Dear Weekend Jolter,
Back in the spring, we here at NRO ran a piece by Andrew Michta titled, “The Zero-Risk Western Society.” We could re-run this piece every week — in fact, maybe we should; note to self — and it would still be pertinent. Taking the broad view of our COVID-19 response, Andrew noted “we seem to have become a people no longer capable of accepting any level of risk, while we demand an absolute certainty that those we elect to office provide safety, even at great cost.”
Risk is at the heart of everything that’s been wrong with our pandemic response to date — managing it, calculating it, communicating it.
Today, policy-makers have to reckon with those tradeoffs once more as the Delta variant contributes to a surge in infections, and the media’s corona-coverage amplifies incidents of “breakthrough” cases. The trends are alarming and frustrating. But so would be a heavy-handed government revival of lockdowns (the Biden administration has vowed not to take this step, while leaving wiggle room), travel restrictions (Chicago is flirting with them), and other measures thought to be behind us. Thankfully, data from the Kaiser Family Foundation help put this renewed COVID-19 panic in perspective.
A few takeaways: Among those states reporting data on “breakthrough” cases for the fully vaccinated, the case rate is well below 1 percent. The hospitalization rate ranges from “effectively zero” to .06 percent. And there’s this: “The rates of death among fully vaccinated people with COVID-19 were even lower, effectively zero (0.00%) in all but two reporting states, Arkansas and Michigan[,] where they were 0.01%.”
That number again, “Effectively zero.”
Are there caveats? Sure, there are caveats. The information is incomplete and a few weeks old, and some asymptomatic cases and individuals who did not get tested are surely missing. The study also notes that these hospitalizations and deaths “may or may not have been due to COVID-19.” As Caroline Downey from the news team reports, the CDC (with similar caveats) likewise says that as of early August, the agency had received reports of roughly 7,500 vaccinated patients with severe and/or fatal breakthrough infections, or less than .01 percent.
Fiddle with the numbers even a lot, and the reality is the same: The vast majority of cases are those who are not fully vaccinated. Those who are face a vanishingly small risk of deadly infection.
That’s not to suggest we let our guard down. Jim Geraghty, your indefatigable weekday host, notes that the daily number of new infections is surging, as are hospitalizations. It could get worse, as the weather turns and we spend more time inside. But even rising risk should not turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made. Today, unlike during the surge last winter, we have an effective vaccine that is widely available.
Phil Klein hits this point in his column about the rage industry that feeds off Ron DeSantis’s approach to the risk picture:
DeSantis recognizes that the whole point of having a freely available vaccine is to reduce the likelihood of death or severe disease to a low enough level so that everybody can get on with their lives — not to chase after COVID Zero.
For the vaccinated, we appear to have reached this level. The understandable concerns about breakthrough infections should not divorce people from this reality, even if it’s sometimes lost in the headlines. In fact, Jim points out how Lollapalooza defied the headlines that predicted a super-spreader event from a mostly vaccinated crowd.
As a vaxxed Kyle Smith puts it:
I am well-protected. I didn’t say I’m bulletproof. I could still die of the virus, just as I could die in a car accident, or be murdered, or drop dead of a heart attack. The virus is now just one of many background risks I face each day. It wouldn’t register in my mind at all if it weren’t for all of the hysteria around me.
Even the White House, as Rich Lowry recently noted, has been aggravated by the alarmist tone of coverage, though the CDC bears its share of responsibility for the confusion.
As for the unvaccinated, the focus should be on protecting kids — who face a low risk, but also do not have the option to get the shot for now — without stunting their education any further. For the adults, who largely do have that option, vaccine-outreach campaigns of course should continue. But some holdouts will never be swayed, no matter the messaging. And there are limits to what the rest of the population should be asked to do on their behalf, as Ramesh Ponnuru writes. Here’s Kyle with a second dose of common sense:
The pandemic doesn’t end until we have herd immunity — until nearly everyone has antibodies, either from infection or the vaccine. People who reject the latter are leaving themselves open to the former, but if that’s their choice, my reaction is not a howl of anguish. It’s a shrug of indifference. I invite progressives to consider the matter rationally, shed their anger, and return to living life to the fullest.
The notion of “COVID Zero” is indeed unrealistic. But for the vaccinated, the COVID future can be “effectively zero.” That’s a risk we should all be willing to accept.
NAME. RANK. LINK.
Cuomo’s overdue departure — complete with denial and chutzpah — was in keeping with how he ran the place: Andrew Cuomo Leaves as He Governed
The Taliban is making rapid, but predictable, gains in advance of the full U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan: Biden’s Afghanistan Blunder
Democrats’ massive spending plan takes a big step toward the European social-welfare model — without a realistic mechanism to pay for it: Democrats’ Radical $3.5 Trillion Agenda
Charles C. W. Cooke: Joe Biden Is Talking Like a King
Charles C. W. Cooke: Andrew Cuomo Was ‘Institutionalized’ Sexism
Alexandra DeSanctis: Cuomo’s Halfhearted Farewell Apology
David Harsanyi: The Insufferable Hypocrisy of John Kerry
Helen Joyce: Trans Activism’s Long March through Our Institutions
Kevin Williamson: The ATF Doesn’t Need an Activist Director
Frederick Hess: Say No to ‘Anti-Racist’ Racial Segregation in Schools
Kathryn Jean Lopez: In the U.K., Doctors and Judges Trample on a Family’s Religious Liberty
Will Swaim: The Coming California Bacon Apocalypse
Rich Lowry: The Biden Blowout Is Just Beginning
Ed Bachrach and Austin Berg: Why Chicago Can’t Get a Grip on Its Murder Crisis
Mark Morgan: Biden’s Nonsensical Border COVID Policy Costs Lives
Jay Nordlinger: ‘Hello to Music’
Kevin Hassett sees a modest net positive for the economy in the infrastructure bill, despite its flaws: The Infrastructure Bill Is Politically Complicated, but It Passes the Economic Test
LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.
Armond White laments the missed opportunity in the biopic of an R&B legend: Respect Disrespects Aretha Franklin’s Legacy
Kyle Smith isn’t quite sold on the swine-and-dine drama that’s delighting other critics: Don’t Mess with Nicolas Cage’s Pig
And ICYMI, Brian Allen’s latest sketch from California is here: Made in LA Biennial Spotlights Art Stars
FROM THE NEW SEPTEMBER 1, 2021, ISSUE OF NR
Ramesh Ponnuru: Fighting for Life
John McCormack: Can Glenn Youngkin Escape Trump’s Shadow?
Daniel Tenreiro: Universities Are Complicit in Ballooning Student Debt
Matthew Brazil: How China and Russia Spy on Us
NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE EXCERPTS
Student-loan forgiveness is all the rage, but the lawmakers pushing it neglect to mention the culprits. Daniel Tenreiro explains why, in the new issue of NR:
That’s because the villains of this story — on one side, university administrators; on the other, well-intentioned lawmakers — do not fit into the Left’s moral schematic. But a failure to lay blame leads to misguided policy and continued wrongdoing. Conservatives should learn from the Left’s post-2008 politics: Line up the culprits and make them answer for their misdeeds.
Lawmakers can start by pointing out that tuition is not set from on high: Colleges set prices every year, and every year opt to increase fees. Just as mortgage underwriters and Wall Street traders availed themselves of federal-credit subsidies to pad their pockets in the lead-up to 2008, university administrations of all stripes — private, public, for-profit — feed on debt-financed tuition hikes. They use these dollars to pay themselves and their colleagues, to build glossy new facilities or to fund diversity initiatives, but hardly ever to improve the education they are ostensibly providing. . . .
Taken together, each venial sin — the needless administrative hire, the umpteenth “student life” program — is part of a distributed conspiracy against students and taxpayers. A great many American universities now serve a mob-like function, offering students protection from the vicissitudes of low-skilled labor in return for extortionate tuition fees.
Democrats want to replicate the European system, without forcing most of their voters to stomach European taxes. How’s that going to work exactly? NR’s editorial explains the disconnect inherent in their $3.5 trillion plan:
If Democrats get their wishes and pass the entire bill, more children would end up in child care subsidized by the federal government and progress into federally funded universal pre-K. The bill then makes available tuition-free community college, and increased assistance toward four-year college programs. And it also adds, further along life’s spectrum, federally paid family and medical leave as well as more federally financed public housing. . . .
The bill, it should be noted, would come on top of the $6 trillion that was spent in response to COVID-19 and in addition to the half trillion dollars in new spending Democrats just advanced with Republican assistance. Were the full agenda to get through, it would mean that Washington would have enacted $10 trillion in new spending since the start of the pandemic less than 18 months ago. This at a time when President Biden’s own budget is projecting that debt as a share of the economy will surpass World War II levels to reach the highest point in American history.
This brings us to one area of the European system that Democrats are not so eager to highlight. And that reality is that European countries that have vast welfare states impose much higher taxes on middle-class workers, including in the form of regressive VAT taxes. Democrats know that, were they to actually pay for their vision, it would hit suburbanites who are now a core part of their coalition. So they are claiming that they’ll be able to achieve their agenda just by asking the super wealthy to pay a tad more. Though the proposal is vague on details, it promises to hike taxes on corporations and “high-income individuals” (a cutoff that Biden has previously defined as $400,000, while offering conflicting signals as to whether that threshold refers to individuals or households). In order to give themselves wiggle room, the reconciliation instructions allow for $1.75 trillion, or half of the new spending, to be financed through additional debt. Given that Republicans just voted for a $550 billion bill that will be nearly halfway deficit-financed, it’s hard to be surprised.
Cuomo has resigned, but don’t think for a second he’s actually taking responsibility for his actions, warns Alexandra DeSanctis:
To this day, Cuomo has refused to offer a meaningful apology for or even admit to any real wrongdoing. Though he has uttered the immortal phrase “full responsibility,” he maintains that he “never crossed the line with anyone.”
He went on to say that he “didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn,” as if there were ever a time at which some of the things he allegedly did and said to women had been acceptable. Perhaps there was a time when it was easier for powerful men to get away with doing and saying such things, but that’s really no defense, especially considering Cuomo’s long-time public insistence on a “zero tolerance policy” for sexual harassment.
His initial apology of sorts, offered back in March, wasn’t an admission of guilt, either. “I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable,” he offered meekly. Responding to press questions, he added, “I do not believe that I have ever done anything in my public career that I am ashamed of. I didn’t know that I was making her uncomfortable at the time. I feel badly that I did. I understand that sensitivities have changed and behavior has changed.”
And even now, on his way out the door, Cuomo would like to pass himself off as something of a selfless hero, saying that he’s leaving to avoid a political fight — the implication being: a fight he could easily win — and stepping down so he can “let government get back to being government.” I’m no optimist about the future of New York politics, but it’ll be a better government without him around.
Take the time, should you have it — and if you’ve read this far down into our fair newsletter, we’ll assume you do — to read Frederick Hess’s critical examination of “racial affinity spaces.” And before you ask, here’s the definition:
Just what are “racial affinity spaces”? Well, while President Biden likes to denounce various Republican policies as the “new Jim Crow,” affinity spaces are the old Jim Crow. Affinity spaces involve schools encouraging students or staff to separate into segregated, race-based groups. The practice usually entails one group for black participants, a second for “non-black people of color,” and a third for white participants, typically in order to discuss issues of race, “equity,” policing, and such. In all this, the “anti-racists” seem comfortable resurrecting practices clearly at odds with the 1964 Civil Rights Act — practices that would’ve been warmly cheered by segregationists of the American South or the architects of South African apartheid.
Remarkably, the CRT lobby has gotten away with asserting that there’s some science or evidence to justify all this, despite a startling lack of research or data (more on that in a moment). Madison West High School, in Madison, Wis., has hosted discussions in which students and parents were segregated into groups based on their race. This spring, after one such exercise, the local NBC outlet published “Experts explain effects of affinity groups,” an article that quoted as “experts” a district spokesperson, the high-school principal, and a University of Wisconsin sociology professor — all of whom endorsed affinity groups, but not one of whom offered a single data point to support the district’s contention that this is “a well-established method.”
In Massachusetts this spring, the Wellesley Public Schools hosted a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.” The district’s email explained, “*Note: This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian-American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White.” In response to parental concerns, administrators acknowledged “the discomfort that some members of our community have shared when learning of a practice that they perceive to be discriminatory,” but they explained that “it’s important to note that affinity spaces are not discriminatory.” Oh.
Let Newsom be Newsom? It seems that’s not a strategy that’s going to work for California’s recall-confronting governor. John Fund explains how a potentially tight race has some wild scenarios being contemplated:
But Newsom’s dead weight may still be dragging down the anti-recall effort in early September. Especially if wildfires, drought, electricity brownouts, and COVID restrictions create a vicious cycle of bad political news. That’s why some Democrats are already talking about the possible need for Hail Mary passes to keep the nation’s most important governorship.
A new SurveyUSA poll taken for KABC-TV and the San Diego Union-Tribune was the first survey to find pro-recall forces in the lead. But the real head scratcher in the results came when respondents were asked whom they would vote for in the election to replace Newsom should he lose the recall. The poll selected one Democrat and six Republicans out of the 46 names on the ballot and asked voters whom they wanted. The first name listed was Kevin Paffrath (D), a 29-year-old YouTube personal-finance guru and the only one of nine Democrats running with a plausible political résumé. . . .
What to make of the fact that a complete unknown like Paffrath scored so well? Many observers see it as a sign that lots of recall opponents will vote for any Democrat offered them rather than turn the governor’s office over to a conservative. But if Newsom continues to appear vulnerable, some Democrats could openly call for abandoning him and trying to consolidate the state’s Democrats around Paffrath. . . .
As with every political story, there is feverish speculation about even wilder scenarios. One suggests that if the recall seems inevitable, Democrats could pressure Newsom to suddenly resign, thus canceling the recall election and installing Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat, in the top job.
But that scenario isn’t plausible. Newsom is a proud man and not one to run away from a fight. In 2003, Democratic governor Gray Davis was in worse political shape than Newsom is now, but Davis fought the recall attempt against him to the bitter end.
Kat Rosenfield, at UnHerd: How cancel culture hurts the Left
Patrick Hauf, at the Washington Free Beacon: The Last Blue Dogs: Local Democrats Call on Party to Save Hyde
John Steele Gordon, at City Journal: Party of the Century
Frederick Hess, at the Dispatch: Oregon Democrats Resurrect the ‘Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations’
Sometimes, production ruins everything. Especially when a band’s demo-tape quality is what made them great. So it was with Cake. Before their slick alt-rock became soundtrack fodder, they released an album — their debut — called Motorcade of Generosity.
Consider this an endorsement of that entire 1994 project. It’s easy-listening, funky, weird music of that particular time in America. Every track is raw, no-gloss, basement-show material — performances you can imagine being recorded while the guitar player is avoiding tipped-over Coronas and the singer is flirting with a friend’s might-be cousin in between verses.
A little bit country, a little bit coffeehouse, it’s the sound of a band writing songs, not singles. To pick just one, well, it would have to be “Jolene.” Do enjoy.
Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading.