Macron and Le Pen held the only debate of the presidential campaign Wednesday night.

Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut of The New York Times report that in spite of Macron’s widening lead over Le Pen, large pockets of France do not like Macron. At all.

No French president has been the object of such intense dislike among significant segments of the population as Mr. Macron — the result, experts say, of his image as an elitist out of touch with the ordinary French people whose pensions and work protections he has threatened in his efforts to make the economy more investor-friendly.

Just how deep that loathing runs will be a critical factor — perhaps even the decisive one — in the election against his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen. Recent polls give Mr. Macron a lead of around 10 percentage points — wider than at some points in the campaign, but only a third of his winning margin five years ago.

“Macron and the hatred he arouses is unprecedented,” said Nicolas Domenach, a veteran political journalist who has covered the past five French presidents and is the co-author of “Macron: Why So Much Hatred?,” a recently published book. “It stems from a particular alignment. He is the president of the rich and the president of disdain.” No doubt Mr. Macron could end up winning re-election despite his unpopularity.

Even if a groundswell of voters does not turn out to vote for him, what matters for him is that enough voters come out to vote against her — to build a “dam” against the far right.

Switching to domestic news, Renée Graham of The Boston Globe says that the COVID-19 pandemic unmasked the selfishness of much of the country.

As a nation, Americans never nailed the whole “we’re in this together” thing during this ongoing pandemic. The greatest public health crisis of our lifetime has often been met with indifference, and not just by Trump, who labeled himself “a wartime president” but was really COVID’s accomplice. While refrigerated trucks were parked outside of hospitals as mobile morgues to accommodate the overwhelming number of COVID deaths, some preferred to burn masks to protest pandemic restrictions.

Once headlines verified what many of us anticipated — that COVID, enabled by systemic and institutional racism, would have a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities — scores of white people, some of them armed, took to the streets and state houses for raucous anti-lockdown tantrums.

People went from cheering health care workers to cheering the fact that they would no longer have to use one of the most effective mitigation devices during this pandemic. That puts the elderly, immunocompromised, and children too young to be vaccinated at risk. What’s being hailed as a victory for independence and personal choice feels like surrender.

Aaron Blake of The Washington Post offers a data analysis that shows that now that COVID-19 mitigation measures have become simply another battle of political partisanship, white Americans are now consistently dying at higher rates than people of color.

A few weeks after the coronavirus emerged in the United States, a grim pattern was obvious. Black Americans were dying of covid-19 at disproportionately high rates. Articles in early April 2020 identified that pattern in Chicago and in Michigan. ProPublica tracked a similar effect in other places.

But soon after that, the country’s response to the pandemic changed. Thanks in part to President Donald Trump having argued that the virus posed little risk and was soon going to vanish from the United States, Republicans began to express far less concern about being infected. They reported being less likely to take preventive measures against contracting the disease, such as wearing a mask. And, over time, Republican parts of the country began seeing higher rates of mortality than places that voted for Joe Biden in November 2020.

And, inextricably, White Americans — a demographic the vast majority of Republicans are part of — began consistently dying at higher rates than non-Whites.

I feel like I knew this already from reading Charles Gaba’s work on a similar (if not the same) topic.

Leave it to Rex Huppke of USA Today (formerly of the Chicago Tribune) to find a way to combine the end of the transportation mask mandates with Tucker Carlson’s techniques of testicle tanning in the same column.

While the loudest among us hailed the end of masks on flights like it was Victory in Europe Day, tweeting gleeful images of their unmasked midair mugs grinning ear-to-ear, a majority of Americans would just as soon everyone keep their masks on for the time being, as COVID-19 continues to spread and pose a threat to many.

On Wednesday, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that “56% of those surveyed favor requiring people on planes, trains and public transportation to wear masks, compared with 24% opposed and 20% who say they are neither in favor nor opposed.”

Put me firmly in the majority. While my risk is low – I’m vaccinated, boosted and in good health – I still don’t want anything to do with COVID-19, and I don’t want to put others at risk when a simple face mask adds an additional layer of protection.

E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post says that the protection of American democracy is too important for the Jan. 6 Committee and the Department of Justice to be concerned that the investigation is too “political.”

Worry about what might or might not look “political” is itself a political consideration that should not impede equal justice under the law. If a president is not above the law, a defeated former president isn’t, either.

A central lesson from the ambiguous end of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections is that both the Jan. 6 committee and the Justice Department must be explicit about any crimes they determine Trump committed and take appropriate action. Otherwise, Trump and his minions will loudly claim exoneration, even in the face of revealed facts to the contrary.

This is why the Jan. 6 committee should not be reluctant to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department if it concludes that Trump broke the law. Yes, there is legitimate debate about this. Especially if Garland is already moving toward an indictment, some committee members worry that a referral might make legal action look — that word again — political.

Kyle Cheney and Betsy Woodruff Swan of POLITICO report that one of the final pieces of the Jan. 6 insurrection puzzle that remains unsolved is former Vice President Mike Pence’s response to Trump’s request to overturn the 2020 election results.

That gap of information looms as the House panel works to finalize a minute-by-minute account of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, when he pushed Pence to prevent the transfer of power to Biden. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has remained publicly undecided about whether to seek testimony from Pence himself, noting that Pence’s closest advisers have cooperated fulsomely. But investigators must also confront whether Pence’s side of that conversation — for which no Pence advisers were present — is significant enough to ask him to fill in the blanks.

It’s unlikely the committee will attempt to force Pence to testify. There are imposing legal obstacles for subpoenaing a former vice president, and the panel considers Pence a witness, not a target of their probe. Whether they ask for his voluntary help is another question.

Candace Bond-Theriault writes for The Nation that the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo, having already lied about critical race theory, is now going after queer theory.

His rhetoric and anti-fact-based campaigns are extremely dangerous. He is effectively deploying anti-Black—and now anti-LGBTQ—sentiment to achieve a longer-term and broader white Christian nationalist objective of purging critical thinking from schools. This has been a long-standing goal of the conservative movement: to develop a generation or more of adults who have not been trained to critically think about the world, their role in it, or what life can be like beyond trying to fit into the once-majority white cisheteronormative Christian mold. If they can stop our children from learning how to think, then they will be easier to manipulate with appeals based in falsehoods and bigotry such as those peddled by Rufo.

Teaching children how to think critically is paramount to ensuring that our future generations grow into informed and responsible participants in our democracy. And most children are already curious by nature. In her book Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom, Black feminist thinker bell hooks rightly declares, “Children are organically predisposed to be critical thinkers…. Sadly, children’s passion for thinking often ends when they encounter a world that seeks to educate them for conformity and obedience only. Most children are taught early on that thinking is dangerous.”

Indoctrinating and training instead of teaching is the white Christian conservative MO.

Dennis Aftergut of NBC News warns that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks to be the competition for Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, in all the ways that matter.

Certainly, what’s happening now in Florida looks a lot like the thought control that has happened in totalitarian societies. Whether in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or today’s China, the banning of books is a central strategy for strongmen. DeSantis has no qualms using that playbook if he thinks it will benefit him politically.

And it very well may be benefitting him politically.

More and more, DeSantis looks like Donald Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 presidential nomination. Trump has a far bigger Republican audience — for now. But according to Frank Luntz, a veteran GOP pollster, Trump’s popularity may have already peaked.

Meanwhile, DeSantis’ political star is on the rise. His favorables among independents are above 60 percent, according to a March 25 McLaughlin & Associates’ poll. The conservative National Review’s editor, Rich Lowry, has an explanation: DeSantis comes “without the distracting obsessions of the former president.”

Keep that in mind as you consider areas where DeSantis presents an even clearer present and future danger than Trump does.

Both men have declared war on Twitter.

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Speaking of Elon Musk, John Cassidy of The New Yorker has a couple of questions about Musk’s plans to pursue a takeover of Twitter.

The first one is whether he is serious about launching a hostile takeover, with all the costs that would entail. Wall Street isn’t convinced. On Monday afternoon, Twitter’s stock was trading at about forty-seven dollars, well below the $54.20 in cash that Musk has offered. If investors thought the takeover was very likely to happen, the stock price would be trading at close to Musk’s offer price, or maybe even above it in anticipation of a possible bidding war. On Friday, Twitter’s board rebuffed Musk by adopting a so-called poison pill, which would enable the company’s other shareholders to buy more stock at a discount if Musk raised his ownership stake above fifteen per cent. (After accumulating some seventy-three million Twitter shares in recent weeks, he currently owns about nine per cent.) But Twitter’s stock was trading below Musk’s offer price even before the company adopted its defensive ploy, which Musk could conceivably challenge in court.

[…]

The other big question, of course, is what Musk would do with Twitter if he did acquire it. At Thursday’s ted event, he said that the social-media platform “has become kind of the de-facto town square,” and added, “It’s just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law.” In response to a question about how Twitter should decide whether a certain tweet crosses the line between legitimate free speech and harmful content that needs taking down, he said, “I do think that we want to be just very reluctant to delete things, just be very cautious with permanent bans. Time-outs, I think, are better than permanent bans.”

To social-media experts, these statements raised red flags. In an effort to remove hate speech and other harmful content, Twitter and other social-media platforms have in recent years invested heavily in artificial intelligence and human moderators. Although Musk hasn’t said explicitly that he would reverse these initiatives, he has frequently expressed frustration with how Twitter operates—despite the fact that its current content policies are a response to some flagrant abuses. “When you talk about a public square, it’s a flawed analogy,” Alex Stamos, a former senior executive at Facebook who flagged Russian disinformation during the 2016 Presidential election, told the Washington Post. “In this case, the Twitter town square includes hundreds of millions of people who can interact pseudo-anonymously from hundreds of miles away. A Russian troll farm can invent hundreds of people to show up in the town square.”

Binyamin Appelbaum of The New York Times writes that the specific problem of air pollution is even more acute and immediate than the general problem of climate change.

The menace of air pollution doesn’t command public attention as it did in the 1960s, when thick smog yellowed urban skies. But evidence has piled up in recent years that the real progress the United States has made in reducing air pollution isn’t nearly good enough. Air pollution is a lot deadlier than we previously understood — and, in particular, studies like the analysis of heart attacks during the pandemic show that the concentrations of air pollution currently permitted by federal policy are still far too high.

In an assessment of recent research, the World Health Organization concluded last year that air pollution is “the single largest environmental threat to human health and well-being.”

The low quality of the air that we breathe should be regarded as a crisis. It also presents an opportunity. The existential threat of climate change has come to dominate debates about environmental regulation. Proposals to curb emissions, once presented as public health measures, are now billed as efforts to limit global warming.

I didn’t particularly like the idea of posing the problem of air pollution against climate change; climate change isn’t “a distant specter” on the horizon—only its worst effects are—and the solutions to the two problems are the same: cutting down on fossil fuels.

But then I read Zoha Tunio’s Inside Climate News report of air pollution in southeast Asia (primarily focused on India) and now I wonder if Appelbaum is more right than wrong.

Finally today, Andrew Roth and Pjotr Sauer of The Guardian report on the signs of war fatigue in Russian society.

On both sides of a polarised Russian society, the failures of the first stage of the war have raised the stakes of the conflict, turning what the Kremlin calls a “special operation” into an existential one.

“We are seeing that the fate of Putin, Russia and society as a whole is being merged into one,” said Greg Yudin, a sociologist. “I hear more often that while people think the war might have been a mistake, they say there is no way back; they say ‘we’ve got to finish the job.’”

Marina Litvinovich, an opposition activist and politician who has remained in Russia, said she saw the war as a stress test for the government that threatened to bring down the “colossus with clay feet” that Putin had built over 20 years in power.

But among ordinary Russians, she also sees clear signs of war fatigue brought on by a flood of information from the early days of the invasion. Apathy is on the rise.

Everyone have a great day!

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