Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The electoral politics of abortion rights.

Jim Tankersley of The New York Times says that President Joe Biden continues to seek to project “normality.” 

It could be a long and anxious December for many Americans, given that inflation is at its highest rate in decades, global delivery delays are limiting the availability of some products and the uncertainty of Omicron is looming over what was already a halting recovery from recession. On Wednesday, the stock market tumbled for a second consecutive session, with the S&P 500 closing down 1.2 percent after the Omicron news broke. The Nasdaq composite lost 1.8 percent.

Mr. Biden, for his part, tried to reassure Americans that this holiday season would be better than the last.

He stacked his day with policy pronouncements on supply chains and World AIDS Day and ended it with a White House ceremony for the fourth night of Hanukkah, a throwback to prepandemic celebrations in Washington. He stressed the positives of the national economy.

His top infectious disease expert said it was OK for Americans to enjoy a glass of eggnog, unmasked, at a cocktail party this month — under certain circumstances, at least.

I’m beginning to think that no one is more obsessed with “normality” than The New York Times— even to the point of attempting to make the abnormal seem normal.

The Editorial Board of The Boston Globe delineates their reasons for supporting pending legislation in Congress to strengthen the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department.

…This month, in its annual review, the department came out against pending legislation in Congress — the Inspector General Access Act — that would strengthen oversight of DOJ attorneys and bolster accountability by expanding the department’s inspector general’s authority in launching investigations. The department argued that its current protocols, when it comes to probing its attorneys, work just fine and that no further legislation is needed. But that is far from the truth, and Congress should pass this legislation anyway. (The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.)

Unlike in other cabinet-level agencies, inspectors general at the Department of Justice are unable to independently probe DOJ attorneys or the attorney general. Instead, allegations of misconduct by the department’s attorneys are dealt with by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is overseen by the attorney general. Not only does this pose a conflict of interest if the attorney general is the one being accused of misconduct, but it can easily fall short in holding people accountable, especially in an overtly partisan Justice Department. The head of the Office of Professional Responsibility, for example, is hired, and can simply be fired, by political appointees, whereas the inspector general is sent in from the Senate and can only be fired by the president — a move that would generally provoke much more public scrutiny.

The legislation before Congress would simply grant the justice department’s inspector general the same power as those at any other department. And as the current inspector general, Michael Horowitz pointed out, in a letter to Congress, the carve-out for inspectors general at the Department of Justice is “inconsistent with the independence and accountability that Congress envisioned” when it passed the Inspector General Act in 1978. Horowitz also rightfully noted that unlike his office, the Office of Professional Responsibility does not regularly make its reports public, leaving much to be desired when it comes to transparency and, consequently, accountability.

Bryan Resnick writes for Vox that it seems that those with psychiatric disorders are more prone to severe forms of COVID-19.

By the fall of 2020, psychiatrists were reporting that among the many groups who were high risk, people with psychiatric disorders, broadly, seemed to be getting more severe forms of Covid-19 at a higher rate. Katlyn Nemani, an NYU neuropsychiatrist, decided to dig deeper, asking: Just how much more at risk, and which conditions?

In January, she and a group of colleagues published a study of 7,348 Covid-19 patients in New York. One finding was stark: People with a schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis faced more than two and a half times the average person’s risk of dying from Covid-19, even after controlling for the many other factors that affect Covid-19 outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and demographic factors — age, sex, and race.

“That was a pretty shocking finding,” Nemani says. The patients all were hospitalized in the same medical system, in the same region, which implies they weren’t receiving radically different treatments, she says. In sum, it all suggests that the risk was closely linked to the mental illness itself and not to some other variable.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes of another plague affecting South Africa: misinformation about COVID-19.

Many first assumed the vaccine problem is South Africa was tied to lack of availability — vaccine hoarding by the U.S. and other developed nations. But while supply shortages do dog Africa’s poorer nations, it turns out that South Africa had of late been experiencing a vaccine glut. Just two days or so before scientists first reported on the variant now called omicron, South African officials admitted to Reuters that it had enough vaccine to last 158 days at current inoculation rates and had asked Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to halt new shipments.

It seems out (sic) America isn’t the only nation plagued by what could be called vaccine hesitancy for some, vaccine resistance for many. There’s not one simple reason. Much like the United States, South Africa’s long history of apartheid and racial conflict has led to a climate of distrust of government and the news media. At the turn of the millennium, then-president Thabo Mbeki embraced science denial and conspiracy theory about AIDS that hampered South Africa’s response. Now with COVID-19, allegations of official corruption — including the misappropriation of health dollars meant for pandemic response — has increased cynicism.

But one of the biggest problems sure looks familiar to Americans who’ve seen vaccine resistance take root on this side of the pond: Viral misinformation on the internet spreading false claims about the efficacy of vaccines or mask-wearing, as well as promotion of bogus cures and other quackery. In a revealing series of posts on Twitter, Eve Fairbanks — a U.S. born, Yale-educated freelance writer who’s been reporting from South Africa for a number of years — wrote that much of the viral disinformation plaguing South Africa was incubated in America.

“Tucker Carlson, Bret Weinstein, Dr. Robert Malone, all your British celebrity vax skeptics—they’re all popular,” Fairbanks wrote. “The biggest South African vax-skeptic celebrity, Nick Hudson? 3/4 of his tweets are just retweets of Westerners.”

In a similar vein, Mathew Ingram of the Columbia Journalism Review notes the varied and sometimes deadly effects of misinformation and disinformation worldwide.

There’s no question that people throw around the terms misinformation and disinformation without much attention paid to how, or whether, they fit a given scenario. And Smith is right that stories like the one about Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop fit quite well into the “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks” category, which has been with us as long as politics itself. (Benjamin Franklin invented stories about his political opponents and printed them in a fake newspaper.) But as widely shared as those stories might have been, they weren’t instantaneously transmitted to millions of people via a recommendation algorithm based on metrics like “engagement.” Long before the internet, disinformation was artisanal, hand-crafted by people like Franklin. But its reach has grown with technology. Now it is mass-produced and distributed by Russian troll farms like the Internet Research Agency and Facebook.

The term “political dirty tricks” also doesn’t begin to describe something like the impact that disinformation about the Rohingya people in Myanmar—amplified by Facebook’s algorithms—had on the genocide there, in which tens of thousands were killed or displaced, or the impact it has had in countries like Brazil, where president Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters were accused of mobilizing armies of disinfo spreaders. (Last month, a judge acquitted Bolsonaro of any role in spreading disinformation, but said the court would not allow “digital militias to try again to destabilize the elections, the democratic institutions.”)  Disinformation in India, spread via Facebook-owned WhatsApp, has reportedly led to dozens of deaths. Smith seems to be arguing that all we really need to fight misinformation is good, old-fashioned reporting, and he may be right. But there aren’t enough reporters in the world to check all the misinformation that flies through social media every day. Even Facebook can’t keep up—and it has 15,000 moderators whose only job is to sift through that kind of content.

Rebecca Gordon writes for TomDispatch.com about the realities of “shift work.”

For the first time in many decades, workers are in the driver’s seat. They can command higher wages and demand better working conditions. And that’s exactly what they’re doing at workplaces ranging from agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere to breakfast-cereal makers Kellogg and Nabisco. I’ve even been witnessing it in my personal labor niche, part-time university faculty members (of which I’m one). So allow me to pause here for a shout-out to the 6,500 part-time professors in the University of California system: Thank you! Your threat of a two-day strike won a new contract with a 30% pay raise over the next five years!

This brings me to Biden’s October announcement about those ports going 24/7. In addition to demanding higher pay, better conditions, and an end to two-tier compensation systems (in which laborers hired later don’t get the pay and benefits available to those already on the job), workers are now in a position to reexamine and, in many cases, reject the shift-work system itself. And they have good reason to do so.

So, what is shift work? It’s a system that allows a business to run continuously, ceaselessly turning out and/or transporting widgets year after year. Workers typically labor in eight-hour shifts: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. to midnight, and midnight to 8:00 a.m., or the like. In times of labor shortages, they can even be forced to work double shifts, 16 hours in total. Businesses love shift work because it reduces time (and money) lost to powering machinery up and down. And if time is money, then more time worked means more profit for corporations. In many industries, shift work is good for business. But for workers, it’s often another story.

Finally today, Patrick Gathara writes for AlJazeera about the seeming obsession that “white elites” seem to have with Black population growth.

The second in line to the British throne, Prince William, has once again caused an uproar by blaming population growth in Africa for the declining fortunes of the continent’s wildlife. Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of a father of three demonising African households for having too many babies.

Others have noted that the United Kingdom is much more densely populated than any part of Africa and that British hunters and colonial settlers have been responsible for the savage decimation of animals. Not to mention the effect of global warming and climate change, majorly caused by William’s ancestors, countrymen and neighbours, which may endanger between 25 and 40 percent of mammal species in national parks in Africa.

However, little has been said about the historic discomfort of white elites with Black fertility and Black babies. It was the second time William was complaining about the continent’s rising population having previously raised the issue in 2017. That same year, French President Emmanuel Macron, who also likes to talk about African birthrates, blamed the continent’s “civilisational” problems on nations that “have seven or eight children per woman”.

Everyone have a great day!

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