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Politics is causing needless deaths in the fight against Covid-19 – CNN

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But the task of persuading holdouts, skeptics and the merely disinterested to get their shots is being complicated by the further politicization of the pandemic — a trend that will cost lives and exacerbate an already stark tragedy that has deepened the nation’s ideological estrangement.
There are many reasons why some people won’t take a step that seems a no-brainer to most of the 48% of Americans who are fully inoculated. Health professionals bemoan misinformation, cultural suspicion of vaccines and antipathy to government advice. Some people also think the Covid-19 danger has passed or that they don’t need a shot because they survived the disease. Others fear side-effects from the shots.
Many Americans view their individual freedom as absolving them of the idea that getting vaccinated is a public duty. But with data showing that 99% of those claimed by the disease are unvaccinated, making a political statement on the issue seems an absurd waste — and heightens the possibility of fostering even more potent variants that could potentially put even the vaccinated, and the halting return to normalcy, at risk.
There is some hope that efforts on the local level could help. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released on Tuesday suggested that ending vaccine hesitancy may be best tackled at more personal levels. The study identified a small cohort of respondents who were unvaccinated in January and weren’t sure about going ahead or who didn’t intend to do so but who later changed their minds. Among that group, people often said that family members, friends or personal doctors had persuaded them to get vaccinated.
But consistent efforts to wring political advantage from the pandemic by leaders like ex-President Donald Trump are continuing while he is out of office and are tarnishing the critical late-stage push to beat Covid-19.
The idea that anyone would perish because they listened to a politician playing into Covid-19 skepticism for their own career advancement, or a conservative media host chasing ratings, is nauseating. But it’s happening — as opportunists cite misinformation or play into preexisting US skepticism of authority.
Even the act of publicizing life-saving vaccines can founder on political divides.
Tennessee’s vaccine chief, for instance, says she was fired after she merely shared a memo explaining state law allowing health care providers to decide whether minors have the capacity to consent to a vaccine themselves.
“The people of Tennessee have been sold out for politics,” the official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, told CNN.
Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, condemned the dismissal of Fiscus and warned the move could harm the health of adolescents, a group in which vaccinations trail other age groups.
“Dr. Fiscus’s termination is the most recent example of a concerning trend of politicizing public health expertise,” Beers said in a statement.

Vaccines in the crossfire

Education has long been a political battleground of the pandemic, with Republicans who wanted blanket state reopenings often clashing with teachers unions, a powerful Democratic constituency.
Now, seven Republican-run states have banned public schools from requiring a Covid-19 vaccine — even though entry to educational systems typically requires kids to have their regular round of shots for infectious diseases, like measles or mumps.
The political map is, meanwhile, becoming the pandemic map. New Covid-19 infections are rising in 45 states, as the Delta variant takes hold. The problem is especially acute in those with low vaccine rates, which are disproportionately Republican.
Vaccines are also being caught in the crossfire at a time when partisan politics infects almost every aspect of daily life.
Some politicians seek quick headlines in a way that will likely add to the human misery by giving holdouts political reasons not to get vaccinated. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado misrepresented the Biden administration’s voluntary vaccine outreach effort as akin to Nazism.
Over the weekend, a potential GOP 2024 candidate, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, sought to supercharge her own political hopes by comparing her own hands-off management of the crisis to efforts by other GOP governors who should have shown more “grit.” Her barbs were apparently aiming at Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, rivals for the hearts of the Trump base, whose own efforts to combat Covid-19 have themselves been marked by political expediency.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas over the weekend, a massively pro-Trump crowed cheered when a speaker said the government failed to get 90% of the country (sic) “suckered” into getting a vaccine.
In some cases, hospital workers have themselves stoked the political debate over vaccine mandates by opposing a requirement to be inoculated to protect vulnerable patients — as happened in Houston last month. But Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy backed hospital systems with such requirements.
“That’s part of how we protect patients from infection and patients coming into hospitals are often vulnerable,” Murthy told CNN’s “New Day.” “I think that’s a very reasonable thing for hospitals to do.”

Romney: ‘A huge human cost’

When the last miles of the vaccine drive are difficult enough, complications posed by politics are the last thing the public health officials need as they try to prevent needless deaths.
“This is primarily a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and we need to be very clear about that message,” Dr. Chris Pernell, a fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine who is a public health physician and health equity advocate, told CNN.
Some leading Washington politicians expressed disbelief on Tuesday at the failure of many Republican voters to get vaccinated.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said there had been a “huge human cost to have made vaccinations political.”
“After all, President Trump and his supporters take credit for developing the vaccine,” he said. “Why the heck won’t they take advantage of the vaccine that they received plaudits for having developed it?”
The views of Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are shaped by his bout with one of the most feared diseases in children, poliomyelitis, which has since been eradicated by vaccines.
“I’m a huge fan of vaccinations,” McConnell said. “If you’re a football fan, we’re in the red zone but we’re not in the end zone yet, and we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.”
McConnell would not be drawn, however, on the question of whether the misinformation spouted by colleagues like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has something to do with suspicion of vaccines among some GOP base voters.
Trump’s ex-Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Biden could help fight Republican vaccine skepticism by lessening his criticism of his predecessor.
“I am calling on President Biden to stop blaming everything that happened in the pandemic on Trump,” Adams told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, defending his former boss’ mishandling of a crisis that the ex-President said would simply “go away” and during which he trashed his own government’s guidance multiple times. Adams was one of those experts who Trump often ignored during his time in office, but the former surgeon general has been a frequent presence in the media in recent months defending his former boss and criticizing Biden and his Covid team for a myriad of reasons.
Adams also called on Trump — who has celebrated his own role in the development of the vaccines but has done little to persuade his supporters to take it — and other Republicans to do more to do more to win over holdouts.
“God has given us a miracle, a true miracle,” he said. “But salvation is only available to those people who accept it.”
Given the hyper politicizing of the pandemic, it’s unlikely that Biden’s pleas to the unvaccinated will have a huge impact, especially since his speeches are rarely covered on conservative media networks.
For many Americans it’s too late, as the Delta variant of coronavirus sweeps through unvaccinated populations, especially in the South. The agony of patients who chose not to get vaccinated but wish too late that they could change their minds is a heavy burden for health care providers.
“Most of the patients I see are regretful that they didn’t get vaccinated,” Missouri emergency physician Dr. Christopher Morrison told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday.
“I’m not there to wag a finger at them at that point, when people are that sick,” Morrison said. But he added: “When people are that sick, they wish they had done anything they could to avoid being that sick.”

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

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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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Get Jonathan Bernstein’s newsletter every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

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.

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe. Also subscribe to Bloomberg All Access and get much, much more. You’ll receive our unmatched global news coverage and two in-depth daily newsletters, the Bloomberg Open and the Bloomberg Close.

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

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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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