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We Can’t Allow the CDC to Be Tainted by Politics

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The CDC’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, familiarly known as the MMWR, has been around for nearly a century, and is sacrosanct in the public health community. Loaded with reliable, timely data and analyses and authored by the world’s top scientists, it is required reading, especially during a pandemic.

To meddle with, delay or politicize these reports would be a form of scientific blasphemy as well as a breach of public trust that could undermine the nation’s efforts to fight the coronavirus. If public health officials lose confidence in this vital tool and doubt the substance of these reports, the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic will have been dealt yet another setback that stands to play out with greater suffering and more deaths in communities across the country.

A report in Politico this past weekend suggests that communications officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have been pushing back on, altering and even delaying MMWR reports to better align with a political narrative about the pandemic. E-mails cited by Politico reveal tensions and pushback between political appointees and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists.

As acting director of the CDC at the dawn of the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, I felt the natural tensions that can occur between political appointees and career public health officials at CDC. During my tenure, the science was always—without exception—the driving force in the review process and in our communications to the public. Indeed, in the many decades I’ve spent in public health, including 13 years at CDC, science has been the arbiter of truth and carried the day no matter the administration or the political party. That must remain the case today.

The MMWR is among the most sober and least political public health communiques one can imagine. The name itself—Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report—could only have been conceived by scientists rather than professional communicators. I’ve reviewed hundreds and co-authored several of these reports, which are notoriously meticulous, built on foundations of data and notably devoid of adjectives. The just-the-facts approach could be frustrating, in fact, because any public health guidance that carried even a whiff of the subjective would be expunged from the reports by science-driven editors. This is as it should be for public health communications written for the public health community, and it’s why the integrity of these reports has been second to none.

In 2009, the first communications from CDC about H1N1 were included in the MMWR. Two cases in California detailed in an MMWR in April of that year gave us an early indication that the virus first reported in Mexico had crossed into the United States. From that point forward—much as we’re seeing today—the MMWRs would serve as a valuable tool in filling in the gaps in knowledge while informing public health officials in every state in the country, and in real time, what they might be facing. These reports are the keepers of the latest statistics and allow for sharing of information to be used in planning and response during a public health crisis.

Because the voice of the CDC has largely been silenced during the coronavirus pandemic and unable to regularly reach the public, the MMWRs have become an even more critical conduit for the latest information and data. Produced like clockwork and driven by scientific rigor, they have detailed everything from COVID-19 spread at church events to outbreaks among college students to a comprehensive look at who is dying from COVID-19 in the U.S. The latest report, issued the day the Politico story broke, detailed COVID-19 outbreaks at three Utah childcare facilities. Each report is an important puzzle piece in helping on-the-ground public health officials better understand the virus and emerging epidemiological learnings.

Since the early weeks of this pandemic, there have been questions about political influence on the science and public health guidelines, and whether the CDC has been able to do the necessary work to inform and lead the federal government’s response. But even as these debates have raged about whether to mask or not to mask and whether hydroxychloroquine was or wasn’t an effective treatment for COVID-19, the MMWRs have continued to produce revelatory and relevant pandemic intelligence—scientific documents that appeared immune to the day’s politics.

Instead, we now see the undermining of the public’s trust of our key institutions at the very moment we should be shoring up that trust. In communities of color, in particular, that have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, many already don’t trust government’s role in health and in their lives. Systemic racism has caused, and continues to cause, great harm in these communities. We know from this pandemic’s short history—and from MMWRs—that Black, Latinx and Native Americans have been bearing the pandemic’s greatest toll. As we head into fall and the very real possibility that a coronavirus vaccine will be approved for public distribution, we cannot afford any further disintegration of trust in these communities and beyond. After all, a vaccine only matters if the public at large gets vaccinated.

The landmark of 200,000 deaths that is fast approaching reflects a scale of tragedy that the United States did not have to bear. CDC science should not be undermined nor the voices of its experts muted, or our nation will suffer a crisis of confidence and trust that will continue to hamper our recovery from this pandemic and open the door for more death and more suffering.

We cannot let this happen.

Source:- Scientific American

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5 ways the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will transform U.S. politics – CBC.ca

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It’s almost impossible to overstate the transformative effect on American politics ignited by the death of this one woman, at this one moment.

The far-ranging potential consequences from the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice and liberal legal icon, will start immediately, beginning in the election campaign that determines whether Donald Trump gets a second presidential term.

And they could last for decades in the staggering array of issues to be litigated before the court — some of whose consequences reach far beyond America’s borders and could have global repercussions.

Here are five changes prompted by her death.

It pours fuel on an overheating election

It’s been distressingly common to hear this election described as a do-or-die moment for American democracy.

It was the theme of Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention. Meanwhile, figures inside the Trump administration, and close to the president, and on talk radio, have evoked scenarios of post-election violence. 

There are booksessays and newspaper articles in which political scientists sound alarm bells about the durability of the American republic.

Which is to say this election was already heated enough, with a president insisting he’s being cheated, legal fights over mail-in voting, deaths at protests and armed demonstrations.

The stakes have now risen.

Concern about her health has gripped progressive America for years. Here, in a photo seen earlier this month, it was part of a public-service announcement in Washington. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

“I’m genuinely worried,” Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian Joseph Ellis said in an interview Saturday. 

“The fate of the republic [has not been] genuinely at stake [since the Civil War].… I think we’re in a moment analogous to that now.”

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that America will face its most difficult months in a generation, and asked for prayers for the country. 

It means conservative court dominance, potentially for decades

The court recently had a 5-4 conservative tilt. It’s now 5-3, and will be 6-3 if Trump gets his nominee confirmed.

The Supreme Court has gained power throughout American history, starting in the 19th century, in its interpretive role over U.S. law. 

Now, as bitter partisanship makes it harder to pass bills in Congress than a few decades ago, parties frequently rely on courts to resolve political disputes.

One big case before the new, Ginsburg-less court involves a challenge to the law known as Obamacare — hearings are scheduled for Nov. 10 on the Affordable [Health] Care Act. 

Former president Barack Obama, seen here in 2010 celebrating the adoption of his signature health reform. The Affordable Care Act is about to be challenged in hearings before the court. It, and numerous other Democratic initiatives, face a more uncertain future. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Obama’s signature law, which extended health coverage to millions, appears in grave danger: the law survived one earlier challenge by a single vote.

Other cases this fall will touch on workplace benefits, and on the right of publicly funded religious institutions to exclude same-sex couples

This court could even decide the presidential election. 

In 2000, the high court ended a Florida recount and made George W. Bush president; the numerous fights this year over mail-in ballots could be far, far messier.

Longer-term battles are inevitable over abortion, and over myriad presidential executive actions. Take climate-change regulations and immigration rules.

Obama signed a flurry of such climate and immigration executive orders; future ones would inevitably be challenged in a more hostile court.

“It would be the strongest conservative majority we’ve seen,” former U.S. federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno told CBC News.

“[Now you have chief justice] John Roberts potentially sometimes voting with the minority. [But with a change now] you’d have a potentially secure block of conservative votes. 

“That would impact so many things in this country.”

Other big changes could be economic. In his book, Supreme Inequality, author Adam Cohen argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has, for most of American history, favoured the wealthy and powerful, with a rare exception being the 1960s court led by Earl Warren. 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. 3:00

He said the court has recently been a major driver of American inequality — stripping away union powers, allowing corporate money into politics and undermining the integration and funding of schools in minority areas.

Page 1 of his book carries an anecdote about Bader Ginsburg: she wrote the dissent for the losing side in a case involving a Black man subjected to racist abuse at work.

It upends the election focus

The court fight threatens to overshadow the presidential election issue Democrats hoped to focus on: the pandemic, which has killed around 200,000 Americans. 

It will play out, day after day, as voters cast ballots. Voting has already started. Ballots are being mailed out, and in-person polling stations are open in some states.

The Supreme Court has been a winning issue for Trump before. In 2016, more than a quarter of Trump voters told pollsters it was the reason they voted for him.

Trump cemented his alliance with social conservatives by vowing to name only conservatives to the court, and he took the unusual step of releasing a list of candidates in advance.

He’s done it again: Trump released his new list of picks just over a week ago. He’s promised to announce his choice, likely a woman, within days.

Intriguingly, when asked Saturday about one candidate, Barbara Lagoa, Trump praised her and mentioned, unprompted, that she was “Hispanic” and “from Florida” — a critical voting group in a critical swing state. 

Floral tributes surround a poster with an image of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Saturday. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

There’s no guarantee this issue will help him. The intense upcoming debate on abortion is no slam-dunk for conservatives.

Some polling suggests a strong majority of Americans want to preserve, at least in part, the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade.

It’s one of the first points mentioned in a fundraising letter to supporters from Democratic VP candidate Kamala Harris.

Both parties quickly began fundraising off the subject of her death. Here’s an email the Biden campaign sent supporters Saturday. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

“Today, we fight for [Bader Ginsburg’s] legacy,” said Harris’ note.

Democratic donors certainly appeared energized: the party said it raised tens of millions of dollars in the hours after Bader Ginsburg’s death.

In an inimitably American political phenomenon, both parties were actively fundraising upon the judge’s death.

The Trump campaign released a similar message to supporters.

This sudden effect of this debate will likely resonate unevenly across the country, helping Republicans in some places but not others.

It’s illustrated in the different reactions from Republican senators involved in tough re-election fights.

Just compare their reactions to a map showing church attendance rates per state: Republicans running in more religious states dove headfirst into the fight, which will inevitably raise hot-button social issues. 

(CBC News)

North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who heads the justice committee in charge of the process, vowed to support a nomination immediately. 

By contrast, Colorado’s Cory Gardner dodged various questions on the topic and released a vague statement; Susan Collins of Maine said the presidential election winner should get to make the pick.

There’s some reason for optimism for Democratic nominee Joe Biden: surveys in three smaller swing states this week suggested he’s more trusted on court appointments than Trump.

It triggers a brawl on Capitol Hill

The power to pick judges rests with the president. The power to confirm them belongs to the Senate.

Right now Republicans control the Senate with 53 votes, to 47 Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents.

Those numbers would not, until recently, have guaranteed confirmation: for generations, 60 votes were required for most major actions in the Senate, but because Congress is so frequently paralyzed, first Democrats, then Republicans, began chipping away at the so-called filibuster rule.

Now it takes a simple majority, of 50 or 51, to confirm a judge. And it will be close.

The first question is how quickly Republicans proceed. Trump tweeted his own suggestion that the party move fast: “We have this obligation, without delay!” 

Anti-abortion activists, seen here in the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., last January, are likely to have a more favourable court. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

His party has flexibility on timing a final vote. It can happen before or after the Nov. 3 election: the current Senate term lasts two months beyond the election, until Jan. 3, and the current presidential term lasts until Jan. 20.

It’s taken an average of just over two months to confirm justices since the 1970s. It used to be faster, in less-partisan eras, and it could be faster again with the new simple-majority rule.

Democrats are vowing to put up whatever fight they can — with legislative delay tactics, threats of revenge if they regain the chamber and efforts to embarrass Republican senators in tough re-election races.

Both parties quickly began fundraising off the subject of her death. Here’s a text the Trump campaign sent supporters Saturday. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

Then there are the insults. 

Both parties are calling each other hypocrites: Republicans for reversing themselves on their 2016 declaration that presidents shouldn’t name a judge close to an election, and Democrats for reversing themselves in the other direction.

Yet Republicans likely hold the upper hand in this nomination battle. They controlled the Senate in 2016 and they control it now.   

It foreshadows a clash over institutions

The Republican Party has won the popular vote in a presidential election precisely once since 1988. Yet it has a stranglehold over the Supreme Court.

And Democrats are livid.

There are growing calls within the party to overhaul the country’s institutions to make them more representative of the country’s actual, increasingly diverse, demographics.

Obama spelled out some of this agenda in his eulogy for the late civil-rights hero John Lewis: he called for full votes in Congress for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, a new voting-rights law and an end to the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule.

Many progressives want to go even further — and expand the Supreme Court: meaning add new judges.

Biden has opposed the idea and said Democrats would come to regret it. 

But the idea is growing on the left. 

Nearly half the party’s presidential candidates said they were open to it. Sen. Bernie Sanders has raised the idea of rotating judges between upper and lower courts.

The Democrat who leads the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Saturday said that if Republicans proceed with this nomination, Democrats should immediately move to expand the court should they win the Senate.

Franklin Roosevelt famously failed in an effort to pack the court in the 1930s.

He was frustrated that conservative judges were blocking aspects of his New Deal, the Depression Era social-safety net and public-works program.

Cohen’s book says Roosevelt achieved something even if he failed to pack the court: after that, the judges stopped cancelling his policies.

Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has left open the possibility of shifting to a simple majority vote on all bills if his party wins back the chamber.

On Saturday, in a conference call with party members, several outlets reported him saying that if Republicans replace Ginsburg now, “Nothing is off the table.”

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American politics is about to get a lot uglier – The Boston Globe

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To win political power will mean using it brazenly, extravagantly, and without comity or consensus.

A group of protesters rally in front of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s home on September 19 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell has said that if President Donald Trump nominates someone to take the place of Ginsburg following her death, the Senate would proceed with the nomination process despite the presidential election being less than six weeks away.Jon Cherry/Getty

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is devastating, and not simply because it is the passing of one of the most influential jurists in American history.

It is what comes next that should alarm us the most.

If we lived in a normal democracy in which all political parties abided by basic democratic norms and traditions, both presidential candidates would spend the next six weeks debating — among other issues — who they would appoint to the Supreme Court in 2021 should they win the presidential election.

But if we lived in that country, Merrick Garland would be a member of the highest court in the land.

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Instead, four years ago Republicans — led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell — refused to give Garland a Senate hearing. As they argued at the time, nine months before a presidential election was too soon to appoint a Supreme Court replacement for Antonin Scalia. Fast forward to 2020 and McConnell announced within hours of Ginsburg’s death that there will be a Senate vote on Trump’s pick to replace her on the Court, even though voters in some states have already begun to cast ballots.

McConnell’s move is cynical, hypocritical, and completely in keeping with the nihilism that he has brought to bear on American politics. For McConnell, norms are for the weak. Might makes right and political power is a tool to be wielded in the pursuit of ones self-interested political goals, the consequences on the legitimacy of America’s democratic institutions be damned. We saw this when Republicans pushed through Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Court after credible allegations of sexual assault, and we will likely see it play out now. While it’s far from guaranteed that McConnell will persuade 49 of his other Senate Republicans to go along with his efforts to pack the Court, one would be foolish to bet against cynicism winning the day.

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If this happens, what will Democrats do in response? Should the polls hold up and they win the presidency and narrowly take control of the Senate, American politics will dramatically change. As Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer made clear Saturday morning, if McConnell moves forward, “…nothing is off the table.”

That means, almost certainly, an end to the Senate filibuster if Democrats win control in November. Democrats would probably move forward with statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which could mean four new Democratic senators. And Democrats may be emboldened to expand the Supreme Court to make up for what the party rightly perceives as the theft of two seats by McConnell and the GOP.

Democrats would have already pushed for many of these reforms before Ginsburg died. But if the GOP rams through yet another new justice, the gloves will come off — not because Senate Democrats will be furious, but because it will be the only way to hold back the bile of party activists.

This is the right thing for Democrats to do. When one party refuses to abide by democratic norms; when it acts as an agent of only its own political supporters and makes no effort to honor institutional principles; and when there is no accountability and there are no political repercussions for nefarious actions, the course forward is clear. Democrats must play the same political hardball Republicans have played for much of the past two decades.

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But we should not delude ourselves about the larger corrosive effect. For Democrats to imitate the actions of Republicans means a new era of cutthroat politics in which bipartisanship remains out the window and both political parties shove aside all of America’s political traditions. To win political power will mean using it brazenly, extravagantly, and without comity or consensus. It will complete the evolution of American government from its current state to one more representative of a parliamentary democracy in which once a party achieves power, it treats it as a mandate to put in place its political agenda lock, stock, and barrel. And when the other party achieves power, it will do the same. It’s not to say cooperation will be impossible or never happen, but rather that the system will evolve in such a way that it will not be necessary — and each party will put in place reforms to increase their power and weaken the other side. Republicans have been doing that for years. Now Democrats will likely follow their lead.

Perhaps this is the politics we need. Perhaps Americans need a starker reminder of the differences between the two parties. But the ugliness and divisiveness that will flow from this will only deepen the intense polarization that already defines American politics.

In an ideal world, Mitch McConnell would step back from the brink or enough members of the Senate Republican caucus would demand he do so. Don’t hold your breath on that happening. After all, if the last few years have taught us anything — we don’t live in that America.

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Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.

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Politics Podcast: How A Supreme Court Vacancy Will Shape The Election – FiveThirtyEight

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In this emergency installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and how the political fight around the new vacancy on the court might unfold.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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