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Are Vaccine Mandates the Only Way Forward?; Should Vaccine Mandates, Higher Premiums for Unvaccinated be Next?; FAA Urges Airports to Monitor Alcohol Intake; Survey: 85 percent of Flight Attendants Encounter Unruly Passengers; Could Conservative Radio Host Replace Gov. Newsom?; As Wildfires Rage, Forest Service Suspends "Let It Burn" Policy. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 7, 2021 - 09:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): JERUSALEM: CITY OF FAITH AND FURY, tomorrow at 10:00, only on CNN.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: One step forward, two steps back. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Let's first talk about that step forward, the good news. About seven months after the roll- out of vaccines, 50 percent of Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and we also hit President Biden's July 4th milestone, albeit a month late, as more than 70 percent of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose.

This follows a steady rise in vaccinations, up 11 percent from last week, but what's truly notable is where vaccine demand is climbing. It's in southern states with poor vaccination rates and a strong hesitancy against the shot according to a CNN analysis of data from the CDC.

Take Alabama for example. The state has seen an average of 2,600 new cases per day, up by 131 percent from two weeks ago. One state health official says they've literally been throwing away doses because they've expired with not enough people going to get them, but on Thursday, the state's seven-day average of vaccine doses administered per day was about 13,000 according to the CDC. That's up from a month prior when the seven-day average of doses administered each day was just 7,000.

We've also seen an uptick in vaccinations in other hard-hit states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri. As to what's suddenly motivating these people to get the shots, state and local officials say it's partly driven by fears about the spread of the Delta variant and driven by the data that shows unvaccinated people face a much higher risk of death and hospitalization from COVID.

But despite these positive developments, we're still taking steps backward. The rate of new vaccinations isn't fast enough to outpace the Delta variant or any other new variant that could emerge. We've just learned that the U.S. is now averaging more than 107,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day, the highest in nearly six months. That's according to data from Johns Hopkins and as this case count climbs, it's important to remember not everyone who wants a vaccine is able to get one either because of a medical reason or because they're too young.

Florida leads the nation in hospitalized children as Governor Ron DeSantis bans mask mandates in schools and an 11-month-old COVID patient in Texas was just airlifted to another hospital 150 miles away because there was zero bed space for her.

Employers, meanwhile, grappling now with how to handle vaccine mandates. This week, the CDC reported that only 45 percent of aides in long-term health care facilities are vaccinated. The Biden administration now considering the extreme option of using the federal government's powers to help triage this pandemic. They're in early stage talks about withholding funding from some institutions like nursing homes to boost staff vaccinations.

In other words, we've reached a critical juncture in the fight and the question is how can we keep the vaccination momentum going and cross the finish line? Will it require more mandates and more stick than carrot from insurance companies? Which leads me to this week's survey question at Should the unvaccinated pay more for health insurance? Go to my website, Let me know what you think.

Joining me now is Joseph G. Allen, associate professor and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard's School of Public Health. He's the author of a book called "Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity." His latest opinion piece in "The Washington Post" titled "It's time to admit it: The vaccination campaign has hit its limit. Mandates are the only way forward."

And I'm joined by Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal who worked as an ER physician and was previously a "New York Times" journalist. She's now the editor-in-chief of "Kaiser Health News." She's also the author of "An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back." Her latest essay for "The Times" says, "Don't Want a Vaccine? Be Prepared to Pay More for Insurance."

Professor Allen, I'll begin with you. Make the case that mandates are the only way forward.

JOSEPH G. ALLEN, ASSOC. PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIV. SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, good morning and thanks for having me on, Michael. Nice to join you and Dr. Rosenthal. The path is clear. These vaccines are safe and effective and we have to do two things -- vaccinate the U.S. and vaccinate the world.

In terms of what's happening in the U.S., the Biden administration has been very unbelievably successful at getting these vaccines out to people within five miles of everybody, but we have to realize that we've hit the limits of this voluntary approach.

[09:05:02] We've tried million dollar lotteries, we've tried free beer. It's not working. We've hit that limit and Delta is so much more transmissible that the herd immunity threshold is higher. So the path forward here is mandates and if you look to businesses, as you just mentioned, they see it. They see this clearly and they're acting. The big names, Apple, Google, the Harvards, Morgan Stanley, MGM, Broadway, Disney, they're all mandating vaccines for their employees because they see this is the path out of this.

SMERCONISH: Right. CNN, by the way, should be added to your list. Let me put a graph from your essay, Professor, on the screen that I think has some pretty stunning statistics.

You say, "It is absolutely appalling to see vaccination rates around the 40 to 50 percent range for unionized workers such as New York City police, firefighters and corrections officers, as well as 60 percent for the city's Education Department workers. Are these the city's finest? Bravest? Boldest? Smartest? It's not looking like it for many of them. Why aren't union heads out there every single day promoting vaccinations for their members? Unions need to get their house in order." Amplify those remarks.

ALLEN: Well, look, I wrote this. I was very angry and I didn't leave any -- nobody escaped the wrath here. The unions have to be more forceful. It is appalling to see these low vaccination rates across fire, police. It's not just New York City, it's everywhere. It's also dangerous, as you mentioned, to have long-term healthcare workers in the 40 percent vaccinated range. That's totally unacceptable.

Also, the FDA needs to move a lot quicker and get these vaccines fully approved. Many people and organizations are on the sidelines waiting for full approval before they act. These are the most studied and scrutinized vaccines in the history of the world. They are impeccably safe. The record is clear. They need to be fully approved.

Last, I want to call out athletes and other influencers. They have been weak advocates. Just this week, two more NFL quarterbacks refusing to say if they're vaccinated, refusing to support these vaccines. So we have to do a lot more. Everybody's a problem here and it's the only way forward. The vaccines are our path back to this.

We have lost so much in terms of lives, livelihoods, businesses closed. It's shocking to me. It's stunning that we have this silver bullet, literally a silver bullet, to end this nightmare, this national and international nightmare ...


ALLEN: ... and we're not using it.

SMERCONISH: You could not be more clear. Professor Allen says time for mandates. Now, Dr. Rosenthal, you say insurance companies could be doing more. What could they be doing?

DR. ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, EDITOR IN CHIEF, KAISER HEALTH NEWS: Well, I think we could penalize people financially for not getting vaccinated. I mean, this whole thing has been a bit of a mystery to me, particularly because we see rates that are as low, even lower than that 40 to 50 percent, 25 percent in many counties in Missouri and Arkansas.

That's not OK because that risk not only puts others in the community at risk, but it puts all of us at risk because it won't end the pandemic, it breeds variants that could be more infectious even than Delta and so, you know, as you said before, the carrot approach has failed, so we now need to move to sticks. People seem afraid of mandates, which I think are fine, because they're worried about provoking a backlash. You know, you got all this talk about my freedom, my liberty.

So I think people are a little bit lily-livered on that front. So let's point out to people and let insurers start moving on saying, OK, you're not getting vaccinated, then you're going to pay a high price because even now, even before insurers have moved, you know, early in the pandemic before there were vaccines, insurers, who I'm normally very skeptical of, were kind of good guys. They said we're not going to charge co-pays or deductibles for patients who get COVID.

They've stopped that because now there is a vaccine that prevents you -- doesn't prevent you from getting COVID, but it prevents you from being hospitalized or really sick and these are $100,000, $0.5 million hospitalizations, so you're going to pay even now. Now, I think it's possible to go a bit further and say, OK, if you're -- if you're unvaccinated, maybe you should pay 50 percent more for your insurance and your premium.

I mean, we do that in some plans for smokers and I think the imperative is much greater here because people who smoke put themselves at danger. There is the secondhand smoke issue and they do in a way. You know, all of our premiums go up if someone gets lung cancer, but here, there is a shot that's free, that's safe and effective, that, P.S., was developed by the Trump administration and approved during the Trump administration.

So people on the right who are skeptics, this is kind of your vaccine.


So now I think, OK, if you don't want to get a shot, you're putting me at risk. If you get really sick with COVID and have a $0.5 million hospitalization or need a lung transplant, that makes my insurance premiums go up too. So you know ...

SMERCONISH: Right. What I hear you saying, Dr. Rosenthal, what I hear you saying is if you are not getting a shot today, you are engaging in -- you are a scuba diver. You are engaging in risky behavior and for insurance purposes, should not be regarded the same as someone who is getting a shot.

I need to go back to the professor for this question. I think that the mandate issue, and I've said this repeatedly here on CNN and on my radio program, really ought to begin with public workers. I think that the president needs to go further. There shouldn't be an out on federal workers or military personnel nor for those frontline folks that you talked about, the cops, the firefighters, the EMTs. We love what they do, their bravery, their heroism, but I'm sorry, vax up, ladies and gentlemen, right?

Shouldn't that -- shouldn't that lesson be established at the government employee level, Professor?

ALLEN: There's absolutely no doubt and, Michael, you were on this very early on, so you're correct. There's no reason why we shouldn't be mandating this and this is where the FDA comes in because I think this is what's been holding -- I know this is what's been holding back a lot of organizations, including the federal government.

And last, you know, I don't understand why people are seeing this as some kind of affront to our liberties. We do immunization records for all sorts of things. If you want to go to school or camps or international travel, this is very routine. These vaccines are extremely safe, extremely effective and this is routine. There's nothing unusual about this process.

SMERCONISH: Professor, thank you for being here. Dr. Rosenthal, for better or worse, you have inspired today's survey question. So make sure you go and vote at my website, OK?

ROSENTHAL: I will answer it and you know how I'll answer it.

SMERCONISH: And you know how I will answer it too. All right. For everybody else, go to and make sure you're answering this week's survey question. The survey question is asking whether the unvaccinated ought to pay more for their health insurance. There it is. From the world of YouTube in terms of social media reaction to things I'm saying today, what do we have?

"Cajoling and insulting -- calling people stupid, idiots, cowards -- is not the way to get them vaccinated and neither are mandates. Understanding and education are the keys." Dave, I'm not a believer in the insulting, but I do believe that we're at a point now where economic incentives should be utilized and that's what I heard from Professor Allen and that's what I hear from Dr. Rosenthal.

In his case, he says, hey, mandate it. Like it's part and parcel of your job and she is saying that the insurance companies were, you know -- they were good guys or good women initially. They waived co-pays when there wasn't a vaccine, but now there is a vaccine. So how about a little economic sting? I'm frankly sick and tired of bearing the burden for those who will not roll up their sleeves. Go vote at my website.

Up ahead, unruly airline passengers have become a pandemic of their own. This week, one had to be forcibly duct taped to his seat. Soon after, the FAA sent a missive to airports trying to limit the sale of alcohol. Is that going to solve anything?

And only two governors have ever been recalled in all of American history. Good trivia. Lynn Frazier, North Dakota 1921, Gray Davis, California 2003, but the current holder of Davis' position, Governor Gavin Newsom, facing the possibility it could happen to him next month. How come? I'll talk to the rival who's currently leading the polls, radio talk show host Larry Elder, who only entered the race less than a month ago.




SMERCONISH: Who wants to fly nowadays? It's hard enough with social distancing and masking, short-handed staffing, a rash of flight cancellations, but now there's been a surge in inebriated, unruly fellow travelers to the point where the FAA feels obliged to take action.

This week, one such incident made national news when a Frontier Airlines passenger flying from Philadelphia to Miami ordered two drinks, spilled a third on himself, emerged from the bathroom shirtless, groped the breasts of two flight attendants and then started throwing punches. Finally, the only way he could be subdued was a flight attendant literally duct taping him to his seat.

While reports of unruly passengers usually number between 100 and 150 annually, there have already been more than 3,700 cases reported to the FAA so far this year. This week, FAA administrator Steve Dickson sent a letter to airport managers across the country to monitor the serving of alcohol in the facilities' bars and restaurants, asking for the end of to-go cups.

Joining me now to discuss is Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants. Sara, nice to see you again. What are you hearing from your members?

SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: That we have to do everything possible to tamp this down, make this stop. This is something we've never seen before and if it continues on this trend, we're going to see more incidents of unruly passengers in this year alone than we've seen in the entire history of aviation. So our members said ...

SMERCONISH: What is causing it?

NELSON: ... that 85 percent of them in the past six months have experienced this and one in five have experienced a physical event and what's causing it is this different set of communications and conflicting communications throughout the entire pandemic. People don't know what to believe. Public trust has been eroded. Everyone's a little stressed out. Our planes are full and there's operational issues as well. Members are telling us that people are mad about that.

Alcohol is a major contributor and we encourage the FAA to send that letter and also to ask law enforcement to better coordinate, better respond and make sure that we're prosecuting in these cases.

[09:20:07] And so all of these things need to be tamped down and, frankly, having me on and talking about this is very helpful to help the traveling public understand what the rules are, why they're in place and what the consequences are if you violate them.

And I'll tell you, Michael, one other thing. This is a very small group of people relatively on our planes who are causing these problems. Most people just want to have a safe, uneventful flight, but we need those helpers to speak up, be on the lookout, be kind and call out these people and help respond to flight attendants when we're asking for help to try to subdue someone.

SMERCONISH: To what extent have you heard, anecdotally from your membership, masks being a flashpoint?

NELSON: Masks are absolutely a flashpoint. They've been made a political issue and people have been led to believe that we are in total divide in this country over political issues. People have been given misinformation about masks.

Masks are the single most helpful way to stop the spread of COVID and in transportation, we're inches away from each other, if that, and so those masks are critically important in transportation to make sure that we're not spreading the virus anywhere else and transmitting this on our planes. So our compliance on that is a federal regulation, flight attendants are doing their jobs, but it's absolutely a flashpoint for people and often is contributing to these incidents.

SMERCONISH: Sara, in your introduction, I made reference to the FAA missive that was sent talking about booze that gets carried onto the aircraft and you've just told us that you were partly responsible for encouraging them to do so. What about alcohol served on the airplanes themselves? Are you concerned about that too?

NELSON: Well, alcohol's a major contributor here. Over 60 percent of the events, alcohol is a contributor to that event and we don't need anything else contributing to this when this is essentially an epidemic on our planes.

So we've been talking with FAA administrator Steve Dickson. I was just talking with him this morning actually and we've been talking regularly about what we can do together to better coordinate throughout the aviation community, that's airports, airlines, law enforcement, everyone in that total process with staffing and everything else, and alcohol is a major issue.

People are bringing those bottles of their own on board, they're bringing the to-go cups. We've got a stop the to-go cup plan and people have to understand that if you come to the door of the airplane and you appear to be inebriated, you can be denied boarding. In fact, we are required to do that.

So there's going to be consequences, but if you get on that plane and you act out and that alcohol makes you do things that you might not otherwise if you're in your right mind, by the way, in a pressurized cabin, so it's having a greater effect on you, then you're going to be facing federal charges, you're going to be facing huge fines, you may end up in jail.

SMERCONISH: OK. Quick final question. Does United have the right answer? Are mandates the way of the future? Mandates for crew, mandates for all passengers.

NELSON: Look, we have done everything we can to try to encourage people to get vaccinated. We have negotiated incentives and additional three days of vacation next year. We have tried to get the clinics at the airport so everyone has access. We've asked the WTO to stop with the block on getting these vaccines distributed around the world so we can end this pandemic.

Enough is enough. We got to make sure everyone is getting this vaccine with the very few exceptions that are allowed. Otherwise, this pandemic is going to continue to wreak havoc on all of our lives, economically and the very health of our nation and our world.

SMERCONISH: OK. And a final word from me. I've flown several times, thank God without incident, in the last month. I don't want to frighten people off. I want people back on planes, but for God's sakes, those few knuckleheads need to get reigned in. Thank you, Sara.

NELSON: Thank you, Michael. Take care.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, a national emergency. That's how the head of the U.S. Forest Service describes the wildfires burning millions of acres across the west. Why is it so bad?

And do you recall when California governor Gavin Newsom broke his own COVID quarantine mandate, dined at the Michelin restaurant French Laundry? Well, it's one of the big factors cited as to why the recall vote about Newsom next month might actually succeed. I'll talk to the opponent who's leading the polls of the 40-plus candidates lining up to replace Gavin Newsom. Larry Elder is next.




SMERCONISH: Will California voters ask for a do-over of their choice for state leadership? Democratic governor Gavin Newsom's job is on the line in a recall election. It gained steam last year because many GOP voters were angry about what they perceived as Newsom's overreach to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. So on September 14th, California voters will decide first if Newsom should be recalled.

If the majority says yes, they'll vote for who should replace him and one new poll from SurveyUSA and "The San Diego Tribune" says 51 percent of likely voters would vote yes on the question of a recall. So if it's a yes, who might take his place? Well, it's a crowded field of candidates on the ballot looking to unseat Newsom, 46 in total, but it's Larry Elder, a Trump supporting radio host and attorney, who picked up momentum in recent weeks. A new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found that Elder leads the pack with 18 percent of voter support and Larry Elder joins me now.


Larry, I see you are getting the star treatment today in the "Wall Street Journal." You've only been in this thing like three or four weeks, what accounts for you, thus far, breaking through the pack?

LARRY ELDER, RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA/RADIO HOST: Well, Michael, good morning. Let me push back just a little bit on what you said, you called it a GOP-led thing. 2.2 million Californians signed the petition. At least a quarter of them were independents and Democrats who just voted for him just two years earlier. And 53 percent of Californians even if they don't believe that Gavin Newsom should be recalled do not want him to serve another term. If every single registered Democrat was part of that, you couldn't get up to 53 percent.

The second thing is you referred to this -- referred to me as a Trump- supporting radio host. May I just finish that? I have not voted for a Democrat since 1976. And that was Jimmy Carter and I regret that. I voted for Bob Dole. I voted for Mitt Romney. I voted for George W. Bush. I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush. Whoever the standard bearer is in 2024 I'm going to vote for him or her as well.

So, I'm a Republican and I've consistently voted Republican. So, to call me a Trump supporting radio host is a little unfair is my opinion, that's all.

SMERCONISH: OK. Well, did you support President Trump?

ELDER: One more time, Michael, I am a Democrat -- I mean, I'm a registered Republican. I haven't voted Democrat since 1976. So, call me a Mitt Romney supporting person, call me a George W. Bush supporting person, call me a George Herbert Walker Bush supporting person. I'm a Republican.

SMERCONISH: OK. I'm not looking to give you a workout, it's just that Romney is not type of mind and neither is Bush but Trump certainly is. Let me ask this question, I'm ahead of myself already. Only 19 states allow this -- only 19 states allow this sort of thing to recall a state's governor.

ELDER: Right.

SMERCONISH: I want to ask you in a broad sense, not just with regard to Newsom, in what circumstances do you think it appropriate to recall a governor? What's the framework? What's the standard, in your mind?

ELDER: Well, this, Michael, is in my opinion an emergency. You pointed out in your tease about the hypocrisy that Gavin Newsom was sitting up at that French restaurant. It wasn't that he was incurring a $12,000 wine tab, he was sitting up there with the very lobbyists who drafted the mandates that he was violating by not socially distancing, by not wearing masks.

His own children enjoyed in-person private education while slamming down education for everybody else in California. Already 75 percent of black boys cannot read at state levels of proficiency. About a half of all third graders cannot. And they lost a whole year of in-person education largely because the teachers' union did not want it.

They're the largest funder of Gavin Newsom. They did not want in- school learning. Two-thirds of black parents having watched the digital education now don't want to send their kids back to Los Angeles district because they feel that the education is bad.

What I want is choice and education. The majority of black and brown parents living in the inner city, Michael, want choice. They want the money to follow the child rather than the other way around. They are very angry at their children having been deprived of another year of education. Then you add rising crime, rising homelessness. You add it all up, it's a perfect storm for many Californians, not just Republicans, who want this man recalled.

SMERCONISH: So, here's what I'm trying to understand from 3,000 miles away because to me recall is akin to impeachment. And I'm used to impeachment applying to a circumstance where someone has done one thing or a series of things that are real egregious. And in this case, I mean, it was ridiculous for him. They say, you know, the most expensive political meal ever to go to French Laundry.

ELDER: Right.

SMERCONISH: But where's the beef? Where's the thing that he did that you say warrants a professional death sentence?

ELDER: One more time. He shut down the state in the more severe way than any other 49 states. A good third of all small businesses are gone forever.

I was a small business operator, Michael. It is hard to run a business. And most businesses are run on very thin margins. You go from payroll to payroll. And he shattered the hopes and dreams of a good one-third of all small businesses. Not just Republican businesses but all small businesses.

Crime is out of control. It's up 40 percent here in L.A., violent crime. Just the other day, Barbara Boxer got mugged. Her cellphone was taken. And a few months early, Gavin Newsom was attacked by a homeless man. But for his security detail which most of us don't have, he might have been injured.

You add also the cost of living in California. For the very first time in the history of this state, people are leaving, net population negative. And the people who are leaving are not millionaires and billionaires, to quote Bernie Sanders, they are people making between 50 and 100k who can't buy that first house largely because of the environmental extremists that have a stranglehold over Sacramento and are largely funding this man. Michael, this is a crisis. People are very, very angry. People feel that their kids are not getting a good education. They feel their kids were shut out for a whole year, as I pointed out. Homelessness out of control here in California. And the Gavin Newsom people have a build house first attitude without dealing with the underlying problems of why people are homeless in the first place.


So, we're having an exacerbated problem of homelessness, of crime, of rising cost of living, and the hypocritical way he shut down the state while having his own children enjoy, as I mentioned, in-person private education. And while he exempted his own business, the winery, from the very mandates he was putting down the throats of everybody else.

You add it all together, Michael, people are hopping mad. And as I pointed out, 53 percent of Californians feel that he ought not have another term.

SMERCONISH: I get it. OK. How about this question? How about the -- I'll ask this of Larry Elder, the Republican, not necessarily Larry Elder, the Trump supporter, OK?

ELDER: Thank you, thank you.

SMERCONISH: How about the argument that says this is -- this is -- this is all tactical, because given the state of the Republican Party in California you can't take out a guy like Newsom statewide. So instead what you do is you lead a recall effort, passion is enflamed of partisan Republicans. You get enough signatures. Now you can throw him out and put somebody like Larry Elder in.

In other words, is this the only way that a Republican can get into office statewide in Cali?

ELDER: One more time, this petition was signed by a whole bunch of people. It was driven by consumers, driven by Californians. It was not driven by politicians. And the majority of people in California are very unhappy. Most of them say if they had an option they would leave the state because of all the things I just now mentioned.

We haven't added appreciably to our water supply in about 40 years. We're having rolling brownouts. We're having the drought of fires because this man has now cleared the fallen debris and he lied about how much he cleared by a factor of seven according to the "L.A. Times."

Add the rise in crime, add the rise in homelessness, add the rise in cost of living, and the majority of Californians now think we ought to have a change. And we have in our constitution the provision to have recall election, as you point the out. Twenty other states do so. And California's citizens are just exercising their obligation and their constitutional rights to do this.

So, that's why this man is in trouble. And that's why I want people to go to and throw a little something in the dip jar because he can spend and raise an unlimited amount of money, Michael. I have campaign expenditures limitations, he does not. So, please go to and help me remove this man and put common sense back in Sacramento. And that's what I'm going to do.

SMERCONISH: Do you think you're going to have enough to say -- I mean, will you have enough to respond to on all the issues? Are you going to come up short in any of your responses? I'm just pulling your leg here because, obviously, you're gifted at what you do, speaking for a living.

Larry, thank you. Appreciate it. It's going to be fun to watch.

ELDER: You got it, Michael,

SMERCONISH: That's Larry Elder. Let us check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. From the world of Twitter. What do we have?

Replying to Larry Elder -- Smerconish -- "No, this recall is a farce and more attempted RepubliKlan election tampering, hijacking."

I don't know, D.L., what it has got to do with election tampering, hijacking and yada, yada, yada. They followed the process. They got the signatures. There's going to be this vote.

What I was driving at with Larry, because Larry as you heard gave me a laundry list of what might be very credible reasons for people to be upset with Gavin Newsom. I'm just accustomed to you're going to throw somebody out of office before the end of their term they must have really done something bad. And eating at French Laundry doesn't meet that standard in my mind. You heard Larry give a more detailed answer then voters are now going to have to decide.

I want to remind you to answer the survey question at this week. Please go to my Web site right now. "Should the unvaccinated pay more for health insurance?"

Still to come, the hundred year old gold rush town of Greenville in northern California obliterated this week, victim of the Dixie fire, the third largest in the state's history, the largest of the 100 currently raging. What can be done? I'm about to ask someone who has been covering all of these fires.



SMERCONISH: As wildfires rage across the American west, a debate also raging, should authorities be working harder to contain them or let them take their course? There are now 107 large fires blazing that have burned more than 2 million acres in 14 states according to the National Interagency Fire Center or NIFC that brings the total this year to nearly 39,000 wildfires that have laid waste to 3.4 million acres.

This week in northern California the Dixie fire devastated the gold rush era town of Greenville, the downtown and more than a hundred homes burned in a town of fewer than 1,000 habitants. Friday, northern California officials warned residents to stay indoors due to widespread hazardous air quality.

The U.S. Forest Service which has jurisdiction over fires that start on federal lands has had a policy of letting some fires burn in part to keep from depleting the finite firefighting resources. This, despite the fact that in 2020 Congress allocated more than $6 billion for wildfires with more than half for fire suppression.

Following recent criticism from western officials, however, this week Forest Service Chief Randy Moore suspended the "let it burn" tactic. In a letter sent to employees Moore noted that the number of fires and personnel fighting them are both nearly triple the 10-year average for July. Declaring, "The 2021 fire year is different from any before. In short, we are in national crisis."

Joining me now is Anita Chabria, staff reporter for the "Los Angeles Times." She covers California State politics and policy. Anita, thank you for being here.

Has something changed? If we go back to, say, the dust bowl of the '30s was the west like this or not?


ANITA CHABRIA, STAFF REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: There have been periods of big, vast fires similar to what we're seeing today. The dust bowl, as you bring up, that era of drought was one of those times when we saw giant fires.

But things are different today. And I think the two most notable things that are different are that we have so many more people living close to where there are fires so there's just more people in the path of these blazes. And we have climate change. We have fundamentally a different, hotter place where fires spread faster.

SMERCONISH: Has the way in which we have sought to contain these fires changed?

CHABRIA: Well, that depends on who you ask. So this is one of the, no pun intended, hottest debates right now in the fire management world. The fire service is saying that they're not actually changing their policy, they're just clarifying their policy. But there is a great deal of consternation among many state agencies, among many politicians, and definitely among many community members here in California that feel that the fire service has not been aggressive on putting out certain kinds of fires. And those are mostly naturally caused like lightning strike fires that happen deep within the forest, far away from communities, where it has in past times been a philosophy of watching those fires, of just monitoring them with cameras and air. And sort of letting them do their work and burn out. And most do burn out naturally. But there's a real sense that with the conditions we're facing now they need to be more aggressive.

SMERCONISH: What's it like to be there? What's it like to be on the scene of one of these raging infernos of thousands of acres? CHABRIA: You know, I'll give you two perspectives on that. The first one is just the physical of being there. The smoke is so thick that you need headlights in the daytime to drive through there. And it's so volatile and fast-moving that -- you know, for instance, on the road to Greenville yesterday, or the day before, just driving up the road, the fire is coming down the mountain on one side. And it just jumps so quickly from tree to tree, that one moment you'll be looking at a tree, and it's just a tree. And then like a snap of your fingers, it's blazing with flames 20 feet in the air. And so, these fires move incredible fast.

And the other thing I really want to get across is just the loss is not a personal loss. It's a community loss. When a town like Greenville goes, it's not just one person trying to cope with that tragedy. It's an entire community that's probably never going to come back the way it was.

SMERCONISH: Anita, quick final question, is this like every other issue that confronts us these days subject to partisanship? Is there a Republican approach? Is there a Democratic approach?

CHABRIA: I'll say there's a conservative approach and a liberal approach. There's definitely folks who think that we -- there's definitely politics in it, right? As everything is.

There's those folks who think that we need to be lobbying more heavily, that a lot of this is caused by environmental protection. There's those folks who think that, you know, we need to do more to manage our forests in ways that are looking forward and take climate change more into account. But more and more what I hear is that we need to put the focus on preventing fires, instead of putting them out. And that really crosses party lines.

SMERCONISH: Well done. Thank you so much for being here.

CHABRIA: Thanks for having me on.

SMERCONISH: Anita Chabria from the "L.A. Times."

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and have you voted yet? Because here come the results of the survey question at Should the unvaxxed pay more for health insurance? Go vote.



SMERCONISH: Time to see you how responded to the survey question this week at "Should the unvaccinated pay more for health insurance?" Here are the results. Wow, 91 percent and nearly -- well, 18,000 and change who voted. Very decisive, 91 percent say, yes, bring it on. I am in the 91 percent.

Look, you're engaging in risky behavior. There's a vaccine. It's available to you. You're going to put yourself at risk. If you go to the hospital, you're going to draw a large cost and, what, share it with me because I'm in the insurance pool? Guess what? I smoke a cigar a day. I pay more for my insurance because of that risky behavior that I contribute. It should be the same as the unvaxxed, in my opinion.

What else came in, Catherine, on social media this week? We'll leave that up, by the way.

Should overweight people pay more, too? What about a person who drinks a bottle of wine every night? Well, it gets into the question of disease versus behavior. This is stupid? I don't think so, Elena.

How about scuba diver? How about a rock climber? How about if I want to go out and hang glide? Should I be paying some additional sum for my decision to engage in risky behavior? I think the answer to that is absolutely.

Hit me with another one. Real quick. Elder is running away from the Trump card as hard as he can. Show me how he cares about black boys.

I wasn't looking to slide him by saying he is a Trump supporting talk radio host. It's just, you know, Donald Trump is the one who casts the shadow on the GOP.


I think it's a legitimate point to say. Here's a guy running. He is the leader of the pack. He's a talk radio host. He supports Donald Trump.

I'm trying to give context in the span of 20 seconds. I'll say this, say what you will about Larry Elder, whether you agree with him or disagree with him on the issues. The man is good on his feet.

He didn't participate in this week's debate. I think he had a conflict, but I will be watching. And I'm sure many people will, if he ever gets on that stage with his Republican opponents. Newsom is not going to participate.

Anyway, we're out of time. Thanks for watching. See you next week.