[guest post by Dana]
Happy New Year’s Eve! A neighbor here on the West coast told me that they always ring in the new year with New York and thus are in bed by 9:30 pm. Sounds good to me. With that, I am not doing a year-end round-up of notable news items because I just don’t have the energy to meet the expectation. However, please feel free to do so in the comments section if you’d like. With that, let’s go!
First news item
Presidents Biden and Putin chit-chat as Russia has massed 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, continues to demand that Ukraine never be allowed in NATO while telling Biden there will be a “complete rupture” if sanctions are put on Russia if it invades Ukraine:
“President Biden urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. He made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” Psaki said in a statement Thursday.
“President Biden also expressed support for diplomacy, starting early next year with the bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue, at NATO through the NATO-Russia Council, and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. President Biden reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” she added.
A senior administration official told reporters on Thursday that Biden laid out two paths for Putin — diplomacy leading toward de-escalation or punitive measures like economic sanctions and beefed up military assistance to U.S. allies in the region.
According to the report, the administration is keeping mum about why Russia requested the call.
Second news item
Official arm of the GOP pushes (in a now deleted tweet) anti-vax information:
It’s like the GOP doesn’t want the pandemic to end.
Better late than never: At odds with the House Judiciary GOP, Trump continues to tout the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines:
Appearing on the right-wing YouTube channel Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN) on Thursday night, Trump wholeheartedly expressed support for the COVID-19 vaccines, which he noted has “saved millions of lives.” “We’re very proud of the vaccines,” he continued, while trying to thread the far-right needle. “But the mandates, they should not be—and they are trying to enforce these mandates, and it’s so bad for people and for our country.”
All of this pro-vaccine talk from Trump is not going over well with his loyalists. From Info Wars to Candace Owens, MAGAland has clearly been caught off guard by Trump extolling the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Third news item
As another surge of Covid cases has swept the U.S., school districts around the country are pushing to keep classrooms open next week when students return from winter breaks.
At-home testing kits will be given out to classrooms if students test positive, with students taking two tests over the course of seven days. Students who are asymptomatic and test negative can return to school the day after their first tests.
This is certainly a change for the better. I hope all officials are on board with keeping kids in school as much as possible.
Third news item
She later added, “I tell people consistently: take the emotion out of this discussion. Start studying the science and the facts and let’s get back to the basics. Still, Pete, the number one thing that people can do to slow down the spread of a virus? Go wash your hands. Go wash your hands. I’m shocked by the amount of times that I have to go remind people of that. And if you’re sick, stay home.”
Evidence suggests the U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program has substantially reduced the burden of disease in the United States by preventing serious illness in fully vaccinated people and interrupting chains of transmission. Vaccinated people can still become infected and have the potential to spread the virus to others, although at much lower rates than unvaccinated people.
Fourth news item
Violence on such a scale involving blacks as both perpetrators and victims poses a dilemma to someone like myself. On the one hand, as the Harvard legal scholar Randall Kennedy has observed, we elites need to represent the decent law-abiding majority of African Americans cowering fearfully inside their homes in the face of such violence. We must do so not just to enhance our group’s reputation as in the “politics of respectability” but mainly as a precondition for our own dignity and self-respect.
On the other hand, we elites must also counter the demonization of young black men, which the larger American culture has for some time now been feverishly engaged in. Even as we condemn murderers, we cannot help but view with sympathy the plight of many poor youngsters who, though not incorrigible, have nevertheless committed crimes. We must wrestle with complex historical and contemporary causes internal and external to the black experience that help to account for this pathology. (There’s no way around it. This is pathology. The behavior in question here is not OK. That one can adduce social-psychological explanations does not resolve all moral questions.)
Where is the self-respecting black intellectual to take his stand? Must he simply act as a mouthpiece for movement propaganda aiming to counteract “white supremacy?” Has he anything to say to his own people about how some of us are living? Is there space in American public discourses for nuanced, subtle, sophisticated moral engagement with these questions? Or are they mere fodder for what amount to tendentious, cynical, and overtly politically partisan arguments on behalf of something called “racial equity?” And what about those so-called white intellectuals? Do they have to remain mute? Or must they limit themselves to incanting anti-racist slogans?
I don’t know all of the answers here, but I know that those victims had names. I know they had families. I know they did not deserve their fate. I know that black intellectuals must bear witness to what actually is taking place in our midst, must wrestle with complex historical and contemporary causes both within and outside the black community that bear on these tragedies, must tell truths about what is happening, and must not hide from the truth with platitudes, euphemisms, and lies.
I know, despite whatever causal factors may be at play, that we black intellectuals must insist each youngster is capable of choosing a moral way of life. I know that, for the sake of the dignity and self-respect of my people as well as for the future of my country, we American intellectuals of all colors must never lose sight of what a moral way of life consists in. And yet we are in imminent danger of doing precisely that, I fear.
Read the whole thing.
Fifth news item
Tech billionaire Peter Thiel and Donald Trump Jr. are co-hosting a pair of January fundraisers for Wyoming Republican Harriet Hageman, the Trump-backed primary challenger running against GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, according to an invitation to be sent out to GOP donors Thursday…Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, are listed as the special guests for the two fundraisers.
Hageman is looking to close the financial gap with Cheney, who through the end of September had more than $3.6 million in her campaign account. Cheney has seen her fundraising numbers swell this year, as she drew attention for her criticisms of former President Donald Trump, including her January vote to impeach him, and her prominent role on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Hageman, who has received Trump’s endorsement, reporting having about $245,000 in the bank at the end of September, after launching her campaign just weeks earlier.
Sixth news item
“The first rule of pandemic crisis response is that public officials must be sane, sober, and truthful in communicating with the public.” Trump has many skills, but that’s not one of them. As Jacob Sullum (who wrote the “Case Against Biden” companion piece), has previously observed, “Trump lies routinely, reflexively, and extravagantly, but his supporters do not seem to hold it against him.”
Well, supporters of all politicians at all times, including of President Biden at this time, need to develop more exacting standards. It’s not OK for a pandemic-era political leader to say, as Biden did just two weeks ago, that if you’re vaccinated, you “do not spread the disease to anybody else.”
It is not acceptable for a president to claim, as he did Tuesday in a single tweet, that Build Back Better is “fully paid for” (it’s not), that it “will not increase the deficit” (it would), and that it “won’t raise the taxes by one penny for anyone making less than $400,000 a year” (counters the Tax Policy Center: “roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of middle-income households would pay more in taxes in 2022”). Such hyperbolic balderdash is worthy of a 24-year-old social media intern at a hack think tank; not the Commander in Chief of allegedly the greatest nation on Earth.
Democratic self-governance requires a certain modicum of citizen self-respect. If elected executives can lie with impunity, they will lie with impunity, and the chances of those lies turning out somehow to be “noble” are roughly slim, none, and fat. There’s a pandemic still on, a world wracked with its usual uncertainties, and oncoming calamities we cannot currently see. Dishonest federal leadership will only make all those things worse.
Seventh news item
Pagans thought that the collapse of their beliefs would mean the collapse of Rome. Many 21st-century conservatives believe something similar about the erosion of Christian values: that the liberties of our open society are parasitical on our Christian inheritance and that when that inheritance collapses, civilization will, too.
Ms. Delsol does not see things quite that way. The ethics of the Christian age, she notes, were shot through with unacknowledged borrowings from the pagan values Christianity replaced. (Consider stoicism or the Hippocratic oath in medicine.) In the same way, today’s post-Christian progressivism comes with a large helping of Christianity. Why use Christian matrimony to unite gay couples, for example, rather than a new institution less wrapped up in Christian values? Because that is just the piecemeal way that civilizational change happens.
So if another civilization comes to replace Christianity, it will not be a mere negation, such as atheism or nihilism. It will be a rival civilization with its own logic — or at least its own style of moralizing. It may resemble the present-day iconoclasm that French commentators refer to as le woke. (The term means basically what it does in English, except that French people see wokeness as a system imported wholesale from American universities and thus itself almost a religious doctrine.)
Eighth news item
In which I agree with Kevin D. Williamson’s review of the new Netflix film Don’t Look Up:
Kyle [Smith] faults the film for failing to live up to Dr. Strangelove, and it doesn’t, but the 2020s offer very different material from the high–Cold War era. Dr. Strangelove’s power comes in part from the contrast between the real-world seriousness of the figures who populated the early-1960s military-industrial complex and the absurdity of the movie’s world. In our time, the absurdity itself is very much in the public square and a political factor in its own right. Meryl Streep’s performance as a trucker-cap-wearing populist president (coded red for Republican, but also a friend of progressive tech titans) is terrifying because it is so easy to imagine such a figure actually being elected president.
Flying in to 2022:
Going into the new year, I am pressed to remember to treat others with an extra measure of grace. I say this because this was a particularly hard year for me. An unexpected situation arose which found a near-stranger – albeit a relative – living in my home for nearly 7 months while withdrawing from six years of morphine dependency due to chronic 24/7 pain from catastrophic surgery. The individual desperately needed a quiet respite and constant help to bring them back to some semblance of good physical, emotional, and mental health. For me, it was exhausting, unfamiliar, and isolating. For them, it was a second chance. This situation, along with caring for an elderly parent who this year unexpectedly lost the ability to independently walk, was overwhelming. Sitting down to write a post, no matter how sloppy or elementary it may have been (and there were a lot of those!), was therapeutic and provided a small window of escape. I offer this glimpse into my life only as a reminder that we are all going through stuff. Hard stuff, painful stuff, hurtful stuff, and stuff that will forever change us – for better or worse. During these mean seasons, it can be like stumbling blindly on hot coals during the day and collapsing on a bed of nails at night. Thus I am determined to remember that my hard year may have been a cakewalk for others experiencing something far worse. During this year, what might have seemed like a personal slight may have simply been a lack of energy, what might have seemed like rudeness may have just been the weight of knowing that there were still a dozen things left on the to-do list before X woke up from a nap, and what might have seemed like a lack of concern may have just been the inability to shake off the pressure at home. This past year, I’ve been on both sides of this particular coin. All of us only have so much emotional bandwidth, and there are times when it just can’t be spent on you – or me. With that, I’m hoping to refrain from jumping to judgment about others because I know what this year has been like for me but I don’t necessarily know what it’s been like for you. Grace upon grace to us all, we fragile and limited creations.
P.S. Obviously, politicians are exempt from this effort and open to criticism and judgment 24/7 unless I know they are going through some catastrophic family event. If they do the stupid stuff they’re fair game!
Happy New Year!