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“I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing,” sang Alice Cooper. “I opened doors for little old ladies, I helped the blind to see.” But now, his 1973 song promised, “No more Mister Nice Guy.”
Last week, with the best of intentions, mayors, governors and company executives shifted into “no more Mister Nice Guy” mode. They began requiring workers to get Covid-19 vaccinations. And Thursday, as the highly contagious Delta variant sent Covid case counts surging around the country, President Joe Biden ordered federal employees to get vaccinated – or face consequences such as regular testing for the virus.
The move from gently persuading people to compelling them was a fateful one – but justified, experts said, because of the risk of a worsening pandemic.
Emergency medicine physician Janice Blanchard noted that last year her Covid patients were mostly the elderly and people with underlying conditions. But now, she is mainly treating people who are young, otherwise healthy – and unvaccinated.
“Treating a young person who is critically ill from a preventable illness is particularly heartbreaking. Most are unvaccinated. While those who are vaccinated are still at risk, they generally have less severe disease,” Blanchard wrote. “The Biden Administration’s plan seems to be the only logical step for addressing the persistent challenge of vaccinating a population thus far reluctant to get immunized. Vaccinations have to be incorporated as part of normal social behavior to overcome the pervasive problem of hesitancy.”
Blanchard noted that President Jimmy Carter’s administration’s successfully used mandates for the measles vaccine 50 years ago. By Carter’s “last year in office in 1981, 96% of all schoolchildren were vaccinated against measles – an all-time high – and the number of measles cases – 2600 – was at an all-time low,” Elena Conis wrote in a 2019 research paper.
Ben Franklin knew best
“Hundreds of Americans are dying every day from a vaccine-preventable illness,” wrote Alex Busko, an ER doctor. “One patient I cared for, an unvaccinated man in his late 30s, was only a few days into his illness and was already severely short of breath and requiring oxygen. Neither his clinical appearance nor his chest X-ray was particularly encouraging. I told him that there was a good chance he would get worse and that he would need to be admitted to the hospital. He asked me if I could give him the vaccine before he got worse, seemingly unaware that it does not treat the disease or cure you once you become infected.”
Busko added, “In the beginning, ending up on a ventilator was basically a death sentence. Now, if you become that sick, there’s a decent chance we can save your life. The one thing we haven’t figured out yet is how to convince someone to save their own.”
Requiring the vaccine makes sense, wrote Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post: “Those of us who have behaved responsibly — wearing masks and, since the vaccines became available, getting our shots — cannot be held hostage by those who can’t be bothered to do the same, or who are too deluded by misinformation to understand what is so clearly in their own interest.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week changed its guidance and recommended that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in regions where the disease is spreading. Dr. Jonathan Reiner urged officials to go further and reinstate indoor masking everywhere. “We should do this not to protect the vaccinated, for whom the risk remains low, but instead to protect the vulnerable, including the immunocompromised for whom vaccines are less effective as well as the children who cannot yet be vaccinated and the adults who still choose not to be vaccinated.”
Recalling Benjamin Franklin’s statement at the signing of the Declaration of Independence – “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately” – Reiner wrote, “The past 18 months have shown us the perils of disunity. More than any other time in the last century, we must now hang together.”
Kendra Barkoff Lamy and Doug Heye, two former congressional staffers, called for mandatory vaccination for everyone working at the US Capitol: “Capitol Hill is all but designed to be a Covid-19 spreader, with elected officials, congressional and support staff coming from diverse communities into the Capitol complex, working in close proximity and potentially either bringing the contagion in with them or taking it home.”
Peter Bergen wrote on Wednesday that the US should order members of the military to get vaccinated. “Just think about this: If the President can order military operations where troops may die, he surely can order them to take safe and effective vaccines to protect both themselves and their fellow citizens.” At his Thursday press conference, Biden said he was asking the Pentagon to move toward mandating the vaccine.
Theresa Brown, a nurse and author, observed that “personal choice must surrender to professional responsibility if someone’s choice endangers patients. That is why I support a national mandate requiring the Covid vaccine for all health care workers who work with patients, including nurses, doctors, dietary workers, home health aides and others.”
Some vaccine-hesitant people say they are waiting for the FDA to give full approval to the vaccines. Don’t, wrote Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein, a former FDA official: “The bottom line is that these vaccines were thoroughly evaluated prior to receiving EUA (emergency use authorization), and the further assessment being done prior to FDA approval is just icing on the cake.”
Peggy Drexler: Can you do something about stubborn unvaccinated people? Yes, you can.
Leana Wen: Public health saved your life today – you just don’t know it.
David M. Perry: Lurching back to ‘normal’ is risky.
Raul A. Reyes: Gregg Abbott’s outrageous Covid order to scapegoat immigrants in Texas.
It was a striking moment Wednesday when 67 senators – including 17 Republicans – voted to open debate on an approximately trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. Many people wrote off the chances for such a bipartisan agreement after Donald Trump’s presidency had so worsened the relationship between the parties. As David Axelrod noted, many Democrats treated Biden’s “consensus-seeking as a pointless and nostalgic fetish and grumpily accused the old man of wasting time looking for common ground that no longer existed in Washington.
“Now, it seems, Biden’s persistence – and that of an intrepid group of moderate senators of both parties – may be rewarded.”
Historian Julian Zelizer wrote that “unlike other presidents who attract voters through charisma, soaring rhetoric or the promise of bold new agendas, Biden’s selling point was always that he would focus on the task of problem-solving, tackling the nation’s toughest policy challenges and bringing as many people into the conversation as possible.”
Zelizer concluded, “Pulling off a major bipartisan agreement in this era, with Sen. Mitch ‘Obstruction’ McConnell’s support would be a major and unexpected feat.”
Suni Lee’s gold
Before the Tokyo Olympics began, the headlines were all about Simone Biles, Amy Bass wrote. There were endless “predictions about Simone Biles – how many medals, how GOAT is the GOAT, how many moves could be named for a single human?” But when Biles withdrew from competition last week, “the headlines changed. They rightfully started talking about the need to prioritize the mental health of athletes and touted the resilience of the remaining members of the US women’s team, who pulled together to win a silver medal for their team.”
And then US gymnast Suni Lee stepped up. “That she could fly higher than anyone on the uneven bars, we knew,” Bass wrote. “That her personal story – her dad’s paralysis from an accidental fall in 2019, her Hmong heritage, her aunt and uncle who died of Covid-19, her ankle injury upon her return to the gym after pandemic lockdown – was striking and complicated, we knew. That Suni Lee could – and would – win gold in the all-around in Tokyo? This we did not know, until now.”
Mia Ives-Rublee, a disability justice advocate who formerly competed internationally in wheelchair track and field and other events, saluted Biles: “This moment – the best in the world putting her mental wellbeing first, saying openly ‘It’s been really stressful these Olympic Games’ – may be her most defining one, showing others the importance of self-care.” She noted, “as a top-performing athlete, you are often expected to be a superhuman – at the peak, physically and mentally. I dealt with many issues around mental health … I spent years managing microaggressions around being mistaken for the only other Asian girl who competed nationally.”
In the Atlantic, Jemele Hill took issue with conservative critics of Biles. “Efforts to paint Biles as a mentally fragile quitter play into conservatives’ frequent insinuations that Black Americans are not as patriotic as they are – despite the long history of Black people representing, performing for, and fighting for this country without the benefit of full equality,” Hill wrote. “Walking away from competition now wasn’t an indication that Biles was weak. It was an indication that she was strong enough to admit that she couldn’t push through the problems she was facing.”
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For Jill Filipovic, the world-class women athletes brought to mind “the old line about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, just backward and in high heels.” Women in sport are “doing most of what the men do (and sometimes more), and doing it while being ogled, booed, scolded, sanctioned, fined and otherwise hyper-policed because of what they wear to compete.”
The women of the German gymnastics team made a choice to wear unitards covering their legs, rather than “the standard high-cut leotards,” Filipovic pointed out. In handball, “the difference is stark: Men play in shorts and tank tops, women basically in bikinis. The outcry has been loud enough that the rules may change.”
‘Riveting, disturbing, emotional’
Tuesday’s House select committee hearing brought back the horror of January 6, “the day the attackers came to kill American democracy,” as Frida Ghitis wrote. Four police officers who defended lawmakers from the enraged crowd told their stories.
“It was riveting, disturbing, emotional,” noted Ghitis. “DC Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and a concussion, and lost consciousness during the insurrection while being beaten and tased amid shouts of ‘kill him with his own gun,’ strained to maintain his composure as he noted that some members of Congress are downplaying or denying the attack. His eyes burning with emotion, he slammed the table with his hand: “It’s disgraceful!”
“It was a powerful indictment of those Republican leaders who now deny the truth of what happened, and in doing so help keep alive a threat against American democracy.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted from her role in the GOP leadership because she blamed Trump for January 6, is now serving on the select committee. Meanwhile, her replacement in GOP leadership, Rep. Elise Stefanik asserted Tuesday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi “bears responsibility” for “the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6.”
SE Cupp saw Stefanik’s comments this way: “That’s right, the Democratic Speaker, who herself was targeted that day by a violent mob, was to blame…The speaker of the house is not responsible for the security of Congress, the Capitol Police are. Stefanik knows this. She’s not stupid. She is, however, disgraceful, to quote Officer Fanone. It’s the only word that can describe her spectacular misuse of power and platform.”
As Michael D’Antonio recalled, on January 6, Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama told the “Save America Rally” at the Ellipse, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” D’Antonio added, “Faced, now, with a lawsuit alleging that he incited the violence that ensued, Brooks claimed he never advocated for violence.”
But “thanks to Brooks’ own revelation, made to Slate writer Jim Newell this week, that he wore body armor that day, we know that like so many others Trumpists, he was ready for a rumble.
Brooks told Newell that he had been warned of “risks” and as a result, slept in his office instead of returning to his condo and wore body armor when he spoke at the Ellipse.
With his incendiary words, “Rep. Mo Brooks may as well have been Trump himself,” wrote D’Antonio. “In their violence and bigotry, the rioters at the Capitol showed the officers that they had absorbed Trump’s message so well they too expressed the essence of Trump.”
Leaving allies behind
Sohail Pardis served as an interpreter for US forces in Afghanistan for 16 months, months shy of the two-year minimum needed to qualify for a special immigrant visa program the US offers to Afghan applicants.
As Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, chief executive of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, wrote, Pardis “was on his way to pick up his sister in Afghanistan’s Khost province for the upcoming Eid celebrations marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned into a horrific nightmare as he reached a Taliban-controlled checkpoint along his route to Kabul. As CNN reported Friday, villagers witnessed Taliban militants drag Pardis out of the vehicle and behead him.”
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“Pardis’ ruthless killing underscores the need for urgent and bold action to protect allies who President Joe Biden swore would be given a home in the US if they wanted one. Months of advocacy from refugee advocates, veterans, human rights organizations and legislators have moved the administration toward an evacuation, albeit with less urgency and decisiveness than the situation has warranted.”
Matt Zeller: The Biden administration has a life-or-death decision to make about Afghanistan
Sultana Sidibrahim Khaya: I’ve been raped, beaten and held under house arrest for fighting for my Sahrawi people.
Peniel E. Joseph: Remembering the most important civil rights hero most Americans have never heard of.
Randi Weingarten: You can’t keep us from teaching students honest history.
Anne Lagamayo: A brain injury turned my life upside down, and I’m still finding my way forward.
Dean Obeidallah: In America, you must be able to curse the president.
Victor Shi: Where the fight to build a better democracy starts.
An ‘Evening with Whitney’
Whitney Houston died more than nine years ago. But this October, a Las Vegas casino will start featuring a Whitney Houston concert – starring a hologram of the legendary singer, along with a live band, singers and dancers. The “Evening with Whitney” has the approval of her estate, but it’s still a betrayal, wrote Holly Thomas.
“Holograms, because they are designed to bring a visual image to life, feel like appropriating someone’s legacy, creating a false echo of their essence and manipulating the new, streamlined version for profit,” Thomas wrote. She also criticized plans, which are currently on hold, for an Amy Winehouse hologram tour and the use of artificial intelligence to “create a model of Anthony Bourdain’s voice for 45 seconds of narration in the documentary ‘Roadrunner’ (produced by CNN Films) about his life and 2018 death by suicide. Many fans were disgusted by the use of AI to turn lines from Bourdain’s writing into soundbites in his voice. ‘In the end I understood this technique was boundary-pushing,’ director Morgan Neville said. ‘But isn’t that Bourdain?’”
Thomas observed, “No one is confused as to whether the holograms of Whitney Houston or Amy Winehouse are flesh and bone. But it is their faces and bodies being made a vehicle for their voices that are being manipulated. There is no possibility now for them to refuse this ‘performance.’ They didn’t consent to the version of themselves that would be touted by their estates after they died, and there’s no way of knowing what they’d have thought of it.”
Houston’s biggest single, according to Billboard, was “I Will Always Love You.” Her fans will always love her, but is a hologram the way they want to remember Whitney Houston?