TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: General view inside the stadium as fireworks go off while Naomi Osaka of Team Japan lights the Olympic cauldron with the Olympic torch during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Tokyo 2020 Games officially underway after yearlong delay
02:22 - Source: CNN

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The man who revived the Olympic Games after 1,500 years saw them as the “quadrennial celebration of the springtime of humanity.”

To Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the four-year cadence of the Games was like the “rhythm of the stars in their courses” and must be “rigorously maintained.” As in ancient Greece, an “Olympiad may remain uncelebrated if unforeseen circumstances arise to make it impossible, but neither the order nor the number of the Games” should ever be changed.

Since the first modern Olympics in 1896, when all-male teams of athletes from 14 nations competed in Athens, “unforeseen circumstances” in the form of war canceled the Games three times. But only once were they postponed – in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic thwarted plans for the Tokyo Games.

Yet finally, a year later and in a swirl of controversy, the Games officially began Friday, when athletes from more than 200 countries took part in an opening ceremony eerily absent of hordes of spectators.

“As thousands gathered outside Olympic Stadium, some in protest wielding signs that read ‘Cancel the Olympics – Save Lives,’ and some in support,” wrote Amy Bass, the Tokyo Olympic Games “asked us to Imagine. With clouds of drones coalescing in the sky to form an image of the Earth, alongside the lyrics of John Lennon’s signature song – sung by an international array of performers that included Americans John Legend and Keith Urban – the spectacle’s theme, ‘moving forward,’ became clear.”

“Rather than a glitzy production filled with highly choreographed dance numbers, the four-hour ceremony contemplated how, especially in the wake of a global pandemic, the sway of sport can keep us connected. The first minutes of the ceremony powerfully offered glimmers of hope for the days ahead, as solitary athletes trained on treadmills and rowing machines, together yet alone, with threads eventually stretching across the infield to connect them, to connect us.”

And who was the star? “None other than 23-year-old tennis star Naomi Osaka – who has made headlines as much for her championing of mental health and her stances in support of Black Lives Matter as for her Grand Slam tennis victories – had the honor, representing on every level what a 21st century athlete from Japan can be. She ascended a replica of Mount Fuji and lowered the flame into the cauldron, designed to look like an opening cherry blossom.”

89b olympics 072321 opening ceremony Naomi Osaka

Even during the pandemic, “there is a ton of money to be made at the Olympics,” wrote Emily Stewart in Vox. “One NBC executive said they believe this could be the most profitable Games ever. And yet, much of that wealth won’t be shared with the event’s most valuable assets: the athletes themselves.”

“You cannot watch TV or exist on the internet right now without running into a Simone Biles ad. The Olympic gold medal gymnast got plenty of well-deserved, high-paying endorsement deals lined up. But she is the exception, not the rule.” Stewart said the vast majority of the 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,000 people competing in the Paralympics next month “are not rich, or close to it.”

For American gymnasts, the future is now a lot brighter when it comes to money. “Recent changes by the NCAA allow student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness,” Ella Donald noted, and that “is ushering in a new, exciting era of the sport. Before, top athletes had to choose between competition and cash.”

Delta fears

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The number of new Covid cases reached a six-month high in Tokyo this week, and there were more than 130 cases connected to the Games. The biggest concern there – and around the world – is the Delta variant, which is much more contagious than earlier strains.

Vaccines are “ridiculously effective in preventing people from becoming hospitalized as a result of Covid-19,” but they’re “not a silver bullet,” wrote Dr. Comilla Sasson, an emergency medicine physician. “Even if you’re vaccinated, keep those masks on whenever you’re indoors and when you’re in crowded outdoor settings. Please don’t question if we care about you. Don’t question if we are credible. Don’t question if we are intelligent. Don’t question if we are Republicans, Democrats or whatever.”

Still, the states hardest hit by spiking Covid outbreaks tend to be politically red.

Republican leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. Steve Scalise and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey spoke out last week in support of getting vaccinated, while others continued to feed anti-vax sentiment. “That there is a divide in the Republican Party over whether to get vaccinated against Covid, and whether to tell millions of Republican voters to consider doing the same, is such a sad commentary on the state of Republican politics today,” SE Cupp pointed out.

“The vaccine is life-saving. The vaccine is safe. The vaccine is effective,” she noted. “And the vaccine is how we are all going to eventually get back to some semblance of normalcy. The longer people refuse, the longer we must wait in this awful state of pandemic limbo.

Fox News opinion hosts have been among the most prominent voices sowing doubt on vaccines, Dean Obeidallah wrote on Sunday. “The obvious reason is that many at Fox News believe that hurting the Biden administration’s efforts to vaccinate people will help Republicans win in the 2022 midterm elections – and maybe even help Donald Trump if he runs in 2024. If the economy slows down or if there’s a need to close businesses again to contain the virus, Biden could suffer political damage.”

On Monday, one of the network’s leading hosts, Sean Hannity, told viewers he believes in the “science of vaccination” and on Wednesday, Fox News rolled out a public service ad encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Heading in the other direction, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted tweets minimizing the threat Covid poses to people who aren’t obese and are under 65 – and was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours. Jill Filipovic praised Twitter for taking action, but added, “with a Republican Party that refuses to police itself, a right-wing media apparatus that is more propaganda than news or journalism and a stubborn pro-Trump base willing to believe and parrot anything the former president says, American democracy – and truth itself – are in peril. That’s an illness that tech companies like Twitter can only seek to contain; it’s not a disease they can cure.

America’s northern neighbor began the race to vaccinate its population last winter with a real fear that its supply of the life-saving injections wouldn’t meet the need. But “against all odds, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed to beat a Covid-19 vaccination benchmark that even his counterpart to the south, US President Joe Biden, was unable to meet,” wrote Michael Bociurkiw. “After initially bungling its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, falling behind many other developed nations, including the United States, over the weekend Canada moved ahead of its southern neighbor in per-capita vaccinations.”

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For more:

Jamie Metzl: We cannot give China veto power over the investigation into Covid-19’s origins

Kara Alaimo: One way to stop the dangerous spread of vaccine myths

Tina Sacks: What anti-vaxxers sound like to me

Morgan Stephens: Eight months of long Covid brought me to the brink

Billionaires in space

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A billionaire flew into space this week. Jeff Bezos’s flight aboard New Shepard Tuesday might be seen as almost ho-hum after Virgin Galactic’s founder Richard Branson flew into space nine days earlier. But there were differences – Bezos, the Amazon founder, is the world’s richest man. He took along with him the youngest and oldest people ever to go into space. And his 11-minute flight soared 12 miles higher than the 50 miles above Earth that Branson reached – to the Kármán line, the internationally known divider between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

Bezos’ flight didn’t set records for daring. As Martin Peers of The Information noted, “the hype around this mission feels a little overdone. After all, NASA managed to send astronauts on an eight-day mission to the moon and back 50 years ago.” But the launch signaled something else, wrote Don Lincoln: “Commercial space exploration, or ‘space tourism,’ seems to be coming of age. What was once reserved for the very few is now like a Disney park ride for the super-rich.” NASA is developing a heavy lift rocket that will cost at least $800 million. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is saying it will charge as little as $2 million per launch for its heavy-lift Starship, though one analyst says it could wind up costing $10 million, Lincoln noted.

“Either way, the much-reduced cost of using SpaceX to launch objects into space … means that scientists can spend more on the scientific instrumentation in their satellites” and “a reduced launch cost could lead to many more interesting science missions.

They don’t have a dream

If the Republican majority in the Texas State Senate gets its way, the school curriculum in the state will no longer require teaching students about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – or about the work of activists like Susan B. Anthony and Cesar Chavez. “The bill would also eliminate a requirement that students learn about the history of white supremacy and the ‘ways in which it is morally wrong,’” wrote Julian Zelizer.

“The kinds of bills that we are seeing pass in states like Texas amount to the imposition of a very particular version of patriotic education that seeks to downplay the failures and injustices of the United States. This quickly becomes propaganda rather than history.

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January 6

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In his New York Times review of “I Alone Can Fix It,” a new book by two Washington Post reporters, Dwight Garner noted a compelling moment on January 6. Rep. Liz Cheney “described being with the Trump dead-ender Representative Jim Jordan during the attack on the Capitol, and how he said to her, ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’ Cheney responded, the authors write, by slapping his hand away and telling him, ‘Get away from me. You (expletive) did this.’”

When the House’s select committee to investigate the January 6 riot holds its first hearing Tuesday, we won’t see Jordan jousting with Cheney, the Republican who has bucked party pressure and condemned former president Donald Trump’s role in setting the stage for the events of that unforgettable day. Speaker Nancy Pelosi vetoed House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to seat Jordan and Rep. Jim Banks on the panel, and the Republican leadership pulled all its nominees. But Cheney is due to be there, since she was appointed by Pelosi.

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    “Pelosi was right to reject Jordan and Banks, who, as blood was still drying on the floor of the Capitol, voted to give the insurrectionists what so many of them wanted,” wrote Nicole Hemmer. “At a deeper level, Pelosi’s actions here also constitute a crucial development: the rejection of bipartisanship as a positive force in US politics … the notion that Democratic leaders must work with Republican leaders in order to have political legitimacy is well and truly dead.”

    The two Washington Post reporters, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, aired parts of their Trump interview recordings on CNN, prompting Anderson Cooper to say, “This is like listening to Nixon drunk rambling.”

    Frida Ghitis wrote that “Trump spews lies, lies upon lies, about everything he discusses. January 6? It was all ‘very friendly,’ he tells his interviewers. Demonstrators and police ‘were hugging and kissing.’”

    “Listening to Trump lie with such ease, a stream of falsehoods sliding from his lips like an endless, multicolored kerchief in a magician’s act, one wonders if he really believes what he’s saying; if he really lives in that alternative reality where he won the election (by a landslide, of course!), where anyone who doesn’t think he won is a crook; where more than 86 judges rejected his campaign’s claims of fraud only because they’re cowards; where he was assured reelection before the pandemic, even though in fact he had some of the worst approval ratings of any modern president. Or, does he know he’s lying; is he putting on an act for the same reason he does everything, because he thinks it will benefit him?

    For more:

    Dennis Aftergut: The first Capitol riot felony sentence was exactly the right call

    Michael D’Antonio: Trumpland’s dangerous role-playing games

    Biden’s plea

    President Joe Biden passionately made the case for people to get vaccinated against Covid-19, at a CNN town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday.

    “We have a pandemic, for those who haven’t gotten a vaccine,” Biden said. Roxanne Jones responded, “That may well be, but for many Black Americans, who … have some of the lowest vaccination rates, the decision to vaccinate, or not, is far from easy. Across every age, education and economic level, the Black folks I know are torn.”

    Biden told “host Don Lemon and the audience that he understood where the mistrust was coming from. ‘Just go back, just to World War II, African Americans, they were almost like guinea pigs … Your mom and dad remember that.’

    “But President Biden is making a difference,” Jones wrote. “It was a hopeful sign recently in my Brooklyn neighborhood to see local community members signing up neighbors to get vaccinated along the block – in laundromats, the local corner store, outside restaurants. There are testing sites, it seems, on just about every corner.”

    Scott Jennings faulted Biden for dismissing concerns about rising inflation and wrote that his “worst answer was probably to John Lanni, the restaurateur who didn’t get a very satisfying response to the question about small businesses like his, which need to hire people but can’t find workers. There’s a pandemic of job openings without applicants, yet Biden seemed to have little understanding of the steps needed to fix the problem … and tossed a word salad before moving on.”

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    Ted Lasso returns

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    “Ted Lasso,” a show that won more Emmy nominations than any new comedy in history, is back with its second season on Apple+. Its star, Jason Sudeikis, plays an American football coach who makes an improbable career move – becoming the coach of a down-and-out UK team that plays a different kind of football.

    “The players are cynical and dismissive; the press corps smells a dupe and a fool,” as John Avlon wrote. “But Ted Lasso’s secret weapon is the unapologetic defense of old virtues: kindness, compassion, humility and humor. He can seem corny and clueless, but his decency is endearing.”

    “His self-deprecating charm disarms rooms full of towering egos. He surprises people who’ve been conditioned to expect the worst and begins to adjust their expectations upward.”

    Avlon argued that the show is perfect for the Joe Biden era. “Like Ted Lasso, Joe Biden is often underestimated – dismissed by some unkind eyes as doddering, by others as an aging all-star of an outdated Washington game whose bipartisan, backslapping rules are no longer played. He can seem earnest to the point of self-parody, so old-school that he looks like a Jimmy Stewart character dropped into a Quentin Tarantino film. He makes mistakes, stumbles through circular sentences, but his decency makes him hard to demonize…

    “That rarest of all things, the genuinely good guy, cannot change the world all by himself. He may well lose more battles than he wins. But, in time, kindness will win converts and send forth tiny ripples of new possibilities that can change a culture.”