a logical choice for a country with a population that is three times the size of Ukraine’s, but the war’s popularity has depended on it being far away. Even the Russian terminology for the war, the “special military operation,” has been a hedge, an obfuscation. Despite the Kremlin’s rhetoric of “denazification,” for the Russian population the Ukraine war is entirely unlike the direct, existential struggle that Russia endured in World War II. By announcing a mobilization, the Kremlin would risk domestic opposition to a war that most Russians are unprepared to fight.[…]

Putin has damaged his regime not just by opening his military to setbacks around Kharkiv but by matching extravagant political aims in Ukraine to meager and inefficiently marshaled means. In Ukraine, any of the options now confronting Putin will have significant consequences. Whatever his next move, Europe and the United States should continue supplying the Ukrainian army with the tools it needs most to stay on the offensive. But they must also consider more far-reaching implications for a regime that might be facing growing pressure at home while it seeks new ways to inflict maximum pain on Ukraine and its allies. For Putin, desperate times will not call for reasoned measures.

Shannon Tiezzi writes for The Diplomat that in spite of Chinese President Xi’s public rhetoric in speaking with Putin last week, some things have not changed with regard to the Chinese-Russian relationship.

Much has changed since the first week of February. Most notably, Russia is actively at war with Ukraine after sending masses of troops across the border just three weeks after the Putin-Xi meeting in Beijing – and the war is going badly for Moscow. Meanwhile, Russia is under unprecedented sanctions from the U.S., European Union, Japan, Australia, and others, and China’s perceived support for Putin is taking a steep toll on Beijing’s image in Europe.

Given that, how has Xi’s rhetoric in his meetings with Putin shifted?

One thing has not changed: Xi and Putin are still positioning their countries as close partners. “In the face of changes of the world, of our times and of history, China will work with Russia to fulfill their responsibilities as major countries and play a leading role in injecting stability into a world of change and disorder,” Xi told Putin, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry readout. As my colleague Catherine Putz noted, Xi and Putin are aligned in seeking to replace the U.S.-led world order with a new, more “democratic” and “just” one. This basic interest has not changed, and there is no explicit indication of Chinese displeasure with Russia in the Chinese summary of the meeting.

That said, what is not said is instructive. Gone are the explicit mentions of Russia and China working together to reshape the current international system – cooperation on “the development of the international order and global governance towards a more just and reasonable direction,” as Xi put it in his June 15 phone call with Putin. China still undoubtedly wishes to redirect the evolution of the global order, but has decided not to trumpet that it is working with Russia to do so (at least for now).

Finally today, Benjamin Bidder and Markus Becker of Der Spiegel report that the sanctions on Russia are working albeit a little slower than may have been anticipated and specific to certain important sectors of the Russian economy.

What we do know is this: The sanctions imposed by the West in the spring have worked in two ways. For one, they are direct: Certain goods may no longer be traded, and transactions with certain banks, companies and individuals may no longer be conducted. Alongside this, there is also the psychological effect: The sanctions initially sowed panic and chaos in Russia and among Russia’s trading partners because no one could accurately assess the consequences. According to European Union estimates, around 28 percent of European exports to Russia are directly targeted by sanctions, but Russia’s imports from the EU have actually fallen by more than 50 percent.

But this “overshooting effect” loses its force over time. Many firms now see more clearly what they are still allowed to do and what they are not. The initial moral outrage in the West over companies that continue to do business in Russia has subsided. And the panic of spring has given way to a new routine. In fact, Germany’s exports to Russia have even risen slightly in recent weeks. […]

The real aim of the sanctions wasn’t to wreck the Russian economy or even bring about regime change, anyway, says James O’Brien, the sanctions coordinator for the U.S. State Department. “We simply want to limit the resources for him to carry out imperial wars, and I think that’s where we’re seeing success.”

Russia is waging an outmoded war of the kind seen in the 1970s, says O’Brien. “It has not established air superiority. It does not have an effective drone capacity, does not appear to have artificial intelligence and military grade targeting equipment.” Instead, Putin’s force has a “large supply of dumb Howitzer rounds.”

Have a good day, everyone!

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