Tag Archives: reality

Cases are up in every US state. Vaccinations are down. Safety protocols are being reinstated. Summer is getting a reality check.

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Case numbers and hospitalizations are up. Vaccinations are down and the US government has labeled vaccine misinformation a “serious threat to public health.”
“This is not a problem we can take years to solve,” US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told Jake Tapper after releasing a 22-page health advisory.
The White House blames Facebook, in part, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the platform must move faster to take down misinformation, before people see it and not after it’s been posted for days.
Related: CNN’s Facts First database has reviewed tons of false claims that the vaccines are dangerous
This is the strange and deadly new Covid conundrum:
  • The vaccine saves lives and we have it. Public health professionals are crying out that every single new US Covid death is preventable by a vaccine the country has in abundance.
  • Some don’t trust it. Much of the US in numerous groups can’t be convinced to take the vaccine despite the experience of the past year and a half.
  • Freedom to infect. Some Republican lawmakers and governors seem to be actively trying to push Americans away from the vaccine the health community insists will save lives.
Convincing the unconvinced. I watched a very sad interview Friday on CNN in which sisters from Arkansas who lost their unvaccinated mother to Covid explained that she just didn’t think the disease would come to her.
“I tried being very factual with her about what we know about Covid and that you could get it from somebody that isn’t even showing symptoms yet,” Rachel Maginn Rosser told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “And I don’t really, I don’t know if her opinion really changed. She was — she was stubborn and so she made up her mind that she wasn’t going to do it, and so she wasn’t going to do it.”
Breakthrough cases. The vaccine does not entirely stop transmission. There are more and more stories of vaccinated people contracting Covid. But they are not dying or, for the most part, being hospitalized.
Three Texas state House Democrats who are fully vaccinated have tested positive, the Texas House Democratic Caucus said Saturday. They were part of a group of state House Democrats who flew from Austin to Washington, DC, this week to break the state House’s quorum and block Republicans from passing a restrictive new voting law.
The New York Yankees, for the second time this season, had so-called “breakthrough” cases of Covid in vaccinated players, which postponed Thursday’s planned game against the Red Sox.
The NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen posted about his breakthrough Covid and encouraged people to get vaccinated even though they might still get the disease.
“Every health care professional I’ve come across in the last few days tells me the two shots of Pfizer I got in February are what’s keeping a 52-year-old like me from a far worse experience than the awful one I’m having,” he posted on Instagram from quarantine.
Not hesitancy. Hostility. The anti-vaccine rhetoric pushed on Fox News and spread on social media sites like Facebook sounds absurd when it is carved into soundbites — listen here — but it is helping to turn vaccine hesitancy into outright hostility. Conservatives at CPAC last weekend cheered the idea of low vaccination numbers.
Cases were down. Now they’re up. Cases are rising, to varying degrees, in all 50 states, an abrupt switch from just weeks ago.
The US seven-day average of new cases hit a low the week of June 20, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In less than a month, that figure has more than doubled, to 26,306 daily new cases.
Vaccinations have stalled. The pace of new full vaccinations — about 302,000 per day — is less than a quarter of the high mark of 1.3 million vaccinations a day during the spring, according to CDC data.
Just under half the US population — 48.4%, or about 160 million people — is fully vaccinated. A higher rate — 56.6% — of the population eligible for the shots has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Re-Masking. In Los Angeles County, officials are reinstituting an indoor mask requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. More than 1,500 new cases were reported in Los Angeles on Thursday, up from just 210 in mid-June, according to data from the county, where more than 10 million people live.
Related: What if the government got it wrong on masks again?
“We expect to keep masking requirements in place until we begin to see improvements in our community transmission of COVID-19,” said LA County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, according to CNN’s report. “But waiting for us to be at high community transmission level before making a change would be too late.”
Related: Every single Covid patient in an L.A. County DHS hospital is not fully vaccinated
Los Angeles has a relatively high level of vaccinations. Other areas, while not as densely populated, are at risk because their populations aren’t nearly as vaccinated.
Vaccination helps slow transmission. “If you go look at the New England states and up in the mid-Atlantic states that are doing so well and where almost all the adults and adolescents are vaccinated, what that has the added benefit of is really reducing the overall level of transmission in the community,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s John King on Friday. “So that also protects some of the unvaccinated individuals.”
Anticipating hot spots. He added: “On the other hand, you look at the other extreme, places like Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, almost no one is vaccinated except the older Americans. What you’re going to see is transmission is going to accelerate and we’re going to see lots of adolescents and young people get sick.”
The Delta variant could be more transmissible in schools. More Hotez: “The thing that really worries me is here in the South, sometimes the school year starts pretty early in August. And now we’re going to have all those people mixing together in the schools. This is going to be tough.”
Related: Here’s what is known about the Delta variant of coronavirus
The schools question will be hotly debated again. Many Americans got more comfortable with the idea of in-person schooling at the end of the last school year, when cases were dropping, masks were commonplace and vaccine rates were rising.
There’s no indication the FDA will soon authorize Covid vaccines for children under 12, however.
And many Americans, vaccinated or not, gave up on masks after the CDC said they were not needed, outdoors or in, for most situations as long as a person had been vaccinated.
Forced freedoms. Republican-led states have tried to outdo each other in limiting the power of cities and counties to impose Covid restrictions in case of a new outbreak.
  • Cities can’t impose lockdowns or issue new mask requirements.
  • School districts can’t require masks, even though children are not currently eligible for vaccines.
  • Adolescents cannot be required to be vaccinated for in-person public school, despite the long history of vaccine requirements for other diseases.
Now, in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey’s office has demanded that school districts drop a requirement for unvaccinated students exposed to Covid to quarantine. The districts are fighting the demand.
Nearby California about-faced on a strict statewide mask mandate for K-12 students and ultimately decided to leave the decision up to local districts.
One governor’s complaint. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed such a bill to keep schools from requiring vaccinations, although he’s also argued that the Food and Drug Administration must fully approve the vaccines quickly, which currently have only emergency use authorization, even though the government is urgently trying to get Americans to take them. Nearly half the country has!
“It is past time for the FDA to take into account that hundreds of millions of people have received these vaccines, and move it from an emergency basis over to a regular basis,” DeWine said this week, according to WBNS. “That will help us, in Ohio and across the country, to get more people vaccinated.”
DeWine has a valid point about the FDA, but his signing of the bill probably didn’t help with vaccine hesitancy, either. Ohio’s 46% vaccination rate trails the national average.

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Opinion | The Democrats Need a Reality Check

If you’re looking for a microcosm of the burdens weighing on Democrats, look at what happened last week when the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s new voting laws. A state legislature and a Republican governor passed those rules into law. When they were challenged, a conservative Supreme Court upheld them by a forbidding 6-3 majority. And in its decision, the Court strongly hinted it would look favorably on the voting restrictions imposed, or underway, in a dozen other states.

The decision was a gift-wrapped present to future Republican candidates, and a direct slap at one of the top priorities of not just Democrats, but good-government advocates across the country. The Democratic response? President Joe Biden urged the Senate to pass the For the People act, a voting rights bill that doesn’t even have full support from his own party. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, echoing the thoughts of many, promptly tweeted out some items from the progressive wish list: “We must abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” he said, “and we must expand the Supreme Court.”

In Washington, in the year 2021, neither of these things is going to happen. The “For the People Act” can only be passed by killing off the filibuster, a notion that is itself at least two votes short of reality. Even full passage of the law wouldn’t solve many of the key challenges those GOP laws present for democracy. And expanding the Court by four members—to let President Biden create a 7-6 liberal majority—has nowhere near majority support in the Senate and is in any case a genuinely bad idea.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, with the Democrats relying on wishful thinking and vague threats to fulfill their biggest campaign promises. Didn’t Joe Biden win the Presidency with a 7 million vote popular majority? Didn’t Democrats win both houses of Congress? If there’s anything more unnerving and disheartening than the Republican Party’s shredding of core democratic and republican principles over the past several years, it’s how so many of the Democrats’ attempts to fight back are grounded in delusion or futility.

There are reasons. The wishful thinking that seems to have captured the party begins with a profound mismeasurement of what happened last November, which in turn feeds a profound misunderstanding of how major political change happens—and in turn triggers the embrace of “solutions” that are similarly grounded in delusion. What remains to be seen is whether there is a politically potent answer to this dilemma. (Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes…maybe”).

Reality Check 1: Biden Can’t Be FDR (or even LBJ)

There’s no question that Biden is swinging for the fences. Beyond the emerging bipartisan infrastructure bill, he has proposed a far-reaching series of programs that would collectively move the United States several steps closer to the kind of “social democracy” prevalent in most industrialized nations: free community college, big support for childcare and homebound seniors, a sharp increase in Medicaid, more people eligible for Medicare, a reinvigorated labor movement. It is why 100 days into the administration, NPR was asking a commonly heard question: “Can Biden Join FDR and LBJ In The Democratic Party’s Pantheon?”

But the FDR and LBJ examples show conclusively why visions of a transformational Biden agenda are so hard to turn into reality. In 1933, FDR had won a huge popular and electoral landslide, after which he had a three-to-one Democratic majority in the House and a 59-vote majority in the Senate. Similarly, LBJ in 1964 had won a massive popular and electoral vote landslide, along with a Senate with 69 Democrats and a House with 295. Last November, on the other hand, only 42,000 votes in three key states kept Trump from winning re-election. Democrats’ losses in the House whittled their margin down to mid-single digits. The Senate is 50-50.

Further, both Roosevelt and Johnson had crucial Republican allies. In the 1930’s, GOP Senators Robert LaFollette and Frank Norris were ardent advocates for organized labor. In the ‘60s, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen gave LBJ crucial help in getting his civil rights agenda passed. When Medicare became law in 1965, it passed with 70 Republican votes in the House and 13 GOP votes in the Senate. In today’s Washington, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell have been successfully working to keep Republican support for Biden’ policies at precisely zero.

So the grander ambitions of Democrats run smack against history. If Biden had come into office with a Congress skewed the way FDR and LBJ’s were skewed, nobody would be talking about ending the filibuster, or sliding big policies through via reconciliation. Biden could enact his most ambitious plans with ease. By contrast, if those presidents had been elected with the narrowest of margins in key states, and had a razor-thin House majority, a deadlocked Senate, and adamant Republican resistance, the New Deal and the Great Society might well have been nothing more than historical footnotes.

Indeed, given the 2021 reality, Democrats should be celebrating a possible bipartisan trillion-dollar plus infrastructure bill and the $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue plan as significant first steps. Instead, progressives are turning their fire on the President for failing to govern as if he had LBJ- or FDR-like clout.

Reality Check 2: The fight is asymmetrical—and favors the GOP

While Democrats gesture on Twitter at building new systems, Republicans are working the current one with ruthless effectiveness.

The threats to a free and fair election that have emerged since last November are real—and require nothing more than the willingness of state legislators to use and abuse the existing tools of government. Arizona, whose two new voting rules were just validated by the Supreme Court, also took the power to litigate election laws away from the (Democratic) Secretary of State and gave the power to the (Republican) Attorney General. In at least 8 states, Republicans are advancing legislation that would take power away from local or county boards. Many more states are moving to make voting harder. It might be anti-democratic, but it falls well within the rules.

Also within the rules: How McConnell helped build a federal bench almost certain to ratify the power of those legislatures to pass laws far more restrictive than the Arizona rules upheld last week. He creatively eviscerated Senate norms to keep Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court and hand Donald Trump an astonishing three nominations in a single term. And he’s recently suggested that, should a Supreme Court vacancy open, he’d block even consideration of a Biden nominee if the Republicans take the Senate back in 2022. This is abnormal, anti-democratic and a cynical abuse of power—but it’s legal within the existing rules.

And it’s savvy politics: His own base loves it, and voters in the center see a party playing tough, but still within the rulebook.

In the face of such provocations, some Democrats want to throw out the rulebook and fundamentally alter the Court. Senator Markey and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler introduced legislation to expand the Court with four new members, which—assuming all goes according to their plans—would make for a seven-to-six liberal majority.

There are only two problems with this: It is all but politically impossible and it is a really, really terrible idea. Even Mitch McConnell, at the peak of his Congressional majority under Trump, never tried to shove new seats onto the court. At least three Democratic senators—Michael Bennet, Mark Kelly, and Catherine Cortez Masto—are publicly opposed to the idea, and several others, like Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, are openly dismissive of the possibility.

Beyond the numbers, however, is the blatantly transactional nature of the idea. Its sole purpose is to overcome an entrenched conservative majority. It’s no more defensible than was Ted Cruz’s declared intention to keep Scalia’s seat open for four years in the event Hillary Clinton had been elected in 2016. And—to state the obvious—it would prove no obstacle to a future Republican President and Congress adding more justices of their own to the Court, until you’d need a chamber the size of the Senate to accommodate all the bickering new justices. As an institution, the Supreme Court would be effectively dead.

It might be fun for the Democrats to imagine changing the game right under McConnell’s nose—but they should remember what happened the last time they tried it. In 2013, leader Harry Reid decided to end the filibuster for all judicial nominations except the Supreme Court, hoping to push more of Obama’s nominees through. But when Democrats lost the Senate in 2014, that reform proved meaningless; more than 70 percent of Obama’s post-2014 nominations failed. The person who capitalized on Reed’s move was Mitch McConnell: In the four years the GOP held the White House and the Senate, more than 200 Trump-nominated judges were confirmed. McConnell then scrapped the filibuster for the high court as well, giving him the tools to put three Supreme Court justices on the bench. As a result, conservatives will dominate that branch for years to come.

Reality Check 3: The Democrats’ Legislative Fix Will Never Happen—And Doesn’t Even Touch the Real Threats.

It’s understandable why Democrats have ascribed a life-or-death quality to S. 1, the “For the People” bill that would impose a wide range of requirements on state voting procedures. (With Joe Manchin’s declared opposition, the bill is somewhere between moribund and dead, however potent it may be as a fundraising pitch for midterm money.) The dozens—or hundreds—of provisions enacted by Republican state legislatures and governors represent a determination to ensure that the GOP thumb will be on the scale at every step of the voting process. The proposed law would roll that back on a national level by imposing a raft of requirements on states—no excuse absentee voting, more days and hours to vote—but would also include public financing of campaigns, independent redistricting commissions and compulsory release of presidential candidates’ tax returns.

There are all sorts of Constitutional questions posed by these ideas. But there’s a more fundamental issue here: The Constitutional clause on which the Democrats are relying—Article I, Section 4, Clause 1—gives Congress significant power over Congressional elections, but none over elections for state offices or the choosing of Presidential electors.

What this implies is that states could require different rules for voting depending on the office. It could, as a bill being considered by the New Hampshire legislature currently proposes, set different dates for electing federal and state officials, with the state imposing sharp limits on voting for governor, state legislative seats and Presidential electors—and a different, congressionally-imposed rule for the House. If you think Republican state legislators wouldn’t eagerly embrace such an administrative burden, you haven’t been paying attention.

Finally, there is nothing in S. 1—nor in the narrower John Lewis bill—about the more serious threats to a fair election: the rules that apply after the votes are counted. In state after state. GOP legislatures are pushing to empower partisan poll workers to challenge vote counting, replace local and county officials with more partisan figures; some have even flirted with arrogating to themselves the ultimate power to certify or reject future election results. Once again, these moves are well within the power of state legislatures. They require only the willingness, or cynical eagerness, to discard the norms that have governed our elections. And there is nothing in the bills Democrats have invested such hope in to cure those post-election threats.

Reality Check #4: The Electoral College and the Senate are profoundly Undemocratic—and We’re Stuck with Them.

Because the Constitution set up a state-by-state system for picking presidents, the massive Democratic majorities we now see in California and New York often mislead us about the party’s national electoral prospects. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s 3-million-vote plurality came entirely from California. In 2020, Biden’s 7-million-vote edge came entirely from California and New York. These are largely what election experts call “wasted” votes—Democratic votes that don’t, ultimately, help the Democrat to win. That imbalance explains why Trump won the Electoral College in 2016 and came within a handful of votes in three states from doing the same last November, despite his decisive popular-vote losses.

The response from aggrieved Democrats? “Abolish the Electoral College!” In practice, they’d need to get two-thirds of the House and Senate, and three-fourths of the state legislatures, to ditch the process that gives Republicans their only plausible chance these days to win the White House. Shortly after the 2016 election, Gallup found that Republican support for abolishing the electoral college had dropped to 19 percent. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a state-by-state scheme to effectively abolish the Electoral College without changing the Constitution, hasn’t seen support from a single red or purple state.

The point isn’t that the Electoral College should be retained. It’s that the tool for ending it is a process that requires a broad national consensus, geographic as well as numerical. And, unlike the 18-year-old vote, or women’s suffrage, the “nuclear option” of a Constitutional amendment to change how we elect presidents is nowhere near that stage. Clearly Republicans have learned just how much the Electoral College favors their candidates and seem unconcerned that they are evidently no longer capable of winning more votes than their opponents.

The same broad shifts help explain why the Senate has become an increasingly uphill fight for Democrats. Critics of its highly undemocratic structure note that with population shifts, the imbalance between the most and least populous states has grown exponentially. (The difference between California and Wyoming in how many citizens are represented by each Senator is an astonishing 78 to 1.)

In fact, the smallest states have just as many Democrats as Republicans—and even apart from that, the complaints have as much relevance as bemoaning the law of gravity or human mortality. Equal representation in the Senate is the only part of the Constitution that cannot be amended. To understand how far afield the Democrats are now thinking, the journal Democracy recently undertook to write a wholly new Constitution, which abolishes both the Electoral College and equal representation in the Senate. Prospects for adoption are… low.

The plausible (but difficult) solution: Just win more.

Whether the public sees Democratic demands for these structural changes as overdue or overreaching, the key point is that they are currently exercises in futility. The only plausible road to winning their major policy goals is… to win by winning. This means politics, not re-engineering. They need to find ways to take down their opponents, and then be smarter about using that power while they have it.

They certainly have issues to campaign on. In the few weeks, we have learned that some of America’s wealthiest people have paid only minimal or no federal income tax at all. (Jeff Bezos even got a $ 4,000 child tax credit.) Even as the Wall Street Journal editorial writers were responding to a Code Red emergency (“class warfare!”), the jaw-dropping nature of the report—followed by a New York Times piece about the impotence of the IRS to deal with the tax evasions of private equity royalty—confirmed the folk wisdom of countless bars, diners, and union halls: the wealthy get away with murder.

For a Democratic Party whose core theme is to bring more fairness into American economic life, these reports represent a huge cache of political ammunition. They underscore why Biden wants tougher tax enforcement, a global minimum corporate tax, and an end to some of the most egregious (and perfectly legal) tax outrages. It is—or should be—an unrelenting theme part of the Democrats’ arguments. So should a near-daily reminder, in cities and towns across the county, about the businesses and homes the massive Covid relief package has saved, and about the totally unified Republican opposition to that plan. That message—along with specific accounts of what a major infrastructure program would do—needs to be delivered at a granular level from now until November 2022.

By contrast, if Democrats believe that a parade of ambitious, intellectually intriguing bills doomed by a GOP Senate minority will resonate back home, they are under a serious misconception about how intently regular voters follow the legislative process. The disconnect between most voters and the daily play of politics is more like a canyon. It will take a focused, repeated message to bridge that gap.

Of course this is a whole lot easier said than done. A political climate where inflation, crime and immigration are dominant issues has the potential to override good economic news. And 2020 already showed what can happen when a relative handful of voices calling for “defunding the police” can drown out the broader usage of economic fairness. (It’s one key reason why Trump gained among Black and brown voters, and why Democrats lost 13 House seats.)

The lesson of history is clear: America’s historic steps toward social justice and deepening our democracy have always—and only—happened after major Democratic political victories. In the absence of significant Republican support for those steps, the need for that kind of victory is even more crucial. Otherwise, we can expect more arguments that ring from the fanciful to the desperate to the delusional.

Biden’s Covid vaccine push crashes into reality

CHICAGO — Buzzing razors collided with roaring laughter that collectively rose and fell as James Brown screeched in the backdrop. It’s so loud at the “It’s Official Barbershop” that it’s hard to hear the reply from Mark Harmon, a soft-spoken 17-year-old wearing a McDonald’s sweatshirt, when asked if he had gotten the Covid vaccine.

“No,” he said. And there was little that would persuade him. “I don’t know what they’re putting in it … They gotta tell me every ingredient.”

Less than two weeks ago, Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff held an event at this very same location as part of the White House’s “month of action,” a flurry of events to reach out to the roughly 40 percent of the nation that hadn’t been fully vaccinated, including in African American communities.

“I think it was pretty cool,” said Travis Perry, a jovial, burly barber who was working the day Emhoff visited the shop. “I’m glad he came.”

Did it make him rethink his decision not to get the Covid-19 vaccine?

“No way,” Perry deadpanned.

The person sitting in Perry’s barber chair chimed in.

“Ain’t nothing going to make me take that unless my life is on the line,” C.J. Ayers said of the vaccine. “The CDC barely knows about the disease, y’all trying to tell me about a vaccine y’all just threw together in a month? Nah. I’m not doing that.”

What about the hundreds of millions of people who already got the vaccine and are all OK?

Ayers didn’t skip a beat: “I ain’t got it and I’m OK too.”

The skepticism repeated again and again with customers at It’s Official Barbershop, reflects a broader sentiment shared by people throughout Englewood, a predominantly Black neighborhood that also has one of the highest crime rates in Chicago. Just 28 percent of those living in the 60621 zip code, which includes much of Englewood, have been fully vaccinated and only 33 percent have received one dose, according to city of Chicago statistics. It’s one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

It’s also a microcosm of the obstacles facing the White House nationwide. For all the celebrity plugs, offers of free beer, and cash lotteries, the national vaccination push is hitting a brick wall of reality. Conspiracies, lethargy and a sense that the pandemic is on the wane have intervened as the demand for the vaccine has dropped nationally from 2 million shots per day in early May to closer to 1 million per day by mid-June.

After falling short of its goal of administering at least one dose of the vaccine to 70 percent of adults by July 4th (it reached 67 percent) the White House is now turning its attention to the toughest populations in the country. That includes places like barber shops in Englewood, which are part of the “Shots at the Shops” effort by the White House. It’s also sending “surge teams” to some of the lowest vaccinated spots in the country, enlisting trusted messengers like church leaders to go door-to-door. And they’ll add mobile vaccination units at places like music festivals, sporting events or neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.

“Now we need to go to community-by-community, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door — literally knocking on doors — to get help to the remaining people,” President Joe Biden said in an address on vaccinations Tuesday.

It’s all in an effort to target the stubbornly resistant, or hard-to-reach populations as fear grows that the virus could reemerge thanks to the highly contagious Delta variant.

Much of the coverage of those populations has focused on Trump supporters who have resisted vaccination as a matter of political identity. And data show that vaccination rates do tend to overlap with partisan leanings. But there are other hard-to-reach communities, including young people, Black and minority groups that traditionally vote Democratic.

“We’re no longer in the days where 6,000 people are getting vaccinated. If 12 people are getting vaccinated in the barbershop on a Saturday morning — that’s a big deal,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, senior policy adviser for equity on the White House Covid-19 response team. “And we think that that kind of person-to-person, real hand-to-hand work of continuing to reach more people, that’s what this phase of the vaccine effort is going to look like.”

At the “It’s Official Barbershop,” the obstacles to the vaccine run much deeper than mere apprehension. The scourge of gun violence has consumed the lives of Englewood residents, as it has in other predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods of Chicago. With nearly 300 homicides since January, and already more than 1,500 shootings, the city is facing one of the bloodiest summers in recent history.

Anecdotally, customers grimly admit they’re used to the persistent violence, but this year, they’re startled by what seems like younger shooting victims. While the White House has said it would work with officials in Chicago, among other big cities, to combat the flow of weapons, the talk here is of a lack of real economic opportunities — good-paying jobs that earn more than just minimum wage — more youth programs and confronting drug dealing.

“Hey, look. We know a lot of crackheads. We know no crackheads dying from Covid,” Perry said to laughter all around. But then he took on a more sober tone.

“You gotta find the humor of what’s going on around you,” Perry said. “I mean, I don’t think I know anybody who died of Covid. I know more people who died of violence this year than Covid.”

In the 60621 zip code, there have been roughly 2,400 cases of Covid from March of 2020 through July 3 of this year, according to data from the city of Chicago. In that same period, 89 people died. (The city notes that for the week ending in July 3, there were no new Covid cases and no deaths in 60621.) To this crew in Englewood, the numbers suggest that the problem simply isn’t as existential as is often portrayed. According to a Chicago Sun-Times tracker, 36 people were victims of homicide in Englewood over the past year.

Perry said he’s known two or three people who had Covid. All survived. Since March, he’s known 10 people who were shot, some of whom died, including children. Ayers knew two people who had Covid, both lived. Since May, Ayers said he personally knows 15 people who were shot — four of them died.

“They watch the news, they know what they gotta be focused on. They focus on Covid right now more than the real problem,” Perry said of the White House. “We are at war here. This is a real war.”

Webb said the White House is well aware of the complexity of issues facing Englewood residents, who, he said, aren’t strangers to battling multiple health and safety challenges at once. Still, he said, the barbershop strategy is one that lends a credible voice to their message that Covid-19 are not just safe, but essential. The White House is about to reach its goal of enlisting 1,000 barbershops and salons to deliver the vaccines. They believe that voices trusted inside individual communities will be more effective at selling people on getting the shots than government bureaucrats. Webb cited a recent day in a Las Vegas salon where the owner vouched for the shot over Instagram, attracting about a dozen people to his shop to get a shot.

It’s a slog. But even at places where skepticism is abundant, there are some signs of small gains. Channal Coleman, owner of the It’s Official Barbershop, was among the few in the shop last week who had been vaccinated. She credited the White House, saying it had “come and checked on us instead of calling.”

“A lot of people are scared to come to Englewood,” she said. “That was a blessing.”

Author: Natasha Korecki
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Unprecedented heat, hundreds dead and a town destroyed. This is the reality of climate change.

Lytton hit 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.3 degrees Fahrenheit), astounding for the town of just 250 people nestled in the mountains, where June maximum temperatures are usually around 25 degrees. This past week, however, its nights have been hotter than its days usually are, in a region where air conditioning is rare and homes are designed to retain heat.
Smoke rises from a fire at Long Loch and Derrickson Lake in Central Okanagan in Canada on June 30.
Now fires have turned much of Lytton to ash and forced its people, as well as hundreds around them, to flee.
Scientists have warned for decades that climate change will make heat waves more frequent and more intense. That is a reality now playing out in Canada, but also in many other parts of the northern hemisphere that are increasingly becoming uninhabitable.
Roads melted this week in America’s northwest, and residents in New York City were told not to use high-energy appliances, like washers and dryers — and painfully, even their air conditioners — for the sake of the power grid.
In Russia, Moscow reported its highest-ever June temperature of 34.8 degrees on June 23, and Siberian farmers are scrambling to save their crops from dying in an ongoing heat wave. Even in the Arctic Circle, temperatures soared into the 30s. The World Meteorological Organization is seeking to verify the highest-ever temperature north of the Arctic Circle since records there began, after a weather station in Siberia’s Verkhoyansk recorded a 38-degree day on June 20.
Visitors at Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi, India, on a hot day on June 30 amid a heatwave.
In India, tens of millions of people in the northwest were affected by heat waves. The Indian Meteorological Department on Wednesday classified the capital, New Delhi, and cities in its surrounds as experiencing “severe extreme heat,” with temperatures staying consistently in the 40s, more than 7 degrees higher than usual, it said. The heat, along with a late monsoon, is also making life difficult for farmers in areas like the state of Rajasthan.
And in Iraq, authorities announced a public holiday across several provinces for Thursday, including the capital Baghdad, because it was simply too hot to work or study, after temperatures surpassed 50 degrees and its electricity system collapsed.
Experts who spoke with CNN said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly how linked these weather events are, but it’s unlikely a coincidence that heat waves are hitting several parts of the northern hemisphere at the same time.
A man stands by fans spraying mist along a street in Iraq's capital, Baghdad, on June 30.
“The high pressure systems we’re seeing in Canada and the United States, all of these systems are driven by something called the jet stream — a band of very strong winds that sits way above our heads, at about 30,000 feet where the planes fly around,” Liz Bentley, Chief Executive at the UK’s Royal Meteorological Society, told CNN.
Bentley explained the configuration of the jet stream is preventing weather systems from moving efficiently along their normal west-to-east path.
“That jet stream has become wavy, and it’s got stuck in what we call an Omega block, because it’s got the shape of the Greek letter Omega, and when it gets in that, it doesn’t move anywhere, it blocks it,” Bentley said. “So the high pressure that’s been building just gets stuck for days or weeks on end, and these Omegas appear in different parts of the northern hemisphere.”
In the US, the same thing happened in mid-June in the Southwest, breaking records in Mexico and places like Phoenix in Arizona. A couple weeks later, a dome of high pressure built over the Northwest, toppling records in Washington, Oregon and southwest Canada.
“So we’ve seen these unprecedented temperatures — records being broken not just by a few degrees, being absolutely smashed,” Bentley said.

Scientist says this could happen every year by 2100

There is a growing acceptance among some political leaders that climate change is a driving force behind fueling many extreme weather events, particularly for heat waves and storms.
“Climate change is driving the dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought,” US President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “We’re seeing wildfires of greater intensity that move with more speed and last well beyond traditional months, traditional months of the fire season.”
Scientists are working on sophisticated tools that can rapidly assess just how much climate change may have contributed to a particular weather event.
“We carried out a quick attribution study to get some fast answers to ‘What is the role of climate change?'” said UK Met Office meteorologist, Nikos Christidis, who has been developing simulations to carry out such analysis.
“We found that without human influence, it would be almost impossible to hit a new record and such a hot June in the region,” he said, referring to an area including those affected in Canada and the US.
Christidis said in the past, without human-caused climate change, extreme heat in the Northwest US or Southwest Canada would have occurred “once every tens of thousands of years.” Presently, it can occur every 15 years or so, Christidis said.
And if greenhouse gas emissions continue? Christidis said as often as every year or two by the turn of the century.
Several countries, including the US, United Kingdom and those in the European Union, recently increased their commitments — some by a long way — but many scientists and activists say they still don’t go far enough to keep global average temperatures within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. World leaders pledged in the 2015 Paris Agreement to aim for this limit in order to stave off the more most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Climate groups have also urged Canada to increase its commitments and wean itself off oil and gas.
“This is literally the deadliest weather on record for the US Pacific Northwest and far southwest Canada region. The losses and the despair as a result of the extreme heat and devastating fires in Canada are a reminder of what’s yet come as this climate crisis intensifies,” said Eddy Pérez, Climate Action Network Canada’s manager for international climate diplomacy.
“Canada is experiencing historic climate-induced losses and damages while at the same time not doing its fair share to combat dangerous climate change. As an oil and gas producer, Canada is still considering the expansion of fossil fuels which is directly attributed to the global temperature rise.”

Author: Angela Dewan, CNN
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People scared to walk outside after dark. Businesses closing. This is the reality for those whose day-to-day is shaped by gun violence.

Darlene Spot’s 8-year-old granddaughter, Treyce, was killed in a shooting on March 22. “Every month on the 22nd, it’s a reminder,” she said. “We just want justice.” (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

HOUMA, LOUISIANA — Darlene Spot often sits on her front steps in this small city about an hour southwest of New Orleans. It’s where she feels closest to her 8-year-old granddaughter, Treyce, who was killed in a shooting three months ago as she and her mother were driving home from a restaurant.

Near those steps, Treyce — a tiny dancer who loved butterflies — filmed TikToks. From there, she often took off on bike rides with her six cousins. On a recent day, Treyce’s 3-year-old cousin made a peanut butter sandwich and said it was for her.

But Treyce is gone, caught in the crossfire of gun violence that is ripping apart lives in cities like Baton Rouge that are known for high crime rates, but also smaller cities like Houma, population about 32,700, in south Louisiana, as well as Monroe in the northern part of the state near the border with Arkansas.

Houma is a small city about an hour southwest of New Orleans. (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

Louisiana had the highest rate of homicides and one of the highest rates of violent crime per 100,000 people in 2019, according to a CNN analysis of the most recent data available from the FBI. But the statistics and political talking points about violent crime have often glossed over the experiences of the people whose day-to-day reality is shaped by it. Interviews with more than two dozen residents last week in three Louisiana cities, chosen for a mix of sizes, exposed the excruciating human toll of violent crime — and not just on the victims’ families.

When asked about their perceptions of crime as normal life begins to resume after the pandemic, some residents said they are scared to walk outside after dark. Business owners have had to temporarily close their doors. And teachers are left wondering whether their students will make it back into the classroom alive the next day, let alone graduate and have a future.

English teacher Alicia Calvin said her students in Monroe have routinely dodged bullets in their daily lives. She even lost a student to gun violence two years ago. “The children need to know that we care and that there is a better way — and not just saying that, giving them hard proof.” (Will Lanzoni/CNN)

Spot cries each day for her granddaughter, who was a bright light during family fishing trips and gatherings. “I pray and I look at her picture,” she said in an interview last week, as the awning above her concrete front porch shielded her from a light rain.

These days, she said, all she hears about on the news are shootings, and so many seem to involve children: “Gun violence — it needs to stop,” she said. “The devil’s really doing his job.”

The violence, and the debate it’s sparking both in communities and on the national political stage, isn’t isolated to the Pelican State. Nationally, recent numbers from the Major Cities Chiefs Association show that homicides and aggravated assaults were up in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year and the year before.

Here in Louisiana, the frustration and despair run deep, with many residents affected by violent crime skeptical of any one quick fix. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up: Many are trying to make their communities safer from the ground up — from engaging teenagers in after-school activities to trying to remove illegal guns.

From left, Fred Sibley, Michael Adams and Adell Brown of 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge pose for a portrait outside the Triple S Food Mart, where Alton Sterling was fatally shot by Baton Rouge police officers in 2016. 100 Black Men is a national organization focused on mentoring Black youth. “At one point, I thought maybe you could run from it,” Brown said of gun violence. “But now there is nowhere you can run from it. It’s in the schools. It’s in the churches. It’s everywhere.” (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

‘It’s crushing’

Even when lives aren’t lost, violent crime is threatening livelihoods.

About a month after Treyce was shot in Houma, another shooting just 5 miles away forced business owner Lenny Swiderski to close his doors.

Gunshots were fired in his nightclub in the early hours of April 25, Swiderski said in an interview last week, sending customers running for the doors and jumping behind the bar to take cover. Five people were shot, the sheriff’s office said. All survived.

Swiderski has owned several clubs and bars in the area over the decades. For 30 years, he said, “a bad day was a black eye. Now five people get shot.” Near the bays and bayous that surround the Intracoastal Waterway, Houma was the kind of place where everybody knew everybody. But the gun violence has “just steadily gotten worse and worse and worse,” Swiderski said.

Lenny Swiderski closed his bar and nightclub in Houma for remodeling after a shooting on April 25 injured five people. (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

“We’re not Atlanta, we’re not Chicago, we’re not Los Angeles,” he said. “We’re south Louisiana.”

Terrebonne Parish, which includes Houma, saw nine homicides in 2019 and seven last year, according to data from the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office. About halfway through 2021, the parish has seen five homicides. Officials with the sheriff’s department told CNN that violent crime has increased over the past 10 years, with shootings rising steadily while homicides have remained about the same. The Houma Police Department did not respond to questions about shootings in the area.

Since the new sheriff took office in July 2020, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office has formed a Violent Crimes Division and a gang unit, which led to 13 indictments of suspected gang members in one gang that accounted for a large number of shootings in the area, according to Capt. Kody Voisin, chief of detectives with the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office. In a statement to CNN, he added that the department has also been trying to reduce crime perpetrated by repeat offenders by offering the incarcerated more access to drug rehabilitation programs and options to take GED and college courses, while also enhancing work release programs to make sure they are lined up with jobs when they leave.

Bullet holes remain in the ceiling of Lenny’s club. (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

Despite those efforts, community members like Swiderski are feeling the rising crime. Today, Swiderski’s club in Houma is closed for remodeling. Bullet holes litter the ceiling, pieces of lumber are piled in front of the stage and plastic drop cloth covers liquor bottles behind the bar. Swiderski says he has to rebrand, because Houma now associates his club, Lenny’s, with the shooting.

He wanted one of the slogans for Lenny’s to be “more memories for another generation.”

“These are certainly not the memories that I want to give anybody,” he said. “It’s crushing.”

Crime as a political talking point

The spike in violent crime nationally has raised questions about what the role of the federal government should be. But in these Louisiana communities, there is pessimism about any fixes coming from Washington, where crime is just as much a political weapon to be used against opponents as it is a problem to be solved.

Crime has long been a potent campaign issue — but like many issues boiled down in 30-second campaign ads — the complexity is often obscured. Some of the most progressive members of Congress have sided with liberal activists who want to “defund the police,” while more moderate Democrats, including President Joe Biden, adamantly oppose those calls. Some prominent Democrats like South Carolina’s Rep. Jim Clyburn, the most senior Black lawmaker on Capitol Hill, have acknowledged how damaging the “defund the police” slogan was to his party in last year’s elections.

People walk down a street near the White House painted with the “defund the police” slogan in June 2020, during the nationwide protests after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

During the 2020 campaign, Republicans effectively politicized the looting and destruction that followed some of the protests against racial injustice and tried to tie all Democrats to the “defund the police” movement. Former President Donald Trump doubled down on those attacks, seizing on recent stories about rising crime, in his first post-presidency rally last weekend.

Biden, cognizant of how Republicans intend to use the spike in crime as a line of attack against vulnerable Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections, sought to get ahead of the issue last week by announcing a slate of new measures to reduce gun violence.

“You have to prevent the crime from happening, and when it happens, support the police so that they can solve it and move on from there,” White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond, a former Louisiana congressman, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday on “State of the Union.”

Biden’s push for an overhaul of legislation on policing and guns — two issues that often come up in the national conversation about crime — have faced uphill battles in Washington, where Democrats enjoy narrow majorities in Congress and are themselves divided over both issues, particularly policing.

President Joe Biden outlines new measures to curb gun violence on June 23, including stopping the flow of illegal guns and targeting rogue gun dealers. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Bipartisan negotiators on policing signaled they had agreed on a framework last week, although a deal is still elusive and talks are continuing. One of the lead Democratic negotiators, Rep. Karen Bass of California, told CNN last week she’s worried that the uptick in crime could eventually be “used as an excuse” to say “we don’t need police reform” — a message already emerging from some Republicans.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the uptick in violent crime that many towns and cities are seeing as Americans resume their normal activities after the pandemic, and it is a topic of intense debate among criminologists. Many law enforcement officials have pointed to the proliferation of guns, a rise in people exhibiting mental health disorders and the year of economic turmoil caused by Covid-19, which has left many Americans out of work and still struggling financially.

After meeting with Biden and other law enforcement officials at the White House last week, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul noted the unusual nature of the past year and how it has fed into rising crime.

Demonstrators march through downtown New Orleans in June 2020. Protesters across the country were rallying after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

“We all know that there was a lot of interruption of normalcy, a lot of stress, anxiety, economic hardship that was presented when the Covid crisis started,” Paul told reporters outside the White House, also pointing to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. “That, too, agitated scars in communities all across America.”

He noted that the 2020 election also divided the country. “All of those things create trauma. We don’t like to talk about it,” he continued. “But the reality is those sequence of events created trauma in this community. What direct relationship it has on crime, we really don’t know. But we do know that the data is different.”

Lack of opportunities for teens and young adults

Many of the people CNN spoke with, who confront crime outside their front doors every day, aren’t so much focused on a quick fix; Instead, they’re desperate to see investment in the kind of long-term infrastructure that they think could save the next generation — like after-school programs.

About 300 miles north of Houma in Monroe, a city of about 47,300 in Ouachita Parish not far from Louisiana’s border with Arkansas, Naomi Gholston, 62, said she watched from her windows earlier this month as dozens of teens argued in the street.

Longtime Monroe resident Naomi Gholston says a victim of recent gun violence in her neighborhood could have been one of her grandchildren. (Will Lanzoni/CNN)

The argument led to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Sherman, a recent graduate of Richwood High School who had served as the school’s quarterback.

“Bullets don’t have a name on them,” Gholston said during an interview last week at home in the Robinson Place neighborhood on the south side of the city. “It could’ve been one of my grandchildren.”

She said she’s so nervous in her neighborhood that she sleeps with her own guns beside her bed, and never leaves home after 6 p.m. She is trying to create a different life for the next generation as she works with young children as the manager at a day care center.

“The way I feel right now is that the generation is completely lost,” she said, referring to older teens.

Michael Sherman, 18, was shot and killed in Monroe’s Robinson Place neighborhood. (Will Lanzoni/CNN)

Church and community activists in Monroe are having many of the same kinds of conversations that are taking place in Houma about how to curb the altercations among youth, particularly when the job opportunities in the region have winnowed.

“These kids are trapped in, they don’t have a lot of things to do, and that’s not just here in Monroe, that’s everywhere,” said Tyrone “K-9” Dickens, a 51-year-old activist who runs a nonprofit in Monroe that provides resources to children and the elderly in the community.

Over the past two decades, a series of major business closures has hit the community hard — from the shuttering of a State Farm operations center to the closure of a General Motors/Guide Corp. auto and truck lighting plant that had helped anchor the south side to an International Papermill plant that employed people in Monroe before it closed its doors.

Many residents point to those closures as the moment when the investment in community programs began to dry up, leaving kids with fewer opportunities for after-school activities and recreational sports leagues. Those losses were compounded by the prevalence of illegal or stolen guns, Monroe community activists said.

Vance Price is the senior pastor at New Saint James Baptist Church in Monroe. He attended Sherman’s wake a month after officiating his brother’s wedding. (Will Lanzoni/CNN)

Two Monroe shootings between June 18 and 19 led to three people being shot, according to the Monroe Police Department. One of them was Sherman.

In an interview shortly after attending Sherman’s wake, Vance Price, the senior pastor at New Saint James Baptist Church, underscored the sudden nature of the tragedy. In May, he said he met Sherman in a tuxedo as a groomsman celebrating his brother’s wedding, which Price officiated. A month later Sherman was in a casket.

“Young people’s lives have just been shattered,” Price said, noting their anger, frustration and confusion. “They’ve had to come face-to-face with their mortality.”

Several area residents said more gun laws wouldn’t solve the problem. “We don’t need any more regulations to say we’re gonna make it harder for you to get guns,” said Na’Tasha King, a mother of three whose children attended Richwood with Sherman. “We have to get the ones off the street.”

Na’Tasha King’s three children went to school with Sherman. (Will Lanzoni/CNN)

Elaine Clark, the office manager at First Baptist Church in Monroe, feels like the laws on the books aren’t enforced anyway.

She wants answers about why it’s so easy for teenagers to get their hands on weapons: “I don’t know if we’re giving our kids options than to just sit around and decide who should live and who shouldn’t,” Clark said.

In a series of written answers to CNN’s questions, Monroe Mayor Friday Ellis, who was elected in 2020, said crime is not up in the city recently. There were 95 shootings in 2020 and 29 shootings so far in 2021, according to city spokeswoman Michelli Martin.

Ellis wrote, “I understand the perception that exists, but we believe that if crime continues to drop as the numbers show, then we believe the perception in the community will change.”

Monroe’s Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Spray paint on a barricade at the end of a dead-end road reads “Long live Bugg” in honor of Junius Benton, a 16-year-old Monroe resident who was shot and killed in 2017. (Will Lanzoni/CNN)

Baton Rouge struggles with long history of violence

Among Louisiana’s larger cities, the violence in Baton Rouge has long made national headlines, leaving residents weary and at a loss for answers about what exactly government officials can do to stop it.

A recent shooting occurred at a bar and grill a few doors down from the seafood shop where Aldric Byrd works, and he called shootings a common occurrence.

“All throughout the city, (there’s) no pinpointing where the next event is gonna happen at, because you got a lot of people that’s cut loose with guns,” Byrd said in an interview last week. “They think they got three lives.”

Aldric Byrd is a manager at a seafood restaurant in Baton Rouge. A recent shooting a few doors down from the restaurant left two people dead and six wounded. Byrd blames an uptick in gun violence on social media and people being quick to anger. “Be the bigger person,” he says. “Walk away.” (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

Casey Phillips, the executive director of the nonprofit The Walls Project, which works on social justice and community issues, said the pandemic had exacerbated myriad factors contributing to the violence. Many children who relied on school for both education and stability faced disruptions from Covid-19 last year; people fell on hard times and lost reliable access to food, he said.

“You’re looking at economic despair, mental health, a lack of access to critical needs on top of a lack of hope and no real path forward,” Phillips said. “People are just taking things into their own hands.”

Like so many others CNN met in Louisiana, Phillips is skeptical about measures that Biden outlined to address rising gun violence, but he tries to maintain an optimistic outlook. He points to the efforts closest to the ground in his city as those that can make an incremental difference.

Casey Phillips, the executive director of The Walls Project, won’t point to any single root cause of gun violence. “It’s not any one thing. It’s all of it together,” he says. “I think the systems are failing people that need it the most.” (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

One of them is the organization run by Elizabeth Robinson of Baton Rouge, whose 29-year-old son, Louis, was killed in a shooting three years ago. She started an anti-gun-violence organization called CHANGE after her son’s death, canvassing high-crime neighborhoods in her city with about 10 other women, most of whom she said have lost their sons or nephews to gun violence.

They try to reach out to other mothers during their walks, offering to get rid of any guns in their homes if they have children and worry those weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

Robinson also talks directly to the young men carrying guns, who, she said, often tell her they do so because they need to protect themselves. She says she can’t tell them to put their guns down, because she knows the fear for their lives is real. “It’s just about you pulling that trigger,” she tells them. “Sometimes you got to walk away. Sometimes you got to be the bigger man.”

Elizabeth Robinson’s son Louis was shot and killed in the Zion City neighborhood of Baton Rouge on May 2, 2018. He was 29 and left behind three young children. “They have to go to a graveyard for Father’s Day,” she says. (Edmund D. Fountain for CNN)

As hard as Robinson and the other women work, she acknowledges that it is difficult to fully comprehend the dangers until you lose someone close to you. Last week, shortly before she spoke to CNN, she got a Facebook message from another mother.

“Good morning, love,” the message to Robinson said. “I never thought I would see this day, but yesterday it was my son that got killed.”

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EU chaos as Swexit becomes reality while eurosceptics gain ground: 'Changing rapidly'

Sweden slams EU on call for states to determine minimum wage

Sweden‘s political landscape is changing at rates never before seen. This week, the country plummeted into a full-blown crisis after a clash over housing policy resulted in a fragmented parliament. Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven saw 181 lawmakers vote against him.

He now has a week to decide whether to call a snap election or resign and move towards building a new governing coalition.

As the country’s once stable political position crumbles, the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) have made serious gains in both influence and attention.

Countries Europe over have seen right-wing, nationalist parties gain traction in recent years, with the coronavirus pandemic having sped-up the process.

SD are, like other right-wing parties on the continent, vehemently opposed to the EU and increasingly confident in voicing criticism.

EU news: Brussels could be left red-faced as Sweden's anti-EU party gains ground

EU news: Brussels could be left red-faced as Sweden’s anti-EU party gains ground (Image: GETTY)

Sweden: The country's parliament descended into chaos this week

Sweden: The country’s parliament descended into chaos this week (Image: GETTY)

In return for this SD and its leader Jimmie Åkesson have gained a surge in popularity from the public and a handful of Swedish politicians.

Mr Åkesson recently persuaded three other opposition party chiefs that they will need his support to take power from Mr Löfven in an election.

If successful, SD could push an anti-EU agenda to the heart of Sweden’s parliament, raising fears among Brussels top brass.

Speaking to Politico, Tommy Möller, a political scientist at Stockholm University told of how immediate change could arrive.

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Stefan Löfven: The Prime Minister's place in Sweden's politics is now unclear

Stefan Löfven: The Prime Minister’s place in Sweden’s politics is now unclear (Image: GETTY)

He said: “This is definitively a formative moment within Swedish politics.

“The landscape is changing rapidly.”

SD first entered parliament in 2010.

Back then, the party looked doomed to fail.

As Mr Åkesson gained momentum, former Moderate Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s prime minister from 2006 until 2014, called SD a “xenophobic force” and refused to discuss policy with them at all.

It is true that SD was previously a messy mix of unsavoury elements.

When Mr Åkesson joined the party in 1995 it included several neo-Nazi figures.

Since becoming leader in 2005 he has purged the party of people who have made racist statements.


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Jimmie Åkesson: The SD party leader has soared in popularity in recent years

Jimmie Åkesson: The SD party leader has soared in popularity in recent years (Image: GETTY)

Sweden Democrats: Åkesson delivering a speech at a party conference in 2018

Sweden Democrats: Åkesson delivering a speech at a party conference in 2018 (Image: GETTY)

SD really gained popularity in 2015 amid Europe’s migration crisis and a resulting spike in the number of asylum seekers entering Sweden.

This caused a change in approach for the Moderates, as well as their long-time partners the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals.

Ulf Kristersson, who became Moderate leader in 2017, initially rejected collaboration with SD.

However, since narrowly losing an election to Mr Löfven in 2018, he has slowly shifted direction, becoming increasingly clear over recent months that he is now ready to seek SD backing to avoid another defeat.

Brexit seats: Sweden gained an extra seat within the European Parliament following Brexit

Brexit seats: Sweden gained an extra seat within the European Parliament following Brexit (Image: Express Newspapers)

The series of events falling into SD’s hands look grave for the EU.

In 2018, Peter Helmut, a local Swedish Democrat warned that the bloc’s behaviour over Brexit may trigger Sweden’s own departure.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, he said: “We don’t have any faith in the EU.

“We don’t think they should tell us what to do in Sweden, the laws and so forth.

Brussels: Löfven pictured with Emmanuel Macron in Brussels

Brussels: Löfven pictured with Emmanuel Macron in Brussels (Image: GETTY)

“Yes, we want to leave the EU. You call it Brexit, we call it Swexit.

“Why are there problems in the talks? It’s not Britain. It’s the EU that makes the problem.”

According to Politico’s ‘Poll of Polls’, SD is currently in third place at 19 percent, compared to Mr Löfven’s Social Democrats which is on 25 percent.

Mr Kristersson’s Moderates trail slightly behind at 22 percent, revealing just how small the margins are between the vastly different parties.

This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: World Feed

‘Sad reality’ Lorraine Kelly left disappointed as she's unqualified for jobs away from ITV

“Steve will be filming for my show, and I’ll be writing about the journey. I will, of course, be visiting his grave, raising a glass and toasting ‘the boss’.”

Lorraine shared her icy swim with ITV viewers at the time, as she stripped down to her bikini and braved the cold waters.

She said on the programme: “This is a first for me, this is Antarctica… and I’m going in.”

Lorraine could then be seen removing her furry hat and warm coat to reveal a pretty bikini before taking the plunge.

This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Celebrity News Feed

Henry 'Nacho' Laun dead: Wahlburgers reality TV star dies weeks after 'medical emergency'

Henry “Nacho” Laun, best known for starring in the reality show Wahlburgers, has died just weeks after suffering a “medical emergency” which saw him rushed to hospital. He was 54 years old.

As well as starring in the popular show based on Mark Wahlberg’s family and their restaurant, the extreme eating star was also one of the Hollywood actor’s entourage members.

US news outlet TMZ broke the news after sources close to Laun told them he passed away early on Tuesday at a hospital in Massachusetts.

The insider also revealed it is unclear what caused his medical emergency, but his condition failed to improve in the weeks that followed.

READ MORE: Lorraine and A-lister Wahlberg join forces in Scots comedy

One penned on Twitter: “This is so so sad, he seemed like such a sweet guy. RIP.”

Another added: “R.I.P to a long time Friend and co-worker in the Entertainment Industry. Henry Nacho Extreme Laun. You’ll be missed.”

“My heart goes out to @markwahlberg and all friends and family of Henry ‘Nacho’ Laun who has passed away today he was a man who had a heart of gold and loved his family friends and his fans,” a third sent their love to Mark and his family.

A fourth noted: “What a tragedy this guy was taken too soon.”

This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Celebrity News Feed

Permitless carry legislation a step closer to reality as Texas House, Senate negotiators reach agreement

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Negotiators in the Texas House and Senate announced on Thursday they had reached an agreement on legislation that removes the state’s licensing requirement to carry firearms for people 21 years or older.

House Bill 1927, known commonly as the permitless carry bill, was passed by both the House and Senate, but changes made in the upper chamber required a conference committee of lawmakers to work out the differences.

“The House and Senate conferees have reached an agreement on House Bill 1927, a critical benchmark before this bill reaches Gov. (Greg) Abbott’s desk,” state Rep. Matt Schaefer said in a statement. “By working together, the House and Senate will send Gov. Abbott the strongest Second Amendment legislation in Texas history, and protect the right of law-abiding Texans to carry a handgun as they exercise their God-given right to self-defense and the defense of their families.”

Members of the full House and Senate will have to approve the agreement before it’s ready to be signed into law by the governor.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, cheered the news Thursday afternoon, saying the agreement “includes the thinking of national gun rights advocates and many in Texas law enforcement and affirms our commitment to protect the rights of gun owners and the safety of those in law enforcement.”

In April, police chiefs and law enforcement group leaders held a press conference at the Texas Capitol expressing their opposition to HB 1927.

“I want to be clear, this is not about the Second Amendment,” Austin Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said at the time. “It’s not about peoples’ right to lawfully carry a firearm — I’m very much in support of all those things. Carrying a powerful weapon is also a responsibility.”

Language of the agreement wasn’t made public on Thursday.

Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, was among those raising concerns about the bill early on.

“We still have concerns about whatever version comes out of here but we’re still waiting to see exactly what’s in there,” Lawrence said.

KXAN will continue to update this developing story.

Author: John Engel
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Strictly Come Dancing 'bans' reality TV stars for 2021 series

Strictly Come Dancing will soon return to our screens with a flock of new contestants bidding to impress in the ballroom series.

But the popular BBC dancing show will not be welcoming any reality stars to the series.

It is rare to see contestants from the likes of TOWIE or Gogglebox and it’s been made clear that this year will be no different.

There have been some exceptions in the past, including Made In Chelsea’s Jamie Laing losing out to Bill Bailey in the 2020 final.

But it appears as though the door remains closed for reality TV stars to join the upcoming series, the Mirror reports.

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Made In Chelsea’s Jamie Laing was an exception to the rule

A source told The Sun: “It’s no secret that Strictly had a blanket ban on fame hungry reality stars in the past, but the celebs had hoped things would ease up a bit after a few YouTubers appeared in the line-up in past years.

“The stars have been ramping up their interest ahead of the new series and while it’s still very early in the selection process, a lot of names have been dismissed already – purely because of where they started out.”

The source continued to say that reality stars started their requests after seeing Mark Wright perform well on the show, but have been met by a wall of refusal.

They added: “Bosses are sticking to their guns on this one and it’s very unlikely any of the reality lot will make the cut.”

Gogglebox star Tom Malone Jr was the latest to throw his name in the hat last month after admitting he’d love to have a go after quitting the Channel 4 programme.

Gemma Collins has been linked to the show

Craig Revel Horwood has previously addressed the likes of Gemma Collins appearing on the show and described them as “low rent”.

The judge said: “Gemma Collins would be fun on the show but it’s not very often that we have reality stars take to the ballroom.

“We generally have people of a higher calibre than that.”

The BBC have been contacted for a comment.

Author: [email protected] (Lucy Marshall)
This post originally appeared on Hull Live – Celebs & TV