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November 2023

A Right Turn

A Right Turn

            Robert A. Levine     November 28, 2023

Why are so many democracies electing right-wing parties or coalitions to power? Nations that were previously centrist or leftist are suddenly giving the right governmental control. Is it because of local issues or is it a global phenomenon? Does it have any implications for the 2024 national election in America? Even where the right has not attained power, it is gaining more support from the populace. It is also occurring in strange places like Sweden, the Netherlands and Argentina. In Germany, the AfD, Alternative for Deutschland is now the third largest political party, a successor to the Nazis, polling between 19 and 23 percent behind the Christian Democrats and the Socialists. In France, Marie Le Pen’s far right National Rally in one of the major political parties with a racist and fascist past. In an April poll by Paris Match, Le Pen came out ahead of President Macron, 47 percent to 42 percent. The National Rally is the major opposition party in the French Assembly.

            In October 2022, Sweden elected the most far right-wing government in its history led by the Sweden Democrats, a party that is anti-immigrant and anti-multi-culturalism. Scandinavian nations have been traditionally left wing and almost socialistic, so the election was a major surprise. Other European nations with right wing governments include Italy where the Brothers of Italy Party and Lega rule, with Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister. In Hungary, the Fidesz Party under Victor Orban has been in power for years, controlling the media and the educational system. The Finns Party in Finland, the second largest political party, is also right-wing and the rightest United Serbia Party controls Serbia. In Switzerland, the Swiss People’s Party, a right wing nationalist organization runs the country. Slovakia, a neighbor of Ukraine, elected a right-wing coalition government in September 2023 that supports Russia, as does Hungary.

            Latin America which defeated a right wing President Bolsonaro in Brazil last year, elected a rightist government in Argentina this month headed by Mauricio Macri who has strange economic ideas including making the dollar the nation’s official currency. Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador all have right-wing or right leaning governments. New Zealand also elected a right wing government this year. And at the moment, right-wing Republicans control the House of Representatives in the U.S. and Trump is ahead of Biden in polls for the presidential election in 2024

            Right-wing populism appears to be booming in the western world. Why?

            The two main reasons are a reaction to immigration and unhappiness with inflation. Nations with a predominant ethnic group are unhappy about what they see as hordes of immigrants either entering their country or trying to get in. They’re afraid about competition for their jobs and that some or many of the immigrants may require government support, the funding coming out of their taxes. Even more important, they don’t want mixing of their ethnicity with that of immigrants, particularly if the migrants are African or Middle Eastern in origin.

            Inflation is also making citizens in many western nations unhappy with their economic status and that of the country itself. Their wages do not go as far in meeting their needs and they are not happy with their incomes and purchasing power. They see the elites on top of the heap doing well, while working men and women suffer.

            Social media amplifies the issues of immigration and inflation even if these problems are relatively minimal in some countries. The populace believes they are a threat to their way of life. With artificial intelligence becoming more common, misinformation may surge even more online which is where many individuals get their news. Will this right-wing renaissance stop? Inflation will likely moderate over time in most countries. However, with global warming, immigration to temperate nations will only increase in the coming years. If centrist and left leaning governments cannot find a way to control immigration, the right will continue to gain more power.

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It's Still Here!

It’s Still Here!

            Robert A. Levine   November 21, 2023

It’s still here. Actually it never went away. Covid-19 is still a threat though not as prevalent as at the onset three to four years ago. And the original variants Alpha and Delta seem to be gone, replaced by Omicron and its subsets of mutants. These appear to be quite infectious and are the dominant form of Covid-19 now in circulation. It spreads the same way, mainly through aerosols in the air from infected people sneezing or coughing, or even talking loudly or yelling. Being outdoors, it’s less contagious but in crowded indoor areas it can be easily disseminated. The XBB variant of Omicron became dominant in the United States early in 2023. A variant labeled BA.2.86 emerged in August 2023, followed by another mutant, JN.1. which appears to be the most resistant form of Covid-19.

Perhaps because it’s been around so long, people seem less concerned by Covid-19 and the deaths and rate of hospitalizations have gone down considerably. But they’re still happening. The CDC noted that from October 2022 to September 2023, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. died of Covid-19. The risk of hospitalization and death is much higher for adults over age sixty-five, those with underlying medical conditions, or those who are immune compromised. Patients who were not vaccinated with the new bivalent formulation also had a higher rate of hospitalization and/or death. However, many people have at least some immunity to the new variants of Covid-19 because of past infections or previous vaccinations. As the weather grows colder and people spend more time indoors, it’s likely that the number of cases of Covid-19 will rise.

No matter what the statistics are, a majority of Americans still remain unvaccinated with the new bivalent vaccine, including those over sixty-five who are at greater risk of acquiring Covid-19 and having a severe outcome. Most people also refuse to wear masks in crowded indoor areas, where the chances of catching Covid-19 remain high. Wearing masks also helps to prevent other upper respiratory diseases, particularly influenza and colds. In Asian nations such as Japan and Korea, many people automatically wear masks during colder weather and when indoors, yet Americans refuse to do so. People should still be concerned about the possibility of being infected with the Covid-19 virus and take proper precautionary measures to prevent that from happening. The virus is still here and not going away yet.

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Aging and Politics

Aging and Politics

            Robert A. Levine   November 13, 2023

Age is being increasingly injected into politics. It’s a valid issue as aging may make people less vigorous, and cognitive function declines in a large percentage of older people. But the physical and cognitive losses are not universal or uniform across the population. And there are individuals who have what is called a “large cognitive reserve” who function quite well from an intellectual standpoint. These are people who have kept their brains and bodies active over the years. But there is no question that some politicians elected to high offices are cognitively impaired.

Older politicians running for office should undergo cognitive testing before getting on the ballot. Some may believe that testing older people who seek political office is evidence of agism, but that is ignoring reality. There is no question that a subset of older people are intellectually impaired and should not be candidates for office or holding political offices. The average age of our senators is 64, with a number in their 80s and high 70s. The average age of a member of the House of Representatives is 57, with many in their 80s and high 70s. Age alone should not be a disqualifier for holding public office as many older people are intellectually sharp and very knowledgeable. But people with any cognitive impairment should not be making policy judgements for the nation. The best way to determine how well people are functioning from a cognitive standpoint is to test them. Above age 65 seems like a reasonable cut-off. Simple screening tests can be administered in less than fifteen minutes.

The focus at present is on Joe Biden who is 80 years old, born in November 1942. There is much less concern about Donald Trump’s age, though he is 77, born in June 1946. The two men who are running for president are only separated by three and a half years. However, Joe Biden is physically active and has been all of his life. His body appears normal with no excessive weight. He has also been cognitively engaged, having held political office for decades. He is very knowledgeable about foreign affairs and domestic issues, having studied and dealt with them for years. There is a tendency for him to make verbal gaffes which is not new and does not seem related to his age.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is obese which increases his risk of diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and cognitive decline. He is also physically inactive. Golf does not provide any aerobic benefits unless the golfer walks the course, which Trump does not do. We have never seen him walking or biking long distances or exercising regularly. He has also made a number of verbal mistakes at his rallies, suggesting that he may have some cognitive problems. In addition, Trump has issues with anger management and besides his narcissism, appears to be paranoid at times, making numerous and bizarre accusations.

For the benefit of the nation, I believe it would be better if neither Trump nor Biden ran for president in 2024, leaving the field open for new and perhaps younger participants. However, cognitive testing for older men and women running for office should become the law of the land, perhaps starting with referenda in individual states. Politicians themselves are less likely to push for cognitive testing as it would put them in the spotlight. The tests could be administered by an independent medical board with the results kept secret, unless a candidate was disqualified from holding office.

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