Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Paul Krugman: What Is It With Trump and Face Masks?

It’s not about freedom or culture. It’s cynical politics.

Believe it or not — and I know many people will refuse to believe it — right now New York City may be among the best places in America to avoid catching the coronavirus.

In New York State as a whole, the number of people dying daily from Covid-19 is only slightly higher than the number killed in traffic accidents. In New York City, only around 1 percent of tests for the coronavirus are coming up positive, compared with, for example, more than 12 percent in Florida.

How did New York get here from the nightmarish days of April? It’s no mystery: partial herd immunity might be a small factor, but mainly the state did simple, obvious things to limit virus transmission. Bars are closed; indoor dining is still banned. Above all, there’s a face-mask mandate that people generally obey. [..]

In other words, we know what works. Which makes it both bizarre and frightening that Donald Trump has apparently decided to spend the final weeks of his re-election campaign deriding and discouraging mask-wearing and other anti-pandemic precautions.

Trump’s behavior on this and other issues is sometimes described as a rejection of science, which is true as far as it goes.

Jamelle Bouie: Facebook Has Been a Disaster for the World

How much longer are we going to allow its platform to foment hatred and undermine democracy?

For years, Myanmar’s military used Facebook to incite hatred and genocidal violence against the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group, leading to mass death and displacement. It took until 2018 for Facebook to admit to and apologize for its failure to act.

Two years later, the platform is, yet again, sowing the seeds for genocidal violence. This time it’s in Ethiopia, where the recent assassination of Hachalu Hundessa, a singer and political activist from the country’s Oromo ethnic group, led to violence in its capital city, Addis Ababa. This bloodshed was, according to Vice News, “supercharged by the almost-instant and widespread sharing of hate speech and incitement to violence on Facebook, which whipped up people’s anger.” This follows a similar incident in 2019, where disinformation shared on Facebook helped catapult violence that claimed 86 lives in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Facebook has been incredibly lucrative for its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who ranks among the wealthiest men in the world. But it’s been a disaster for the world itself, a powerful vector for paranoia, propaganda and conspiracy-theorizing as well as authoritarian crackdowns and vicious attacks on the free press. Wherever it goes, chaos and destabilization follow.

Amanda Marcotte: Trump treated the pandemic as “The Apprentice: COVID Edition”: It’s blowing up in his face

Trump distorts CDC info and spreads vaccine lies because he thinks faking it is always better than doing any work

It’s hardly new or revelatory to say this, but it’s critical to remember the role that “The Apprentice” played in turning Donald Trump, a notoriously bad businessman with a string of bankruptcies, into an American icon of capitalist success. Everything from careful editing to set designers giving the dreary Trump Organization offices a glow-up came together to create the illusion of success where only failure and mediocrity had been before.

It was an experience so profound for Trump that he did something highly unusual: He learned something. He absorbed the idea that a well-constructed illusion of competence gets you all the benefits of being accomplished, without having to do the hard work of actually achieving anything.

Unfortunately, it was a lesson we are all paying the price for now.

On Thursday evening, the New York Times published an exposé about how the Trump White House forced the CDC to publish dangerously misleading coronavirus testing recommendations on its website.

The new “guidance said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus,” Apoorva Mandavilli writes, noting that actual public health experts at the agency strenuously objected because the virus is often spread by asymptomatic people and vigorous testing is crucial to preventing that.

It’s not hard to see that Trump’s reality TV instincts fueled this effort to discourage coronavirus testing. Trump has made clear from the beginning of this pandemic that he would prefer to leave as many coronavirus cases on the editing-room floor as possible, and he thinks the best way to do that is to keep people from getting tested. Trump truly believes that the best way to get coronavirus numbers down is not by preventing people from getting infected in the first place, but by hiding the true number of cases and juking the stats.

Catherine Rampell: Trump says his terrific health-care plan is finally here. That would be news to his health advisers.

The president’s brainchild is so sensitive, his own health advisers don’t know it exists.

There’s secret, top-secret, code-word-secret — and then there’s whatever President Trump’s health-care plan is.

It’s apparently so deeply classified that the people overseeing the plan don’t even know they’re involved. [..]

This plan was always “two weeks” away — coincidentally the timeline promised for most every Trump announcement, including those about wiretapping, infrastructure and Melania Trump’s immigration history.

As the fortnights passed, suspense grew. Finally, an announcement came this week: This Godot-like plan, this girlfriend-who-lives-in-Canada of public policies — it exists!

“I have it all ready,” Trump said at a town hall Tuesday, “and it’s a much better plan for you, and it’s a much better plan.”

Alas, Trump remains unable to share this “much better plan” with the public. Or, it seems, anyone within his administration.

Ruth Marcus: William Barr has gone too far before, but never this far

His recent comments are alarming.

Attorney General William P. Barr’s recent comments, in public and private, are so alarming, it’s hard to know where to begin. Barr has gone too far before, but never this far.

He compared pandemic restrictions to slavery. “You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest,” Barr said during a speech Wednesday night at Hillsdale College. “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

Barr was discussing limitations on religious services during the pandemic, and there are legitimate questions about whether some restrictions on worship have gone too far. But the slavery comparison is beyond offensive. Slavery was evil. Pandemic rules are grounded in concerns for public health.

And even if the two phenomena were somehow legitimately considered along the same continuum, there is no way that the covid-19 lockdown could be accurately labeled “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.”

How about the internment of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II? How could anyone, no less the attorney general, who oversees civil rights enforcement, analogize covid-19 restrictions to slavery? “A different kind of restraint”? How does that sound to anyone with an ounce of historical memory — or of decency?