Today’s Edition: 1-in-500 Americans

September 16, 2021

         More than 1-in-500 Americans have died of Covid. Indeed, using the most conservative numbers from the CDC (based on death certificates), a more precise ratio is 1‑in-468. But using the CDC’s estimate of “excess deaths” in the U.S. during the pandemic, the ratio is 1-in-415. Overall, life expectancy in the U.S. in 2020 declined by 1.03 years, while life expectancy for the Black population decreased by 1.90 years and life expectancy for Latinos decreased by 3.03 years. Those numbers are shocking. If they do not shock you, I urge you to reflect on them until they do. We cannot allow ourselves to become numb to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Too much is at stake.

          Covid is now the third leading cause of death among all Americans. It is the leading cause of death among law enforcement officers. Amid signs that the fourth wave of the coronavirus is ebbing, we have every reason to believe there will be a fifth wave. And a sixth. And so on . . . until we convince the Republican base that dying from coronavirus is not a personal liberty worth defending.

          In the next few days, the FDA will decide whether to authorize a “booster shot” for those who have already received the vaccine. The science related to that question is inconclusive and complicated. See NYTimes, “US Covid Booster Shot Policy Is in Flux as Studies Add to Dissent.” Some studies have demonstrated increased protection against severe infection from a booster, although other studies suggest that initial vaccinations remain highly effective in preventing serious illness.

          The scientific debate over booster shots may have prompted protest resignations from the FDA, although the circumstances of the departures are contested. But in the right-wing blogsphere, the resignations are seen as an indictment of President Biden’s announcement endorsing booster shots before the FDA concluded its analysis. In other words, the situation is a mess.

          The solution is simple. The administration should follow the science—whatever that may be. While our personal desire for a booster shot may be strong, it is possible that the better public health outcome for the U.S. is to continue to emphasize initial vaccinations among the unvaccinated.  If booster shots are unnecessary, giving them to 180 million Americans could be a monumentally expensive placebo. But if boosters can provide marginally relevant protection against a pandemic that has killed 1-in-500 Americans, neither the FDA nor the Biden administration should shrink from recommending booster shots.

As you listen to the debate in the coming weeks, remind yourself that we should follow the science. That should be our touchstone in any policy debate where science matters—i.e., most of them.

Deconstructing the vote in California’s recall election.

          It is too early to deconstruct the vote in California’s recall election, but that hasn’t stopped major media outlets from doing so anyway. So, I will jump into the fray with a huge caveat: Mail ballots will be accepted for another week (if they were postmarked by Election Day) and local registrars have 30 days to certify the results. But early data points suggest trends that are important to Democrats as they contemplate their future.

          Turnout was strong for a special election--but was less than 50%! California has about 20 million registered voters and the total votes counted stands at 9.2 million. Every registered voter received a ballot in the mail. As we fight voter suppression tactics in Republican-controlled states we must ask ourselves how it is that only 50% of California voters bothered to return ballots received in the mail. Sure, it was a special election in the middle of September, but it was hugely important. Solving that problem deserves our full attention.

          Several media outlets are reporting that the California results demonstrate that Democrats have a “problem” with Latino voters. Here are the facts: Latino turnout as a percentage of all voters decreased from 21% in 2020 to 18% in the recall election. Latinos represent nearly 40% of California’s population, so a meager 18% of the total voter turnout among Latinos suggests either a big problem or a big opportunity. Democrats should seize the opportunity before Republicans do.

          Many media outlets are running headlines similar to that of NBC News, “Democrats warn of 'canary in the coal mine' for Latino voters in California recall.” If you read the NBC article carefully, however, it is hard to identify the canary mentioned in the headline. In the recall election, Latinos voted against recall at essentially the same rate as white voters (60% against recall, 40% in favor). The article’s key evidence of a dead canary is that in 2018 Newsom won 64% of the Latino vote but garnered only 60% of the Latino vote in the recall.

          Do the above facts provide a reason to panic? It is probably too early to draw firm conclusions. If the slippage in California is part of a trend of Latinos supporting Trumpism, then “Yes,” there is cause for concern. At the very least, the message is that Democrats cannot take the Latino vote for granted (just as they cannot take the Black or Asian vote for granted).

          Democrats must speak to issues that are important to the diverse communities that constitute the “Latino” vote. But if Democrats want a good place to start, here is an issue they should emphasize: Life expectancy for Latinos decreased by 3.03 years in 2020—the last year of Trump’s tenure. The decline is directly attributable to the deadly incompetence and malfeasance of a party that has turned opposition to vaccines and masks into a partisan issue—with deadly consequences for Latinos in America.

          One final note: Republican strategists are saying that Larry Elder’s premature claims of election fraud suppressed Republican turnout. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. But if it is true, it is another reason for Democrats to be hopeful about holding onto the House and Senate in 2022. See Sacramento Bee, “GOP adviser: Voter fraud claims hurt CA Republican turnout.” (“One way not to have Republicans win is by telling Republican voters that their votes don’t matter.”)

Bill Barr’s bogus investigations continue, while Merrick Garland remains silent.

In 2019, Bill Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as Special Counsel to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation. The appointment was an act of political retribution by Trump and Barr. Merrick Garland has allowed Durham to continue his investigation, even though Durham resigned as U.S. Attorney when Biden was elected. Durham is now on the verge of indicting a lawyer from a major law firm (Perkins Coie) that represented the Clinton Campaign in 2016. The basis for the prosecution is the flimsiest of excuses: an inconsistency about whether the lawyer, Michael Sussman, told the FBI he was representing a client when he briefed the FBI about a possible connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.

          The contested detail of whether Mr. Sussman was representing a client when he provided information to the FBI is immaterial. The underlying information was highly relevant to the security and integrity of the 2016 election. Who Mr. Sussman represented, if anyone, when he volunteered information is beside the point. Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that the Trump campaign did, in fact, have multiple high-level contacts with Russia in 2016.

          If John Durham is allowed to indict Sussman over this picayune inconsistency, it will be with Merrick Garland’s blessing. In the meantime, there is absolutely no evidence that Garland is investigating Trump for his criminal conduct extorting Ukraine or inciting a insurrection. It is a maddening situation.

          Every time I criticize Garland for his inaction, alumni of the DOJ write to me and counsel patience, assuring me that Garland is diligently working in the background to bring Trump to justice and to punish rogue actors in the DOJ. Even if those assurances are true, the delay is becoming untenable. Trump is already running for the 2024 presidential nomination. The longer Garland delays, the harder and more disruptive it will be to indict him.

          And, for the record, I don’t believe Garland is doing anything to investigate Trump, assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. I sincerely hope I am wrong and will gladly admit error if Garland turns out to be the careful, tenacious prosecutor his former colleagues believe him to be.

Republicans who voted to acquit Trump for insurrection label General Milley a traitor.

As you will no doubt recall, Republicans in the Senate acquitted Trump of the charge of inciting insurrection even though he plainly incited insurrection in a public speech. Those same Republicans are now claiming that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, is a traitor for taking actions to ensure that an unstable and delusional Donald Trump did not start a nuclear war. See Business Insider, “Republicans Say Gen. Mark Milley Should Be Fired or Court-Martialed.”

          Further details emerged on Wednesday indicating that Milley acted with full transparency within the Pentagon and Department of Defense. His conversation with his Chinese counterpart included approximately twenty Pentagon staff. Notes of the meeting were circulated in the normal course and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was advised of the conversations. Moreover, reports in the media on Tuesday appeared to exaggerate what Milley said. He did not make a secret deal with China to provide a warning of an attack; instead, he merely observed that China was in a position to observe any preparations the U.S. would make in advance of an attack. See Navy Times, “Milley denies wrongdoing amid calls for his resignation over details in new book.”

Concluding Thoughts.

Democrats have the tendency to look for bad news in good news. I may have fallen victim to that trap in today’s newsletter. Newsom’s resounding victory provides reasons to celebrate—period! Should we examine the results to see what we could have done better? Sure! But that doesn’t mean we should use that examination as an excuse to beat ourselves up. Look, things could be a lot worse. Imagine what it is like to be a Republican strategist examining the results for the California recall. The Republican platform for 2022 (anti-vaccination and anti-masking) just went down in flames.

          In the meantime, Democrats have the time and opportunity to learn how they can better communicate with Latinos and motivate voters in the 18 to 34 age group. Democratic leadership and consultants are undoubtedly already hard at work on those tasks tonight. The fight is on for 2022, and we just won an initial battle. Good!

          Talk to you tomorrow!