On Christmas Eve, Dr. Anthony Fauci will turn 81. Having advised seven presidents in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he is one of America’s best-known doctors and, for many, a trusted voice on Covid-19.
He became so much a part of everyday life over the past two years that people started naming their pets “Fauci,” although not quite at the rate owners called their cats and dogs “Zoom.”
Yet, as Frida Ghitis wrote, Fauci has been the target of increasingly overwrought attacks from the right for his role supporting vaccines and other proven measures to stem the pandemic. “It’s hard to top the once-respected Lara Logan, the South African reporter who left ’60 Minutes’ in disgrace and joined Fox News shortly after,” Ghitis noted. “During an appearance on Fox News Primetime on Monday, Logan equated Dr. Anthony Fauci – the top infectious diseases doctor in the United States and one of the world’s most respected scientists – with none other than Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor known as the ‘Angel of Death’ for performing brutally cruel experiments on concentration camp prisoners during World War II…”
“Logan’s words resonated around the world, provoking a furious reaction. The Auschwitz Museum in Poland, on the site where Nazis murdered more than 1 million human beings, mostly Jews, rebuked Logan,” calling her words “shameful” and “a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline.”
Ghitis observed, “as long as there’s a massive propaganda effort aimed at keeping people from accepting the vaccine, the arrival of Omicron is one more warning shot, one more sign that the pandemic can exploit social weaknesses, divisions and cynicism to continue preventing us from getting back our full lives. Those who tell the lies are at least partly responsible for everyone’s continuing plight.”
Misinformation isn’t just coming from personalities on politically oriented, right-wing outlets such as Fox News. “At least five conservative radio hosts who warned their audiences against the vaccine have died of Covid in recent months,” wrote Nicole Hemmer. “But the death of Marcus Lamb this week highlights a different network of misinformation that has nearly as broad a reach in conservative circles but receives far less attention in political media: conservative Christian broadcasters.”
Lamb, a televangelist and founder of the Daystar network, was “a major source of Covid-19 misinformation” and “died after being hospitalized with the disease,” Hemmer noted. Daystar is part of a cohort of religious “media outlets that enormous audiences of Americans consume on a regular basis, and that most political outlets tend to ignore.”
The Omicron shadow
It’s still not clear how serious a threat the Omicron variant poses, but it’s already casting a shadow over people’s lives, wrote David M. Perry. “Once upon a time, I hoped that preventive measures would push Covid-19 from pandemic to endemic by the end of this year, but that’s clearly not happening,” Perry wrote. “But in the meantime, I’m not finding it realistic to try and return my own or my family’s behavior to the harsh practices of the last year…”
“Hanukkah is here, Christmas is coming, and my mixed-faith family craves community. With rapid tests, good masks, and smart communication, we can make it through this Omicron scare without repeating last year’s winter isolation. But there’s still such a long road ahead until we’re once again made whole.”
South Africa was the first nation to identify the Omicron variant, and numerous world leaders responded by restricting travel from the country and several others in Africa. Alane Izu, a senior statistician, and Shabir A. Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand, said the travel bans will likely hurt their country “while providing little protection from Omicron to the rest of the world. South Africa should not be punished for being quick to identify the variant and notify the world of its presence. The promises heads of states made at the G20 summit in October to be collaborative in rebuilding the world tourism sector have seemingly been disregarded – and these travel restrictions are a misguided result…if Omicron cases had first emerged in a North American or Western European nation, would similar travel bans have been implemented?”
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His ‘new Christmas present’
In the past four months, there have been 32 shootings at K-12 schools in the US. But there was something different about the aftermath of Tuesday’s killings at Oxford High School in Michigan. Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old accused of shooting to death four fellow students, has been charged with terrorism in addition to other crimes. His parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, following the report the student’s father, James Crumbley, purchased the 9 mm Sig Sauer gun on Black Friday and kept it unlocked in a bedroom drawer, according to prosecutors.
The next day, his mother posted on social media, referring to “mom and son day testing out his new Christmas present.” The day before the shooting, a teacher raised concerns about Ethan, and his parents were summoned to the school the next morning when another teacher found a disturbing drawing on his desk – but none of the advance warnings prevented the killings.
“It’s unconscionable that his dad purchased the weapon, and that both parents failed to take the school’s warnings seriously, even though they knew their son had access to a gun,” wrote Kara Alaimo. “The Crumbleys’ apparent lack of concern for the welfare of the other children in their community is absolutely staggering.”
Prosecuting the parents is a step forward, according to Alaimo, who wrote that it “could serve as a powerful warning that helps reduce the number of school shootings in this country.”
The Michigan shooting was “another tragic reminder that the government has failed to address the need for stricter gun control,” Julian Zelizer observed. “School shootings became more infrequent during the pandemic, with students learning remotely from home. Now that kids are finally able to return to the classroom, however, this is the risk – and the terror – they face once again.”
The plague of school mass shootings is the “epidemic” America is failing to confront, wrote Zelizer. “Although Congress passed the first federal gun control law in 1934, the gun lobby has in more recent decades exerted its influence on allies in the House and Senate to prevent tighter restrictions on the sale of guns and ammunition… This country has had enough with limiting the response only to ‘thoughts and prayers’ – it’s time to pass stronger gun control legislation. Our children deserve nothing less.”
Mark Meadows, who served as former president Donald Trump’s last White House chief of staff, revealed in a new book obtained by the Guardian that Trump tested positive for Covid-19 three days before his first debate with Joe Biden.
As Michael D’Antonio noted, “The book says another test in that period came back negative. Meadows’ revelation could mean the then-president entered the venue even though he might have been endangering the lives of everyone there. For Trump, all’s fair in politics, it seems, including possibly exposing one’s opponent to a deadly pathogen. On Wednesday, Trump issued a statement denying that he had Covid prior to the debate… the uncertainty over which test was correct should have led to caution. What reasonable person would hide all this and proceed as normal? Indeed, four days after the debate, Trump was rushed to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for Covid care.”
Meadows also made news by agreeing to cooperate, at least to some degree, with the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
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Roe v. Wade’s endangered future
For 48 years, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling supporting abortion rights, has been the law of the land. But based on the oral arguments in a case heard by the Court this week, that could well change by the end of its term in June.
The consequences would be massive, wrote Mary Ziegler: “To overturn the 1973 decision would be a profound statement about women’s liberty and autonomy – a social and political earthquake that would fundamentally alter the lives of many.”
She added, “A decision eliminating Roe would mean that somewhere between 20 and 25 states would criminalize virtually all abortions, transforming the lives of people across large swathes of the South and Midwest. And overruling Roe would likely cut against popular opinion – well over half of Americans do not want abortion rights eliminated – putting the Court at risk of a backlash that could damage its public standing and jumpstart conversations about court reform.”
Journalist Claudia Dreifus wrote that she “can remember what life was like for women in the years before Roe. To be of childbearing age in the 1960s, as my friends and I were, meant knowing that our bodies and our futures didn’t belong to us. Whatever we hoped to do with our lives could be compromised by the capriciousness of nature or by a thoughtless mistake or a contraceptive mishap… Whether or not Roe survives, the lesson we must all learn is that preserving our rights – be they in speech, citizenship, privacy or reproduction – requires constant vigilance.”
The problem posed by Boebert
Only a couple of weeks after the House censured Rep. Paul Gosar for posting a manipulated anime video showing him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, videos posted on Facebook showed one of his fellow Republicans, Rep. Lauren Boebert speaking about an encounter she had in a Capitol Hill elevator with Rep. Ilhan Omar, calling the Democratic congresswoman a member of the “jihad squad” and implying Omar was a terrorist.
Boebert “offered a weak apology,” according to Lincoln Mitchell, who observed, “There is no question that Boebert’s comments were deeply bigoted, that Gosar’s violent fantasies are disturbing and that neither are conducting themselves the way most of us would like to see members of Congress – regardless of party – behave. But it is not at all obvious that censure, and a corresponding stripping of committee assignments, is the right, or even useful, solution to this problem.”
The leader of the GOP minority in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, should be calling out the bigotry, wrote SE Cupp. “It seems like the party is fine with these attacks on a Muslim member of Congress, the way it was fine with another Republican Congressman’s tweeting out of a death fantasy video against another woman of color and member of Congress. And yes, Republicans who don’t condemn this are complicit…”
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The Sondheim legacy
Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited film revival of “West Side Story” opens in theaters this week, just days after the death of Stephen Sondheim.
The movie reminds us, Gene Seymour wrote, of Sondheim’s “spectacular Broadway breakthrough in 1957 as lyricist to Leonard Bernstein’s music and Arthur Laurent’s libretto updating ‘Romeo and Juliet’ from Italy at the hinge of the 13th and 14th centuries to the meaner streets of upper Manhattan in the middle of the 20th.”
The comparisons people have made between Sondheim and the creator of “Romeo and Juliet” are not far-fetched, Seymour observed. William Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” is in a class of its own. But, Seymour argued, the song “Being Alive” from the 1970 musical “Company” is the closest thing in Sondheim’s work to the Hamlet soliloquy. “Indeed, any musical soliloquy – and there are dozens of them – from Sondheim’s collected works are such compendiums of emotional range and complexity that they can be viewed as mini-dramas of their own,” Seymour wrote.
As for the new “West Side Story,” early reviews are enthusiastic. “Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story 2.0 is an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival,” wrote the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “No one but Spielberg could have brought it off, creating a movie in which Leonard Bernstein’s score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics blaze out with fierce new clarity.”