The extraordinary $2 trillion coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and signed by Donald Trump will offer help to individual Americans, small business, cities and states, hospitals, U.S. industry, and more. The most immediate effect will come in the form of a $1,200 payment going to nearly all Americans (those with incomes up to $75,000, phasing out for incomes of $99,000) and $2,400 for married couples (with incomes up to $150,000).
If you can, take some of that money and donate it to those who need it most. But don’t wait for the check — do it now.
This message isn’t aimed at those who already have lost jobs (such as the 3.28 million Americans in the latest report, a number that is likely higher and will grow in coming weeks). Millions more probably will lose jobs soon in the coming recession, with restaurants, retail stores, and anything related to the hospitality industry either temporarily closing or going out of business. Young workers in the service sector will be those hardest hit.
Nor is it aimed at those who are still employed but who will be forced to take pay cuts. Analysts in some industries such as advertising and marketing are calling for voluntary 40% pay cuts for executives and other white-collar workers. CEOs and other top executives in some industries, such as airlines and hotels, have already cut their salaries or are donating their entire paychecks, even though their total compensation remains generous. Even the heroes in the medical field who are on the front lines of caring for COVID-19 patients, such as doctors and paramedics in Cincinnati, may be facing 20% pay cuts.
All of those folks, especially those who find themselves out of work, will welcome the $1,200 government check. They still need to pay the rent or the mortgage and buy groceries to feed their families, which is a lot harder with no money coming in.
No, this message is for those of you for whom getting that check won’t make that much difference. Those who are working from home and are still on full salary. Retirees getting Social Security and perhaps (if they’re lucky) a pension. They won’t need that $1,200 for immediate needs. But nonprofits serving those hit hardest by the COVID-19 recession do.
Food pantries across the country are being hit with a triple whammy: Fears of COVID-19 contagion means they have fewer volunteers than usual, especially as many of those volunteers are retirees and thus fall into the category of those most vulnerable. Monetary and food donations have dropped off, especially those from corporate America. Grocery stores, which usually donate excess food, don’t have as much to donate, as people across America are clearing grocery shelves.
The food pantry run by our church has developed a “drive-through” method so that volunteers can just hand boxes to people in their cars, limiting the chance of contagion. People arriving by public transportation receive boxes of food on the sidewalk.
The number of those facing hunger issues is growing exponentially, just like the number of cases of those infected with the coronavirus. According to a story from The Washington Post:
“Not in my lifetime has there been a precedent for this,” said Catherine D’Amato, chief executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, which is servicing two coronavirus hot spots, Boston and Pittsfield, Mass. “We know how to respond to fires, earthquakes, floods. There isn’t a playbook for this.” …
School closures, job disruptions, lack of paid sick leave and the coronavirus’s disproportionate effect on older adults and low-income families have further contributed to the demands placed on food banks.
Those $1,200 checks from the COVID-19 relief package will arrive before too long, especially for those with direct deposit already recorded with the IRS for tax refunds. Others will be mailed checks, likely by sometime in May at the latest. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin estimated that the first payments could start in three weeks.
Food pantries can’t wait until May — too many families are facing food insecurity and shortages now. Those organizations helping the homeless can’t wait that long, either.
If you can’t spare the cash, here’s another idea: Donate blood. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a shortage of blood, and many planned blood drives have been canceled. Check the Red Cross website to find a donation site near you.
Or maybe you’re a home sewer or crafter. With the shortage of N95 masks for hospitals workers and first responders, many are having to make do with the next best thing, even if it’s constructed from fabric instead of the nonwoven material that provides the protection of an N95 mask. Groups all over the country have formed to offer video instructions on how to make such masks and how to donate them. They are pitching in at the sewing machine — A Sewing Army, as The New York Times put it. Facebook groups have formed to offer members tips, such as this site, Masks4Medicine.
So thank you to all the medical workers on the front lines taking care of patients. Thank you to all who are volunteering your time to check in on older neighbors. Thank you to grocery store workers who are keeping us fed. Thank you to restaurants offering take-out and delivery (and make sure you tip those food delivery guys well). Thank you to blood donors and mask makers.
Organizations all over the country have started their own relief funds to raise money for nonprofits. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker enlisted his sister, former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, to run the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund. The governor and his wife made an initial donation of $2 million of their own money, with an additional $2 million from the family foundation (when you’re a billionaire, you can do that).
If you’re able, find a fund in your area and make a donation. And if you can spare anything at all, please donate to your local food pantry.
Bald Piano Guy, the New York state public school music teacher who regularly posts ditties against Trump, is offering us an original St. Patrick’s Day special.
Bald Piano Guy, whose real name is Alan Schwartz, has taught music for some 25 years at a middle school on Long Island. His first claim to fame came in his parodies against Betsy DeVos, who knows nothing about public education, so naturally she’s the Education secretary. His parodies are available on his Facebook page and his YouTube channel — and they’re pretty darn funny, especially if you’re a teacher or a musician.
Watch and enjoy, and see if your feet don’t start tapping, if not moving to a jig.
I’m with Irene in quarantine
to battle the spreading of COVID-19.
There’s nothing as fair and quite as serene
than to be with Irene in quarantine!
I’m not positive, but I think the lovely Irene pictured in the song is actually Mrs. Bald Piano Guy, as he referred to her once as they danced in one of the parodies.
On a day when we might be hoisting a few at a local pub, we’re doing it in the privacy of our own homes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, and don’t forget to wash your hands. And VOTE in November.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has shown us why he deserves to be the Democratic presidential nominee and why he will beat Donald Trump in November.
While Americans are left confused by inaction, contradictions, and downright lies from the Trump administration — mostly from Trump himself — on how best to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, Biden delivered a clear plan of action on how to take charge of the public health crisis. He knew how to respond and what to say because he had faced this kind of crisis before when he was vice president for eight years.
While Trump never admits that he ever does anything wrong, the world knows differently. A March 11 televised address to the nation contained several inaccuracies that had to be clarified within minutes. Specifically, he was wrong on travel bans (U.S. citizens and permanent residents can return home), acceptance of foreign goods (the U.S. will still accept cargo from other countries), and payment for COVID-19 infection treatment (health insurers say they’ll pay for testing but not treatment).
This is the same guy who claimed that coronavirus was a Democratic hoax, that the virus would go away by April, that the risk remains low, that his administration is doing a great job handling the crisis, and much more. The Washington Post has a timeline of all of Trump’s outrageous and false claims as he tried to play down the health threat.
Congress passed and Trump signed a bill to spend $8.3 billion to fight this pandemic. Yet many communities across America have no access to test kits — zero. Delays in testing have greatly exacerbated the crisis. The first cases in the U.S. were found in January, and officials in Seattle had to do their own tests without U.S. government approval. According to a story in The New York Times:
The failure to tap into the flu study, detailed here for the first time, was just one in a series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier. Instead, local officials across the country were left to work in the dark as the crisis grew undetected and exponentially.
Even now, after weeks of mounting frustration toward federal agencies over flawed test kits and burdensome rules, states with growing cases such as New York and California are struggling to test widely for the coronavirus. The continued delays have made it impossible for officials to get a true picture of the scale of the growing outbreak, which has now spread to at least 36 states and Washington, D.C.
So instead, let’s listen to Joe Biden. He lists his proposals for COVID-19 on his campaign website, and he invited Trump to use any and all of his ideas, which include:
- A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19; the development of a vaccine; and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities.
- A decisive economic response that starts with emergency paid leave for all those affected by the outbreak and gives all necessary help to workers, families, and small businesses that are hit hard by this crisis. Make no mistake: this will require an immediate set of ambitious and progressive economic measures, and further decisive action to address the larger macro-economic shock from this outbreak.
The entire speech is here and is definitely worth your while:
Is it any wonder that Democratic voters have realized who they want as a standard-bearer come the fall? Dare we say it: Joe Biden sounded downright presidential.
Be sure to keep washing your hands, don’t touch your face, stay away from large crowds, and stay home if you’re sick. And vote for Democrats in the fall.
What started as the most diverse Democratic field in history has ended up as two old white guys pushing 80.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?
As maddening as it is that the choices left to us are not our favorites, many voters — especially women voters — saw 2020 as a chance to avenge Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, especially since she received nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump.
When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ended her campaign after disappointing results on Super Tuesday, her campaign really had no choice but to fold, as there was essentially no path forward to the nomination. She followed the path of a series of excellent female candidates, all of whom were forced to suspend their campaigns after running out of money, not receiving enough support in the polls, and not getting enough votes.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was an early dropout. California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose poll numbers soared last summer but sank amid a crowded field, could never raise enough money to run a full campaign, especially facing a juggernaut of money sent to male candidates. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar always shone on the debate stage, but she had to share the “moderate” voting bloc with too many others.
(I realize that Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still technically a candidate, but, except for her one delegate from American Samoa, she has been and remains a non-factor, only serving as a spoiler.)
A record number of women ran for office in 2018, and another record number of Democratic women won House seats. It was the “Year of the Woman” all over again, as many of those new women lawmakers have made their voices heard sponsoring legislation, making numerous media appearances, and gaining influence on social media.
When candidates started launching presidential campaigns, it was heartening to see so many women candidates, as it was to see candidates who were black, Latino, and gay. It was almost as if — at least for Democrats — those distinctions weren’t as important as they once were.
But from the beginning, women faced a double standard. Women candidates are judged on their “moralizing tone” (Warren), their “hysteria” (Harris), or their “likability” (Gillibrand and Warren). Their media coverage was much less than that of male candidates, especially the “B-boys” (Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg). The lopsided coverage became what Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called a “dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Both Sanders and Warren backed a Medicare for All plan. One candidate (Warren) received much media criticism about how to pay for it. The other (Sanders) got a free pass, with media instead focusing on his huge rallies of fawning supporters.
The most anger-inducing fact of all of the women having to abandon their campaigns is that, by all practical measurements, they were just better candidates and would have made better presidents. Warren ran a better campaign than anyone and had a website full of proposals, even selling T-shirts that proudly proclaimed, “Warren has a plan for that.”
Klobuchar had all of the characteristics of being the best candidate on paper, as FiveThirtyEight put it, with her effective Senate career and her winning electoral record in a Midwestern state. Former FBI Director James Comey, who went to the University of Chicago Law School with Klobuchar, once described her as “annoyingly smart.”
Harris displayed her prosecutor chops in multiple Senate hearings. Attorney General William Barr embarrassed himself when he stumbled over her repeated questions about whether Trump had ever asked him to investigate anyone. You know, like Joe Biden’s son Hunter in Ukraine.
There are many reasons why this race ended up as it has. Each candidate spent too much time in Iowa and New Hampshire, chasing a small number of delegates in two overwhelmingly white states. They had no way to fight against Sanders’ money and organization or against the hundreds of millions spent by short-time candidate Mike Bloomberg, even though that fizzled in the end. They couldn’t fight against Trump’s media dominance, in which the media still chase down and cover his nonsensical and insulting tweets. The media still allow themselves to get distracted when Trump directs their attention away from his lies and bad judgment.
The media spent so much time focusing on “electability” of Democratic candidates that they eventually convinced voters that Democrats had to choose a white male to defeat Donald Trump. That became the self-fulfilling prophecy, even though Warren, Harris, or Klobuchar would have wiped the floor with Trump during a debate.
Hey, media — think you can be a little more even-handed from now on? Give candidates equal and fair coverage? After all, 29 countries currently have women leaders, and 59 countries have had women as heads of state. Don’t you think it’s past time for the U.S. to catch up to the rest of the world?
The biggest factor was the fact that there were just too many candidates for lesser-known candidates to break through. Some in the race had no business being there and had no base of natural support. Before the next contest, many candidates need to check their egos at the door and take a good, hard look at what’s possible before wasting a lot of our time.
So now we’re down to the two old white guys. Warren’s campaign suspension was like a final punch in the gut to women everywhere:
An NPR story quoted the head of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University about the problem women still face getting elected to executive positions:
The rapid rise of black women mayors in large American cities is a sign that black women are making strides in an area where all women have long been absent, said Debbie Walsh, the center’s director.
“One of the challenges that we’ve seen over time for women, in general, is women in executive leadership,” Walsh said. “There’s an assumption that women in legislative positions, whether federal level, state level or even at the city level work well in committee, work well on councils. It fits for the stereotype for women.”
“Breaking that final glass ceiling of women as executives really opens up a world of possibilities. To be the person who is the final decider, the place where the buck stops, is something that we think voters may be more hesitant about,” Walsh continued.
Now, all we can do is move forward and hope we make the right choice in the voting booth. If Joe Biden wins in November, I hope he’s smart enough to realize that he’ll need good younger people around him and in his Cabinet, and that many of them need to be people of color and have two X chromosomes. The group that ran for president would be an excellent starting point.
As for the women candidates, this is the best suggestion I’ve seen:
I’d gladly buy a ticket to that event. Heck, let’s televise it. It would get Super Bowl-level ratings, and wine sales beforehand would go through the roof.
Maybe afterward, we can all throw our wine glasses at that glass ceiling that holds qualified women back. If not this year, then in 2024.
A recent study from Australia’s University of Newcastle estimated that each person consumes the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic each week. Clearly, we’re well past the crisis point; while many other countries realize that the world is becoming awash in plastic waste and are passing bans on plastic bags and other kinds of single-use plastic, the United States is taking only baby steps when giant steps are needed.
A new bill, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, was recently introduced in Congress by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California. The bills, H.R. 5845 and S. 3263, are co-sponsored by six senators and 29 representatives, all Democrats. The legislation is being described as “one of the most aggressive, sweeping attempts to hold the plastics industry, beverage makers, and other companies financially responsible for dealing with the waste they create.”
Just like the concepts in the Green New Deal, the legislation is ambitious and necessary, even if its passage right now is as likely as the chance of Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe (who infamously brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “disprove” climate change) joining Greta Thunberg at a climate strike. Among the bill’s provisions:
- Companies that manufacture plastic would be required to take responsibility for collecting and recycling materials. This is now done unevenly around the country by state and local governments.
- Beginning in 2022, there would be a nationwide fee for single-use plastic bags, something done by several states and in many cities now.
- Also beginning in 2022, some common single-use plastic products that can’t be recycled would be phased out from sale and distribution, such as polystyrene food and drink containers, plastic stirrers, and plastic utensils.
- Plastic beverage containers would be required to include an increasing percentage of recycled content in their manufacturing process before they enter the market.
- The EPA would develop standardized recycling and composting labels. Currently, consumers are often confused by what can be recycled, as different localities have different rules. When it comes to composting, here’s a hint: If it used to be alive, it can be composted.
- There would be a 10-cent national surcharge for all beverage containers, regardless of material, to be refunded to customers when they return bottles and cans, a practice now done in 10 states.
“The plastic pollution crisis is past the tipping point: our communities, our waterways, and even our bodies are at risk,” Udall said in his official press release. “We are already bearing the cleanup costs of mountains of plastic waste, and it will only get worse for future generations. We have a responsibility to act now before the overwhelming public health, environmental, climate and economic effects of plastic pollution reach the point of no return. Our solutions are not only possible — they are practical and are already being implemented in cities and states across the country, including in my home state of New Mexico. But we need a comprehensive, national strategy to tackle this tidal wave of pollution before it is too late.”
While this all sounds optimistic, the bill is not going to pass in this form, and certainly not any time soon: It has no Republican co-sponsors, it’s an election year, and a climate denier sits in the White House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would never bring up such a bill for a vote, given that it would harm some of the fossil fuel companies that are big GOP donors. As plastic production has become one of the fossil fuel industry’s most promising areas of growth, companies have been investing more in such production as demand for their fuel products levels off.
It’s way past time to get serious about plastic pollution. Much of the plastic waste and plastic bags that Western countries used to send to countries in Africa or Asia for recycling (and only about 1% of the 100 billion plastic bags used in the U.S. annually actually get recycled) aren’t being accepted anymore. Many countries such as China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and multiple countries in Africa have reversed many policies on plastic garbage. Some no longer accept plastic waste; some have instigated stricter rules when plastic garbage is contaminated; and some are even sending it back to its countries of origin, mainly the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
The European Union, Canada, and 34 countries in Africa have banned or are phasing out many single-use plastic items. A United Nations study reports that plastic bag bans are working and are especially effective in African countries where waste is often burned, releasing poisonous gases into the air.
Skeptics of such policies may be unaware of the depressing statistics about plastic waste and its impact on the world’s oceans:
- The world produces 381 million tons of plastic waste each year. That figure is expected to double by 2034.
- Fifty percent of plastic waste is single-use plastic. Only 9% of that has ever been recycled.
- The U.S. throws away 80 million tons of plastic every year.
- More than 1 million single-use plastic bags are thrown away worldwide each minute.
- Eight million pieces of plastic find their way into the world’s oceans each day. The annual total is about 12.7 million tons.
- Some 100,000 sea creatures and 1 million seabirds die each year from being tangled in plastic.
- Plastic is found in one-third of fish caught for human consumption.
Many states are doing what the federal government is not. California, Oregon, each county in Hawaii, and several U.S. territories have banned or taxed plastic bags. A statewide ban in New York goes into effect on March 1. About 200 municipalities have either banned or require a fee for using single-use plastic bags. (Just to be ornery, Republican legislatures in 10 states have laws banning plastic-bag bans by individual cities.) The National Conference of State Legislatures has a roundup of what states are doing to cut down plastic bag use.
In California, the plastic bag ban is working so well that plastic bag litter dropped by 72% between 2010 and 2015. Plastic bags now account for less than 1.5% of all litter, rather than the nearly 10% that used to be the case.
New legislation in Illinois has some of the same components of the federal bill. A comprehensive package of bills aims to reduce single-use plastic, with proposals to ban polystyrene beginning in 2022. The legislation also would create a statewide container deposit for both plastic and aluminum, establish a statewide 10-cent carryout bag fee, and require single-use plastic utensils to be provided only by request or at a self-serve station. The bills would push the state to lead by example, buying recyclable and compostable materials. Chicago is considering its own ordinance to cut down on single-use plastic.
Anti-plastic activist and author Beth Terry has gained a nationwide following with her YouTube videos and blog, My Plastic-Free Life, which offer advice on how to cut down on plastic use. Here are some of her top recommendations. Even if you don’t do all of these, they’re easy to try.
- Carry reusable shopping bags (shouldn’t this be a no-brainer by now?).
- Give up bottled water and carry your own refillable water bottle.
- Shop at your local farmers’ market and bring your own bags to fill with fresh produce rather than buying plastic-packaged produce from grocery stores.
- Return containers for berries, cherry tomatoes, etc., to farmers’ markets to be reused.
- Say no to plastic produce bags (we re-use ours and wash them out).
- Buy from bulk bins as often as possible.
- Cut out sodas, juices, and all other plastic-bottled beverages.
- Buy fresh bread that comes in either paper bags or no bags.
- Bring your own containers for meat and prepared foods. (Grocery stores will let you do this. I’ve tried it myself and it works, even if the guy at the deli counter gives you a funny look).
- Choose milk in returnable glass bottles.
Terry gave a Ted Talk with many more examples of how she works on achieving that plastic-free life.
This April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the day designated to “build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet,” as the group Earth Day Network says in its mission statement. The organization grew out of the first Earth Day observance in 1970 and has 75,000 partners in 190 countries that are working on climate change. Yet the climate crisis is only getting worse. So the theme for Earth Day 2020 is “climate action,” and individuals can find a planned Earth Day event near them, including teach-ins, rallies, tree planting, environmental cleanups, and more. People also can register one of their own events.
Since 2011, Plastic-Free July has organized a global movement to help people fight plastic pollution, with over 250 million participants in 177 countries. The group asks people to commit to avoid purchasing and using single-use plastic items every July, and the movement has gained more adherents each year. The organization’s website lists testimonials from people around the world and includes many ideas consumers can adopt in all avenues of life to avoid using plastic.
Who knows: Those habits might stick with you all year long.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 25, 2020.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr has gone public complaining that Donald Trump’s incendiary tweets are making it “impossible” for him to do his job at the Dept. of Justice. And at least some in the media seem to be buying it.
Next, Barr is going to try to sell them a bridge in Brooklyn.
Many in the legal profession dropped their collective jaws when the Justice Dept. abruptly changed course on a sentencing recommendation for convicted felon Roger Stone, longtime Trump buddy and Republican operative convicted of obstructing Congress and witness intimidation. The original recommendation was sentence of seven to nine years. Trump tweeted about how “unfair” that was, and Barr cut down the recommended length of sentence.
Four career Justice Dept. lawyers who had handled Stone’s case withdrew from the proceedings in protest, one even resigning from the Justice Dept. itself. Legal analysts and others said the episode represented a low moment for the department. Nine Democratic senators signed a letter calling for Barr to resign.
Even worse, Barr has now appointed a hand-picked independent prosecutor to “review” the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced ex-national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn’s case is another favorite subject of Trump’s tweets of outrage. Legal experts are calling this review “highly unusual.” Talk about an understatement.
Now we’re all supposed to believe, as Barr told ABC News, that he is being totally honest when he asserts his judicial independence. We’re supposed to take him seriously when he claimed, “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” As if he’s ever stood up for his department before and hasn’t just done Trump’s bidding.
Yet there was straightforward reporting by multiple news outlets, from The New York Times on down, that William Barr was asserting his independence. Come on, media. This is the same Bill Barr who:
- Won Trump’s heart in the first place with a Washington Post op-ed claiming that Trump was right to fire FBI Director James Comey. That toadying op-ed was the real reason Barr was appointed attorney general in the first place.
- Summarized the entire Mueller report in just four pages, claiming that it totally “exonerated” Trump (it didn’t). The Barr memo on Robert Mueller’s 400-page report on the investigation of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election drew heavy criticism once people actually had a chance to read the whole document. Even Mueller criticized the summation by his longtime friend Barr, saying it “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report.
- Dodged questions during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee whether anyone at the White House had suggested he open an investigation of anyone. “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’ ” Barr said in answer to a question from California Sen. Kamala Harris. This was before the whole matter of Trump’s asking Ukraine to investigate a possible political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. Barr was mentioned as being part of the investigation in the July 2019 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The biggest tell that Barr’s supposed “independence” was a scam came from Trump himself. Trump said he wasn’t bothered by Barr’s claims and congratulated him on how he “took charge of the case” — as if Barr hadn’t sold Trump on this bit of Kabuki theater beforehand to give the whole distasteful episode an aura of respectability.
The Department of Justice is the one federal agency in the president’s Cabinet that must be independent. Most presidents understood that. As one of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President Obama tweeted:
That independence is key to democracy, argued world affairs columnist Frida Ghitis, in an opinion piece on CNN.
An independent judiciary is an indispensable ingredient in the rule of law, and without rule of law, there is no justice. Without rule of law it’s all but impossible to preserve a functioning democracy, let alone a well-functioning government.
We have seen this through even recent history: as would-be autocrats have torn multiple countries away from their democratic moorings, a primary target has been the judiciary. …
Claims that the Justice Department’s decision had nothing to do with Trump’s wishes takes Americans for fools.
The necessity of an independent Justice Dept. is something that William Barr perhaps once knew but Trump conveniently ignores. And some in the media just lapped up the Barr Kool-Aid, even though they should know better.
Which is it going to be, media? Protection of access to your sources or honest reporting?
High voter turnout is widely predicted in November, which is always good news for democracy. The bad news for democracy is that many voters are worried about election security and might not trust the eventual outcome of the presidential election. Concerns include voting machines that could be hacked, voter suppression, voter fraud, and widespread dissemination of misinformation.
The failure of technology in the Iowa caucuses only adds to that concern. The delay in reporting vote totals because of a new and untested smartphone app was frustrating, especially as cable news channels flooded the caucuses with reporters while talking heads tried to fill hours with new ways of asking, “What’s going on?” Many are left asking whether they should trust the results at all, and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is calling for drastic action.
Iowa Democratic officials slogged their way through counting paper preference cards filled in by caucus goers. But Democratic officials blamed Republican trolls for tying up phone hotlines that were supposed to be used to report vote totals, slowing the process even more. Photos of caucus paperwork featuring the hotline number were posted online, allowing any GOP troublemaker to call. Here’s how a story on Talking Points Memo summed up the situation: “A perfect storm of incompetence, over-reliance on technology, and new reporting requirements have delayed caucus results for days.” Iowa Democratic Party officials now say they will launch an independent forensic review of the entire process.
As many polls about impeachment show, a majority of voters believe that Donald Trump is encouraging election interference. In addition, a plurality of voters are worried about election security. A recent NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist Poll showed that 41% of voters have a high level of concern that voting in 2020 will not be safe and secure, a figure that has gone up 3 percentage points since September 2018.
Poll respondents answered along party lines: 66% of Democrats say the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all on election security, while only 11% of Republicans had such concerns. Responses from independents were evenly split and matched the overall responses, with 41% landing on either side of the voting security question.
Here were poll respondents’ top voting security concerns:
- 35% of voters fear misleading information.
- 24% complain of voter fraud.
- 16% list voter suppression.
- 15% fear foreign interference.
- 5% report a fear of possible problems at a polling place, such as long lines, broken voting machines, or an inability to take time off work to vote.
Perhaps voters should be more concerned about problems at polling places:
- Recent reports show how easy it is to hack into voting systems, which might have occurred in Georgia in 2016 and 2018.
- A report to the Senate Intelligence Committee states that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016.
- When election security experts assembled a group of 100 voting machines at a conference in August 2019, hackers were able to break into all of them.
- California officials have not yet certified a new electronic voting system in Los Angeles County because of multiple potential vulnerabilities.
It’s not just voting machines, according to a Bloomberg News report on cybersecurity.
Election machines are just one way hackers could try to infiltrate an election to change the vote or undermine its credibility. They also could corrupt voter registration rolls or lock up the computers of voting officials with ransomware. Only in the case of voting machines, though, does the safest technology also happen to be simpler and cheaper.
Predictably, 47% of Republicans listed the favorite GOP bugaboo, voter fraud, as a top concern, even though it’s practically nonexistent. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School has put voter fraud incident rates at between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent of all votes cast. But facts don’t matter to GOP voters who believe Trump’s constant lies about “illegal voters” and “rigged elections.”
Voter fraud hysteria gives Republican-led states an excuse to pass stricter voting requirements: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, 35 of which are in force in 2020. Eighteen states ask for a photo ID, while 16 states ask for a non-photo ID.
When voter fraud does occur, it adds fuel to the GOP fire. A technical glitch recently discovered in Illinois meant that several hundred legal immigrants getting driver’s licenses were actually registered to vote at the same time. State election officials estimate that only 16 members of that group actually cast ballots in 2018, but the number obviously should have been zero. The state is working with local election authorities “to make sure anyone who was mistakenly registered is taken off the rolls,” says a story from Chicago’s WGN-TV. Not surprisingly, the state’s Republicans are up in arms.
A much bigger problem is voter suppression. In a different report, the Brennan Center found that states purged 16 million voters from voting rolls between 2014 and 2016 alone. Several Republican-led states, such as Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin (just to name a few) have purged or are in the process of purging voters, but even states led by Democrats, such as New York, have purged voters incorrectly, and California is deleting voters as a result of a settlement with the conservative group Judicial Watch. On the federal level, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning voter purging. It’s in the Democrats’ signature voting rights and election security bill that is now gathering dust on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
Voting security is only part of the story, though. Voters also are increasingly worried about the spread of disinformation. According to an NPR story about the poll, 59% of respondents said it was hard for them to tell the difference between facts and misleading information. A whopping 82% say it’s “likely or very likely” that they will read misleading information on a social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. (If ever a poll result should be 100%, it’s that response.)
Trump’s reelection campaign already is spreading disinformation throughout social media, attacking Democrats, twisting people’s words using out-of-context clips and quotes, and just flat-out lying. It’s $1 billion operation is even being referred to as “the Death Star,” according to a story in The Atlantic.
Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection, but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting. Both parties will have these tools at their disposal. But in the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous.
The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage it leaves behind could be irreparable.
Several questions must be answered in coming months as officials brace for a predicted avalanche of voters.
How will state and local officials handle a voting surge? Will they guarantee enough polling sites, enough ballots, enough voting machines, and enough election judges? How much will voter suppression tactics, such as voter ID laws, voter purges, and poll closures, especially in areas that skew Democratic, limit voter access, and thus affect outcomes? How will officials guarantee accuracy when votes are being counted on machines that are often bought over the objections of cybersecurity experts?
On the voting rights front, how much will efforts to open up voting, such as same-day registration, automatic voter registration, no-questions-asked absentee ballots, and early voting encourage more people to cast ballots? Right now, 18 states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration or are in the process of implementing it, most of them through the process of getting a driver’s license or interacting with another state agency. Laws allowing automatic registration have been in effect for only five years but led to a big jump in registered voters: New registrations rose by as high as 94 percent, according to yet another report from the Brennan Center.
Henry Olsen, a Washington Post conservative columnist, admits that voters are right to be worried.
Our state election systems are almost certainly not prepared for this. We already face complaints that there are too few polling stations, especially in inner-city areas, to accommodate the people who wanted to vote in past years. Imagine if those two-hour waits double to four-hour waits. Affected populations would surely cry foul, leading to even more charges of intentional voter suppression and election manipulation. …
Imagine what would happen if after an incredibly bitter campaign, millions of people faced insuperable burdens that lead to them either not voting or extending polling hours into the wee hours of the night to accommodate voter demand. Both parties would likely end up crying fraud, with the loser possibly even claiming the election was stolen.
No one wants to wake up Nov. 4 to election results they don’t trust. It’s up to all of us to ensure that access to ballots remains fair and that everyone who wants to cast a vote can do so in a timely manner, without hassle, and be assured that their votes were counted fairly.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 7, 2020.
The complete meltdown in tallying results at the Iowa caucuses means officials should decide on the only viable course of action: It’s time to get rid of the outmoded practice of holding caucuses.
Iowa has selfishly prided itself on its first-in-the-nation status, and the state’s voters have come to expect the chance to meet all of the candidates. Cable news channels sent scores of reporters to several caucus sites, seemingly in hopes of interviewing every last Iowa voter.
All of this is for a state that’s older and whiter than the Democratic Party as a whole. Why does the Democratic National Committee keep allowing it? And what happened to all the votes?
Media outlets descend on the state each year for the Iowa State Fair and each candidate’s campaign events. All of those reporters and TV production staff mean a lot of money goes into the coffers of hotels, restaurants, diners (you can’t do a story about Iowa voting without visiting the local diner), and more.
Candidates themselves spend gobs of money on TV advertising — the state’s residents have learned to have their thumbs poised over the TV remote’s “mute” button. Advertising Analytics, the ad industry’s trade group, said candidates had spent $45 million on advertising in Iowa as of early January, when there was still a month to go before the caucuses. That compares with $46 million in 2016, when Democrats and Republicans faced wide-open races.
There are lots of conspiracy theories about what went wrong in counting the votes. Even when the results are released, they aren’t going to tell us much — the estimates are that the four front-runners did equally well, give or take a few percentage points. No one can claim a “win” from Iowa, even though candidates gave speeches to supporters trying to claim just that.
Yet if you watched any of the coverage of the caucuses themselves, cable news spent hours and hours at caucus sites long after voters had gone home. Officials and voters both admitted they were confused by some of the new rules, in which those running the caucuses were supposed to deliver three sets of totals, using a new (and, it turns out, untested) app. Older officials, perhaps not as keen on the new technology, had the option of calling in results to a hotline, but there were reports of being on hold for more than an hour. And the Iowa Democratic Party could only report “technical glitches” and “inconsistencies” in numbers.
Of course the numbers were inconsistent. Some voters in caucuses where their candidates weren’t deemed “viable” — that is, they didn’t reach 15% of the total vote — simply went home. Can you blame them? With such a still-wide-open field of candidates, including two billionaires who don’t have to drop out of the race because of money problems, voters are still undecided on which candidate has the best chance to beat Donald Trump. As a result, the hoped-for surge in voters likely didn’t happen (although we don’t have that number, either). As Karen Tumulty wrote in The Washington Post:
But the voters I talked to seemed confused and anxious in the final hours before the caucuses, more torn than usual over which candidate to pick in a field that still numbers nearly a dozen. …
The campaigns have already moved on to New Hampshire. The countless hours of stumping and organizing in Iowa are behind them. And no doubt they are all wondering: What was the point of it?
Yes, DNC and Iowa Democratic Party, what was the point of it? What was the point of changing the rules, under pressure from the Bernie Sanders campaign, to make it harder to count votes? What was the point of using an untested app, especially by older volunteers who didn’t know how to use it?
Even more important, what’s the point of letting a group of non-representative voters winnow the field?
There are other, better models of choosing candidates. Caucuses favor candidates whose followers have hours to spend milling around. College students can show up easily; working parents, people who work at night, and folks with disabilities, not so much.
Here are some other voting models (there are more), which have been proposed by some elected representatives and state election officials as well states who don’t have early primaries. These models are always shot down by Iowa and New Hampshire.
A national primary day. All primary voters (with chances for early voting, absentee voting, etc.) would choose a candidate on the same day. Pros: It gets it over with, and no state’s voters have more weight than others. Cons: Candidates would concentrate on states with the most votes.
Inter-regional primaries. States would be divided into six regions, and a single state (or group of small states) from each region would have primaries on the same day until all states had voted. States would be chosen at random to go first, and the order would rotate. You can see the obvious problems and confusion that would arise.
True regional primaries. The country would be divided into four regions, and all states in each region would hold primaries on the same day. The order would rotate each presidential cycle. To me, this is the only model that makes sense.
Whatever the future of primary voting might be, let’s hope a prediction from a veteran Iowa reporter comes true. As reported in Politico:
If one thing was certain from Monday’s debacle, Iowa had just signed its death warrant as the first-in-the-nation caucus state, the legendary Des Moines Register political reporter David Yepsen said.
“This fiasco means the end of the caucuses as a significant American political event. The rest of the country was already losing patience with Iowa anyway and this cooks Iowa’s goose. Frankly, it should,” Yepsen said. “The real winner tonight was Donald Trump, who got to watch his opponents wallow in a mess. A lot of good Democratic candidates and people who fought their hearts out here for … nothing.
“I expect Iowans will move themselves to kill it off by holding a primary, and let the state move to someplace behind New Hampshire along with other states.”
Polls and pundits across the country and the political spectrum predict that voter enthusiasm and turnout could be at an all-time high on Nov. 3. That’s true for people itching to vote for and against Donald Trump.
But how will officials in the country’s 8,000 election jurisdictions handle the flood of voters? If the high voter turnout in 2018 is any indication, they could have a torrent of problems. Consider this example from ProPublica about Melanie Taylor, a South Carolina voter determined to cast her vote back in 2018:
After 45 minutes, with the line still out the door, Taylor had to give up and leave for work. (She leads a social work program.) She’s planning to try again later and has been monitoring the wait times through a neighborhood Facebook group. The news was not encouraging.
“It felt like a type of disenfranchisement, even though there wasn’t any violation of voting rights,” Taylor said. “The wait has been all day three hours or more, which is ridiculous.”
Across the country, Americans like Taylor have had their enthusiasm to vote tested by problems at polling places. There have been long lines owing to surging turnout, a shortage of voting machines, a shortage of ballots or computer malfunctions. Some voters said they stuck it out for as long as five hours.
But not everyone has five hours. An estimated 500,000 eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot in 2012 because of polling place problems such as long lines.
In recent years, voter turnout has been around 40% in midterms and 60% in presidential elections. Voter turnout in 2016 was slightly higher at 61.4%. But the 2018 midterms exceeded expectations with a record-high 53.4% turnout. The U.S. Census Bureau reported increases in every age, racial, and ethnic group, driven mainly by higher Democratic participation in the Blue Wave election. Other estimates are lower — like this 50.3% calculation from Nonprofit Vote, which is still a big jump. If 2020 is the referendum on Trump that’s expected, that 2016 figure of 61.4% could disappear in a downpour.
“Storm of a century” may seem like hyperbole, but voter turnout could likely break records across the country. (Just to compare, previous highs in voter turnout were 73.2% in the 1900 election and 65.4% in 1908.) Other predictions on 2020 voter turnout are just as high:
These predictions are being made by both Republicans and Democrats as well as election journalists and prognosticators. A story in The Atlantic teases readers with the headline Brace for a Voter-Turnout Tsunami.
In a recent paper, the Democratic voter-targeting firm Catalist projected that about 156 million people could vote in 2020, an enormous increase from the 139 million who cast ballots in 2016. Likewise, Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, recently forecast that the 2020 contest could produce a massive turnout that is also unprecedentedly diverse.
“I think we are heading for a record presidential turnout at least in the modern era, and by that I mean since the franchise went to 18-year-olds,” in 1972, says Glen Bolger, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “And I mean not only in total numbers [but also] in terms of the percentage of eligible voters [who turn out]. The emotion behind politics … is sky-high, and I don’t think it’s just on one side. I think it’s on both sides.”
Who will these voters be? The Atlantic story listed some likely voter growth, quoting Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who wrote the above tweet. He specializes in voting behavior and also runs the United States Election Project.
One of the key questions for 2020 is whether Democrats will benefit as much from the likely expansion of the electorate. With Trump on the ballot directly, Republicans hope that 2020 will produce a surge not only in the younger and nonwhite voters who increased their participation in 2018, but also the non-college-educated whites at the foundation of the president’s support, who lagged last year.
The nature of the population eligible to vote is evolving in a way that should indeed help Democrats. McDonald estimates that the number of eligible voters increases by about 5 million each year, or about 20 million from one presidential election to the next. That increase predominantly flows from two sources: young people who turn 18 and immigrants who become citizens. Since people of color are now approaching a majority of the under-18 population — and also constitute most immigrants — McDonald and other experts believe it’s likely that minorities represent a majority of the people who have become eligible to vote since 2016.
Projections from Pew Research also show a more varied electorate than ever before.
In raw numbers, a projected 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in 2020, compared with 30 million blacks. The population of Asians eligible to vote will reach an estimated 11 million in 2020, which is more than double the 5 million who were eligible to vote in 2000, accounting for 5% of next year’s electorate.
Taken together, this strong growth among minority populations means that a third of eligible voters will be nonwhite in 2020, up from about a quarter in 2000. This increase is at least partially linked to immigration and naturalization patterns: One-in-ten eligible voters in the 2020 election will have been born outside the U.S., the highest share since at least 1970.
Those projections match the makeup of people who voted in the 2018 midterm elections. Here’s how voter turnout increased, in different demographic groups, from the 2014 to the 2018 midterms, according to Census Bureau data:
- Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went up 79%, from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. It was the largest percentage point increase for any age group.
- Voter turnout increased among non-Hispanic Asians by 13 percentage points, a 49% increase.
- Turnout increased among Latinx voters by 13 percentage points, a 50% increase.
- Non-Hispanic black voter turnout increased by 11 percentage points.
- Voter turnout among those in nonmetropolitan areas (up 8 percentage points) was lower than for those living in metropolitan areas (up 12 points). In other words, residents in large cities and suburbs (who tend to vote for more Democrats) voted at a greater rate than those living in smaller cities and rural areas (who tend to vote for more Republicans).
- 55% percent of eligible women voted compared with 52% percent of men.
A higher number of those who will vote this year will be younger than their counterparts in past presidential election years. Nearly 40% of the electorate in 2020 will be millennial or Generation Z voters. If their votes in 2018 are any indication, they will favor Democratic candidates in November: Among voters who said this was their first midterm, 62% favored the Democrat and just 36% supported the Republican.
No one knows for certain how many people will show up to vote in primaries or in the general election this fall. Despite widespread predictions of historic turnout, there’s little evidence—so far—of states making changes to handle a deluge of voters. But election officials do seem aware of looming issues, as many told The Hill.
In interviews, secretaries of state said they paid close attention to elections in Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia this year, all states where more voters than ever showed up for what are usually sleepy off-year contests. Several said they had seen a sharp increase in turnout in their own backyards, even in nonpartisan school board elections.
Those results, coupled with higher-than-expected turnout in the 2018 midterms and polls that show voters are extremely enthusiastic about next year’s presidential election, are stark warnings to elections administrators who are already making preparations for what could be record-breaking turnout.
“We know there’s a fire that’s been lit out there, and we definitely saw [it] in Louisiana and Kentucky, some of the trends there,” said Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), who is also president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “We’re going to see an increase again from previous years, and we know we’d better be ready.”
One place to look is in Iowa, where Democratic officials, bracing for the first-in-the-nation voters, are likely to have their hands full. Democratic officials running the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses know they could see a massive turnout and have been scrambling to get ready for over a year, lining up larger facilities and investing in new technology to speed up voter check-in and avoid vote-counting problems. As one state central committeewoman put it, “We have to prepare like it’s Armageddon.”
The Democratic National Committee nixed Iowa Democrats’ plans for virtual caucuses, disallowing voters to caucus by phone, so the schools, churches, community centers, and other gathering places that comprise the 1,678 precincts could be bursting at the seams to contain all of the caucus-goers. There also will be more than 90 satellite precincts, 28 of which are outside the state for Iowans who live out of state or overseas. The satellite precincts also can accommodate people who work nights and voters with disabilities.
A few other states holding early primaries and caucuses foresee problems, even if solutions are elusive. With the growing popularity of absentee voting, Michigan and South Carolina have introduced bills to allow officials to open absentee ballot envelopes (but not the ballots themselves) before Election Day to speed up the counting process. Nevada Democrats have instituted early voting at 80 locations throughout the state in hopes of boosting caucus turnout and avoiding problems on Feb. 22. How early states fare could dictate courses of action for officials in other states.
On the other end of the spectrum, a new voting law in New Hampshire, passed by a Republican House and signed by a Republican governor, requires out-of-state college students to pay licensing and car registration fees before voting. The move, supposedly to fight voter fraud, has created a bureaucratic boondoggle and left college students confused about whether they can vote or not.
Even if voters face delays and other problems, people will show up to vote this year. So grab your friends, your family members, your neighbors, your co-workers, and anyone else you can find, and make sure they are registered to vote. You can find each state’s deadlines for people to register to vote in primary elections here. Some dates have passed already, and deadlines are different for online, mail, and in-person registration, while some states allow voters to register on the actual date of the election.
After losing a battle in 1757, French King Louis XV famously said, “Après moi, le déluge,” implying that the coming difficulties in France after his death wouldn’t be his concern. Let’s hope that today’s state election officials are better prepared for this inevitable voter deluge.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 31, 2020.
It’s already a given that Republican senators won’t vote to kick Donald Trump out of the White House. Democrats knew that from the beginning of the process. But the House impeachment managers are aiming to remind the country of the dangers of this president and why he must be removed from office. If not now, then in November.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who heads the team of House Democrats arguing why Trump needs to go, has been nothing short of brilliant in outlining the case against Trump. Schiff and his colleagues are using cogent arguments, videotaped testimony from the House impeachment hearings, and Trump’s own words to show why Trump is guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Yes, Trump sought help from a foreign government to help his own reelection bid — he admitted it in the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (READ THE TRANSCRIPT, as Trump loves to tweet). Yes, Trump broke the law when he withheld the aid package to Ukraine to help in their war with Russia — the Government Accountability Office said so. Yes, Trump has obstructed Congress’ investigation by blocking documents and witnesses. Those who came forward, such as Ambassador Maria Yovanovich and security expert Fiona Hill, did so knowing it put their careers in jeopardy. There’s no question that Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors — the constitutional requirements for impeachment.
Everyone knows the truth — Trump is guilty, guilty, guilty. This is slam-dunk material that, under normal circumstances, would be enough to get 100 votes to drag Trump out of the White House by his orange combover. If Trump had an ounce of morality in his body, he would have resigned, as Richard Nixon did in 1974.
But these aren’t normal times. Trump’s iron hold on the Republican Party is so powerful that GOP officeholders are more afraid of crossing Trump and his base, thus losing reelection, than standing up for the Constitution and the truth. In case anyone thought otherwise:
In case you were wondering, threatening a juror (the senators serve as jurors in an impeachment trial) is a felony.
Impeaching Trump was necessary to stand up for America. Impeaching and trying him was necessary to show future generations of Americans that there were some people, in these dark times we find ourselves in, who weren’t afraid to tell truth to power.
Schiff’s words remind some of Jimmy Stewart’s speech in the Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But it’s more than that. Legal scholars are saying that his closing speeches will be used as examples in law school classes for years to come. They also could inspire a new generation of lawmakers to stand up for what’s right.
If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. [The] framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right. That’s what they do in the old country, that [Lt.] Col. Vindman’s father came from. Or the old country that my great-grandfather came from, or the old countries that your ancestors came from, or maybe you came from.
But here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.
If you missed it, watch the whole thing. It’s worth the time. If you already saw it, watch it again to be reminded of what a true patriot sounds like.
The powerful words and arguments coming from Schiff and his colleagues are aimed not at the 53 Republican senators who will never vote against Trump. Schiff is speaking directly to the American people, who will deliver the ultimate verdict on Nov. 3.
We can only pray that it’s the right verdict.