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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Vaccine fallout and withdrawal effects




A year into the pandemic, it’s even more clear that it’s safer to be outside

What a difference a year makes. The beaches were even busier this year, but officials say there were no talks of closure. There was also far less outcry.

And with good reason, according to many scientists and public health experts, who say that the outdoor spaces now warming under spring sun should be viewed as havens in the battle against a stubborn virus and restriction-induced fatigue. For more than a year, the vast majority of documented coronavirus clusters have been linked to indoor or indoor-outdoor settings — households, meatpacking plants, nursing homes and restaurants. Near-absent are examples of transmission at beaches and other open spaces where breezes disperse airborne particles, distancing is easier, and humidity and sunlight render the coronavirus less viable.


Lisa Abramowicz/Bloomberg:

$877 Billion in Checks Won’t Automatically Fuel Inflation

Helicopter money succeeded in plugging a gap in lost business from the pandemic, but it’s harder to see how it alone could lead to a sustained period of surging prices.

What happens months down the line is less clear, and the signal from bond markets is that the cash pile isn’t enough to unleash animal spirits over the long term. Treasury yields dipped Thursday after what was, for the most part, an exceptional retail sales report. This underscores how unique this moment is not only in the scope of savings in bank accounts but also the continuing health crisis and its effect on both the labor market and supply chains.


Jason Sattler/USA Today:

On Afghanistan, Biden decides a 20-year war is long enough and upsets all the right people

We can always go back in if we must, but only after the debate our leaders long avoided as a tiny sliver of America was bleeding out all the sacrifices.

This announcement demonstrates what have proven to be the two most promising aspects of Biden’s young presidency: the ability to learn from past mistakes, his own and others, and a willingness to trigger the right people.

And right now, all the right people are upset.

John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and national security adviser under President Donald Trump, called the decision “reckless” and predicted “terrorists would enjoy a resurgence threatening America.” Bolton is a warmonger so fond of regime changes that he even somewhat supported Trump’s impeachment. But his sentiment represents the consensus of much of the foreign policy establishment, the “bipartisan” backlash machine known as “the blob.”


Susan B Glasser/New Yorker:

Biden Finally Got to Say No to the Generals

Critics be damned, the President is ending the Forever War waged by Bush, Obama, and Trump in Afghanistan.

In the end, though, Biden’s call was not surprising. Last November, I asked Kori Schake, a veteran of Bush’s Pentagon and National Security Council, what to make of Trump’s post-election push to withdraw the troops before the end of his term, a desire that seemed to influence his decision to fire his Defense Secretary, Mark Esper. (Trump, in fact, seemed to have fired Esper mostly out of pique, having harbored a months-long grudge against his Defense Secretary for apologizing that he took part in Trump’s controversial Lafayette Square photo op, during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.) Wasn’t it just another problem for Biden to deal with, I asked? “Looks to me like a gift,” Schake replied, “though that was clearly not Trump’s intention.” By extending Trump’s deadline from May 1st to the politically charged date of September 11th, Biden added months to Trump’s deadline and enabled himself, as Schake told me, on Wednesday, to “strike the pose of looking more cautious” than Trump while still leaving responsibility for the deal on Trump’s ledger, should things go sour. That could be a gift, indeed, and Biden took pains to emphasize in his speech that the deal was one he “inherited.”

Issac Bailey/CNN:

Why should a cop’s blue fear matter more than my Black life?

I’m a Black man who has never personally had a nasty run-in with the police. I should have no trouble with them. But I fear them, and I know they fear me.

While I understand a cop’s fear, it’s not the same as wondering if your kid might be killed after a cop decides to pull him over or because he was selling loose cigarettes on a street corner. Random violence is the scariest crime because there’s nothing you can do to avoid it, because you can’t anticipate it. We understand that when a young man shoots up a school or mall or movie theater. That’s what police violence has done to me. It’s why even though I’ve never been harmed by police, I can’t help but wonder if that’s gonna change by tomorrow.

Greg Sargent/WaPo:

A coronavirus-infected Republican’s anger at Trump signals turbulence ahead

Jason Watts, a local Republican official in Michigan, committed the cardinal sin: He dared to criticize Donald Trump. When he went to defend himself against the inevitable blowback at a meeting with the former president’s loyalists, very few were wearing masks.

In so many ways, this story captures our times. But not in a told-you-so kind of manner. Instead, it points to how difficult it may prove to move past the wounds that Trump has inflicted on this nation, and how the eager complicity of many Republicans continues to make them all the worse.

The trouble for Watts, a local GOP committee treasurer, started when he told the New York Times that he had never voted for Trump. Watts lamented the GOP’s lockstep loyalty to Trump, because “this undertone of hatred, this fealty at all costs, it’s going to damage us.”



Studies show meeting current agreements won’t be enough to stop melting of Antarctic ice sheets



The one good thing about isostasy is that it does happen slowly. Not slowly as far as geologists are concerned, but slowly for people who don’t spend every day thinking in terms of “deep time.” For example, if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, it would likely take 1,000 years for the continent to rebound. 

But even if the pressure between crust and mantle will be adjusted over a millennia, that doesn’t mean that sea level increases won’t be evident until 3021. That Antarctic rock bounce would add about a meter to sea level rise, but that’s just a fraction of the total increase expected.

As a paper from a team of international researchers predicts, melting land ice can be expected to add more than 42cm (1.4’) to sea level in this century—and that’s if all nations meet the obligations under the Paris agreement. If the increase in global warming could be limited to 1.5°C, the increase could be cut by two-thirds, but that would require significant additional changes.

An increase of under two feet may not seem like much, but it’s an enormous change for coastal communities. In fact, it’s over twice as much increase has occurred since 1880. Combined with high tides and storms, it would overwhelm many cities, push saltwater far into many estuaries, ruin aquifers in multiple areas, and mean the loss of millions of acres of low-lying agriculture. 

A second paper also examines the relationship between the commitments under the Paris agreement and the expected rise in sea level. That paper predicts that meltwater from Antarctica will contribute about 0.5cm (0.2”) per year, which also sounds relatively mild—but it’s an order of magnitude greater than previous measures. That paper also provides a mind-boggling number for the total amount of water contained in the Antarctic Ice Sheet, showing it as enough to raise the global sea level by 57.9 meters. That would be 190 feet. Now add in that isostasy, and the resulting change would be more like 250’.

That’s not quite enough to bring on Waterworld, but more than enough to render a map of the coastlines unrecognizable. How big would the change be? These two maps in the Miami Herald max out at just 10 meters (33 feet). In fact, the highest point in Florida is just 197 feet above sea level. 

What both papers show is how exquisitely sensitive to small changes these system are, with differences of a degree causing huge changes in outcomes. In an interview with The Guardian, one of the lead authors of the second study made it clear.

“If the world warms up at a rate dictated by current policies we will see the Antarctic system start to get away from us around 2060,” said Robert DeConto. “Once you put enough heat into the climate system, you are going to lose those ice shelves, and once that is set in motion you can’t reverse it.”

Keep in mind that the numbers being posted here are the “good” scenarios, the ones where the world sticks with climate agreements. Fortunately, current pricing on energy make doing the right thing also the cheap thing as solar power and wind power have moved well below the cost of coal and are competing directly with the price of natural gas. Still, it is not a given that the economics will always favor renewable energy, Anyone who thinks that simply relying on the market to do the right thing … has never watched how the market deals with anything. Preventing trillions of tons of additional carbon from being injected into the atmosphere will take serious, enforceable, itnernational agreements.

Of course, sea level increase is not happening tomorrow. Because it’s happening today. The sea level has already been rising. Now it’s rising faster.

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Puerto Rican feminists and transactivists continue the fight against the gender violence epidemic



Activists were out in the streets Friday, in every one of the island’s municipalities.



Christina Corujo, writing for ABC News, reported that “An uptick (in gendered violence) over the last four years had protesters demanding government action.”

More than 100 days after declaring a state of emergency, Puerto Rico finally will have some funding to address an alarming rise in gender-based violence on the island.

The Financial Oversight Management Board, which is in charge of the island’s finances, on Wednesday approved a $7 million request by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to be used for different programs aimed at preventing gender-based violence.

“We favor the Fiscal Control Board’s decision to allocate the $7 million budget … for the implementation of public policy to eradicate sexist violence,” Colectiva Feminista, a community-based group, wrote on Twitter.[…]

After the state of emergency was declared and the $7 million was requested, the FOMB initially approved just $200,000. Because Puerto Rico is going through a bankruptcy that began in 2016, the FOMB has the final say in all economic decisions of the government. The island has over $100 billion in debt and pension obligations.

However, that was not all that Colectiva Feminista had to say about the news. 


Translation: “HOWEVER, it seems to us hypocritical for the Board to approve austerity measures that imply CUTS to pensions, education, health services, public housing and labor rights. GENDER VIOLENCE IS STRUCTURAL.”

“State of emergency”

So while the Junta authorized more than the initial piddling peanuts, its members also appear to be talking out of both sides of their necks when they offer money in response to the protests, and because the mainland media is now covering the story, while they simultaneously attempt to slash major economic services the island needs—which, as the Colectiva points out, are part of the root causes of the epidemic of violence.

Andrea González-Ramírez, writing for The Cut, offers background on the issue.

This year alone there have been at least 21 femicides, per the Puerto Rico Gender Equality Observatory; since 2010, more than 150 women have been killed by their intimate partners; and last year, six transgender women were murdered — the highest number in any U.S. state or territory. My yearlong investigation into gender violence found that in 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the intimate-partner murder rate in Puerto Rico spiked to 1.77 out of 100,000 — more than double that of the entire U.S.

The horror of the recent killings and all the violence I’ve reported on before is etched into my brain. How do you make sense of loving your homeland while knowing that so many of your compatriotas hold such a deep hatred of women? How do you live in peace when you often think about the mujeres in your life and whether they are safe? How do you carry the grief of losing every cis, trans, nonbinary, straight, or gay woman who dies at the hands of men? (The perpetrators are almost always men.)

The frequency of femicide in Puerto Rico is alarming, alongside of the number of murders of transgender people. This is not a new problem, nor is it only a problem on the island, given the fact that it is a global phenomenon.

What bothers me is that, though it has briefly become “headline news” in the U.S. mainstream media, it seems to only be because, in the latest brutal murder on the island, the person arrested and charged with the murder of his pregnant girlfriend is a sports celebrity. In some ways, he has garnered more attention than the woman who was killed.  

Such is the nature of the media, however we can do better—we can help shine a spotlight on not just “perps,” or even the victims—we can help raise the profiles of the groups who are fighting this ongoing murder epidemic, and support them.

Two women hug as people led by the activist group, Feminist Collective, protest to demand Governor Wanda Vazquez to declare a state of emergency in response to recent gender based, femicides, assaults, and the disappearance of women in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 28, 2020. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)

It is these groups who have forced both Pierluisi, and The Junta, to address the issue, and put some funds into the fight.

I realize many readers here and on social media do not read Spanish, and most of the posts from activists on the island are in their language. Here are some groups you can follow; support them by sharing their posts.  

The struggle continues.

Pa’lante Puerto Rico. #NiUnaMas

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Bo, the Obamas’ Portuguese Water Dog, Dies



Bo, the Portuguese water dog who became the first presidential pet in the Obama White House, romping in the halls of power, died on Saturday.

Bo’s death was announced by Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama, who said the family had lost “a true friend and loyal companion.”

Mrs. Obama said Bo, who was 12, had cancer.

“For more than a decade, Bo was a constant, gentle presence in our lives — happy to see us on our good days, our bad days, and everyday in between,” Mr. Obama wrote on Twitter. “He tolerated all the fuss that came with being in the White House, had a big bark but no bite, loved to jump in the pool in the summer, was unflappable with children, lived for scraps around the dinner table, and had great hair.”

Bo arrived at the White House as a 6-month-old puppy in April 2009, a gift from Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and his wife, Victoria, to the first children, Malia and Sasha Obama. The girls named the dog Bo because their cousins had a cat with the same name and because Mrs. Obama’s father was nicknamed Diddley, after the musician Bo Diddley.

Right away, the dog was an object of national fascination, the latest in a long line of four-footed White House occupants that included President Lyndon B. Johnson’s beagles, Him and Her, President Ronald Reagan’s King Charles spaniel, Rex, President Bill Clinton’s cat, Socks, and President George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney.

President Biden resumed the tradition in January with his two German shepherds, Champ and Major, after President Donald J. Trump’s term ended as the first in decades without any pets living full time at the residence. Major was recently sent for training after a series of biting episodes.

Bo was known for cavorting on the South Lawn in front of the White House press corps, barking at news conferences and attracting fan mail from children across the country.

He also posed with his tongue out for an official White House portrait and was the subject of a children’s book, “Bo, America’s Commander in Leash,” written by Naren Aryal and illustrated by Danny Moore.

In 2013, Bo was joined at the White House by a second Portuguese water dog, Sunny, after Mrs. Obama said that Bo needed more interaction with other dogs.

Mrs. Obama said that although Bo was originally supposed to be a companion for Malia and Sasha, “We had no idea how much he would mean to all of us.” She said the dog had been a “constant, comforting presence in our lives,” sauntering into their offices “like he owned the place, a ball clamped firmly in his teeth.”

He was there for the traditional Easter egg roll on the South Lawn and when the pope came to visit, she said.

After Malia and Sasha went to college, Bo helped the couple adjust to life as empty nesters, Mrs. Obama said in a post on Instagram that was signed “Michelle, Barack, Malia, Sasha, and Sunny.”

“This past year, with everyone back home during the pandemic, no one was happier than Bo,” she wrote. “All his people were under one roof again — just like the day we got him.”

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