Take President Joe Biden. He has been walking a tightrope, trying to please both the progressives and moderates in his party, hoping Democrats will unite to launch the biggest expansion of social spending in nearly 60 years. He risks disaster if he can’t get the two sides to make a deal.
Biden spent the week on the defensive — lambasted by voices in his own party and by Republicans for his handling of a humanitarian crisis over migrants in Texas, seeing his plans for widespread Covid-19 booster shots get brought down to size by some scientists and government regulators, grappling with the fallout from the US deal to share nuclear submarine technology with Australia.
Addressing the UN General Assembly Tuesday, Biden promised America would play an expansive role in tackling the world’s problems, Aaron David Miller wrote, but he “is an embattled president with dropping approval ratings and a hugely ambitious domestic social and economic agenda hanging in the balance.”
“Abroad, recent actions — including a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan conflict, an errant deadly drone strike in Kabul and his French-fried diplomatic row with Emmanuel Macron over the sale of submarines to Australia from which France is now excluded — have raised questions among allies and adversaries alike about America’s competency, reliability and commitment…The challenge for the President is now to deliver and to close the widening gap between his words and deeds. If he can’t, American credibility will fall into the gap he himself helped to create.”
The fate of Biden’s sweeping ambitions in Congress should become clearer in the next few days, wrote Julian Zelizer. “If the week ends badly for the President, it won’t just be his problem — it will be an ominous sign of the broader problems that afflict liberalism and the ability of our government to respond to major crises. Our planet is in demise, the systems that perpetuate racial injustice are still in place and economic inequality is only getting worse. Will Washington be able to step up and finally provide big solutions?”
Justices, prove it
On September 12, Senator Mitch McConnell introduced the Supreme Court’s newest and youngest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, at a 30th anniversary celebration of a leadership center named after him at the University of Louisville. “My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” said the 49-year-old Barrett, who is known for her conservative views. The court rules based on the law, not politics, she said. “Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties.”
Her remarks echoed those of one of the court’s liberal justices, Stephen Breyer, who at 83 is the oldest member of the court, and wrote, in his recent book, “A judge’s loyalty is to the rule of law, not the political party that helped to secure his or her appointment.”
When the nine members of the court begin their fall term October 4, they will have a chance to prove Barrett and Breyer right — or wrong.
On the court’s agenda is a Mississippi case that could enable the conservative majority to throw out Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional basis for abortion rights in America. The court has declined to block a Texas law which deputizes private citizens to file suits against people who perform abortions after as few as six weeks of pregnancy, and other states are preparing similar laws. “Roe’s constitutional protection of abortion is in genuine peril,” wrote Joshua Prager, author of a new book, “The Family Roe.”
“The last time it was in such danger was 1992, when the Supreme Court took up the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a Pennsylvania case focused on how and when a state may regulate abortion. At the time, abortion rights advocates feared the court would overturn Roe. But as is well known, one of the junior justices on the Court, David Souter, secretly struck an alliance with Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor to rescue Roe.” Prager obtained a copy of a law clerk’s pivotal memo that helped tip the scales in favor of saving the Roe precedent.
“If Roe is overruled,” the law clerk wrote, “the public will understand that the Court’s reversal is explainable solely by reason of changes in the composition of the Court.” Thus, he concluded: “The damage to the public understanding of the Court’s decisions as neutral expositions of the law … would be incalculable.” The same argument could apply today, given Barrett’s appointment to the court as a replacement for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which McConnell expedited in the closing months of President Donald Trump’s term.
The law clerk’s reasoning proved influential. In a joint opinion partly read aloud by Justice Souter, members of the court warned that reversing precedents could be seen as “a surrender to political pressure” and “subvert the Court’s legitimacy beyond any serious question.”
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The Gabby Petito mystery
Last Sunday, police found the body of missing “van life” blogger Gabby Petito, and this week authorities began a search for her fiancé. As Holly Thomas noted, a huge online community followed every step of the mystery: “The couple’s August 12 encounter with the police in Utah during which Petito described a fight between herself and Laundrie that morning. The TikTok-er who claimed that she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on August 29 in Wyoming. The odd text message from Petito’s phone on August 30, which her family doubts was written by Gabby herself.”
Thomas noted that “everything has been combed over again and again, the public obsessing over theories, the media racing to deliver each new tidbit of information. It feels impossible that something horrific could have happened to a young woman whose life and relationship — documented on her beautiful Instagram grid — appeared to be perfect.”
“Yet while all women face the threat of violence from men, the steps taken by the authorities meant to protect them differ radically, especially depending on their race,” said Thomas. “A recent report from the Violence Policy Center found that in 2018 Black women were murdered by men at a rate nearly three times higher than White women. And yet their deaths aren’t reported in the press nearly as regularly.”
The scenes at the US border were wrenching. Patrice Lawrence called it a “human-rights catastrophe” and noted that “it has happened on the Biden administration’s watch.” On Monday, “the nation saw horrifying images of Border Patrol officials appearing to chase and confront asylum seekers, who were largely Haitian, near the international bridge between Coahuila, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas.”
As Jill Filipovic wrote, there were “families, some with young children, desperately waiting in squalor for help — only to find that their imagined safe harbor refuses to welcome them and is instead sending them back to homelessness, instability and a bleak future.” By week’s end, some of the thousands camped under the bridge in Del Rio had been deported to Haiti, with others released into the US to await asylum hearings.
“The Biden administration was supposed to be better than this,” Filipovic wrote. Instead, he presided over “a humanitarian disaster and a moral failure. And people who were enraged and heartbroken by Trump’s immigration policies should be taking a hard look at Biden’s choices right now and asking whether such egregious behavior is acceptable — just because the President had a D next to his name on the ballot.”
Not exactly news from the Ninjas
In another embarrassment for the supporters of Donald Trump, a report ordered up by the GOP-controlled Arizona Senate essentially confirmed the obvious: Joe Biden won in Maricopa County.
Stephen Richer, the county official who oversees elections, wrote for CNN Opinion that the choice of the company that did the review, Cyber Ninjas, was strange. “Prior to Arizona, Cyber Ninjas had no elections experience and had done zero election audits. Zero. And the company’s actions have raised questions about it being partisan.”
Olivia Troye, who served as Vice President Mike Pence’s homeland security adviser, wrote that “while Trump and his supporters failed to overturn the 2020 elections, charges of election fraud have already become a dangerous blueprint for the future, threatening to undermine our free and fair elections and stoke the potential for violence throughout the country.”
The new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, “Peril,” revealed a post-election memo written by John Eastman, a Trump-supporting lawyer, that laid out a scenario for Pence to overturn the legitimate 2020 vote and hand Trump a second term. The memo “begins with a lie and then descends into madness,” legal analyst Elie Honig wrote, and “is at once rife with falsehoods, childlike in its reasoning and deadly dangerous in its proposed application.”
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Covid-19 has now become the “deadliest epidemic ever to hit the United States,” surpassing the 1918 influenza pandemic, wrote Jeffrey Sachs. There is “one overwhelming and grim reality: most of the Covid deaths could have been prevented, but America’s fractured culture — political, economic and personal — mainly delivered death rather than life.”
The US has one of the highest Covid mortality rates– “shockingly high,” wrote Sachs, “considering that the US mass produces Covid-19 vaccines that prevent most deaths. Instead of an orderly lifesaving response to the epidemic, the US response has been unruly and disorderly from the start. Many lives would have been saved if the US had only implemented basic public-health protections until mass vaccine coverage was possible: mask mandates, physical distancing, testing-tracing-isolation procedures and closing large events. Once the vaccines arrived, continued use of precautionary actions would have helped to keep the virus at bay. (Vaccines save lives but only partly prevent infections and transmission.)”
In France, strict new rules seem to be helping the nation stem the Covid surge, wrote David Andelman. “With the exception of weekend protesters, France has wholeheartedly embraced a new law, passed in July, that requires every adult to present a ‘pass sanitaire’ before entering places like restaurants, cafés, museums, theaters and sports stadiums. While President Joe Biden has told businesses they must enforce vaccine mandates, French President Emmanuel Macron has successfully instituted vaccine passports for the whole nation.”
And there was an important piece of good news for the US this week, wrote Dr. Lawrence C. Kleinman: “Pfizer announced Monday that data from recent trials suggests that children 5-11 have a safe and effective response to its Covid-19 vaccine. The news holds the hope to herald a new phase in our battle to end the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus in the United States.”
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From the moment he lit the Olympic cauldron in the 1996 Atlanta Games, Muhammad Ali “became a virtually sanctified figure, embodying the movements for civil and human rights that he came to symbolize in America and around the world,” Peniel Joseph observed. Now a new Ken Burns documentary is giving viewers a much fuller account of Ali’s extraordinary life, including his brash entry to the world of sports, his athletic achievements and all of the controversy around his social and political stances.
He was a “a man full of paradoxes,” Joseph wrote. “A freedom fighter who abandoned one of his early mentors, Malcolm X, in favor of a group that would take advantage of him for over a decade…”
“This documentary’s greatness lies in how it reminds a new generation of audiences that Muhammad Ali’s athletic excellence and political rebellion mutually defined not only his time, but also our own era of racial and political reckoning.”