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Michigan’s sore thumb, and why we shouldn’t buy the idea that the pandemic is down to ‘hot spots’

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In terms of the pure raw numbers, a national map of new COVID-19 cases proves to be a fairly effective means of locating major urban areas. It’s not hard to pick out cities like Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, or Chicago, even though none of the states they’re in are among the highly arbitrary list of “hot states.” 

New cases of COVID-19 by county

That’s because in large part, cases of COVID-19 are now very evenly spread across much of the nation. And it’s extremely relieving to see the map below painted in calmer shades of teal when at the start of the year, most of the nation would have been cloaked in unsettling navy.

New cases of COVID-19 expressed as cases per 100,000 population.

However, this map does show some genuine winners and losers over the past few days. For one thing, California now looks remarkably “cool” on this map. With over 2,000 new cases a day, California is still in the top 10 states for new cases. However, the state has driven case counts down and kept them there, with no sign of a “fourth spike.” What does successfully holding the line against COVID-19 during the vaccination period look like? Kind of like this WorldOMeters chart of California daily case counts.

Daily cases of COVID-19 in California show effective suppression of a ‘fourth wave’

But a quick glance up at those maps shows that there are also some states genuinely struggling at the current moment. That’s particularly true of Michigan. On March 2, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer surrendered to pressure (that included attempts on her life) and relaxed the state’s social distancing rules. That included allowing restaurants to reopen for indoor dining to 50% capacity, expanding the capacity of retail stores, and opening up venues like movie theaters and sports facilities. One month later, and the chart for Michigan looks like this.

Daily cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. Guidelines were relaxed on Mar. 2.

Other states appear to have gotten away relatively easy even though they made more egregious changes to the social distancing guidelines. However, it turns out, Michigan relaxed its rules just as the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant was becoming dominant in the area. It was double-whammy of bad timing. 

One other factor emerges when looking at the state closely.

Close up on Michigan, showing cases / 100,000 population.

While the area of Detroit generates the highest number of cases, the “hottest” areas in terms of cases by population are actually on Michigan’s “thumb.” Every one of these counties reporting over 750 cases per 100,000 population is a red county. While in terms of overall vaccination rate, these counties appear to be in line with state (and national) averages, the latest data from Civiqs shows Republican resistance to COVID-19 vaccines is actually slightly up, to 42%. That includes 57% of Republicans under the age of 50. 

Combine high Republican vaccine avoidance with a fast-spreading variant, increasing cases in younger Americans, and rules that make it easier to congregate both at home in in the most risky business environments. Mix well. What comes out is Michigan’s sore thumb.

Multiple states including New York, Florida, and Texas have “stabilized” their cases, but done so at rates that are relatively much higher than those in California. New Jersey simply never stopped being awful after the holidays when other states went down. There’s been an apparent decline in cases there over the past week, but again it won’t be possible to say anything certain until the holiday data is well in the rearview.

But what should be remembered is that the pleasing green color decorating much of the nation still represents a highly significant rate of COVID-19 in almost every county. There are no safe places, and policies matter more than ever as we come down the home stretch toward herd immunity through vaccination. Here’s a quick look at the chart for Alabama.

Daily cases of COVID-19 in Alabama show a continued downward trend since the holiday peak.

Unlike many Republican-led states, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey elected to maintain a state mask mandate even after the holiday peak fell to relatively low levels in March. As a result, the state now has its lowest rate of new cases since May 2020. However, that mask mandate is set to expire on Friday, and Ivey has made it clear she won’t consider continuing it at this point. That’s despite the fact that Alabama has the lowest rate of vaccination in the nation. Multiple counties in the state have a vaccination level lower than 10%. (To be fair, neighboring Georgia is actually much worse. It looks better in total due to a handful of well-vaccinated counties, but has many counties with < 5% vaccination rate). Lifting the mask mandate in Alabama risks doing for that state exactly what happened in Michigan—relaxing effective guidelines exactly as more contagious variants are becoming dominant.

Hopefully vaccinations will outrace the resulting issues, but that’s going to take getting vaccination in gear, and getting Republicans to accept the vaccine. Because the truth is that most of America is still at high risk. If there are not-hot-spots, those are the real exceptions.

Table showing relative number of counties with high, moderate, and low community transmission.


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Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar launch ‘America First Caucus,’ and it’s as bad as you imagine

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While immigration may increase the nation’s “aggregate output,” they acknowledge, it’s still unacceptable because of “the long-term existential future of America as a unique country with a unique culture and a unique identity being put at unnecessary risk.”

IT’S UNIQUE, PEOPLE. UNIQUE.

Oh, and they have ideas about infrastructure. Yes, white supremacist ideas about infrastructure. “The America First Caucus will work towards an infrastructure that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture, whereby public infrastructure must be utilitarian as well as stunningly, classically beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.” (Do they know that stunningly beautiful infrastructure costs money?)

The progeny of European architecture pretty much puts it right out there, just in case you’d missed the Anglo-Saxon bit: We’re talking about white people, and nobody but. The United States of America is unique … but in a very European way.

So. Why should you not dismiss this as just a handful of Republicans? Punchbowl reports that Greene and Gosar are being joined by Reps. Louie Gohmert and Barry Moore, but that’s still just four. Yeah. Four people elected to the United States Congress creating or signing on to a group intended to bring stunningly, classically white supremacist ideas to Congress. Four is not a lot of people to embrace white supremacy if the four people are random schmoes in a population of millions. Four is a lot of people when you’re talking about a pool composed of those elected to the national government in one of two major parties. There are 212 Republicans in the House and it’s not hard to think of a few more of them who are probably thinking seriously about joining this caucus.

This is also significant because it’s not coming out of nowhere. A “certain intellectual boldness is needed amongst members of the AFC to follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice cows for the good of the American nation.” There are footsteps for them to follow in when they sketch out this white supremacist vision of the U.S.—footsteps that went into the White House.

For years the Republican Party as a whole has gotten the benefit of the doubt about its far-right members. It’s just a few, people said. It’s the fringe. But the party as a whole keeps moving toward that fringe, making the fringe of a decade ago the center of the party now. It is never safe to assume that Republicans will cleanse themselves of the racists or the conspiracy theorists or the sex pests in their party. We’ve watched them refuse to do so again and again, and if we don’t learn from that, it’s a guarantee of disaster.


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Oath Keepers ‘lifetime member’ agrees to cooperate with prosecutors in Jan. 6 insurrection case

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Schaffer’s guilty plea to two charges—obstructing an official proceeding and illegally entering the Capitol grounds—makes him the first participant in the insurrection to agree to provide evidence against his fellow rioters. Schaffer, who originally faced six felony charges, will enter the government’s witness protection program as part of the deal.

According to an earlier filing, which was mistakenly made public, Schaffer in March began engaging in “debrief interviews.” As The Washington Post notes, the plea bargain marks a critical step forward in the prosecution of the cases, as other defendants face similar choices in terms of providing evidence for prosecutors, particularly when it comes to the activities of the two key paramilitary organizations involved in the insurrection, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

“Whenever you have a large group of people arrested,” criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it’s common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. “They’re going to start talking. They’re going to start sharing information.”

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was present in Washington on Jan. 6 but did not enter the Capitol, is one of the key figures being drawn into the net prosecutors are creating with conspiracy charges involving other members of his group. Though federal indictments handed down against his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys cohorts have not named him personally, he is referenced in several of them as “Person 1,” a central player in what prosecutors are describing as a conspiracy to “stop, delay, or hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.”

“I may go to jail soon,” Rhodes recently told a right-wing rally in Texas. “Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you’re found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don’t like their political views.”

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called “cooperating witness” was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that “anyone they got their hands on they would have killed,” including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence “if given the chance.” The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that “they plan to kill every single ‘m-fer’ they can.” That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.


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Republicans can’t agree with themselves on how tiny an infrastructure package to demand

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An estimated $41.8 billion is needed to repair structurally deficient bridges alone—never mind getting ahead of the bridges that will become structurally deficient in the coming years. Or talking about roads, rail, broadband, schools, veterans’ hospitals, ports, airports, replacing lead pipes for drinking water, caring for our elders while boosting some of the fastest-growing occupations, and supporting medical manufacturing.

As absurd a low-ball as Capito’s $600 to $800 billion was, though, at least she said something that she would be willing to talk about. More Republicans are just saying “No! Smaller!” and counting on voters to recoil from a corporate tax increase.

Voters, however, support raising corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure—in one poll, telling people that infrastructure would be paid for by a corporate tax hike actually increases support for the plan. Another new poll, from Navigator Research, finds narrow majority support for the infrastructure plan that grows to 70% support when people learn what’s in it, with large majorities of independent voters supporting many of the specific components of the American Jobs Plan, including the senior care proposal that congressional Republicans are so intent on disqualifying as “not really infrastructure.”

Even a majority of Republicans polled support that proposal, along with eliminating lead pipes, investing to protect against future pandemics, investing in rail systems, upgrading and building new schools and child care facilities, and more. Things like clean energy and investing in communities of color don’t get Republican majorities, but they do get independent majorities and strong Democratic support. If these proposals would get support from just half the proportion of Republican lawmakers as Republican voters, they would be seen as strongly bipartisan. But instead, congressional Republicans ignore the polling and yell about how Biden is steamrolling them because his willingness to compromise doesn’t extend to being steamrolled himself. These people are not operating in good faith. Doing so would be in violation of their deepest principles and would probably get them kicked out of their party. And they should be dealt with—and reported on—accordingly. 


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