Thursday Reads

Rainy Day Boston, Frederick Childe Hassam

Rainy Day Boston, Frederick Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

Here’s what I see as the major topics in the news today: world events stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine; the ongoing Trumpist attack on U.S. democracy; and the new wave of Covid-19 cases.

Outgrowths of Ukraine War

Fascism and totalitarianism expert Timothy Snyder at The New York Times: We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist.

Fascism was never defeated as an idea.

As a cult of irrationality and violence, it could not be vanquished as an argument: So long as Nazi Germany seemed strong, Europeans and others were tempted. It was only on the battlefields of World War II that fascism was defeated. Now it’s back — and this time, the country fighting a fascist war of destruction is Russia. Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted.

We err in limiting our fears of fascism to a certain image of Hitler and the Holocaust. Fascism was Italian in origin, popular in Romania — where fascists were Orthodox Christians who dreamed of cleansing violence — and had adherents throughout Europe (and America). In all its varieties, it was about the triumph of will over reason.

Because of that, it’s impossible to define satisfactorily. People disagree, often vehemently, over what constitutes fascism. But today’s Russia meets most of the criteria that scholars tend to apply. It has a cult around a single leader, Vladimir Putin. It has a cult of the dead, organized around World War II. It has a myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness, to be restored by a war of healing violence — the murderous war on Ukraine.

You’ll need to read the whole essay to get the full impact of Snyder’s argument, but here’s a bit more:

We understand more about fascism than we did in the 1930s. We now know where it led. We should recognize fascism, because then we know what we are dealing with. But to recognize it is not to undo it. Fascism is not a debating position, but a cult of will that emanates fiction. It is about the mystique of a man who heals the world with violence, and it will be sustained by propaganda right to the end. It can be undone only by demonstrations of the leader’s weakness. The fascist leader has to be defeated, which means that those who oppose fascism have to do what is necessary to defeat him. Only then do the myths come crashing down.

Paris Street in the rain, by Gustave Caillebotte

Paris Street in the rain, by Gustave Caillebotte

As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere. Even before the war, Russia’s friends — Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson — were the enemies of democracy. Fascist battlefield victories would confirm that might makes right, that reason is for the losers, that democracies must fail.

Had Ukraine not resisted, this would have been a dark spring for democrats around the world. If Ukraine does not win, we can expect decades of darkness.

The Economist: The coming food catastrophe. War is tipping a fragile world towards mass hunger. Fixing that is everyone’s business.

By invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin will destroy the lives of people far from the battlefield—and on a scale even he may regret. The war is battering a global food system weakened by covid-19climate change and an energy shock. Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds have mostly stopped and Russia’s are threatened. Together, the two countries supply 12% of traded calories. Wheat prices, up 53% since the start of the year, jumped a further 6% on May 16th, after India said it would suspend exports because of an alarming heatwave.

The widely accepted idea of a cost-of-living crisis does not begin to capture the gravity of what may lie ahead. António Guterres, the un secretary general, warned on May 18th that the coming months threaten “the spectre of a global food shortage” that could last for years. The high cost of staple foods has already raised the number of people who cannot be sure of getting enough to eat by 440m, to 1.6bn. Nearly 250m are on the brink of famine. If, as is likely, the war drags on and supplies from Russia and Ukraine are limited, hundreds of millions more people could fall into poverty. Political unrest will spread, children will be stunted and people will starve.

Mr Putin must not use food as a weapon. Shortages are not the inevitable outcome of war. World leaders should see hunger as a global problem urgently requiring a global solution.

landscape-with-rain-wassily-kandinsky

Landscape with rain, Wassily Kandinsky

Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of globally traded wheat, 29% of the barley, 15% of the maize and 75% of the sunflower oil. Russia and Ukraine contribute about half the cereals imported by Lebanon and Tunisia; for Libya and Egypt the figure is two-thirds. Ukraine’s food exports provide the calories to feed 400m people. The war is disrupting these supplies because Ukraine has mined its waters to deter an assault, and Russia is blockading the port of Odessa.

Even before the invasion the World Food Programme had warned that 2022 would be a terrible year. China, the largest wheat producer, has said that, after rains delayed planting last year, this crop may be its worst-ever. Now, in addition to the extreme temperatures in India, the world’s second-largest producer, a lack of rain threatens to sap yields in other breadbaskets, from America’s wheat belt to the Beauce region of France. The Horn of Africa is being ravaged by its worst drought in four decades. Welcome to the era of climate change.

The Trumpist Attack on U.S. Democracy

This is from The Washington Post news analysis by Leigh Ann Caldwell, Theodoric Meyer: Trump uses Pa. primary to continue effort to undermine electoral system.

Donald Trump‘s continued effort to discredit or manipulate the electoral process is playing out in two distinct but related ways in the wake of Tuesday’s primary contests in Pennsylvania.

First, he is casting doubt on the result of the Senate GOP primary by once again making baseless claims that mail-in ballots are causing problems and suggesting his preferred candidate, Mehmet Oz, should just declare victory.

“It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they ‘just happened to find,’” Trump said, providing no evidence, on his social media platform Truth Social, our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.

Second, the nominee he backed for governor, Doug Mastriano, won the primary and if he wins the election in November, Mastriano would have considerable influence over how the state’s presidential election results are handled in 2024 when Trump may be on the ballot as our colleague’s Rosalind S. HeldermanIsaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey explain.

Mastriano has been one of the staunchest backers of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and the steps he wanted officials to take to deny Joe Biden victory.

Rain swept street, by Mike Barr

Rain swept street, by Mike Barr

“As governor, Mastriano would have the opportunity not just to speak, but to act,” Roz, Isaac and Josh write. A possibility that is “worrying experts already fearful of a democratic breakdown around the 2024 presidential contest.”

“Those concerns are made especially acute in Pennsylvania by the fact that the governor has the unusual authority to directly appoint the secretary of state, who serves as chief elections officer and must sign off on results. If he or she refuses, chaos could follow.”

Read more at the WaPo link.

Reid Epstein at The New York Times: Midterm Stakes Grow Clearer: Election Deniers Will Be on Many Ballots.

Republican voters in this week’s primary races demonstrated a willingness to nominate candidates who parrot Donald J. Trump’s election lies and who appear intent on exerting extraordinary political control over voting systems. The results make clear that the November midterms may well affect the fate of free and fair elections in the country.

In Pennsylvania, Republican voters united behind a nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano, who helped lead the brazen effort to overturn the state’s 2020 election and chartered buses to the rally before the Capitol riot, and who has since promoted a constitutionally impossible effort to decertify President Biden’s victory in his state.

In North Carolina, voters chose a G.O.P. Senate nominee, Representative Ted Budd, who voted in Congress against certifying the 2020 results and who continues to refuse to say that Mr. Biden was legitimately elected.

And in Idaho, which Mr. Trump won overwhelmingly in 2020, 57 percent of voters backed two Republican candidates for secretary of state who pushed election falsehoods, though they lost a three-way race to a rival who accepts Mr. Biden as president.

The strong showings on Tuesday by election deniers, who have counterparts running competitively in primaries across the country over the coming months, were an early signal of the threat posed by the Trump-inspired movement.

This story about what’s happening in Idaho was published before yesterday’s primaries, but it’s still an important read. Christopher Mathias at HuffPo: Living With The Far-Right Insurgency In Idaho.

IDAHO — White nationalist Vincent James Foxx had a new video for his nearly 70,000 subscribers on BitChute, one of the few tech platforms that hasn’t banned him. On Feb. 16, he appeared wearing a baseball hat emblazoned with the state’s outline tilted on its side so that it resembled a pistol.

“We are going to take over this state,” Foxx declared. “We have a great large group of people, and that group is growing. A true, actual right-wing takeover is happening right now in the state of Idaho. And there’s nothing that these people can do about it. So if you’re a legislator here, either get in line, or get out of the way.”

Foxx, 36, isn’t from Idaho. He only recently moved from California to Post Falls. But in the video, he showed off photos of himself posing with a string of prominent Republican politicians in the state as he explained who he’s supporting in the upcoming primaries, slated for May 17.

gregory thielker Rainy day in Washington DC

Gregory Thielker,, Rainy Day in Washington, DC

He was especially excited about a selfie he’d taken a week prior: It showed him and fellow white nationalist Dave Reilly, a recent Pennsylvania transplant also living in Post Falls, standing alongside Idaho’s lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin. All three were smiling.

“We’re supporting her,” Foxx said, bragging of his movement’s “deep connections” to McGeachin, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed in the GOP primary race for governor. Foxx then explained how his particular brand of Christian white nationalism is poised to conquer Idaho, then the country.

“The solution is local politics: Amassing power in these pockets of the country until it’s time to unify,” he said. “I’ve only been here for a couple of months and I’m tapped in the way that I am. You can do it too.”

Fascists like Foxx are famous fabulists, experts at exaggerating their influence and success. But Foxx wasn’t just talking shit.

He is one of many far-right activists who have flocked to Idaho in recent years, where a large and growing radical MAGA faction in the state’s Republican Party has openly allied itself with extremists to a shocking extent, even for the Trump era. This faction is accruing more and more power in Boise, the state capital: Imagine a statehouse full of Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Steve Kings. At the local level, they have seized seats on school boards and county commissions at a fast clip.

Please read the rest. This could easily happening in other small states.

New Covid Wave

The Washington Post: Top Biden health officials sound warning on rising covid infections.

Top Biden administration officials warned Wednesday that one-third of Americans live in communities experiencing rising levels of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations and urged them to resume taking personal protection measures, including wearing masks.

The increase in new infections — nearing 100,000 a day — comes as the nation heads into Memorial Day weekend with its large gatherings and travel. That case count is almost certainly an undercount, officials said, given the widespread use of at-home tests for which results are often not reported to health officials.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strongly encouraged those living in communities designated yellow or orange, indicating they have large numbers of new infections and hospitalizations, to consider wearing masks in indoor public spaces and taking other steps to protect themselves.

“As we’re currently seeing a steady rise of cases in parts of the country, we encourage everyone to use the menu of tools we have today to prevent further infection and severe disease, including wearing a mask, getting tested, accessing treatments early if infected and getting vaccinated or boosted,”she said.

Wednesday’s warnings from Walensky and two other officials — Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus coordinator, and Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser — came on the same day the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 1 million covid-19 deaths, a toll that even the starkest predictions at the start of the pandemic in 2020 did not anticipate.

In the Rain, ,Franz Marc

In the Rain, Franz Marc

Also from The Washington Post: How big is the latest U.S. coronavirus wave? No one really knows.

Experts say Americans can assume that infections in their communities are five to 10 times the official counts.

“Any sort of look at the metrics on either a local, state or national level is a severe undercount,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist at the Pandemic Prevention Institute, housed at theRockefeller Foundation. “Everyone knows someone getting covid now.”

Hospitalizations nationally have increased 57 percent since bottoming out six weeks ago. But the roughly 23,000 covid patients in hospitals over the last week still represent nearly the lowest hospitalization levels of the entire pandemic.The recentincrease is led by the Northeast, where hospitalization rates are almost twice as high as in any other region.

Reported cases of covid have also tripled in the Northeast in just over a month, driving much of the growth nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The country has averaged about 100,000 new cases each day over the past week —more than three times as high as at the lowest point in March.

The latest uptick in infections is testing a new CDC alert system adopted by many local and state governments that categorizes community levels of covid-19 as “low” even with the number of new cases rising to a level once considered high.

More than two-thirds of Americans live in low-risk areas under these metrics. But 43 percent of residents in the Northeastlive in areas considered high-risk, compared with 9percent in the Midwest and less than 1 percent each in the South and West.

I recommend clicking the link and reading the entire article.

morning-on-the-seine-in-the-rain-1898, Claude Monet

Morning on the Seine in the rain, Claude Monet

CNBC: U.S. faces unnecessary Covid deaths if Congress fails to pass funding bill, top health official warns.

Top U.S. health officials on Wednesday reiterated their calls for Congress to pass funding for the nation’s fight against Covid-19, warning that failure to act now would result in an unnecessary loss of life in the fall and winter.

Their warning comes as new infections and hospitalizations are on the rise as the more transmissible omicron subvariants sweep the U.S.

The nation is reporting more than 94,000 new infections daily on average as of Monday, a 25% increase over the previous week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, hospitalizations have increased 18% over the past week with about 3,000 people admitted with Covid every day on average, according to CDC data.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House Covid response coordinator, said the fact that many people are now taking at-home tests, results of which are not captured in the data, has to be taken into consideration.

“We know that the number of infections is actually substantially higher than that, hard to know exactly how many, but we know that a lot of people are getting diagnosed using home tests,” Jha said during a White House update on the pandemic Wednesday. “We’re clearly undercounting cases. There’s a lot of infections across America.”

Those are today’s top stories as I see it. What do you think? What stories are you following?