A new analysis of 100,000 studies of weather events shows that the vast majority of the world’s population already have experienced the negative effects of global warming on their own local environments.
It’s only going to get worse, even with promised cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It’s going to be catastrophic if the world doesn’t do something drastic — and soon.
The projected photo of Buckingham Palace, an original image from Google Earth via Climate Central, was one of many that ran in a CNN report on the new climate analysis, specifically showing the potential rise in sea level if global temperatures rise by 3 degrees Centigrade. The analysis says roughly 50 major coastal cities will need to implement “unprecedented” adaptation measures to prevent rising seas from swallowing their most populated areas.
The complete analysis is in a new report published in Nature Climate Change. “There is overwhelming evidence that the impacts of climate change are already being observed in human and natural systems,” the report says. “These effects are emerging in a range of different systems and at different scales, covering a broad range of research fields from glaciology to agricultural science and from marine biology to migration and conflict research.”
Four-fifths of the world’s land area have suffered impacts linked to global warming, said another report on the analysis from The Washington Post.
” ‘We have a huge evidence base now that documents how climate change is affecting our societies and our ecosystems,’ said lead author Max Callaghan, a researcher at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Germany,” according to the Post story. “The study provides hard numbers to back up the lived experiences of people from New York City to South Sudan. ‘Climate change,’ Callaghan said, ‘is visible and noticeable almost everywhere in the world.’ ”
More wildfires throughout the globe, burning more homes, farms, and wildlife habitat? Check. More extreme flooding and catastrophic wind damage from the increased ferocity of hurricanes, ramped up by ever-warmer ocean water? Check. More crop failures due to drought and record-breaking heat waves? Check. Permanent melting of ice at both polar ice caps? Check again.
But it’s not just in someone else’s backyard; it’s in our own. We can see it in the form of people losing their homes to rising seas and wildfires, the loss of permafrost, an increase in heat-related deaths, and extinction for scores of animal species. As many as one-third of animal and plant species could be driven to extinction in the next 50 years, all because of climate change driven by fossil fuel emissions, another study warns.
And it’s not just plants and animals. “In the United States, climate disasters have already caused at least 388 deaths and more than $100 billion in damage this year, according to analyses from The Washington Post and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” says the Post story on the Climate Central analysis.
The CNN report also puts it bluntly: “According to the Climate Central report, roughly 385 million people currently live on land that will eventually be inundated by high tide, even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. If warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, sea level rise would affect land inhabited by 510 million people today. If the planet reaches 3 degrees, the high-tide line could encroach above land where more than 800 million people live, the study finds. …
“Unless bold and rapid actions are taken, extreme weather events and climate change-fueled sea level rise will increasingly fill the future of the Earth. Scientists say the planet is running out of time to avoid these worst-case scenarios.”
The new report comes as there is a major push to get countries to commit to more ambitious climate goals ahead of a United Nations summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. Research warns that the Earth is on track to warm by more than 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. So far, some 190 countries are promising to curb greenhouse gases, but the effect of all of those promises would cut emissions by only 12% — not enough to slow the pace enough to curb the temperature increase.
In the United States, all of the Republicans and a few Democrats (we’re talkin’ to you, Joe Manchin of West Virginia) are standing in the way of passage of the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act that would provide incentives for utilities that get an increasing share of their power from solar, wind, and other carbon-free sources and penalize those that don’t move swiftly enough. The Senate-passed infrastructure bill, still awaiting a House vote until passage of the Build Back Better Act is assured, would provide $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electric-vehicle charging stations and several other measures to cut carbon emissions. But none of that is going to be enough; even if it all passes, the measures still wouldn’t meet President BIden’s 2030 goal of cutting greenhouse gases in half. And cutting the climate parts of the major bill, as is being proposed, won’t help save anybody.
The analysis by Climate Central is bad news. It’s news that can be considered catastrophic. And it’s only going to get worse if we keep sticking our heads in the overheated sand and refuse to take the range of necessary steps to slow down the path of global warming.
It started with the Big Lie — that there was so much rampant “voter fraud” in the 2020 presidential election that President Joe BIden didn’t really win, even though he did win by nearly 8 million votes.
Republican after Republican repeated Donald Trump’s baseless claims about a “rigged” election. Many, including several sitting in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, keep repeating this lie, often on the floor of Congress (and certainly in fundraising emails to supporters). Many state legislatures with GOP majorities have been using this lie to pass voter suppression laws, such as cutbacks in early voting, the banning of vote drop boxes, and the closing of polling places in areas with more Democratic voters and people of color. That’s on top of rigid voter ID laws, scrubbing polls of legitimate voters, and partisan gerrymandering that favors the GOP.
The whole lie reached the point of laughable insanity when Larry Elder, the conservative radio talk show host who was leading the scores of candidates hoping to replace California Gavin Newsom in a recall election, claimed the day before the election that Newsom had won and Elder had lost, all because of supposed “voter fraud.”
Never mind that actual voter fraud is exceedingly rare. A Washington Post analysis showed that there were only “372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.” The Brennan Center for Justice, in its definitive study debunking the myth of voter fraud, stated, “It is more likely that an American ‘will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.’ ” Never mind that in the few instances when voter fraud does occur, it’s usually by Republicans themselves, such as this case of an Ohio Republican official who voted twice in the 2020 election.
While California’s system of mail-in voting, which has worked successfully for years and years, won’t show final totals for at least several days, the attempt to recall Newsom went down in flames. The vote was called within an hour of the polls closing, with some two-thirds of Californians choosing to keep Newsom in office (the eventual vote totals will likely be closer, although still definitive). Even Elder realized he had to concede or else look like a total idiot. He hinted at a rematch in 2022, telling his supporters to “stay tuned,” but the chances that Elder would win a statewide race in California are smaller than the instance of actual voter fraud.
Republican lawmakers love to scream about “voter integrity” and “secure elections” to justify the draconian rules they are putting in place to stop people from voting. So what happened in the California recall? An AP story said there only a few reported voting problems, such as one polling place being closed because of a wildfire.
Democrats met the challenge and turned out to vote in droves. And that’s an important step in crushing the Big Lie and its corollaries. From the AP story, quoting Newsom after the recall was declared dead:
“Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around,” Newsom said. “It’s more like a, I don’t know, an antique vase. You can drop it and smash it into a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”
Greg Sargent of The Washington Post argued that the defeated recall attempt shows how to beat Republicans spouting the Big Lie: Tell the truth about how Republicans argue against common-sense restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. “This provides a future template for Democrats: It suggests they should lean hard into support for public health restrictions in response to covid, and into hammering Republicans for opposing them, as a way to motivate their supporters,” Sargent wrote.
David Turner, a senior official at the Democratic Governors Association, said that the way to fight the Big Lie and the way for Democrats to win in 2022 and beyond is to stress that the Democratic Party is the party of science and public health. “Right now the largest bloc of voters in America are the vaccinated,” as Sargent quoted Turner in his Post piece. “They’re tired of seeing Republicans stand against common-sense safety measures, and are increasingly seeing them as the chief obstacle to ending this pandemic.”
Dan Sena, a chief strategist in the Democrats’ 2018 House takeover, echoed that message. As he told Sargent: “They absolutely have to plant their feet and go on offense on this. … Democrats should spotlight the records of Republicans who have thwarted our covid response by ‘highlighting what those stances mean for your kids, for your small businesses, for your family.’ “
The outcome of the California recall showed us how it can be done successfully. Common sense, especially in the face of higher COVID rates and deaths among those who still refuse to be vaccinated (AKA #COVIDIOTS), can be a winning election strategy.
Let’s just hope enough Democrats do it.
The media have been in a feeding frenzy in the criticism of the Biden administration’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
“Laser focused on blaming Biden for a military defeat two decades in the making, while wildly overplaying the evacuation story in terms of historical context, the press seems genuinely eager to echo GOP spin and denounce the White House, as well as demand weird public acts of contrition,” wrote media columnist Eric Boehlert in his Press Run newsletter. “… Many in the media remain utterly convinced they know exactly what the military withdrawal from a largely government-less country where the U.S. has been waging a losing war for 20 years should have looked like.”
Oh, really? How many times have these same Beltway armchair warriors been to Afghanistan? President Biden has visited Iraq and Afghanistan 21 times over the course of those two wars, both as a senator and as vice president. It’s one of the reasons he was against the surge of troops into Afghanistan in 2009, disagreeing with President Obama.
The public has long been in favor of troop withdrawal, saying that 20 years and over $2 trillion spent is enough. Of course, after a weekend of media frenzy about the Taliban taking over, public support for withdrawal has dropped. How could it not, when every media outlet is hell-bent on showing “chaos” and running heart-rending stories of what might happen to Afghan women?
All true. It’s front-page news that the Taliban will again use Sharia law, the Islamic system of justice. Hey, guess who else uses Sharia law: Saudi Arabia, one of the closest allies the U.S. has in the Middle East. Which is also the country that murdered and dismembered Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, under the orders of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
So why was it so important to get out of Afghanistan? There are $2 trillion worth of reasons.
Thirteen years of investigations from SIGAR, or the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, detailed some of the wasteful spending in the money that went down the Afghan sinkhole over the last 20 years.
“While most of that money went to the U.S. military, billions of dollars got wasted along the way, in some cases aggravating efforts to build ties with the Afghan people Americans meant to be helping,” said a story in Bloomberg News. “… While wars are always wasteful, the misspent American funds stand out because the U.S. had 20 years to shift course.”
The Afghan War was corruption and waste on steroids. Here are just a few of the examples:
$549 million in planes that were sold as scrap. “An effort to build up an Afghan air force included spending at least $549 million for 20 refurbished Italian-made G222 twin-turboprop aircraft. But 16 of the planes were left languishing in the weeds of Kabul’s international airport after persistent maintenance issues made them unflyable,” said the Bloomberg story. “They were eventually sold as scrap for 6 cents a pound, or $32,000.”
Woodland camouflage that wasn’t. “The U.S. spent as much as $28 million buying uniforms for the Afghan military with camouflage patterns that didn’t match the environment. But Pentagon officials said the design was chosen because Afghanistan’s minister of defense at the time thought it looked good.”
Failed war on drugs. “Over a 15-year period, the U.S. spent about $8.6 billion on Afghan counternarcotics efforts. Still, by 2017, poppy cultivation and opium production reached record highs and ‘drug production and trafficking remain entrenched,’ SIGAR wrote.”
Much of the $2 trillion went to line the pockets of local warlords and higher-ups in the Afghan military. Much was spent on building luxury mansions in suburban neighborhoods known as the Beverly Hills of Kabul. Most have remained vacant for years — or were rented out to foreign journalists. Now, the Taliban has moved into those mansions as leaders in the Afghan government and military fled. But there are bargains: You can rent or buy many of these mansions at reduced prices.
“The extraordinary costs were meant to serve a purpose — though the definition of that purpose evolved over time,” says the most recent SIGAR report from July. “At various points, the U.S. government hoped to eliminate al-Qaeda, decimate the Taliban movement that hosted it, deny all terrorist groups a safe haven in Afghanistan, build Afghan security forces so they could deny terrorists a safe haven in the future, and help the civilian government become legitimate and capable enough to win the trust of Afghans.” To say the results have been mixed is putting it kindly.
There have been improvements, in areas such as health care and education, but they are fleeting. “Despite these gains, the key question is whether they are commensurate with the U.S. investment or sustainable after a U.S. drawdown. In SIGAR’s analysis, they are neither. As one former senior DOD official told SIGAR, ‘When you look at how much we spent and what we got for it, it’s mind boggling.’ “
So now it’s time for the hard work and hard choices. The U.S. is continuing the evacuation of U.S. citizens and allies (12,000 since the end of July), and Biden promises that the evacuations will continue until everyone who needs to leave can do so. Could everything have gone more smoothly? Of course, and there will be congressional investigations and administration introspection.
Pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan isn’t winning Biden any popularity points with the Beltway media. But it was way past time — and the right thing to do.
You might have noticed a seemingly sudden turnaround by many Republican lawmakers, right-wing media personalities, and others with an oversize influence on conservative voters. They now claim that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a great idea after all.
The United States has not escaped the worldwide surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, especially from the highly contagious delta variant. The number of U.S. cases are averaging nearly 30,000 a day, up from only 11,000 a day a few months ago. The surges in COVID cases are mostly in areas with the fewest people vaccinated — an “unvaccinated surge,” mainly in Southern states and areas in Missouri and Florida. And the more people resist getting vaccinated, the higher the chances for even more variants to occur.
We’ve had weeks — months, even — of Fox News commentators and GOP politicians telling viewers and constituents that the risk of COVID is overblown; that people don’t really need the shots; that COVID isn’t so bad anyway.
Then there are the wacko conspiracy theories: the vaccines can cause infertility; your body will become a magnet; the vaccines contain microchips supplied by the government or Bill Gates; the vaccines themselves cause COVID; the vaccines are rewriting your DNA; and worse. Many pushing these Looney-Tunes ideas have been regular guests (along with their GOP enablers) on certain shows on Fox, Newsmax, and OANN. The theories also have been pushed widely on social media.
But now we have Republican members of Congress telling constituents how they really, really need those COVID shots. GOP leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are tweeting about the importance of getting the vaccine. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise finally got vaccinated himself days ago (don’t forget that he was eligible for the vaccine in January) and told those in his district that the vaccine was “safe and effective.”
So why the change of heart? There are two main theories, both of them cynical.
The stock market tanked in mid-July, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down over 700 points. Of course the market came back — it always does — but blaring headlines blaming the drop on COVID concerns, especially about the ultra-contagious delta variant and possible effects on the global economy because of breaks in world supply chains, were enough to spook businesses. These same business are usually reliable Republican donors, so they sent the message to GOP lawmakers and Fox News hosts to knock it off and stop underselling COVID seriousness.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo had another idea: Polls that show Republicans losing because of COVID.
The most plausible answer continues to be bad polling. Perhaps not literally polling. There are other gauges of public opinion: focus groups, reactions at town halls. My best guess is that Republicans see that a lot of their constituents – despite the tough talk on Twitter – are suddenly pretty worried about COVID. And because of that – somehow – Republican politicians suddenly feel exposed. Like they’re the ones holding the “poo-poo COVID, don’t get vaccinated” bag when their voters are freaking out.
When Republicans lose elections, their business donors aren’t happy, because they can’t influence legislation. So GOP leaders got the message and quickly jumped on the COVID vaccine bandwagon. They must assume that voters are stupid enough to forget who told them for months not to get vaccinated, but I’m sure Democrats will be only too happy to remind the electorate in next year’s midterm elections.
What about the media, which has been selling the “don’t-get-vaccinated” message for months? That’s also a change. Except for the crazy Fox News holdouts such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, for whom no COVID conspiracy theory is too outlandish, even many at that network are now on board, telling viewers to get their shots. Host Sean Hannity told viewers that he now believes in the science of vaccination. Over at Newsmax, CEO Chris Ruddy delivered a pro-vaccine op-ed, actually telling viewers that he thought President Biden was doing a bang-up job in handling COVID. “Six months into his administration, President Joe Biden should be applauded for making a huge dent in the COVID pandemic,” Ruddy wrote.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a red-blue divide. Vaccination rates in counties that voted for Biden are much higher than rates in counties that voted for Donald Trump. Now, the COVID surge rates mirror those figures, but in reverse — the highest figures are in Trump country.
Please. Just get the vaccine already. And in next year’s election, remember who told you to get vaccinated. And who told you not to.
Straws, plastic bottles, coffee cups, plastic bags, food take-out containers and other plastic waste products are filling our oceans to the tune of 8 million tons a year.
It’s not just oceans. Single-use plastic also ends up in rivers, lakes, and landfills. Most people think plastic can be and is being recycled, but 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, according to a study by National Geographic.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery stores and other retailers instigated a ban on reusable bags because of the mistaken belief that the novel coronavirus that causes the disease could be spread through physical contact with a contaminated bag or container. That turned out not to be true, but not before the world — especially the United States — was once again awash in plastic bags.
The average single-use plastic bag picked up at a grocery store has a lifespan of about 12 minutes. According to a CNBC story:
“For many of us, the pandemic has changed our relationship with single-use plastic in uncomfortable ways,” said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA, an environmental nonprofit organization. “The new types of useless plastic packaging piling up in our homes and filling our trash cans are leading many people — including policymakers and corporate executives — to think more about reuse.”
There are concerted efforts to get back on track by business and government agencies. Colorado just passed a ban on plastic bags and plastic foam containers that will take effect in 2024. The state joins the growing list of states and municipalities that ban or tax plastic bags and polystyrene carryout containers at stores and restaurants. The National Council on State Legislatures keeps a running count of actions by states regarding single-use plastic. Eight other states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont) and some 200 U.S. cities have banned or taxed single-use plastic bags, with limits. On the other hand, 10 states — Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin — have placed preemptive bans on banning plastic bags, passed by (no surprise) Republican legislatures.
In many ways, the U.S. is slow to join the plastic-free party. It should come as no surprise that the U.S. is much worse about throwing away plastic than any other country. Americans threw away 34 million tons of plastic waste in 2015, the most recent figures available.
In an action affecting its member countries, the European Union has banned the use of 10 single-use plastics that are most commonly found thrown away on beaches. Globally, plastic bags are banned or taxed in 32 countries, although sometimes enforcement is spotty.
Developing countries that once accepted imported plastic waste are no longer doing so, have instigated stricter rules when plastic garbage is contaminated, or are sending it back to its countries of origin, mainly the U.S, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
It’s way past time to start forming good habits of avoiding single-use plastic. You can become part of the solution by joining the efforts of Plastic Free July. The Plastic Free July website is filled with ideas on how to minimize plastic use, at home, at school, at work, while shopping, and everywhere. Here are just a few ideas to get started.
Take reusable bags and containers with you when you shop. This doesn’t just mean at the grocery store. Bring reusable bags to farmers’ markets for fresh produce and to retail stores of all kinds for purchases. Take reusable cups to coffeehouses. You’re only limited by your imagination. Always have reusable bags handy in the car for an unscheduled shopping stop.
Remember the three R’s for a better planet: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. There’s a fourth “R,” too — refuse. Refuse to accept a plastic bag when a clerk tries to give you one, especially if it’s for only one item. There’s nothing wrong with carrying out a purchase and receipt. Refuse to accept a Styrofoam container for restaurant leftovers — bring your own containers for a doggy bag.
Use your own reusable water bottles. Take one with you on a hike — more and more parks and businesses have water fountains with spigots to refill bottles. Keep an extra reusable bottle in the car.
Buy in bulk and buy less. Buying in bulk means there will be fewer containers to throw away. Could you share the cost with friends or family? Buying less means there are fewer containers to throw away. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”
Use compostable plates and serving utensils at group events. Compostable items are more available and cheaper than you think. That goes for compostable trash bags, too.
Try out these options during the month of July. Who knows — you might keep those habits all year long.
Guess not much has changed about trying to stop Black people from voting, especially in Georgia.
A draconian voter suppression law was jammed through the Georgia Legislature on a party line vote in just a few hours and signed that evening by Gov. Brian Kemp. The white-men-only signing took place behind closed doors, with a photographer there to capture the image that those in the room wanted to convey: White men are in charge. Women and Blacks need not apply.
State Rep. Park Cannon, pictured above in the photo on the right being led away by white state troopers, knocked on the door of the closed room to witness these voting restrictions being signed into law. Georgia state troopers “instructed her to stop.” Instead, she was arrested.
“Cannon is facing a charge of obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and she faces a second charge of disrupting general assembly sessions or other meetings of members,” said a story from NPR. Her arrest “prompted comparisons to civil rights and police brutality protests from this summer.” At 5 feet, 2 inches, Cannon was dwarfed by the troopers who were guarding Kemp’s door against interlopers — she’s hardly the threat they made her out to be.
The juxtaposition of the images of Cannon’s arrest in 2021 with the arrests at 1960s-era civil rights protests spread throughout social media faster than police dogs being unleashed on voting rights activists at those same protests. The original posting of the images was done by Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race to Kemp in 2018 in the face of other Georgia voter suppression. Since then, she and the group she founded, Fair Fight Action, have led efforts nationwide to register voters and to build and engage a robust network of grassroots activists that works to strengthen democracy at all levels. The group has challenged voter suppression laws in multiple states, and its effort against this new Georgia law will be fought just as hard.
Here’s just a sampling of “features” of the new law, which Kemp and his Republican allies claimed were being done in the name of “election integrity”:
- Imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots. This puts even more requirements on those hoping to vote absentee, like so many voters did in 2020, as they feared waiting in line to vote because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Limits early voting. Can’t give voters so many opportunities to vote; better to make them wait in line for hours.
- Empowers state officials to take over local elections boards. In other words, state Republicans can take charge before local officials certify vote totals if they don’t like the results; i.e., if Democrats win.
- Limits the use of ballot drop boxes. Despite the fact that such drop boxes have been used successfully and securely for decades by other states with no problems, Georgia Republicans just knew that something was amiss when they didn’t win.
- Establishes a hotline to report allegations of illegal voting and allows challenges to voter eligibility. Sure, that won’t cause any problems, especially when such “illegal” voting tends to favor Democratic candidates.
- Shortens the time counties have to certify election results. Why bother to count votes accurately when you can rush through the results you want, even if all of the votes haven’t been counted yet?
- Makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water. So forget about offering relief to Democratic and minority voters who often are forced to wait in line for hours on end because so many of their polling places have been eliminated.
“It’s like the Christmas tree of goodies for voter suppression,” Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan said on the Senate floor as lawmakers prepared to vote.
The “Election Integrity Act of 2021.” Talk about an oxymoron!
Kemp and his allies claim that the law was needed “to boost confidence in elections.” Well, sure. Donald Trump and his minions did all they could to spread the Big Lie that he really won, so that some — Republican — voters didn’t have faith in the election outcome. What better way to get back into the good graces of the Orange Menace ex-president than to make it harder for Democrats and minorities to vote?
At his March 25 news conference, President Biden blasted the new voter suppression efforts, using terms such as sick, un-American, and pernicious. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he told reporters.
The Georgia voter suppression law already is being challenged in court by the Black Voters Matter Fund, the New Georgia Project, and Rise, Inc. The groups are being represented by voting rights lawyer Marc Elias, a nationally recognized authority and expert in campaign finance, voting rights, and redistricting. “Despite nationwide scrutiny of Georgia elections, which only confirmed the absence of any fraud, insecurity, or wrongdoing, Republican members of the General Assembly voted to pass sweeping omnibus legislation that is clearly intended to and will have the effect of making it harder for lawful Georgia voters to participate in the state’s elections,” Elias said in the lawsuit.
The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis died in 2020 after a long career in the U.S. House representing Georgia, often fighting for voting rights. The civil rights hero’s head was cracked open on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers in 1965 as he helped lead the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for the right to vote.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is named for the voting rights activist. It would restore and strengthen parts of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965, much of which was gutted by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. That law and H.R. 1, the For the People Act, would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Both measures have passed the U.S. House and face a tough road in the Senate unless the Senate changes its filibuster rules, specifically on bills that deal with voting rights.
Activists nationwide have their own strategy. They are promising to show up on early voting days and Election Day in Georgia in 2022, water bottles in hand, to challenge the law’s prohibition on delivering food and water to Black and Democratic voters waiting in line for hours just to cast a ballot.
As John Lewis would say: “It’s time for some good trouble.”
When lots of people vote, Democrats win. Just ask President Joe Biden, with his nearly 8 million vote margin over Donald Trump. So naturally, Republicans are doing all they can to stop voters they fear will vote for Team Blue from taking part in the electoral process.
Since the November election, Republican officials in 33 states have introduced 165 bills for the 2021 legislative session to make it harder to vote, especially for Democrats and people of color. In 2020, there were only 35 bills in 15 states that limited voter access, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. UPDATE: The latest information from the Brennan Center has a total of 253 voter suppression bills in 43 states.
The proposed restrictions include:
- Cutting days and times for early voting, especially on Sundays. This especially affects Black voters, whose churches help with transport to get “souls to the polls.”
- Increasing restrictions for mail-in ballots. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many voters to request absentee ballots instead of possibly exposing themselves to the novel coronavirus at the polls on Election Day or even at an early voting site. Next time around, GOP officials in some states want to limit absentee ballot requests only for voters older than 75. This gets rid of the “no-excuses” absentee voting, which worked so well in 2020.
- Limiting the time to request and send out absentee ballots. Georgia officials propose limiting those requests to 78 days before an election instead of the current 180.
- Eliminating automatic voter registration. States that have instituted automatic registration have seen increased turnout with no increase in voter fraud, but why make it easy for voters?
- Limiting the use of voter drop boxes. Never mind the fact that drop boxes have been used by states successfully for years and have been shown to increase voter turnout. Oh, wait, that’s the point, isn’t it?
- Making voter ID laws even more draconian. The Georgia GOP went all out: It wants voters to provide a driver’s license number or a copy of other identification to apply for a mail-in ballot, then make those same voters provide the same driver’s license information (or the last four digits of a Social Security number if they do not have an acceptable ID) on the mail-in ballot itself. There’s a time waster for all concerned.
- Increasing voter “purges.” This would give states the right to remove voters from rolls if they haven’t voted in four years and don’t respond to a mail notice (because our mail delivery has been so good recently, hasn’t it?). Such purges have removed many legitimate voters from voting rolls, even though the voters are still alive and living at the same addresses.
- Expanding poll watcher “access.” We don’t even need to explain that one, as we watched the Trump campaign challenge vote counting in multiple states across the country where he lost. The campaign, along with his crack legal team, filed lawsuit after lawsuit claiming that Republican “poll watchers” weren’t given proper access, even though they were. The Trump legal team ended up with a record of one minor win and 65 losses.
Some of the most restrictive ideas are in Georgia, which handed Biden a victory and also elected two Democratic senators, thus effectively giving Democrats control of the Senate. Given the Republican losses, GOP officials are going after voters with a heavy hand, especially Black voters, whose huge turnout meant victories for Democratic candidates.
“With exacting precision, the bill targets voters of color,” Nse Ufot, chief of the New Georgia Project, one of the groups that mobilized voters of color in Georgia, said in a story in the Guardian. “Georgia Republicans saw what happens when Black voters are empowered and show up at the polls, and now they’re launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of Black Georgians.”
Trump and his GOP cohorts did all they could to spread the Big Lie, that somehow Democrats had “stolen” the election. About three quarters of Republican voters still claim that Biden didn’t win in November. Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud (which barely exists) and his drumbeat for his supporters to “fight like hell” incited the Jan. 6 riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol, in which six people lost their lives.
The 2020 election saw a historic level of voter turnout, showing that people do care who wins and who loses. If there’s any good news in the face of such heavy voter suppression tactics, it’s that legislators in other states have introduced 406 bills expanding voter access.
No matter how many obstacles officials put in your way, make sure you vote in every election, from local municipal elections to state and local races to midterm elections to presidential contests. Do it for Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died from injuries inflicted by Trump’s goons on Jan. 6 as they tried to stop Congress from fulfilling the constitutional duty of certifying the results of the presidential election. Because in a sense, Sicknick gave his life protecting our right to vote.
It used to be that the people of the United States looked at presidential inaugurations with a sense of pride. But like just about everything else he touches, Donald Trump has broken that, too.
Even if your candidate lost, you knew the inauguration was momentous — the views of the buildings in Washington, D.C., the swearing-in by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the oath of office on the Capitol steps, the proud family members and dignitaries watching, the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the glittering balls that evening. The peaceful transfer of power is a key reminder of our democracy. It was always a powerful moment that unified the country, even if you disagreed with who was taking power.
Instead, the nation will hold its collective breath and pray that no one gets killed.
There was no question that the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden would need to be scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Whose fault is it that the novel coronavirus is out of control? Trump’s, because he downplayed and ignored its seriousness and gave up doing anything about it months ago.) Instead of welcoming a huge crowd to witness the event, the Presidential Inaugural Committee requested that people watch virtually, either online or on TV. But you couldn’t come if you wanted to; the entire National Mall is closed to the public for several days leading up to Inauguration Day.
There’s no surprise behind that decision by the National Park Service. The deadly Jan. 6 riot by Trump-supporting domestic terrorists who were incited by Trump’s lies about the election outcome and who tried to take over the Capitol in a (thankfully) failed coup attempt has caused everything to go on lockdown in our nation’s capital. “There are fears that violent pro-Trump mobs that stormed the US Capitol will return — and concern for the safety of Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and other dignitaries at the open-air ceremony,” said an analysis by The Washington Post. “When the world watches on Wednesday, it will take away a tragic truth: Two great icons of US democracy, the Capitol and the White House, must now be sealed inside a vast cage to protect them from the people they serve.”
Security officials from the FBI, the Secret Service, and area police are reporting continued threats on Washington and capitals of all 50 states from the same white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and right-wing groups who laid siege to the Capitol. Biden had been planning to take an Amtrak train from Delaware to Washington, as he did during his Senate career, but ongoing threats meant those plans had to be scrapped. There have not been as many security concerns about an inauguration since the 1861 swearing-in of Abraham Lincoln, where there were “endless reports of plots to kidnap or kill him,” according to a story in The Washington Post. It’s probably wise for Biden not to take the train; a bomb was planted on the train that carried Lincoln from Illinois.
So instead of watching in person, plan to tune in for several events leading up to Inauguration Day. There will be a virtual inaugural concert Sunday evening, hosted by Keegan-Michael Key and Debra Messing. Monday is a “United We Serve” National Day of Service; look for some way to help in your own community. There will be a National COVID-19 Memorial on Tuesday in honor of all the lives lost to COVID-19, which now are approaching 400,000. There will be a ceremony in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and churches around the country are asked to ring bells simultaneously at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.
On Jan. 20, Biden will take the oath of office as outlined in the U.S. Constitution (the ignorance of Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville notwithstanding, who somehow thought it could be postponed until “after we got this virus behind us a little bit”). He and the new vice president, Kamala Harris, will take part in the military tradition of a “pass in review” to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power. Then Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Harris, and Douglas Emhoff (the “second gentleman”), will be joined by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lay a wreath at Arlington National Ceremony.
(Donald Trump won’t be joining that list of dignitaries; he’s expected to fly the coop that morning and will not attend the inauguration. No one wants him there anyway.)
A virtual “Parade Across America” will follow, featuring diverse performances in communities across the country. Wednesday evening, actor Tom Hanks will host a “Celebrating America” prime-time special with performers such as Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Ant Clemons, and Bon Jovi.
All of the official events can be found at the Biden Inaugural website.
In his inaugural address in January 2017, Donald Trump promised to end “American carnage.” As his (thankfully single) term in office is about to end, he finally figured out a way to get his deranged followers to deliver that carnage.
As the world watched in horror, thousands of Trump supporters from such white supremacy and ultra-right-wing groups as the Proud Boys stormed the Capitol, the home of Congress, one of the three U.S. branches of government. The yahoos, many armed (illegally, as it’s unlawful to carry guns on such federal property in Washington) broke through four security fences, breached police barricades, scaled walls, and smashed windows to enter the Capitol. They roamed through all parts of the Capitol, some carrying treasonous Confederate flags and Trump paraphernalia — by this point, both of those racist “flags” represent the same thing. The Confederate flag had never been flown in the U.S. Capitol until this riot.
The mob rifled through congressional offices, leaving papers and files strewn on floors. They carried out furniture. One jerk put his feet on on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk and stole a piece of mail. As they took over the Senate chamber, another lowlife sat in the dais, where Senate leaders sit while presiding, and shouted that “Donald Trump won.” There was extensive damage throughout the building. All of this occurred as members of Congress lay on the floor in visitors’ galleries or were hurried out to shelter in secure locations.
“The pandemonium would seem to be a natural culmination of what Trump and compliant Republicans have wrought on the nation they swore an oath to protect,” said a story in The Washington Post. “Since his first presidential campaign, Trump has instigated his supporters to express their political views through physical demonstration and violence, and he has declined time and again to repudiate the actions of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremists.”
Not since the War of 1812 had Capitol security been breached like this.
At least two pipe bombs were found near the headquarters of both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, as well as a truck full of weapons and ammunition. As predicted, mobs of these same traitorous groups attempted to breach statehouses across the country, including in Kansas, Ohio, Washington, and elsewhere.
Five people died, including one Capitol Police officer who died of injuries after MAGA domestic terrorists beat him on the head with a fire extinguisher. But some 60 other police officers were injured, some seriously and some who are still hospitalized. Yet many of those same squads of officers allowed the insurrectionists into the Capitol in the first place, some even holding doors open as the traitors left, not under arrest, and posing for selfies with the rioters. Speaker Pelosi has called for the Capitol Police chief to be fired. The House Sergeant at Arms already has submitted his resignation. Those officers who cooperated with the mob really should be tried as co-conspirators. UPDATES: The Senate Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police chief are both out.
The carnage could have been much worse, of course. Imagine if those scaling the walls of the Capitol were Black or Muslim. There would have been a bloodbath. National guard troops arrived only after they were called in by Vice President Mike Pence (Trump refused to activate them). Capitol Police were much more efficient when removing protestors in wheelchairs who were calling for health care reform at representatives’ offices, or tear-gassing peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors to clear the streets so Trump could do a photo op in front of a church, initially holding a Bible upside down. This was an example of white privilege at its worst.
Before the attack, at an event egregiously called a “Save America” rally, the Trump thugs were egged on by Trump himself; his sons, Donnie Jr. and Eric (I can never remember which one is supposed to be Uday and which one is Qusay); and his “lawyers” (and we’re using that term loosely), including the disgraced Rudy Giuliani, who advised the gathered group of thugs that “trial by combat” would be needed to settle the election if the yahoos’ actions to stop the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win wasn’t successful. And these same hypocrites later decried the violence.
Many pundits and members of Congress bemoaned that “America is so much better than this” and “this is not who we are.” Actually, under Trump, this is what too many in America have become. The obscenity that will still occupy the Oval Office for nearly two more weeks received 74 million votes in the 2020 election. Sure, Biden received more than 81 million, or 7 million more. But if 74 million people chose to ignore the incompetence Trump displayed and the hatred he spread over the last four years, then the actions of the Capitol rioters showed that, yes, that’s exactly what America is. As described in a story from TRT World:
Americans are perhaps waking up to the prospect that their country, like any other, rests on a fragile social contract that can’t be taken for granted.
And as Americans talk about “coups” and “insurrections” against their democratic order, they might spare a thought about so many other democratic orders that have been overthrown with US backing.
As one observer put it following the events in the US: “You are not more free, civilised or above other nations. Recognise your humanity, ability to err. That’s the first step to setting things right, rising up and doing better.”
How bad is it when the U.S. has to receive condolences on the Capitol riots from Turkey, a country not exactly known for adherence to democracy, with advice to “invite all parties in US to use moderation, common sense to overcome this domestic political crisis”?
America is no longer the gold standard of democracy. Under Donald Trump, it has grown far, far worse, as far-right white supremacists hold white grievance as their reason for being and consider the Second Amendment carte blanche to carry guns wherever and whenever they want. The Capitol Hill riot was ugly, and America will remain ugly as long as Donald Trump and his ilk have influence.
We can only hope and pray that a competent Biden administration steers the country back on a normal track. But it’s not going to be easy.
Donald Trump is spending Christmas the way he has spent much of his presidency: tweeting, golfing, being lazy, and ignoring the hard work of being president while trying to destroy the efforts of leaders actually carving out policy.
Over his four years (thankfully coming to an end soon) as president, Trump has played a total of 302 games on the links, as of Nov. 28, 2020. “Trump has spent nearly 22% of his days in office at one of his golf properties,” reported Golf News Net.
All that swinging of clubs on the course doesn’t come cheap for the rest of us. U.S. taxpayers have footed the bill for a total of $143 million over the last four years to give Trump the chance to cheat at golf. That includes transportation on Air Force One or Marine One; lodging for Secret Service agents, often paid directly to Trump properties; golf cart rental by the same Secret Service agents, also paid directly to Trump properties, and more. A GAO report gave a total of nearly $13.6 million in taxpayer funds for four trips to Mar-a-Lago on consecutive weekends in just one month in 2017.
But you know what? Let Trump stay in Florida until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021. No one seriously believes he’s going to show up for the inauguration, so why should Trump return to Washington just to cause more trouble?
Take the COVID-19 relief bill hammered out by Congress. The $908 billion package was finally passed by both houses of Congress, aiming to deliver $600 direct payments, extend unemployment benefits, fund COVID vaccine distribution, and so much more.
Of course, Democrats in the House passed their own version months ago in the form of the CARES Act, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even send it to committee for discussion, much less bring it up for a vote or hammer out differences in conference. Democratic leaders met over the months with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to try to come up with a compromise. Democrats kept agreeing to lower and lower price tags (the original CARES Act would have delivered $1,200 per person in direct payments), all while working with high-ranking administration officials acting with Trump’s blessing. So any talk of the delay being a problem of a “broken Congress” is just lazy reporting and both-sides-ism at its worst: The delay was completely the fault of Senate Republicans.
So there was finally a $908 billion bill to help Americans immediately, coupled with funds to keep the government running. The bill passed both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities and with promises from the White House that Trump would sign it.
Except Trump threw a hissy fit, claiming that $600 was “too low” — the figure needed to be $2,000 per person. This was after his own Treasury secretary and other White House officials promised they were acting in good faith.
Likely, Mnuchin and company did have promises that Trump would sign the bill. Trump is just trying to throw wrenches in the waning days of his presidency, to keep the spotlight on himself and to try to hobble the economy for incoming President Biden.
If Trump, pretending to be a populist once more, really cared about the U.S. populace, why was he AWOL for all these months of budget negotiations? A normal president (oh, who are we kidding) would have engaged with congressional leaders from both sides to hammer out a deal. But Trump was too busy tweeting lies about how the 2020 election, which he lost by over 7 million votes, was “rigged” (it was the most secure election in modern history); that there was “widespread voter fraud” (only, as it turns out, by a Pennsylvania GOP voter); and that voting machines were “switching Trump votes to Biden votes” (a claim so spurious that Dominion Voting Systems is suing the Trump campaign and conservative media for promoting the baseless lies).
Democrats gladly said, “$2,000 per person? Let’s do it!” Since the House isn’t in session, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to get the House to pass a separate measure by unanimous consent, but House Republicans balked at the dollar figure. So Congress is back to — exactly where?
Trump didn’t threaten a veto, he just felt like fuming. Will he actually sign the bill? Will he sit on the bill, ignoring it while he’s out on the links? Since a new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3, this bill could suffer the fate of a pocket veto, leaving millions of Americans with no extra money in their pockets. Even worse, the COVID relief package was tied to the budget measure funding the government, which runs out early next week. Pelosi says she’ll bring the House back into session right after Christmas for a new vote.
The Senate doesn’t want to revisit it. McConnell only finally brought the COVID relief package to a vote in an attempt to save the two Georgia Senate seats that might be lost in a Jan. 5 special election. Incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were getting hammered on the campaign trail for their inaction on COVID relief (and for the fact that they both profited handsomely from buying stocks that did well in pandemic times).
All of this could be avoided by a little bit of Trump chicken scratching. Then he could head back to the links, issuing pardons for crooks and cronies in between golf swings. And we could finally start ignoring him.
Jan. 20 can’t come soon enough.
UPDATE: OK, Trump caved and signed the bill. But he only did so after there will be a lag in benefits. And while he demanded changes in the package — on items that his own proposed budget specifically requested — House Democrats basically said, “Not gonna happen.” As New York Rep. Rita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee who is retiring from Congress, said in an official statement: “The House Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over rescissions, and our Democratic Majority will reject any rescissions submitted by President Trump. By turning the page on this request, we will allow the BIden-Harris administration to begin to Build Back Better.”