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The Covid-19 pandemic has laid stark the health disparities that have long existed, with poor, Black, Latino, Pacific Islander and Native communities being hardest hit by the pandemic. Latinos, for example, make up about 40 percent of the state’s population, but account for more than 60 percent of coronavirus cases and half the deaths.

California’s “equity metric” attempts to tackle that disparity by requiring that the 35 largest counties invest more in testing and ensure that positive rates of infection in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods come close to meeting the county’s overall positivity rate. The rule ensures that restaurants in Beverly Hills can’t resume indoor dining unless the most impoverished census tracts also show low rates of infection.

The change adds a third metric to the state’s newest reopening structure, which Newsom unveiled in late August and billed as an improvement to the previous approach that has been blamed for the state’s summer infection surge. Before now, the new structure has relied only on a county’s overall positivity mark and the rate of new infections.

The equity move could prompt counties to expand testing in low-income neighborhoods and provide tests to anyone who fears they have been exposed, not just those who show symptoms. That may allow such communities to more quickly isolate patients, especially those who are asymptomatic.

The metric uses the California Healthy Places Index to identify the lowest, most disadvantaged quartile in the larger counties’ census tracts. The smallest 23 counties are exempt — with populations of 106,000 or below — but still have to provide the state with an equity plan for their most vulnerable populations.

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, a former Republican state lawmaker who has been critical of Newsom’s restrictions, called the new measure “virtue signaling” on the part of the Democratic governor. He also described it as another example of “moving the goal posts,” potentially delaying further business reopenings.

“Even if you meet others but don’t meet the equity one, you’re stuck,” Wagner said.

Tuesday marked the first state update to county tiers since the equity metric was quietly rolled out last week. There remained plenty of confusion and mystery around how it might impact county status, but its debut mostly had no effect in the first go-around.

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The state has used four colors to indicate levels of closures in counties. From most restrictive to least, they are purple, red, orange and yellow — mirroring the colors used for air quality. There is no green tier.

Measured only on the equity front, three counties — Fresno, Sonoma and San Bernardino — fell in the purple tier, 13 in red, 15 in orange and four in yellow.

Los Angeles County Public Health Officer Barbara Ferrer said that the new metric may actually help advance the state’s largest county, which has stubbornly remained in the purple tier due to high case counts.

That’s because the equity rule has a wrinkle that rewards counties that dramatically lower their positive test rates overall and in low socioeconomic neighborhoods. If a county can drive down those positivity rates to levels two tiers below, it can move forward one tier. The caveat is that case rates still have to be going down, not up.

Ferrer called it a “complicated algorithm,” but said it could make the difference for a county like Los Angeles. The county’s high rate of testing and focus on poorer communities has given it an overall positivity rate of 2.8 percent, below most heavily populated counties in the state. Los Angeles also has a 4.4 percent positivity rate in tracts in the lowest quartile. Both rates are two tiers below the county’s current purple status.

“All of the work that everyone is doing so hard to really focus on the disproportionality and eliminate it, I think is helping us both to reduce transmission but, in this case, also offers us the ability to move to another tier,” Ferrer said during a press briefing Monday.

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Los Angeles, however, still needs to reduce its case rate, which stands at 7.4 per 100,000 residents.

Humboldt County was the first county allowed to advance on the basis of low positivity rates both overall and in their lowest quartile communities. It moved to the yellow tier Tuesday despite a case rate hovering just outside the yellow threshold.

The potential benefit of the new metric is no surprise to Kiran Savage-Sangwan, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. She said the metric is designed to encourage more testing.

“I don’t think anyone will be hurt by this metric. Really it’s going to help us better control the spread of the virus,” she said. “By putting the focus of the resources and investments where they needed to be, it is benefiting the counties.”

Some counties could be held back due to significant disparities between their underprivileged communities and their overall rates, based on the first round of underlying data released Tuesday.

The state’s second largest county, San Diego, has an overall positivity rate of 3.5 percent — good enough for the less restrictive orange tier — but a 6.2 percent positivity rate in its lowest quartile of census tracts. The county’s overall case rate isn’t good enough to move to orange, but if it were, the county could be restricted from moving forward. Other large counties with similar disparities include Contra Costa, Fresno, Orange and Santa Barbara.

The new rule has drawn a backlash from Assemblymember Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), who labeled it as “a phony notion of ‘equity’ invented by the government.” In response, Kiley and Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), along with two local leaders, proposed a different rule change Tuesday that would allow businesses to reopen if their ZIP code has low infection rates. They singled out the affluent Sacramento County city of Folsom as one that should reopen ahead of the county at large and pointed out that a neighboring upper-income community across the county border has long enjoyed fewer restrictions.

In effect, their proposal would seemingly move in the opposite direction from Newsom’s equity metric by enabling neighborhoods to advance if they have few infections, regardless of how the disease is spreading elsewhere in the county.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has been critical of Newsom’s reopening plans, said he’s still unclear about details of the equity metric, but had been assured by his county health officials that it was unlikely to negatively affect the county. “If this helps the community get better and healthier, that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

In Santa Clara County, which is poised to move from red to orange as soon as next week, Deputy County Executive David Campos thinks the measure isn’t going to make or break the county. The county has a lowest quartile positivity rate of 3.7 percent, while its overall positivity rate is an even lower 1.8 percent, according to new state data.

Campos commended the state for trying to address these inequities.

“It’s not going to keep us from moving because we have made a lot of progress. For us, the rates are commensurate with where we are in orange, but it hasn’t been easy to get to that point,” he said. “It really reaffirms what we were doing to begin with, and to see the state seeing this is a priority … it’s the right thing to do.”




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Joe Biden administration defends its decision not to sanction Saudi Crown Prince

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The Biden administration defended its decision not to sanction Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally for his role in the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as the White House confirmed no more actions against the kingdom are imminent.

“The United States has not historically sanctioned the leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations or even some where we don’t have diplomatic relations,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Behind the scenes there are a range of diplomatic conversations.”

Despite President Joe Biden’s comment Friday in an interview with Univision that “we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday” — and a similar statement from at the White House on Saturday — the administration said it isn’t planning steps beyond the limited sanctions already announced against some Saudi officials.

“The recalibration of relations with Saudi Arabia began on January 20th and it’s ongoing,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration took a wide range of new actions on Friday. The President is referring to the fact that on Monday, the State Department will provide more details and elaborate on those announcements, not new announcements.”

Psaki, in a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration has been “crystal clear at every level” about recalibrating the relationship with Saudi Arabia and about it’s plan to “turn the page from the last four years.”

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On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced what he called a new “Khashoggi Ban” policy, barring U.S. visas for 76 Saudi individuals who the U.S. said had threatened dissidents abroad.

That action came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of an intelligence report that the Trump administration had withheld from the public. “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the intelligence agencies found.

Democratic lawmakers ramped up their calls for Biden to do more to hold the Saudi crown prince personally responsible. Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox that sanctions on Prince Mohammed should be considered “if we don’t see a change in behavior.”

The crown prince has said he accepts symbolic responsibility for the killing as the country’s de facto ruler. Saudi officials have said the murder was carried out by rogue agents who have since been prosecuted.

On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said the government “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.
(Livemint)

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Donald Trump

GOP Senator: Trump’s Not Going to be 2024 Republican Nominee

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Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) urged his fellow Republicans to move past former President Donald Trump on Sunday, predicting that due to the damage Trump has done to the GOP, he likely won’t be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024.

Hours before Trump was set to deliver his first post-White House speech at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Cassidy appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to discuss the current state of the Republican Party and Trump’s place in it.

The Louisiana lawmaker, who was one of seven GOP senators to vote to convict Trump during the ex-president’s second impeachment trial earlier this month, called on the GOP to make issues and policy front and center in the coming elections.

“We’ve got to win in two years, we’ve got to win in four years,” Cassidy told host Dana Bash. “If we do that, we’ll do that by speaking to those issues important to the American people, and there’s a lot of issues important to them right now, not by putting one person on a pedestal and making that one person our focal point.”

Bash, meanwhile, noted that Trump’s influence on the party is not diminishing, despite his impeachment for allegedly inciting an insurrectionist riot at the U.S. Capitol. Pointing out that Trump’s face was literally “embronzed” at CPAC and top Republicans are flying down to meet the former president, the CNN host asked how the GOP can move forward with Trump still in the spotlight.

“CPAC is not the entirety of the Republican Party,” he replied. “That’s number one. Number two, political organizations and campaigns are about winning. Over the last four years, we lost the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the presidency. That has not happened in a single four years under a president since Herbert Hoover. If we plan to win in 2022 and 2024, we have to listen to the voters.”

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Asked whether he was personally faulting Trump for the GOP losing control of Congress, Cassidy demurred somewhat, insisting again that Republicans need to speak to policy solutions. At the same time, he did say that if they “idolize one person, we will lose.”

Noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who was highly critical of Trump’s role in the insurrection—has come out and said he will back Trump if he runs in 2024, Bash then pressed Cassidy on whether he feels Trump is fit to be president again.

“I don’t think—one, he’ll be 78 years old—but I don’t think he’ll be our nominee for the reasons I’ve said,” Cassidy responded. “Over the last four years, we’ve lost the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Political campaigns are about winning.”

“That’s a theoretical that I don’t think will come to pass,” he concluded. “I don’t mean to duck, but the truth is you could ask me [about] a lot of people, if they are fit. Point is, I don’t think he’ll be our nominee.”
(Fox News

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New Republican group promises to have ‘Trump shaking in his boots’ over his future

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Appearing on MSNBC early Sunday morning, a former member of Donald Trump’s administration teased the announcement of a newly formed group of Republicans and ex-Republicans whose goal is to make sure that the ex-president will never be a viable candidate for office again.

Speaking with hosts Kendis Gibson and Lindsey Reiser, former Homeland Security official Miles Taylor noted the current CPAC conference in Florida where the president is expected to get hero’s welcome from the far-right attendees and said it is important that traditional Republicans push back on Trump’s re-entry into the public square after losing re-election in November.

“I want to give you a number: 50 percent,” Taylor began. “Donald Trump can’t get to 50 percent. We just saw this in the most recent election, he cannot win elections. We’ve got to be able to, in the Republican Party, have someone who is a standard-bearer that can get us over 50 percent to win elections. He can’t, he lost in spectacular fashion in this election and that’s why I think it’s entirely inappropriate for us to continue to put him forward as the leader of this party. it’s a mistake that’s going the cause the GOP to lose elections in the future and it’s time to move on from Donald Trump.”

Pressed on his future plans to oppose Trump, Taylor first said, “There are a lot of people in the party ready to move beyond Donald Trump. In fact, most of us realize he is much better at golfing than governing which is really saying a lot if you know anything about Donald Trump’s golf game,” before adding, “Donald Trump lost, not because more Democrats came out. Donald Trump lost because his own voters defected from him.”

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“I’m happy to share with you today a little bit of a tease,” he added. ” I can’t give you all the information, but we’re about to make an announcement in the very near future that’s going to make Donald Trump have the worst heartburn he’s had in the post-presidency. We’re going to be channeling this movement to challenge him to create an insurgency within and without the GOP to drive forward towards a better center-right political movement than Donald Trump can put together. It’s something he’s going to have to contend with.”

Pressed for more details he added, “You’re aware of the fact that we’ve been having conversations with very prominent people in the GOP and ex-Republicans about where we go beyond Trump, how do we move beyond Trump. You’re going to hear from us in the month of March about what’s coming next.”

“What’s coming next is going to make Donald Trump fear for his ability to continue to be a standard-bearer of this party,” he continued. “We are going to channel this movement, rally people together in the center, bring the Republican Party back from crazy to rational as best we can, and Trump should be shaking in his boots.”
(Raw Story)

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