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Charlemagne Euro 2020: politics by other means – The Economist



ANY HOPE of a relaxing football tournament between friendly rivals disappeared in the 89th minute of a match between Austria and North Macedonia. Marko Arnautovic, a combustible Austrian striker of Serbian descent, slotted home the third goal in a 3-1 victory. He celebrated by screaming “I’m fucking your Albanian mother” at an opponent, knowing that North Macedonia is home to a large ethnic-Albanian population.

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It was not the first such incident at Euro 2020, the delayed competition between 24 of Europe’s best national teams. Russia protested after Ukraine’s team wore kit with an outline of their country that included Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. In another game a Greenpeace protester sent debris spiralling onto people—nearly whacking the French manager—after misjudging his parachute landing. Rows about gay rights in Hungary, one of the hosts, rumble on. Before games some teams decided to take to their knees, to symbolise opposition against racism; others decided against. Some fans booed; others cheered. At Euro 2020, politics is everywhere.

Football, after all, is a potential ally of every ideology, a perfect canvas on which to project a worldview. Socialists can hail an industry in which nearly all the money goes to the workers. Statists can applaud how government-funded football camps on the edge of Paris churn out a stream of world-class footballers (albeit ones incapable of beating Switzerland). Capitalists point out that the sport’s explosion came thanks to free markets, allowing footballers to play wherever they liked and clubs to pay whatever they pleased. Autocrats are reminded that ends trump means, as football fans accept glory no matter how dodgy the money that bought it. Conservatives, meanwhile, can hold onto the sport as the last stand of the nation-state. Where there is attention there is politics, and football is simply too big to ignore.

In Europe the sport has always been political with a small “p”. Football offers a more glamorous story of European integration than the lawyers and officials grinding the continent together in Brussels and Luxembourg. UEFA, the sport’s administrator on the continent, started life in 1954 as European politicians were scouting for means to make war impossible. Like its duller sibling, the European Coal and Steel Community, which preceded the EU, UEFA’s main creator was a Frenchman who had to win over holdouts and sceptics for his idea of regular international events. (Typically, British teams skipped the first few tournaments, only joining later.) There was a difference. Europe’s economies were melded together to stem competition between countries; UEFA was founded to promote it. An Italian official panicked that playing each other “risked exciting national passions” a decade after such passions had left millions dead. And national passions were indeed unleashed, thankfully in a much less deadly manner. Flags are waved and, occasionally, Albanian mothers are insulted, but in a pantomime of once fatal feelings. When it comes to European integration, football is the animalistic id to the EU’s rational superego.

Yet the global pre-eminence of European football is a product of that integration. The EU’s free-movement rules meant countries could no longer limit foreign labour. Domestic second-raters could be replaced with better, cheaper foreign players. The Bosman ruling in 1995 from the European Court of Justice let players leave a club without a release fee at the end of a contract. Wages shot up as clubs battled to attract players. TV cash poured in as the quality of the game improved. International owners, attracted by a mixture of prestige and reputation-laundering rather than profitability, bought up clubs. While Europe has slowly become a backwater for business in general, it is dominant in football. The top leagues are all in Europe, which has led to international success, too: European teams have won five of the past six world cups. For a continent obsessed with its shrinking place in the world, football offers an arena where it is still supreme.

UEFA tries to create a politics-free environment for its lucrative tournaments. But its choice of sponsors has already ruled that out. Many Europeans have probably not heard of Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipeline running from Russia to Germany, which has set Angela Merkel’s government against both her eastern neighbours and America. Yet they may know Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company helping to build it. It sponsors both the Champions League, where elite European clubs compete, and Euro 2020. Its azure logo gleams from every surface. In exchange for its money, Gazprom receives a glut of corporate tickets, allowing executives and business partners to scoff canapés and mingle with dead-eyed models paid to attend. More importantly, sponsorship associates Gazprom primarily with football rather than being a limb of a gangster state. Even UEFA is keen on politics in football, for a price.

Life or death? It’s much more important than that

On a continent where the facets of nationhood are disappearing, be they banal (customs arrangements), the everyday (currency) or the emotive (borders), football is a way of clinging on. Belgian national identity extends to a king, a large pile of debt and its surprisingly good football team. A hipster analysis of Croatia’s path to independence starts with Dinamo Zagreb’s Zvonimir Boban aiming a flying kick at a Yugoslav policeman during an on-pitch riot in 1990 and ends with Davor Suker dinking Denmark’s goalie in Euro 96, its first tournament as an independent country. When Czechoslovakia won the championship in 1976, the team was dominated by Slovak players, kick-starting a successful push for independence, argues David Goldblatt, a historian of the sport. At its best, international football is a bastion of a benign, diluted nationalism; a place where politics can be a carnival, rather than a rally. At its worst, it is an arena where carefully buried political disagreements are dug up—particularly if Mr Arnautovic is playing.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Politics by other means”

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Analysis | How to reverse the politics of coronavirus vaccines, as demonstrated by Fox News – The Washington Post



One underrecognized aspect of American politics is that most of the people who voted for Donald Trump last year live in states that cast more votes for Joe Biden. At a county level, that’s not true; most Trump voters live in counties that voted for Trump. But not by much: About 45 percent of Trump voters live in counties that preferred Biden.

Why? Well, because a lot of people live in big cities, and big cities are often heavily Democratic. While 55 percent of Republicans live in counties that voted for Trump, 55 percent also live in the 300-odd places that are the most heavily populated 10 percent of counties in the United States. (More than three-quarters of Democrats live in those counties; as a corollary, about 73 percent of Democrats live in counties won by Biden.)

The point is straightforward: Places with more people have more people. This is not what one would call a staggering insight, but it’s worth reiterating since people tend to think of heavily populated places as overwhelmingly Democratic. In fact, the most populous counties in the country are less robustly Democratic than the least populous ones are Republican. The 623 least populous counties preferred Trump by 46 points. The 623 most populous counties preferred Biden by less than one-third of that margin.

(The chart below looks at deciles of counties; that is, one-tenth of all counties, ranked from the least to the most populous.)

Why are we going over this? Because of the attempt by Fox News’s Jesse Watters to suggest that, of the current surge in coronavirus infections,
“all of the hot spots are in huge Democrat cities.”

He said this on Friday, even as he (thankfully) encouraged getting more people vaccinated. But he did so while clearly attempting to cast blame for the surge on Democrats — trying to reverse the recent emphasis on the surge of infections in heavily Republican areas, since those places are less likely to be heavily vaccinated. In a statement provided to Mediaite, he tried to defend the claim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s categorization of places with substantial rates of transmission “applies to nearly every major metropolitan area in the United States … Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, St. Louis, etc. … according to the ‘hot spot’ county map highlighted on the CDC website,” the statement said. “Plus, anyone with common sense understands that 3.5M unvaccinated New York residents living within 300 square miles of each other, is more of a so-called ‘hot spot,’ than just 388,000 unvaccinated Wyoming residents living within 98,000 square miles of each other.”

This is pretty lazy stuff, even for Watters. He first cites the CDC’s definition, pointing out that applies to big cities — though without pointing out that it also applies to hundreds of small counties. Then he throws out the CDC’s definition of a hot spot in favor of his own, in which he begs the question by declaring a hot spot to depend on population density.

So let’s look at the actual numbers, shall we?

There is, in fact, a relationship between the average number of new cases in a county and the county population, according to counties for which we have data. Los Angeles County has seen a lot of new cases in the past two weeks (which is the time period indicated on the graph below), but it also has millions of residents.

But the CDC, not new to this, is familiar with how population works. So it defines community transmission relative to population. It uses two metrics — the rate of cases per 100,000 residents and the rate of positive tests — to determine the places with “substantial” or “high” transmission.

If we plot population against the rate of cases per 100,000 residents, the picture shifts. In the least-populated decile of counties, 69 percent have transmission rates above the median. In the most-populated decile, 54 percent do.

We can look at this another way. Over the past two weeks, most new cases have been in the most populous places for the same reason that so many Trump voters live in Biden counties. Adjusted for population, though, the hardest-hit places shift to the middle of the pack.

If Los Angeles was seeing the same rate of infections as the hardest-hit small county — Sullivan County, Mo. — it would be seeing ten times the number of new cases each day.

It’s true, as Watters points out, that more unvaccinated people live in blue states, since those states have more people. But as of two weeks ago, more unvaccinated adults lived in red states even though those states have fewer adult residents. This issue of vaccination is entirely the point, of course, with places that have lower rates of vaccination seeing more new cases per resident.

The vaccination data, compiled by the CDC, are imperfect, but you can clearly see the pattern below. More than a third of the country lives in the 2,300-odd counties in which more than half the population hasn’t received at least one dose of the vaccine.

What’s particularly alarming is how many seniors have not been fully vaccinated. In more than half of counties, according to the CDC data, fewer than half of those over age 65 have been fully vaccinated.

But this is just running Watters’s playbook in reverse. In the most densely populated counties, home to two-thirds of the population, more than three-quarters of those aged 65 and over have been fully vaccinated.

The risk remains high in places with lower vaccination rates, not just places with more unvaccinated people. Those places are generally places that voted more heavily for Trump in 2020. And the correlation between the two makes sense, given Trump’s — and Fox News’s — rhetoric.

“We have to do away with all the politics and just try to get people vaxxed,” Watters said on Friday. Fine. Let’s.

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Is Kamala Harris Really Bad at Politics? – Bloomberg



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Who was the runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020?

The reason the topic comes up is that opponents of Vice President Kamala Harris seem to have settled on an attack line against her: As a Washington Examiner columnist argued a few weeks ago, she’s “bad at politics.” It’s something that I see pretty often in reader emails and on Twitter, mostly from Republicans but in some cases from liberal Democrats. There’s no surprise here; the vice presidency makes everyone look bad, and the idea that the first Black and Asian-American woman to hold this office is not up to the job is consistent with certain stereotypes. 

It’s also preposterous. Yes, once nominated almost anyone can win a general election, and perhaps every once in a while a nomination is just luck — in fact, I’ve argued that Donald Trump’s first nomination was largely a fluke. But Harris managed to work her way up in local and state politics in California, without money or family connections on her side, winning multiple nominations. That’s the mark of a good politician. So, for that matter, is securing the vice-presidential nod. Using presidential nomination results as evidence of a politician’s weakness is like criticizing someone for failing to medal in the Olympics; just getting into the competition is usually evidence of considerable ability.

Granted, after entering the contest, Harris dropped out before the first vote in Iowa. But whether we should consider her effort a flop gets back to the question I started with: Who was the runner-up to Joe Biden? 

You can make the case for several candidates. Bernie Sanders is the most obvious one, given that he finished second in delegates, states won and overall votes. But there’s reason to think he wasn’t the candidate who came closest. The evidence suggests that a solid majority of Democratic party actors, and perhaps of voters overall, was prepared to support anyone but Sanders. If that’s the case, then he really had only a small chance of winning and I’m not sure it makes sense to call him the runner-up.

If not Sanders, who? Pete Buttigieg at least managed to win an important state — Iowa — and finished second in New Hampshire. But Buttigieg sparked even less enthusiasm among party actors than Sanders did. There’s even a case to be made for Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren. Both had some backing from party actors; both had occasional (albeit small) surges of support among voters. Suppose that their strong debates right before the New Hampshire primary (for Klobuchar) or Nevada (for Warren) had taken place in November or December, in time for them to really capitalize on it? It’s not hard to imagine Klobuchar or Warren, rather than Buttigieg, emerging from the pack in Iowa, and perhaps either senator would’ve been better positioned to take advantage of it.

The counterargument is that none of these candidates had any Black support, and without that they were doomed in South Carolina and in most of the rest of the primaries. We don’t get to rerun the contest to see whether Representative James Clyburn would’ve endorsed whoever looked most viable after the Nevada caucuses. But Harris, despite her early exit, may have been closer to the nomination than she’s usually given credit for. She did enjoy a brief polling surge after a strong early debate, which turned out to be mistimed. And she won some party-actor support. Perhaps there are fewer what-ifs involved in projecting her into the nomination than there are for some of the other also-rans.

You certainly don’t have to buy that argument — I’m not sure I do — to concede that the vice president has some valuable political skills. Mostly, however, I think the question about the runner-up is useful because answering it involves thinking carefully about what really goes into winning presidential nominations, and helps clarify what we really know and what we’re not sure about. 

1. Paul Musgrave on the Olympics and nationalism

2. Kim Yi Dionne and Laura Seay at the Monkey Cage on three new books on Kenya.

3. Good Dan Drezner on the historical and current importance of Fox News.

4. Kevin Drum also on Fox News.

5. Sahil Kapur and Benjy Sarlin with good speculation about Mitch McConnell’s thinking about infrastructure.

6. And Jamelle Bouie on voting-rights history.

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Infrastructure Bill Shows That US Politics Are Not (Yet) Broken – Bloomberg



As President Joe Biden moves toward another legislative victory — namely, the $550 billion infrastructure bill — it’s worth asking what its success says about American politics. Mostly it’s good news, whether or not you agree with the policies of the Biden administration.

The most enduring truth is that the median voter theorem, as social scientists refer to it, continues to explain a lot of political outcomes. In an era supposedly marked by gridlock and polarization, a centrist infrastructure bill is on the verge of passage.

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