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The Pandemic May Be Reaching a Tipping Point--in the Wrong Direction...

There is a fair bit of bleak news on the pandemic front. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is running wild, with the result that infections are way up in nearly all states. Mask mandates, at least in those states where they are politically viable, may be back soon (and, in fact, are already back in some places, like Los Angeles County). And the CDC announced yesterday that, thanks primarily to the pandemic, U.S. life expectancy dropped a staggering 1.5 years last year.

Unless the lockdowns are to resume, there is only one path forward, and that is more vaccination. The U.S. fell a bit short of Joe Biden's 70% goal for July 4, and—particularly in some states—has very clearly hit the wall, wherein the great majority of unvaccinated people are that way by choice, and are going to be very difficult to persuade to change their minds. An Axios-Ipsos poll, released Monday, puts the problem in stark relief. They asked people about various things that might compel them to get vaccinated:

Concession That'd Do It Probably Not Definitely Not
Vaccine available at doctor's office 26% 16% 55%
Paid time off to get vaccinated 24% 11% 63%
Discussion with community volunteer 15% 13% 70%
Celebrity vaccine endorsement 14% 14% 70%

In short, those who believe the Justin Bieber PSA is going to be a game-changer have another think coming.

There are three basic problems: (1) for many, the vaccination has become politicized, and taken on Trump vs. the World overtones; (2) for many, disinformation about the vaccines is shaping their decisions, and (3) for many, their pro-Trump/anti-"the libs" political inclinations are being enabled and reinforced by disinformation.

There is little the government can do about the first problem, but the disinformation problem is maddening, and certainly feels tantalizingly solvable. A recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) reveals that nearly two-thirds of false information comes from just 12 people. The most famous of the group, which is being called the "disinformation dozen," is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., but the other 11 also have large followings. One wonders if the Biden administration is tempted to do what the Lincoln administration did on occasion, and round these folks up and jail them without charges, on the basis of their being a security risk. That probably wouldn't go over too well, not that it went over well during the Civil War, either.

Of course, these folks would not have large followings if not for social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. Twitter tends to do rather better at policing and removing anti-vaxx falsehoods, Facebook not so much. It is no surprise, then, that a frustrated Joe Biden slammed Facebook late last week, declaring that "They're killing people!" Eventually, the White House backed off and softened that, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki explaining that the president just meant "We're in a battle with the virus."

As a sidebar, The Hill—which, remember, tends to produce opinions written from a right-wing perspective—had a piece headlined "Unscripted remarks start to haunt President Biden." They even had quotes from a few anonymous Democratic insiders in which they expressed their "concern" with the President's "gaffes." Maybe these folks have been getting lessons from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). In any event, we're not really buying either half of that headline. The Hill gives no actual hard evidence that Biden is being hurt by his words, and his approval rating is holding firm in the low 50s. Meanwhile, these alleged "gaffes" allow Biden to get something out there, where it can marinate for a day or two, before he (or one of his staff) walks it back. Sure, like any politician, he misspeaks sometimes (e.g., "you ain't Black"). But it's time to recognize that sometimes when he does it, particularly on a Friday, where the statement can linger for 48 hours, it's most certainly scripted.

In other words, we think Biden knew exactly what he was doing when he said what he said about Facebook. And he's right to point a giant finger at the social media giant, as that platform is chock-full of anti-vaxx stuff, and they do a terrible job of policing or removing it. That's not just our perception, either. The CCDH report reveals that 95% of COVID-19 misinformation stays intact on Facebook. Further, 73% of that comes from the disinformation dozen. If the social media platform really and truly wanted to combat the problem, then suspending those folks and removing any content from them would go an awfully long way.

Presumably, a denouement of some sort (or several denouements) will soon be upon us. The social media platforms, Facebook in particular, may conclude they are playing with fire, either in terms of alienating users or risking regulation, and may get serious about actually getting rid of the false information. And the state and/or federal governments may soon be forced to re-implement some sort of none-too-popular restrictions, especially with the school year looming. That will not make people happy, especially given the sense that the pandemic was behind, and not ahead.

What happens if things really get out of hand? Biden does have some options but they won't be popular. He could sign executive orders requiring an officially approved vaccination certificate from anyone trying to

He could also actively encourage governors and mayors to enforce similar rules within their states and cities. If they did, blue states would be protected, people in red states would get sick and die, and not so many red staters would be able to make it to blue states unless they drove in their own car. It would be extremely unpopular in red states, probably reasonable popular in blue states, and mixed in swing states. It would be an extremely difficult call for him, but doing nothing also has huge political risks. (Z)

Pelosi Accepts McCarthy's Picks

On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made his five selections for the House Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection. And on Tuesday, with the committee almost ready to begin holding hearings, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her colleagues said they would accept the Minority Leader's choices.

The basic sentiment among Democrats was that the GOP House Conference has so many bomb throwers (at least a couple of dozen), and so many Trump sycophants, and so many members who voted to overturn the election (about 140) that it was too much to hope for five completely acceptable Republican members. At very least, many House Democrats observed, McCarthy did not choose five bomb throwers, and did not choose Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) or Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who are both suspected of complicity in the attacks.

The Committee is still stuck with at least two bomb throwers in the persons of Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN). The latter will serve as ranking member, while the former has not been shy about his plans. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he said that the major question that needs to be answered is why security was so lax on that day. That certainly is an important question, although Jordan already has an answer in mind that is different from the one most other people would have: It's Pelosi's fault.

Put another way, Jordan is a lawyer, and he knows that people want to assign blame for the events of 1/6. So, he and Banks are ready to work hard to point the finger at Pelosi and the Democrats, and to keep from blaming Dear Leader Donald, or any other Republicans, or the Capitol Police. Given the rather significant propaganda apparatus they have at their disposal, they should have no trouble convincing about 30% of the population that when a bunch of Republicans invaded the Capitol in order to block the election of a Democratic president, and the Republican then-president sat on his hands for three hours immediately after encouraging that invasion, the Democrats were really the ones responsible. (Z)

Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Abortion Ban

As everyone knows, the various red states would like to ban abortions. Or, at very least, their leaders want it to look that way, so that their voters will be pleased. To that end, quite a few of those states have passed laws that make it basically impossible to get an abortion unless it's within 6 hours of conception, the procedure is performed on the same day as a blue moon, the woman can recite pi to at least 314 digits, the doctor is shorter than 4'10" or taller than 7'4" and the paperwork is countersigned by a rabbi, a left-handed shortstop, and at least one member of the cast of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

Arkansas passed such a law (though in their case it's a Hindu mystic instead of a rabbi), and on Tuesday, District judge Kristine G. Baker confirmed what we already knew, namely that such bans are not legal under federal law, as currently constituted. So, she blocked the Arkansas law, becoming the second federal judge to make such a ruling this year, after District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis in South Carolina.

This is all part of the plan, of course. The folks in Arkansas, and South Carolina, and half a dozen other red states that have passed restrictive abortion bans fully expected to get slapped down at the district level, since district judges are bound by existing precedent. The end game is to get these cases before the Supreme Court, where existing precedent might just get changed. The Court has already agreed to hear a case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the Mississippi statute is upheld, it would be a big change to existing law, since 15 weeks is well before fetal viability. It is possible the Arkanas and South Carolina appeals will be rolled into the Mississippi case, as sometimes happens with SCOTUS jurisprudence. Either way, however, we are a little less than a year from learning if the 6-3 conservative Court plans to declare open season on Roe v. Wade.

But once again, you should be careful what you wish for. You might get it. If Roe is overturned or hamstrung so much that half the states can de facto undo it by laws like Arkansas', that will mostly affect women and young people—groups that skew Democratic. Turning them into one-issue voters who will walk over broken glass barefoot to vote is probably not what the various Southern governors have in mind. (Z)

Trump Ally Arrested

Brace yourself, because you might otherwise faint due to shock, but a close friend and ally of Donald Trump was arrested on Tuesday and charged with seven felony counts.

Once you have taken a deep breath and had time to recover, we can tell you that the latest Trump insider to be popped is Tom Barrack, who chaired the former president's inaugural committee, and who is now in possible hot water for unregistered (and thus illegal) foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal agents.

Of course, the real surprise here isn't that a Trump associate is in trouble with the law; he's the eighth person to be so charged, and at least the third to be charged with unlawfully lobbying on behalf of a foreign agent (Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn also got in trouble for this, and Rudy Giuliani could be next in line). The real surprise, actually, is that there haven't (as yet) been more Trump intimates charged with this particular crime. Consider the following observations, all of which we would regard as indisputable:

In short, the circumstances were absolutely ripe for this kind of behavior.

We shall see what comes of this. Few people care too much about the fate of Barrack. However, many people care about the fate of Donald Trump, and would like to see him pay some real price for the bad behaviors he engaged in himself, or that he enabled in others. The former president is, of course, very good at leaving others holding the bag, so the odds are good that Barrack's troubles do not attach to him any more than the troubles of Manafort, Flynn, or the other crooks in the administration did.

On the other hand, there are three differences here worth noting: (1) the pardon power is no more, (2) Giuliani and Barrack could exert pressure on each other to sing and to save their own hides, and (3) the inauguration that Barrett oversaw also appears to be shady and is also being investigated, specifically with regards to the possibility that illegal foreign contributions were solicited/hidden/laundered. So, it's not impossible this could be the first chapter in something bigger. (Z)

Buccaneers Visit White House

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were an underdog heading into this year's Super Bowl. However, they are members of the National Football Conference, also known as "The Conference of Champions (and the Detroit Lions)," and that was enough to carry the day, as they steamrolled the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9. In so doing, they followed in the footsteps of the mighty Green Bay Packers, who beat the Chiefs in the very first Super Bowl, albeit by the even more lopsided score of 35-10. The Packers' win was long enough ago that the game hadn't even been named "Super Bowl" yet.

Anyhow, the immense glory of the Green Bay franchise notwithstanding, the actual news here is that the Buccaneers visited the White House yesterday. This is the first time since 2017 that a Super Bowl champion was invited to visit the president...and actually showed up, intact. Quarterback Tom Brady, who himself skipped a visit in the Trump years, and also one in the Obama years, even went so far as to joke about his team's surprise win: "Not a lot of people think that we could've won. In fact, I think about 40% of the people still don't think we won. You understand that, Mr. President?" Biden responded by nodding and saying that he does indeed, understand. Brady kept going, adding: "We had a game in Chicago where I forgot what down it was. I lost track of one down in 21 years of playing and they started calling me Sleepy Tom. Why would they do that to me?" The quarterback used to be friends (or, at least friendly) with Trump. Not anymore, apparently.

We bring this up because it's been a long time since these sports-teams-to-the-White-House visits have been basically apolitical. During the Obama years, there were generally a handful of football and baseball players who skipped them, in protest of his "socialism" and/or his "divisiveness." And during the Trump years, relatively few non-white players were willing to show up, which sometimes caused embarrassing situations where some small fraction of a team attended, and other situations where Trump pulled the invitation in a fit of pique.

At very least, the near-perfect attendance of the Tampa Bay team, including Brady, suggests that attempts to make Biden as controversial as Trump/Obama just haven't worked, and that he's nowhere near as toxic as his two immediate predecessors were (each of them with different groups of voters, of course). It is possible that the visit even suggests that people in general have grown tired of the constant sniping and pot-shotting, and that there is some desire for a return to the occasional civic ritual where politics can be put aside and everyone can be on the same team for a few hours. (Z)

This Week's 2022 Candidacy News

It's been a couple of weeks since we ran down the latest news in terms of hats being thrown into various rings. Here are some of the more interesting developments on that front in that time:

That's the way it is, at least for now. (Z)

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