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How we get to herd immunity

When losing soldiers flee a battlefield — or people migrate in search of a better life — they are voting with their feet. “Foot voting” lets people control their own destiny, law professor Ilya Somin argues.

In America today, people are also voting with their arms, rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated against Covid-19 — and the impact will likely be momentous.

Nearly 70% of Americans are “arm voting” — they either expect to be vaccinated or already have been, according to Pew Research’s polling. By contrast, in November, voter turnout soared — but still only about 62% of voting-age people cast ballots in the Biden-Trump contest. More than 114 million Americans have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

By getting a vaccination, Americans are voting for science and a return to normal life. They’re participating in a huge public health effort, taking into their bloodstream vaccines that were developed and proven to be safe years faster than most. Still, the nation’s ability to fully recover from Covid-19 may depend on how many of the hesitant 30% will step up.

“With more and more vaccination, the likelihood that a non-immune person will come in contact with an infected person is progressively reduced until — poof — the risk of catching the infection is almost gone (though never zero),” wrote Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease expert.

The goal is “herd immunity” but pinning down the level of vaccination needed to get there is difficult, Sepkowitz pointed out. “Things vary community to community. For example, in one locality, people may move around a lot — by car or bus or by walking. Each has an impact on risk of transmission (and therefore the number of immune people needed to protect the rest of the ‘herd’).” The weather, social customs and the transmissibility of individual virus variants all play a role. “Setting ourselves up for a giant belly flop by forcing public health leaders to produce a magic number will … further undermine people’s faith in science, thereby slowing our emergence from the long shadow of Covid-19.”

While deaths are declining in the US, Covid cases and hospitalizations have plateaued at a high level. “When the pandemic began more than a year ago, the elderly were most vulnerable, and the early months saw the coronavirus race through an older generation, with tragic consequences,” The Washington Post’s editorial board observed. “Now, three-fourths of the U.S. population 65 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, and the tide of infection is turning toward younger people. They should not be complacent about the dangers.”

Coming out of the pandemic safely will be a tricky adjustment for many. Masks are still the gold standard for preventing the disease’s spread. “Walking around my Brooklyn neighborhood as the country comes out of a long, Covid-depressed winter, I notice nearly everyone engaging in a curious pandemic ritual: as we stroll past brownstones, we all pull our masks up as soon as we see one another coming,” wrote Jill Filipovic. “We are shifting toward a new normal, and that will be rocky — our social skills are rusty and our anxieties high. Simply being near strangers pitches many of us into hypervigilance. And we want to demonstrate that we are doing our part to protect our communities.”

End the apathy over guns

When mass shootings happen, as they did this week in South Carolina and Texas, they draw media coverage “for a few days,” noted Nicole Hockley. “There are news stories, sadness, and anger that underlie an outcry for change … but then we move on. And I was just as guilty as anyone else,” she wrote. But then her six-year-old son Dylan “was killed in his first-grade classroom along with 19 of his classmates and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary school. My beautiful butterfly who brought so much joy and love to my life was gone. I felt like my heart was ripped from my chest. Nobody should have to feel the pain of losing their child to gun violence. It’s a pain that never goes away.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday six executive actions to attack the gun violence problem, but Hockley said that’s not enough. “Americans need Congress to vote on common-sense gun reform, to achieve things like universal background checks and stopping the sale of assault weapons. Voters need to hold lawmakers accountable.”

The US Constitution’s Second Amendment was never intended to create an individual right to a gun, wrote historian Dominic Erdozain. “Mass shootings would not have surprised the founders. A government that tolerates them would.” James Madison and the other drafters of the Constitution “did not equate freedom with firepower but with life. With 43,543 lives lost to firearms in a single year — of which 24,156 were suicides — is it time to acknowledge that they were right?

Joe Manchin: immovable object?

The Senate parliamentarian is signaling that Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan could sail through that chamber without a single Republican vote. Yet the senior senator from West Virginia whose vote would be crucial to that effort doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Joe Manchin warned, “If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control. The consequences will be profound — our nation may never see stable governing again.”

Biden can’t accept that view if his party is to succeed in future elections, wrote Julian Zelizer. “As Democrats tackle voting rights and infrastructure, they face a critical turning point — with Manchin posing a huge political hurdle. Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer must remember that their party is bigger than one lone senator. … The clock is ticking. Democrats need to solve their Manchin problem before it’s too late.”

The West Virginia senator should be applauded for his views about the Senate, wrote Scott Jennings. “Our closely divided country could benefit from leaders who can produce outcomes that solve problems without trampling on half the country’s views. Getting rid of the filibuster and abusing reconciliation is simply not keeping with the spirit of the body, and Manchin knows it.”

Republicans have criticized Biden’s broad definition of infrastructure. Giovanna Gray Lockhart observed that family caregiving “is quiet, mostly invisible and mostly by women. It also forms the bedrock of many people’s lives. It’s what allows them to leave the home to work and go to college and support their families and get ahead. Call it economic infrastructure, because that is what family care giving is. Our economy would collapse without it.

Corporate power is woke

Top corporate executives are increasingly speaking out on social and political issues, including Georgia’s new law limiting voter access. And that’s not sitting well with Republicans.

“Stay out of politics,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned CEOs. “From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government.” Lincoln Mitchell noted, “These comments sound particularly absurd coming from a leader of a Republican Party that for generations has been the party of big business, not least because CEOs and other business leaders have long been an important fundraising source for the Republican Party and for McConnell specifically.”

More than 70 Black executives signed a letter last month urging corporations to support voting rights. As Peniel E. Joseph wrote, “Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the ‘fierce urgency of now’ in the context of the need for America to overcome its tragic racial and political history by confronting it truthfully, with love and justice, in public … the fact that this sentiment is being expressed by Black business leaders and CEOs bears witness to the extraordinary political crisis this nation continues to face. It also exemplifies the importance, now more than ever, of speaking truth to power about issues that transcend partisanship, ideology and politics to occupy the very recesses of the American soul.”

The number of bills introduced in 47 states to limit voter access is now more than 360, Norman Eisen and Joanna Lydgate noted, and they flow from former President Donald Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him by fraud. “There is no need to suppress voting everywhere to address purported wide-scale fraud that never existed anywhere,” wrote Eisen and Lydgate. They outlined steps that the courts, state legislators and Congress could take to protect voting rights.

Derek Chauvin trial

As prosecutors in the Derek Chauvin trial moved through their slate of witnesses last week, attention turned to questions about police procedures and the cause of George Floyd’s death.

“At least 10 law enforcement witnesses have testified,” wrote Elliot Williams, “and all have largely agreed with each other around the same general principle: that Chauvin used excessive force that went beyond the training he received from the Minneapolis Police Department.”

Why so many from law enforcement? “For reasons baked deeply into America’s culture and its legal system, a conviction could be incredibly hard to secure in this case. It is in the prosecution’s interest to overwhelm the jury with evidence from police officers,” Williams observed.

“The medical evidence in George Floyd’s death is complex — and likely key to whether Derek Chauvin, the former officer accused of killing Floyd, will be convicted,” wrote Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist. “The Hennepin County Medical Examiner found a combination of injury, natural disease and drugs were responsible for his death. Some of these findings, individually, could have caused his death, and yet in this case they appear to have worked in concert.

In Politico, Rosa Brooks asked a question that goes beyond Chauvin’s fate. What about the three other officers who were at the scene? “Their sheer passivity was, in some ways, more stunning than Chauvin’s casual cruelty. They all stood by and watched as Chauvin pressed Floyd’s face into the ground and as Floyd’s pleas for help grew increasingly desperate. Ultimately, they stood by and watched him die.”

The role of fellow officers in calling out abuses is crucial for proper policing, wrote Louis Dekmar, the chief of police in LaGrange, Georgia, and Collette Flanagan, founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality. “Forging a culture that encourages officers to step up when witnessing misconduct will not be accomplished with a few new rules and stern messages from watch commanders. It requires top-to-bottom changes in recruitment, hiring, supervision, accountability, discipline and technology — and often, amending state laws and community standards.”

Hunter Biden’s memoir

Hunter Biden, a favorite target for Trump and his allies, came out with a memoir this week titled “Beautiful Things.” At the first presidential debate last fall, wrote Nicole Hemmer, Joe Biden’s defense of his son “demonstrated the stark difference between the two candidates — one fueled by grievance, the other by empathy — and also showed how sharply Americans’ attitudes toward addiction have shifted in recent years.”

She noted, “there is a real upside for both Hunter and Joe Biden in centering Hunter’s challenges of addiction. Now that Americans have come to treat addiction with more empathy, both Bidens understand that a story of addiction would not compound the conspiracies swirling around Hunter, but offer a potential escape from them.

“The story he tells is one of addiction against the backdrop of intense loss and love: a close-knit and interdependent family shattered again and again by inexplicable tragedy,” Hemmer observed.

Anti-transgender laws

Along with targeting voting access, conservative state legislators around the country are pushing bills to disqualify transgender athletes. “State legislators across the country have introduced dozens of bills that would bar transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports,” wrote former congressman Joe Kennedy, who headed the Trans Equality Task Force in the House. The measures stem from what he called a “misguided concern that their participation would somehow hurt their cisgender teammates and competitors.”

“It is a claim so absurd that you almost laugh at first,” Kennedy said. “The examples of this happening are essentially zero. School districts, colleges, and the NCAA have protocols in place to ensure fair treatment for kids of all genders and gender identities. One of the plaintiffs who recently filed a lawsuit in Connecticut alleging that transgender girls have an advantage over cisgender girls went on to defeat one of the trans athletes targeted in the lawsuit just days after it was filed.”

In Arkansas, the General Assembly overrode a surprising veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson of what Allison Hope called “perhaps the most egregiously anti-transgender bill in modern US history … making their state the first in the country to outlaw gender-affirming treatment for trans youth.”

Jeff Bezos: Tax me

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, believed to be the world’s wealthiest man, isn’t ordinarily a supporter of higher taxes — and his company has been famously called out for paying very little. But this week he endorsed Biden’s infrastructure plan and supported an increase in the corporate tax rate. “There’s a time for everything, including to tax and spend,” wrote tax expert Edward J. McCaffery. “Jeff Bezos gets it. Wall Street does, too; Goldman Sachs and others have come out with tepid endorsements or at least muted criticisms of the proposed tax hike.” Corporate taxes have plunged in recent decades, while workers have been paying higher income and payroll taxes.

“If taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once put it,” McCaffery wrote, “it is well past time to get the richest corporations in the history of civilization to pay some fair share of them, before our civilization crumbles and collapses. Even the man with the most to lose agrees.”

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Prince Philip

When Prince Philip was born in 1921 in Corfu, Greece, George V, the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth, sat on the throne of Britain — and did double duty as Emperor of India. The King of England had been an officer in the royal navy, as Philip would be during World War II. But there was little reason to think that Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark, would ever become a central figure in the British royal family.

Yet Philip married Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and his passing this week was felt by many in the UK as “a death in the family,” wrote Kate Maltby.

“Like the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, or Elizabeth Taylor in 2011, the death of the Queen’s consort is one of those great passings that ruptures our sense of the world’s continuity,” Maltby observed. “The world is dark, unstable and changing rapidly: the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh will feel to many British people like a farewell to an old order.”

“There is more here, however, than the mere death of a long-lived celebrity. In Britain, we have a tendency to project our private family dynamics onto the Royal Family. Like our own family, they are born into a relationship with us — unless like Philip, they marry in young and stick around for decades. We pore over photos of the royal children being walked by hand to their first day at school; we watch their weddings and cry over their funerals. As our families adapt to an evolving world, they adapt too, but in public. It is the price paid for the royal family’s greatest trick: pretending to be normal.”

Philip, who was 99, “navigated this public scrutiny with pragmatism, despite his visible frustration with it and some missteps along the way. He always made clear that he understood a price needed to be paid for privilege.”

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