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Analysis | The undeniable overlap of politics, vaccinations and the impact of the virus's fourth wave – The Washington Post

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If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you are aware that a global pandemic has been going on for about 20 months. I’m further going to assume that you have watched as the response to this pandemic has been deeply woven into American politics, with a by-now mature set of partisan responses to efforts to combat the coronavirus. You’re probably aware that these responses themselves filter out into smaller fights, such as school districts battling governors over mandated mask-wearing and a bizarre insistence in some quarters on self-medicating based on Sean Hannity’s recommendations in lieu of following the advice offered by actual doctors. American ingenuity shines no brighter than when inventing things for partisans to fight about.

I highlight this established history because it’s worth recognizing that debates about the efficacy of vaccines are themselves subject to partisan bickering — something of which you are aware but, for the next few minutes, I’d ask you bring to the forefront of your attention. The murky nature of coronavirus data — a function of delays in reporting, the gap between infections and hospitalizations, and diverging reporting systems — means that there are ample opportunities to elevate skepticism for partisan purposes.

If, for example, you wish to suggest that the efficacy of vaccines is overstated because you wish to defend low vaccination rates in Republican areas as part of an often tacit effort to more broadly bolster the anti-elite throughline in right-wing politics, it’s pretty easy to pick out a number or two that allows you to pantomime chin-stroking on social media.

The reality, though, is that there’s no real question about the efficacy, as is obvious when considering the available data about the most recent wave of infections. What’s more, where politics overlaps with those data — on mandates or the lack thereof and on the adoption of vaccines in a state — it reflects negatively on that right-wing opposition.

We’ll begin with a study published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It looked at more than 43,000 coronavirus infections in Los Angeles County from May through the end of July among people age 16 and older. On July 25, 53 percent of county residents were fully vaccinated, but, during the period studied, more than 70 percent of infections were among those who had not received a dose of coronavirus vaccine. Among those who were hospitalized or moved into intensive care, the difference was more stark: Eighty-four percent of those hospitalized and 87 percent of those in intensive care units (ICUs) were unvaccinated.

(The graph below shows the relative number of people hospitalized and sent to the ICU by the size of the second and third charts.)

“On July 25, infection and hospitalization rates among unvaccinated persons were 4.9 and 29.2 times, respectively, those in fully vaccinated persons,” the study reports. Not complicated.

Again, though, we can see how this overlaps with vaccinations and politics — which, given increased vaccine hesitancy among Republicans, themselves overlap. During the fourth wave of infections that began on June 21, eight of the 10 states (counting D.C. as a state, for convenience’s sake) with the most new cases per capita have been ones that voted for Donald Trump last year. Nine of the 10 states with the biggest increases in hospitalizations were red states, as were eight of the 10 states with the most covid-19-related deaths during that period. (That remains true if you remove Delaware, which reported a backlog of covid-19 deaths in late July that skewed its reporting numbers. As I said: The numbers can be murky.)

You’ll notice that, on those graphs, the bubbles are scaled to the level of vaccination on July 23 (halfway through the current surge). Again, that correlates directly to 2020 vote margins.

And vaccination rates also correlate to new cases during the current surge …

… to the increase in hospitalizations …

… and to the number of covid-19-related deaths that have been recorded. (Again, Delaware stands out for its data anomaly on this metric.)

It is not the case that every blue state is doing well and every red state terribly. Nevada has seen the fourth-most deaths relative to its population during this period, for example. Three of the 10 states that have had the fewest per capita deaths are ones that voted for Trump and have relatively low vaccination rates: Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. But the pattern is consistent across all three metrics: 18 or 19 of the 25 hardest-hit states are ones that voted for Trump, and 18 or 19 of the 25 states with the best numbers are ones that voted for Biden.

It’s not just vaccinations, of course. It’s also probably a function of other political decisions, such as what containment measures to impose, and of weather. Hotter places would be expected to have more people seeking refuge indoors in air conditioning, allowing the virus to spread more easily.

But what the evidence does not show is a lack of correlation between vaccinations and positive effects; that is, any effort to cast vaccinations as ineffective is simply unsupported by both the state-level data and by research like that assessment of Los Angeles County.

The current wave of coronavirus infections is correlated to vaccination levels and, therefore, to politics in a way that comports clearly with data on vaccine hesitancy and on partisan responses to containment measures. Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s more likely to be causation than a complete lack of correlation.

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German Election Heralds Messier Politics and Weaker Leadership After Merkel – The New York Times

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Preliminary results indicated an outcome so tight that it could take months of talks to form a new government at a critical moment for Europe.

BERLIN — After 16 years of Angela Merkel as their chancellor, Germans scattered their votes across the political spectrum on Sunday in the election to replace her, a fractured return that heralds a messier political era in Germany and weaker German leadership in Europe.

Preliminary official results gave the center-left Social Democrats a lead of 1.6 percentage points, an outcome so close that no one could yet say who the next chancellor would be nor what the next government would look like.

The only thing that seemed clear was that it would take weeks if not months of haggling to form a coalition, leaving Europe’s biggest democracy suspended in a kind of limbo at a critical moment when the continent is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and France — Germany’s partner at the core of Europe — faces divisive elections of its own next spring.

Sunday’s election signaled the end of an era for Germany and for Europe. For over a decade, Ms. Merkel was not just chancellor of Germany but effectively the leader of Europe. She steered her country and the continent through successive crises and in the process helped Germany become Europe’s leading power for the first time since two world wars.

Her time in office was characterized above all by stability. Her center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, has governed in Germany for 52 of the 72 postwar years, traditionally with one smaller party.

Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

But the campaign proved to be the most volatile in decades. Armin Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, was long seen as the front-runner until a series of blunders compounded by his own unpopularity eroded his party’s lead. Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic candidate, was counted out altogether before his steady persona led his party to a spectacular 10-point comeback. And the Greens, who briefly led the polls early on, fell short of expectations but recorded their best result ever.

On Sunday, the Christian Democrats’ share of the vote collapsed well below 30 percent, heading toward the worst showing in their history. For the first time, three parties will be needed to form a coalition — and both main parties are planning to hold competing talks to do so.

“It’s so unprecedented that it’s not even clear who talks with whom on whose invitation about what, because the Constitution does not have guardrails for a situation like that,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, the Berlin-based vice president of the German Marshall Fund, a research group.

Even before the first official returns were announced, the battle lines were drawn as both main contenders to succeed Ms. Merkel as chancellor announced their claims to the top job — and their intention to fight for it. A long tradition of deferential, consensus-driven politics was quickly evaporating, giving way to a more raucous tone.

At the headquarters of the Social Democrats in Berlin, loud cheering erupted when the first exit polls were announced. “The S.P.D. is back!” Lars Klingbeil, the party’s general secretary, told the crowd of party members, before Mr. Scholz took the stage with his wife and insisted “that the next chancellor is called Olaf Scholz.”

Across town, at the conservative headquarters, Mr. Laschet, the candidate of Ms. Merkel’s party, made clear who he thought the next chancellor should be, saying, “We will do everything to form a government.”

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

It is a messy set of circumstances likely to complicate the negotiations to form a government. And whoever ends up being chancellor will have not just a weaker mandate — but less time to spend on leading in Europe, analysts said.

“Germany will be absent in Europe for a while,” said Andrea Römmele, dean of the Hertie School in Berlin. “And whoever becomes chancellor is likely to be a lot more distracted by domestic politics.”

With two-thirds of the voting districts counted, the Social Democrats appeared to have a slight lead, with less than two percentage points dividing the two main parties. Analysts said the vote could continue to swing marginally in favor of either party. Four in 10 Germans voted by mail-in ballots, which were being counted at the same time as votes dropped into ballot boxes.

But few anticipated a dramatic turn that would yield a less murky outcome and alleviate the need for protracted coalition talks.

The outcome gives significant leverage to the two smaller parties that are almost certain to be part of any new government: the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. Courted by both Mr. Scholz and Mr. Laschet, they have signaled they will first talk among themselves.

“Two Maybe-Chancellors and Two Kingmakers,” read one headline of the German public broadcaster ARD.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

In one way Sunday’s returns were an expression of how disoriented voters are by the departure of Ms. Merkel, who is leaving office as the most popular politician in her country.

The chancellor oversaw a golden decade for Europe’s largest economy, which expanded by more than a fifth, pushing unemployment to the lowest levels since the 1980s.

As the United States was distracted by multiple wars, Britain gambled its future on a referendum to leave the European Union and France failed to reform itself, Ms. Merkel’s Germany was mostly a haven of stability.

“She was the steady hand at the helm, the steady presence,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff of the German Marshall Fund.

“Now there is an uneasiness about what comes next,” he said. “The presence and reputation of this chancellor is outsized and very hard to emulate.”

That explains why both main candidates to succeed her mostly ran on platforms of continuity rather than change, attempting where possible to signal they would be the one most like the departing chancellor.

“This election campaign was basically a contest for who could be the most Merkel-like,” Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff said.

Even Mr. Scholz, whose center-left party is the traditional opposition party to Ms. Merkel’s conservatives, played up his role as finance minister in the departing government rather than his own party’s sensibilities, which are well to the left of his own.

Lena Mucha for The New York Times

“Stability, not change, was his promise,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff.

The distinctive political tradition of the Federal Republic of Germany is change through consensus.

In the four decades it was split from the Communist East, West Germany had strong governments, traditionally formed by one of the two larger parties teaming up with a smaller partner or, in rare circumstances, the two big parties forming a grand coalition. This tradition was continued after reunification in 1990, with far-reaching changes — like the labor market reforms of the early 2000s — often carried out with support from across the aisle.

But four parties have become seven and the two traditional main parties have shrunk, changing the arithmetic of forming a government that represents more than 50 percent of the vote. In the future, analysts say, three or four, not two, parties, will have to find enough common ground to govern together.

Some analysts say this increasing fragmentation of Germany’s political landscape has the potential to revitalize politics by bringing more voices into the public debate. But it will no doubt make governing harder, as Germany becomes more like other countries in Europe — among them, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — that have seen a similar fracturing. And messier politics could make the next chancellor weaker.

Ms. Merkel has embodied the tradition of consensus more than perhaps any of her predecessors. Of her four terms in office, she spent three in a grand coalition with her party’s traditional opponents, the Social Democrats.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

Governing as Ms. Merkel’s junior partners almost killed the Social Democrats, Germany’s oldest party, stripping it of its identity and its place as the leading voice of center-left opposition. But Mr. Scholz used his cozy relationship with the chancellor to his advantage, effectively running as an incumbent in a race without one.

At party headquarters on Sunday night, he was being celebrated as a savior by party members who were adamant that the chancellery was theirs.

“The S.P.D. is the winner here,” insisted Karsten Hayde, a longtime party member, while Ernst-Ingo Lind, who works for a parliamentarian, said that only a year ago, he would “not have dreamed of being here.”

Among the parties represented in the next German Parliament is the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which shocked the nation four years ago by becoming the first far-right party to win seats there since World War II. Its vote share slipped to 10.5 percent from almost 13 percent in 2017 and it will no longer be the country’s main opposition party. But it solidified its status as a permanent force to be reckoned with. In two states in the former Communist East it came first.

“We are here to stay, and we showed that today,” Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the party, told party members gathered on the outskirts of Berlin.

For all the messiness of this election and Merkel nostalgia, many Germans took heart from the fact that more than eight in 10 voters had cast their ballots for a centrist party and that turnout was high.

Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

The mobilization was palpable outside several polling stations in Berlin, where families patiently waited their turn in long lines.

“It’s the beginning of a new era,” said Ms. Römmele of the Hertie School.

Christopher F. Schuetze, Jack Ewing and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Quebec undergoes a culture shift as ‘woke’ politics is redefined in the province – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Solidaire Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois questions the government during question period on Sept. 23.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.

But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”

This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.

The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.

The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”

Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”

A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?

Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.

But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.

The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.

Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.

The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.

Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.

These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”

Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).

If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.

“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”

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Politics Chat: Democrats At Odds Over Government Spending – NPR

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Moderate and Progressive Congressional Democrats at odds over their party’s two big spending bills, plus a deadline for the debt limit looms this week.

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