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Opinion: A liberal city’s wake up call


Lincoln’s words stand out on Presidents Day weekend, when history is being made from Beijing to Ukraine to the US. It’s true, as L.P. Hartley wrote, that “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” But we visit that foreign country all the time.

The uses and misuses of history are at the root of so many struggles playing out in American society and politics right now.

The debacle was only one of the factors behind last week’s recall election that bounced three school board members from their seats. Also at play, Nicole Hemmer wrote, were “extended pandemic school closures … an attempt to move away from testing and GPA requirements for admission into high-ranking public schools, a growing achievement gap, an enormous budget deficit and, in the case of one school board member, the use of a racial slur in an anti-Asian rant…”

“Deep-pocketed, right-leaning donors shoveled money into the recall, while activists and media outlets began using language that lashed together the disparate dissatisfactions into a coherent message,” observed Hemmer. “Democratic politicians often lack courage when backlash politics are in motion, as likely to jump on the outrage bandwagon as shrink into the shadows, waiting for it to blow over. But they and progressive activists have a responsibility to counter moral panics with narratives more rooted in reality and more concerned with those whose needs are being overlooked.”
In the Los Angeles Times, Mark Z. Barabak called Tuesday’s recall “a foreshock, a warning — as if Democrats needed any more of those — that November’s midterm elections could be very bad indeed, as parents unsettled by two years of pandemic-related upheaval vent their frustrations at the polls.”
The recall was “a landslide,” wrote Henry Olsen in the Washington Post. “Between 72 and 79 percent of San Franciscans who voted opted to kick them out. Every region in the city voted against the three board members, including more than 80 percent in heavily Asian districts such as Chinatown, Richmond and Sunset. No one can credibly say this was a case of Republicans using imaginary issues to fan voter discontent.”
In June, San Francisco voters will choose whether to recall another official — District Attorney Chesa Boudin. As Jill Filipovic wrote, this week “Boudin came forward with a stunning claim: That the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab uses DNA evidence obtained from rape kits and entered into a DNA database to try to identify suspects in other crimes … Whatever is ultimately determined about the police department’s lab, the damage may already be done. If rape survivors believe that the evidence collected in their rape kits could be used against them, that’s one more reason on an already-long list to not trust the criminal justice system — or seek justice at all.”

School wars

Ron Brownstein wrote for CNN Politics that “the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic are reconfiguring the politics of education, dividing Democrats and creating new openings for Republicans.” The key factor, he observed, is “an aggressive drive by Republicans to censor how public school teachers talk about race, gender, sexual orientation and other sensitive topics. That effort amounts to the most intrusive attempt to set legislative limits on the specific content of classroom instruction since the spate of state laws barring the teaching of evolution during the 1920s and the anti-Communist loyalty oaths for teachers that proliferated during the Joe McCarthy era after World War II.”

Reflecting on Black History Month, Danté Stewart noted, “There are those who seem to think our lives are just lessons, somehow reducing us to helping White people to ‘get it.’ My mind cannot escape the simple fact that so many people ran to our books and our art or to the streets in 2020, believing that simply reading or marching would somehow magically change the White supremacist power structure so pervasive in our country without fundamental change in how we live together.”

“Just two years later, after all the anti-racist work and organizing, we are dealing once again with White backlash on one hand, and White exhaustion on the other. Some want to erase us. Others want to control us. This misses the power of our living. We neither must be perfect or in performance to stay alive. We neither must be ‘exceptional’ or ‘superhuman.’ None of that is necessary. The power is that we are here…”
Complicating the picture for Democrats in the midterm elections, Justin Gest wrote, is their growing fear that a substantial number of Latino voters are open to supporting Republicans. “Contrary to their monolithic treatment by many Americans, Latinos have always been very diverse — economically, culturally and in their ethnic and national origins. But, politically speaking, they were reliably Democratic.”

“That may no longer be true. In an era when conservative politics is acutely nationalist and consumed by a sense of cultural threat, a number of new polls show Latino voters growing more Republican.”

Voters this year will make fateful choices about the future of American elections, according to the officials who manage the voting process in two states. California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber and Jocelyn Benson, who holds the equivalent post in Michigan, wrote, “there are already nearly two dozen candidates running to be the chief election officer in their state who question the legitimacy of President Biden’s win in 2020 and support efforts to both restrict access to the ballot and institute changes that would allow officials to invalidate or overturn results at will.”

“One has called for the dissolution of the bipartisan Wisconsin Election Commission, which fairly administers elections in the Badger State; another proposed a bill in the Arizona state legislature that would allow that partisan body to simply overrule a secretary of state’s decision to officially certify the results of an election.”

Healing a divided nation is a huge challenge. In his new book on Lincoln’s plans for peace after the Civil War, John Avlon writes that the 16th president’s second inaugural address in 1865 cast him as “a prophet of reconciliation” who urged his nation “to transcend all the dualities that divided it: North and South, black and white, free and unfree — carrying forward recognition of our common humanity into the wider world…so that the promise of the United States might be redeemed and serve as a beacon of universal freedom.”

Ukraine stakes

No one outside the Kremlin knows what Vladimir Putin will do with the enormous military force assembled on the borders of Ukraine. “This is probably the largest accretion of firepower seen in Europe for 40 years,” The Economist has reported. “Russia has activated units from every corner of its territory. Even the Eastern Military District, an administrative zone that stretches to the North Korean border, has been virtually emptied out, with most of its forces sent to Belarus.”
Whatever happens, “there’s only one thing we know with certainty about how a war would play out in Ukraine: it would be unpredictable,” Frida Ghitis wrote. “It’s not going to unfold precisely as military planners predict, no matter how detailed and well thought-out they might be. … It’s the geopolitical manifestation of the wisdom famously imparted by former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson: ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.'”
In the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman argued that “if Vladimir Putin opts to back away from invading Ukraine, even temporarily, it’s because Joe Biden — that guy whose right-wing critics suggest is so deep in dementia he wouldn’t know Kyiv from Kansas or AARP from NATO — has matched every Putin chess move with an effective counter of his own.” The threat to Ukraine, Friedman wrote, has been “an electroshock to the heart of the NATO alliance, a bolt that brought it out of its sclerosis like nothing else since the end of the Cold War.”

Still, he noted, Putin could launch an invasion. What the Russian president fears most of all, in Friedman’s view is not the unlikely prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, but rather “the expansion of the E.U.’s sphere of influence and the prospect that it would midwife a decent, democratic, free-market Ukraine that would every day say to the Russian people, ‘This is what you could be without Putin.'”

Olympic wipeout

As a child, ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver dreamed of reaching the Olympics — and she realized that goal competing for Canada at the 2014 and 2018 Games.

Watching the figure skating competition at this year’s Beijing Games amid the controversy over Russian athlete Kamila Valieva’s positive drug test has been painful for Weaver and so many others, not least Valieva herself.

The 15-year-old Russian skater was allowed to compete in the individual event Thursday, but instead of leading the field as many had expected, she stumbled, fell and finished fourth.

“An ethereal, beloved sport intertwined with a storied past of scandal and controversy, figure skating is as confusing as it is beautiful,” wrote Weaver. “Loss of faith in knowing that fair play will prevail has damaged our sport and our morale. And while Russia has laid the foundation for much of our sport’s history, it is also seemingly at the root of every disparaging news headline.”

If a country can’t follow the rules, Weaver observed, “they shouldn’t be allowed to participate at all. This travesty of an Olympic event we are finding ourselves in has had many failures. The first was not banning Russia after the findings of systemic, state-sponsored doping during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Proof of cheating, doping, switched out samples through a hole in the wall, and government funding were all found to be true. If you haven’t watched the movie ‘Icarus,’ the depth of manipulation and threats might shock you. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes you want to turn your back on sport altogether.”

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The problem with raw cookie dough

The Omicron wave has receded in most of the US, and leaders in government and business now have to manage the aftermath. “While rolling back precautionary policies makes sense right now as Covid-19 cases decline and stabilize, it must be stressed that the only way it is safe to return to normal life is with a contingency plan for masking back up if the next variant of concern warrants it,” wrote Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease expert.

The argument for “living with Covid” has been that we all take risks, from driving cars to eating rare hamburgers to eating raw cookie dough, and that the possibility of getting the coronavirus is just another risk. Sepkowitz called this a “continued confusion between advice given for individual health and advice given for public health. … Undercooked chicken is not contagious. If you want to take the risk, go for it. Go ahead and skydive all you want as well, perhaps while eating raw cookie dough…Yes, masks and distancing and vaccines effectively do protect a person’s own health. But the CDC has to worry about that guy over there working the cash register and your friend’s frail grandmother and your friend’s frail grandmother’s health aide.”

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Prince Andrew settles

Prince Andrew’s settlement with Virginia Giuffre, who alleged she was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein, has major implications, wrote Kara Alaimo.

“What has happened is extraordinarily unusual. The son of the Queen of the United Kingdom — a man who is royalty — was stripped of his privileges by his own mother after being accused of sexual misconduct and made to account for his behavior in a foreign court, though he ended up settling with Giuffre out of court.”

This sends a deafening message to other powerful men: No privileges in the world will enable you to use your power to dodge allegations of sexual abuse … the fact that he has essentially faced royal excommunication, a foreign civil trial and has been made to pay a settlement to her can only have put many other men on notice — and signals to other women who have been victims of sexual abuse that their voices will be heard.”

Upbeat Super Bowl

Never mind the dramatic football game and the widely praised halftime show. For many, the most anticipated parts of the Super Bowl this year, as always, were the ads.

In Tim Calkins‘ view, the key takeaway of the commercials was that “Americans are fatigued by the pandemic, and are looking forward to brighter days ahead.”

Writing for CNN Business Perspectives, he noted, “Most years, the Super Bowl is a mix of humorous, cheerful spots and more thoughtful, emotional advertising. For every funny Bud Light spot, there is typically a more serious ad, like Google’s wistful “Loretta” spot in 2020, or Airbnb’s “We Accept” ad from 2017. This year, the tone was relentlessly upbeat. Only a few advertisers tried to address anything remotely serious …

“There was almost no mention of the pandemic, aside from an ad from testing company Cue. There were no masks, no thank-yous to the first responders, no reminders to get a booster. There weren’t even subtle references to it…”

What was new? “A slew of ads for two technologies that are transforming the country and becoming more widely accepted: crypto and electric vehicles.”

Trump’s travails

Former President Donald Trump suffered a string of reversals this week: documents revealed that his longtime accounting firm said it would stop working with the Trump organization and noted that 10 years of his company’s financial statements could no longer be relied on; a judge ruled that Trump and several of his children would have to give depositions in the investigation of his business empire’s finances by New York’s attorney general; and another judge said Trump couldn’t automatically claim immunity in lawsuits regarding the January 6 Capitol riot.

The “court rulings are forcing Donald Trump to think about a future when the world will learn more truths about the former president than it has ever known, and he may suffer crushing injuries to his mystique and his bottom line,” wrote Michael D’Antonio.

“The fight over the truth about Trump’s wealth and business operations was always going to become a family affair. As soon as they became adults, Trump made his children top executives. Nestled behind the walls of secrecy granted to privately-held firms, they were trusted to do business his way, which meant they polished the image of wealth and success that was central to his identity.”

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And…

LBJ

When Joe Biden took the oath of office as President last year in the midst of a pandemic, after an insurrection at the Capitol and at a time when millions of Americans were demanding racial justice, some analysts likened the stakes of the moment to the start of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Historian Tim Naftali noted that Johnson and Biden “both believed that the country craved more than the competent pragmatism that had defined their long tenures as US senators. Both men thought the national traumas that gave birth to their presidencies would create a magnetic pull to the left.” (A CNN series “LBJ: Triumph and Tragedy” begins Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.)

“But the legislative comparison stops there: with ambition, not achievement,” Naftali wrote. Although Biden can take credit for the infrastructure bill and his Covid relief package, they pale in comparison to the rush of legislation under Johnson, including the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act and the “war on poverty.”

It’s not Biden’s fault. Last year “wasn’t 1965” and “this isn’t like the moment that LBJ mastered so brilliantly. It is much, much harder, politically, and Joe Biden is not LBJ. Instead, Biden should be assessed on his own terms and in the context of his own time. With almost no margin for error in either House of Congress, an ideologically diverse (let alone iconoclastic) caucus, a partisan Republican bloc, and amid a politically divisive pandemic, it is remarkable Biden got much of anything passed…”

“The President and his congressional allies might keep that in mind as they consider how to make effective use of the power they do have before the midterms this November, when they will face the voters again and ask for more.”



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