Posted: April 28, 2022 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: Anthony Fauci, climate change and viruses, coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, fasciism, nuclear weapons, Ron DeSantis, Victor Orban, Vladimir Putin, White House Correspondents' Dinner
Boulders with Meconopsos and Rhododendrons, Amanda Richardson
For years now, it’s been difficult for me to shake the feeling that I’m living in a dystopian novel. We lived through 4 years under an insane “president” who tried to destroy the post-WWII alliances that have prevented another world war. He also ignored and exacerbated a global pandemic that has now killed close to a million Americans.
I had hoped that when Trump was defeated, he would go away and leave us alone; but instead he is still spreading his poisonous lies– and the Republican Party is still kowtowing to him. Even worse, powerful Republicans like Governors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are building on Trump’s legacy by enabling fascist policies in their states.
Unfortunately, despite popular opinion, the pandemic is not over, we’re not dealing effectively with climate change, and we are once more living under a threat of nuclear destruction.
The Washington Post: U.S. no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Fauci says.
The United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” that has led to nearly 1 million deaths from covid-19 and more than two years of suffering and hardship, Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Wednesday.
“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told The Washington Post.
Fauci’s comments came a day after he told PBS’s “NewsHour” that he believed the country is “out of the pandemic phase,” and he expanded on, and clarified, that view Wednesday, making clear that the pandemic is not over and the United States could still see new waves of infections as the virus continues to mutate and spin off highly transmissible variants. But Fauci and other infectious-disease experts are hoping that the population has built up enough immunity from previous infections and vaccinations to avoid another devastating surge in hospitalizations and deaths.
“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” Fauci said.
Huh? We’re out of the “pandemic phase,” but the pandemic is not over?
Camille Monet and child in the artist’s garden in Argenteuil, 1875 Claude Monet
His comments follow a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that roughly 3 in 5 people in the United States have already been infected by the coronavirus. About 1 in 4 people had a first-time infection during the winter wave caused by the omicron variant.
These startling numbers suggest the country has a much higher level of collective immunity than it did before omicron. What is far less clear is how long that immunity will persist, and to what extent it could be evaded by new coronavirus variants.
The omicron subvariant BA.2.12.1 is the latest version to seize the attention of public health experts. It is rapidly gaining traction, and CDC estimated Tuesday that it accounted for about 30 percent of new infections. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said preliminary estimates suggest it is about 25 percent more transmissible than the omicron subvariant BA.2, itself more transmissible than the original omicron strain.
There’s also the problem that we are not testing as much these days; and many people are self-testing at home, so the results are not being reported. Meanwhile, Fauci is concerned enough that he is not going to attend the next possible DC super spreader event:
Fauci, meanwhile, has decided against going to the swank White House Correspondents’ Association dinner Saturday, which Biden reportedly plans to attend. Fauci this month attended the Gridiron dinner, at which scores of people became infected. On Wednesday, he declined to discuss his reasoning for skipping what’s often referred to as the “nerd prom,” saying simply, “It’s just my personal choice.
The WH correspondents organization has made a disturbing decision about their event. The Washington Post: A fight over coronavirus safety at journalists’ gala event.
More than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and politicians, including President Biden, are set to descend on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this weekend in what is shaping up to be a major test of whether large gatherings can be safely held at this stage of the pandemic.
Organizers say they are committed to holding an event that significantly reduces the risk of coronavirus infections, pointing to vaccine and testing requirements that were strengthened after a dinner hosted by Washington’s Gridiron Club this month was linked to at least 85 infections that sickened Cabinet members, reporters and other guests.
The Way Home, Peder Monsted, Danish painter
Yet some White House officials and experts worry that those measures are insufficient and that this weekend’s events may become another high-profile superspreader event, said three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. Behind the scenes, one prominent coronavirus expert is scrapping with party organizers hesitant to install devices that disinfect the air using ultraviolet light because of concerns the devices might interfere with the program.
Don Milton, a University of Maryland environmental scientist who has advised the White House and others on airborne transmission, said his offer to have a company install the devicesat no charge was rebuffed by both the correspondents’ association and the Washington Hilton, which is hosting the event. “I enlisted a team of scientists and germicidal UV lighting companies to provide, as a demonstration project at no cost, a temporary installation to help protect the White House correspondents’ dinner,” Milton said. “Unfortunately, it has not worked out.”
In an interview, Steve Portnoy, a CBS News reporter who serves as the WHCA’s president,said the association had put safety protocols in place and Milton’s offer came too late.
“We’re interested in learning more about this technology,” Portnoy said. “We just aren’t in a position, with less than a week to go, to more fully understand the benefits or potential risks of what appears to be an experimental technology.”
What about the “potential risks” of the president getting Covid?
The New York Times: Climate Change Will Accelerate Viral Spillovers, Study Finds.
Over the next 50 years, climate change will drive thousands of viruses to jump from one species of mammal to another, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. The shuffling of viruses among animals may increase the risk that one will jump into humans and cause a new pandemic, the researchers said.
Scientists have long warned that a warming planet may increase the burden of diseases. Malaria, for example, is expected to spread as the mosquitoes that carry it expand their range into warming regions. But climate change might also usher in entirely new diseases, by allowing pathogens to move into new host species.
“We know that species are moving, and when they do, they’re going to have these chances to share viruses,” said Colin Carlson, a biologist at Georgetown University and a co-author of the new study.
To understand what that sharing will look like, Dr. Carlson and his colleagues built a computer model of potential spillovers in a warming world. The researchers started by projecting how thousands of mammals might shift their ranges as the climate changes between now and 2070.
As temperatures increase, many species are expected to spread away from the blazing Equator to find more comfortable habitats. Others may move up the sides of hills and mountains to find cooler altitudes. When different species come into contact for the first time, the viruses may be able to infect new hosts.
Wind from the sea, Andrew Wyeth, 1947
To understand the odds of a successful new infection, the researchers began by building a database of viruses and their mammalian hosts. Some viruses have been found in more than one species of mammal, which means that they must have jumped the species barrier at some point in the past.
Using a computational technique called machine learning, the researchers developed a model that could predict whether two host species share a virus.
The more that two species overlap geographically, the researchers found, the more likely they were to share a virus. That’s because the hosts were more likely to encounter each other, giving their viruses more opportunities to move between them.
Read the rest at the NYT.
Zach Beauchamp at Vox: Ron DeSantis is Viktor Orbán’s true American disciple.
In June of last year, Hungary’s far-right government passed a law cracking down on LGBTQ rights, including a provision prohibiting instruction on LGBTQ topics in sex education classes.
About nine months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill banning “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” up through third grade. According to some knowledgeable observers on the right, these two bills were closely connected.
“About the Don’t Say Gay law, it was in fact modeled in part on what Hungary did last summer,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative magazine, said during a panel interview in Budapest. “I was told this by a conservative reporter who … said he talked to the press secretary of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and she said, ‘Oh yeah, we were watching the Hungarians, so yay Hungary.’” [….]
It’s easy to see the connections between the bills — in both provisions and justifications. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described his country’s anti-LGBTQ law as an effort to prevent gay people from preying on children; Pushaw described Florida’s law as an “anti-grooming bill” on Twitter, adding that “if you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer” — meaning a person preparing children to become targets of sexual abuse, a slur targeting LGBTQ people and their supporters that’s becoming increasingly common on the right.
Oak Grove, 1887, Ivan Shishkin
This is not a one-off example. DeSantis, who has built a profile as a pugilistic culture warrior with eyes on the presidency, has steadily put together a policy agenda with strong echoes of Orbán’s governing ethos — one in which an allegedly existential cultural threat from the left justifies aggressive uses of state power against the right’s enemies.
Most recently, there was DeSantis’s crackdown on Disney’s special tax exemption; using regulatory powers to punish opposing political speech is one of Orbán’s signature moves. On issues ranging from higher education to social media to gerrymandering, DeSantis has followed a trail blazed by Orbán, turning policy into a tool for targeting outgroups while entrenching his party’s hold on power….
DeSantis’s agenda in Florida is evidence that the Republican shift in this direction is continuing, maybe even accelerating. He has shown little interest in moderation or consensus-building instead centering his governing philosophy on using policy to own the libs. While Trump may have been an ideological catalyst for the GOP’s authoritarian lurch, DeSantis is showing how it could actually be implemented in practice. The consequences for democracy in Florida, and America in general, could be dire.
There’s much more at the Vox link.
Financial Times: The return of the 20th century’s nuclear shadow.
Vladimir Putin’s willingness to threaten nuclear weapons is in one respect a good sign: it means Russia is probably losing in Ukraine. It is also a potentially catastrophic one. If Putin’s aim is to scare the west, he is failing. Nato keeps stepping up its supplies to Ukraine. The question is what he would do if he thought Russian defeat was inescapable. Putin keeps implying he knows exactly what steps he would take. Is he bluffing? It is plausible even he does not know the answer.
Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. Putin has broken a post-Cuba taboo on threatening to go nuclear. That, in itself, puts us in new territory. Without most people being aware of it, the world is entering its most dangerous period since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The majority under the age of 50 have grown up thinking the nuclear spectre is a relic of the last century. In the past few weeks, the prospect of a nuclear exchange has become the most live threat to this century’s peace.
In terms of public awareness, the debate about Putin’s language is a good example of “those who don’t know talk, and those who know don’t talk”. It is easy to think of Putin as a poker addict trying to bluster his way out of a bad bet. Eventually he must fold. US civilian and military officials suffer from no such complacency. Many have taken part in war game exercises where the use of low-yielding tactical nuclear weapons as often as not escalates to strategic nuclear exchange — doomsday, in plain English.
Windmills in the Ukrainian Steppe at Sunset, 1862, Ivan Aivazovsky
If there were a 5 per cent chance of Putin detonating a battlefield nuclear weapon, the world would be at more risk than at any point in most people’s lifetimes. In the past few days, Moscow’s signalling has arguably raised the chances to one in 10. Putin described last week’s test of the Sarmat hypersonic intercontinental ballistic missile as giving the west “food for thought”, which would not sound out of place from Blofeld, the 20th-century Bond villain. On Wednesday, Putin said: “We have all the instruments for this [responding to an existential threat to Russia] — ones nobody else can boast of. And we will use them, if we have to.”
The natural response is that Joe Biden and his European counterparts have made it plain Nato will not fight in Ukraine. The west, in other words, poses no “existential threat” to Russia — its threshold for use of nuclear weapons. But that is only how the west sees it. Putin’s threats, and those of his officials, have been made in the context of claiming Russia is already at war with Nato. Russians are being told every day that they are in a fight for national survival against western-backed Nazis. This level of rhetoric exceeds anything from the cold war.
One more from David Rothkopf at The Daily Beast: Putin Must Be Stopped Once and for All.
Defending Ukraine is not enough. Defeating Russia on the battlefield is not enough. We must ensure—using every means at our disposal—that Vladimir Putin may never again commit the kinds of atrocities that have marked his two decades in power.
Fortunately, this week, it was made absolutely clear that the Biden administration recognizes that necessity and has made it a strategic centerpiece of their foreign and national security policy efforts.
On Monday, after visiting Ukraine with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
Although one senior U.S. official admitted to me (somewhat uneasily) that “Austin said the quiet part out loud,” it soon became clear that the U.S. was publicly willing to own the new goal of turning Russia’s unprovoked, brutal escalation of its ongoing eight-year war in Ukraine into a lasting and meaningful defeat for the Kremlin.
On Tuesday in Germany—at a meeting of the “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” (a gathering of the countries from around the world that have pledged to support Ukraine’s war effort)—Secretary Austin said it was the U.S. belief that Ukraine can win the war with Russia. Austin’s spokesperson, John Kirby, stated: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere in the world.”
That’s all I have for you today. I hope the paintings help just a little bit.