America is ready to change the channel on Trump

The Donald Trump show has jumped the shark.

After four years of watching Trump in his natural habitat of bad TV, U.S. voters are ready to tell him that his show is canceled.

Yes, it’s still possible that Trump might win the election on Nov. 3, which is now less than three weeks away. Possible, but highly unlikely. 538’s aggregate polling average has former Vice President Joe Biden leading Trump by 10.2 points — a lead that has only grown, bit by bit, in recent weeks after being remarkably steady all year. In all of its 40,000 election simulations, 538 gives Biden the win 87 times out of 100, compared with Trump wins in only 13 out of 100.

Biden’s lead is growing bigger because so many Americans, especially women, just can’t stomach Trump any more. His disastrous, bullying performance at the debate with Biden; his own bout with COVID-19 after he continually downplayed the disease’s seriousness; his reckless behavior in refusing to control the spread of the novel coronavirus; his mocking of those wearing masks; his dishonesty about the pandemic when he knew how deadly it was back in February; and so much more.

More than anything else, his failure to take serious actions to control the pandemic all but killed his chances at reelection. He keeps falsely claiming that the pandemic is over, despite the fact that there have been nearly 8 million cases and over 216,000 deaths related to COVID in the U.S. alone. Nearly 57% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of coronavirus, and Americans trust Biden over Trump on the issue, 57% to 40%.

Many polling and news organizations, citing multiple state polls, give Biden an easy path to go over the 270 Electoral College votes needed for victory. That threshold may not be reached on Election Night — a real possibility, given the huge number of absentee ballots that will need to be counted — but it will be reached. For instance, even with some swing states such as Florida, Iowa, and Ohio still in the toss-up category, this NPR count gives Biden 290 electoral votes to Trump’s 163. Other news organizations such as CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and Politico, all have Biden with more than enough votes to become the president-elect and the 46th president on Jan. 20, 2021.

We can only hope that the reality show presidency is nearly over. As Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg put it:

The thing about running your life — or your presidential administration — like a television show is that eventually TV shows end. And as Election Day approaches, the Trump Show looks like a fading program that’s hoping to earn a renewal — but knows deep down that its stars will probably have to settle for money earned in syndication. …

In the waning days of what might prove to be its final season, the Trump Show feels as if it’s given up on the prospect of bringing in new viewers. Instead, it’s replaying the hits for longtime fans.

Trump is going back to the ego-driven rallies that cable news carried endlessly four years ago, which got us into the Trump mess in the first place. The networks (except, of course, for Fox News) seem to have wised up and no longer give him so much free publicity.

But some networks are slow to learn. With Trump’s case of COVID-19, the Commission on Presidential Debates made the responsible decision to run the Oct. 15 town hall-style debate between Trump and Biden as a virtual event instead, with both candidates participating remotely. Trump refused, because he wouldn’t be able to try to browbeat Biden in person, thus possibly triggering his stuttering. And the debate moderator would be able to cut Trump off by muting him. So the commission took the responsible avenue to cancel the town hall debate.

ABC gave Biden the option of his own town hall, as it already had aired one for Trump a month ago. Now NBC is upping the ante by holding its own Trump town hall at the exact same time. Trump’s town hall will be shown on NBC affiliates such as MSNBC, CNBC, and Telemundo. Why reward Trump with free air time when he threw a hissy fit about a virtual town hall? The dueling town halls are a made-by-TV rivalry, as one NBC staffer put it. As media critic Eric Boehlert said in his Press Run newsletter, “There’s a good chance Biden will draw more viewers for his town hall Thursday night. Debunking the media myth about how Trump remains some sort of Must See TV president and that he’s a cultural phenomenon — a Reality TV star! — whose every word Americans hang on, ratings have consistently shown that most of the country tuned Trump out long ago.”

In a way, this falls perfectly into Trump world. He will measure each candidate’s success in TV ratings. The campaign is pushing its MAGA-hatted fervent supporters to tune in, just to juice the ratings. Let’s all give Trump a ratings failure he can’t ignore and tune in to ABC on Oct. 15.

Despite Biden’s current polling advantage, no Democratic voter is complacent about the election outcome. Unexpected (and certainly unethical, if not illegal) actions to suppress Democratic turnout are still happening. There are still draconian voter ID laws in many states. Too many still-active voters have been scrubbed from voter rolls, mainly in states run by Republicans, such as Georgia. Those same states closed many polling places in areas with higher Democratic turnout, especially those with a lot of minority voters. And with a surge of absentee ballots this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of those voters, especially those filling out an absentee ballot for the first time, are bound to make mistakes, with some states requiring extra “secrecy” envelopes and multiple witness signatures. Those votes might not be counted if the ballots are disqualified.

Then there’s the problem of Trump casting doubt on election results. For months, Trump has been selling the lie that mail-in ballots will lead to widespread fraud, despite the fact that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. The Electronic Registration Information Center found a mail-in ballot fraud rate of only 0.0025 percent in 2016 and 2018 in three vote-by-mail states. Trump constantly claims that the only way he can lose the election is if it’s rigged. (Actually, that’s only if “rigged” means that more people voted for Joe Biden than for Trump. A LOT more.) There’s also the possibility of the Trump team challenging election results in court, and if the Senate confirms nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, she would be another Trump-leaning conservative justice.

But the truth is, too many people are just tired of Trump’s lies, his antics, and his erratic behavior. No, the Trump show is in its final season. And a majority of Americans will be only too happy to deliver to Donald Trump the catchphrase that made him famous on The Apprentice:

“You’re fired.”

How does the $750 tax man spend $70,000 on that hair?

Donald Trump spent $70,000 on THAT?

The bombshell story from The New York Times on Donald Trump’s taxes is filled with appalling revelations about tax avoidance, likely tax fraud, dodgy deductions, failed businesses, vast write-offs, infusions of questionable foreign funds, and much, much more. But the item that most struck me was the report of how much he spent on his hair.

Many disclosures in the story are much worse, of course, including the report that Trump paid only $750 in income taxes in both 2016 and 2017. As the Washington Post story about the Times investigation put it:

The average middle-class American household paid approximately three times as much in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 as President Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul with properties and developments all over the world. … In 2016, households in the middle 20 percent of the U.S. income distribution paid an average of $2,200 in federal income taxes.

“His income tax burden is certainly much lower than the average taxpayer,” said Brian Galle, a law professor and tax expert at Georgetown Law. “He’s likely paying less than the shoeshine guy who works in the foyer of the Trump Tower.”

There’s plenty more eye-opening and detailed reporting in the Times story on Trump’s decades-long practice of tax avoidance. In the 15 years before he became president, Trump paid zero in income taxes for 10 of those years. The whole investigation quickly moves into “holy shit” territory. But the hair styling deduction for seventy grand? Considering what Trump’s hair looks like? As the Times story put it:

Mr. Trump has written off as business expenses costs — including fuel and meals — associated with his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his various homes and properties. Likewise the cost of haircuts, including the more than $70,000 paid to style his hair during “The Apprentice.” Together, nine Trump entities have written off at least $95,464 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump.

I will concede that someone making regular TV appearances needs a professional stylist. The wash-and-go approach that many of us were forced to use during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown didn’t leave us with many styling options. Those who tried home hair coloring and home haircuts, for ourselves or for other family members, often had, shall we say, mixed results.

But wasn’t there a producer around during the taping of The Apprentice to say that Trump’s hair results weren’t particularly stylish or flattering, or even looked human? If the blond-orange mane that lives on his head was the best he could do for $70K, maybe Trump is the one who was defrauded.

The Times story is overwhelming in its reporting on Trump’s dishonesty; not only Trump, but his entire organization. There are reasons that #TrumpTaxReturns, #TrumpCrimeFamily, and #TrumpIsBroke are trending on Twitter.

But back to the Trumpian mane. Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, who has taken ribbing over the years for her own tresses, wonders about the whole thing.

I have no idea whether this information, published five weeks before the election, will turn voters away from this president. I stopped trying to read the taste and tolerance of the American electorate after Trump mocked a disabled reporter and denigrated Mexicans and bragged about grabbing women by their genitals and still sailed to victory in 2016.

But I do know this. When my husband and I sit down to do our taxes, we sweat every deduction like an IRS auditor is peering over our shoulders as we calculate. Did we get a receipt from that Salvation Army donation? Does $48 hospital parking count as a medical expense? Do we have the tax ID for that summer camp that might be tax deductible under the Child and Dependent Care Credit? I bet most Americans can relate.

It never occurred to me that I could deduct my hair care. Now, I also never had my own reality TV show. Or a presidential campaign. So maybe my hair never counted as a work-related expense.

Maybe $70,000 is chump change (or should that be Trump change?) in the grand scheme of things when someone as dishonest as Donald Trump is ripping off taxpayers. But it’s something that rings true.

It’s hardly the most damning detail in the New York Times investigation. But it’s another piece of overwhelming evidence that the man running this country lives and works by his own dubious rules, even as he crows on and on about law and order.

Appearance isn’t everything. No matter how much money you spend (or lose) trying to make it so.

I’m sure this reporting from The New York Times won’t change the minds of the Trumpanistas in his die-hard base. So it’s up to the rest of us to vote in overwhelming numbers to kick him and his tax-avoiding family out of the White House.

Please, America, send this grifter — and his hair — packing on Nov. 3. And tell him to take his hair spray with him.

Kamala Harris is wearing Chuck Taylors and I’m all for it

What DIDN’T we see when Kamala Harris stepped off the campaign plane? High heels.

By making a definite fashion statement about comfortable footwear, Kamala Harris has taken a bold step forward for women everywhere.

The Democratic vice presidential candidate took a campaign trip to Wisconsin on Labor Day to speak to Black union members, business leaders, and the family of Jacob Blake, the Kenosha man shot seven times in the back by police and who is still hospitalized. It would be a day with much running back and forth, so she chose her shoes with care — classic Converse All-Stars from Chuck Taylor, or “Chucks,” as they’re sometimes known.

It isn’t that long ago that such a footwear choice might have raised some eyebrows. And although the shoes were noted on Twitter, they barely rated a mention from reporters.

Actually, various news organizations did mention her choice of footwear, but always in a way that basically said, “It’s about damn time.” As Harris told New York Magazine in 2018:

I run through airports in my Converse sneakers. I have a whole collection of Chuck Taylors: a black leather pair, a white pair, I have the kind that don’t lace, the kind that do lace, the kind I wear in the hot weather, the kind I wear in the cold weather, and the platform kind for when I’m wearing a pantsuit.

Since Joe Biden chose the California senator as a running mate, the world has learned that Harris is a first in many ways as a candidate, being Black and the child of two immigrants. “She is also the first to prominently wear sneakers on the campaign trail,” said a story in The Guardian.

Yes, Harris has worn her Chuck Taylors many times while campaigning. Doesn’t that just make sense? Candidates are mostly on their feet, whether they’re giving speeches, answering questions at a town hall, meeting and talking to voters, or chomping on an ear of corn at the Iowa State Fair. Any women forced to wear high heels for hours on end has pinched toes and sore feet at the end of the day.

One supporter even personalized her own shoes.

When Maine Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith declared her candidacy for president in 1964, she became the first woman to actively seek the presidential nomination of a major political party and took her candidacy all the way to the convention. A newsreel from January 1964 with her announcement was labeled, “Bonnet in the Ring” (I am not making that up).

Her Senate office was inundated with deliveries of women’s hats as gifts, such as this one sent by Rose Hornstein of the Glen Ellyn Hat Shop in Illinois. The description reads, “It is made of pink netting material and has silk flowers glued all over it. It has a pink velvet headband and a label inside the hat states ‘Juli-Kay Chicago.’ “

Somehow, I doubt that many people sent hats to Barry Goldwater, who ended up with the nomination.

After her announcement at the National Women’s Press Club (apparently even those kinds of political speeches were separated by gender in those days), she answered some questions:

MODERATOR: What would you do as a candidate to break down discrimination against women?

SMITH: Well, if the people of this country don’t know what I would do from what I have done, I don’t think that I could add any information to that.

Yes, some things such as discrimination against women haven’t changed.

Many women still wore hats in the 1960s, and most weren’t throwing them into political rings. Even when more women started running for office, they were often held to different and higher fashion standards than men. Suits with skirts were expected.

The group “Name it. Change it,” a nonpartisan joint project of the Women’s Media Center and She Should Run, works to identify, prevent, and end sexist media coverage of female candidates. Its extensive research gives numerous examples of such coverage of female candidates of both parties. Examples include a Boston radio station endorsing a female candidate because she had a “banging little body” and a “tight little butt,” and a male pundit describing a female candidate as being “absolutely adorable.”

But the sexism doesn’t have to be so blatant. “When the media focuses on a woman candidate’s appearance, she pays a price in the polls,” one of the group’s studies found. “This finding held true whether the coverage of a woman candidate’s appearance was framed positively, negatively, or in neutral terms.”

Hillary Clinton broke ground when she ran for New York senator in 2000 and wore her trademark black pantsuits on the campaign trail. In her victory speech that November, she joked, “62 counties, 16 months, three debates, two opponents, and six black pantsuits later, because of you, here we are.”

Anyone watching the multiple Democratic women running for president this election cycle saw them dressed more comfortably in pantsuits, jackets, and slacks than dresses in nearly all campaign appearances. The same was true for the debate stage, from Tulsi Gabbard’s signature white pantsuit to the darker shades adopted by other candidates. It’s just not an issue anymore.

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many women are working from home. Gone are business suits and high heels. Loose, comfortable clothing like sweatpants and sneakers rule the day. When those women do go back to the office, I think they’ll leave the high heels in the closet.

It’s about time that women running for office aren’t evaluated by what they’re wearing and measured by what they stand for.

And thanks to the example set by Kamala Harris, as long as those women are running, more are going to be wearing comfortable shoes.

Trump has jumped off the QAnon cliff

Donald Trump claims that protestors like these in Kenosha are flown in to cause trouble. (CNN photo)

If the latest wacko conspiracy theories aren’t enough for Donald Trump, don’t worry — he’ll just make up some new ones, this time involving Democrats in dark shadows and planes carrying protesting thugs.

In an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, no stranger to conspiracy theories herself, Trump played his usual cards to distract the country from his failure with the COVID-19 pandemic (currently more than 183,000 dead in the U.S., with 6 million cases). He offered new, even crazier theories about the protests over police brutality and killings of unarmed Black citizens. Turns out — in Trump’s claim, anyway — it’s because of secret people in “dark shadows” who are controlling Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden. Trump’s tin-foil hat theories are crazier than the QAnon fantasies about Democratic leaders running pedophile rings out of pizza restaurants.

Among the claims, according to an NBC News story:

  • People in these “dark shadows” are “pulling Joe Biden’s strings.”
  • To try and disrupt the Trump-centric Republican National Convention, a plane was “almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that, they are on a plane.” Trump added, “I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now.”
  • Trump also compared police shootings to golf, saying, “There’s a whole big thing there, but they (officers) choke just like in a golf tournament, they miss a 3-foot putt.” So — when police shoot and kill someone, do they turn to a fellow officer and say, “That’ll be a mulligan”?

I’d like to know more about these scary-sounding planes. Never mind the fact that you can’t even board a plane these days with a full-size tube of toothpaste, much less weapons and riot gear. Are they being funded by left-leaning billionaire financier George Soros? As one frequent Trump critic, pastor and author John Pavlovitz, sarcastically tweeted, “I only fly ANTIFA Air.”

Trump only amplified his Looney Tunes theories with more explanation on the supposed plane full of badduns: “The entire plane [was] filled up with the looters, the anarchists, the rioters, people that obviously were looking for trouble.”

No doubt Trump will continue to push his theories in a visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, site of the latest unrest after police shot Jacob Blake six times in the back. Blake still lies in a hospital bed, paralyzed. Trump is traveling to Kenosha against the wishes of Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, and Kenosha’s Democratic mayor, John Antaramian. “I don’t know how, given any of the previous statements that the president made, that he intends to come here to be helpful, and we absolutely don’t need that right now,” said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

In protests that turned into violence in subsequent days, some out-of-town, self-described “militia” types arrived in Kenosha, assault-style weapons in hand, to confront protestors. One, Kyle Rittenhouse, crossed state lines from Illinois to show his support for the boys in blue by allegedly killing two protestors and shooting another. He faces six criminal counts, including first-degree intentional homicide.

Of course, Trump defended Rittenhouse, claiming he was only defending himself. Actually, the 17-year-old Rittenhouse was too young to be carrying an AR-15 legally, in either Illinois or Wisconsin, and too young to have a concealed-carry permit, according to Politifact.

So what does Joe Biden, the guy supposedly under the influence of people in “dark shadows,” have to say about all this? Biden said — accurately — that Donald Trump has made America a more dangerous place.

In a speech in Pittsburgh, Biden scorched Trump’s “law and order” message, saying it is designed to instill fear. Biden said Trump is ignoring the reality that “he is President, whether he knows it or not.” According to a CNN story:

He also condemned Trump, whose armed supporters have been involved in violent clashes with protestors, saying Trump’s refusal to call on his own supporters to “stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is.”

Biden was unequivocal about his feelings about protests: No violence. He called it “an affront to the tactics of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.”

“I want to be clear about all of this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted,” Biden said. “Violence will not bring change, it will only bring destruction. It’s wrong in every way.”

After Trump no doubt stirs up trouble with his visit to Kenosha, Biden said he, too, might visit Kenosha to meet with Blake’s family. Something tells me that his words will be received better than Trump’s violence-laden rhetoric.

It’s nine weeks until Election Day. Make sure you have all the information and time you need to vote.

Don’t let your mail-in ballot get thrown out

Make sure you follow all the directions on your absentee ballot TO THE LETTER.

Millions of voters — more than in any time in U.S. history —  are likely to vote absentee in the Nov. 3 election. But voters need to plan now how to vote correctly and make sure that unintentional errors don’t disqualify their votes.

Donald Trump has been trying to throw shade on voting by mail for months, even though Trump himself, his family members, Vice President Mike Pence, and many on the White House staff all vote absentee. He claims that mail-in voting is rigged, that foreign agents will intercept and fill out ballots, that there is widespread voter fraud, etc., etc.

All of this is nonsense, of course. Officials at “multiple federal agencies” reported that there was “no intelligence to suggest that foreign countries are working to undermine mail-in voting and no signs of any coordinated effort to commit widespread fraud through the vote-by-mail process,” according to an AP story.

As far as the GOP mythical boogeyman of voter fraud goes, fraud is extremely rare in both in-person and mail-in voting. The Electronic Registration Information Center found a mail-in ballot fraud rate of only 0.0025 percent in 2016 and 2018 in three vote-by-mails states.

Yet more than a half million absentee ballots were rejected in the 2020 primaries. All those people took the time to vote by mail, many because they wanted to avoid being possibly exposed to COVID-19. And all those people ended up being disenfranchised.

An analysis by NPR showed that more than 550,000 ballots were rejected in this year’s primaries alone. That’s a number far higher than the 318,728 ballots rejected in the 2016 general election. And predictions are that mail-in voting will account for twice as many votes than it did in 2016, when approximately one in four voters voted by mail. It’s a much bigger problem with absentee ballots than it is with in-person voters: “Only about one-hundredth of a percent of in-person ballots are rejected compared with about 1% of mail-in ballots,” said the NPR story.

The reasons for such rejections are varied:

  • Many ballots arrived too late to be counted, after the primary’s election day. Different states have different rules of when ballots must be postmarked and when they must arrive.
  • In some cases, signatures on the ballot didn’t “match” a signature on file, even if that signature is decades old from an original voter registration form. Although voters are supposed to be notified when that happens, giving them a chance to “cure” their vote, that notification comes in the mail and sometimes arrives too late to do anything about it.
  • Ballots didn’t have accompanying signatures from witnesses. Again, different states have different rules; some even require a notarized signature on the mailed-in envelope.

The stakes are high. As the NPR story said:

Even with limited data, the implications are considerable. NPR found that tens of thousands of ballots have been rejected in key battleground states, where the outcome in November — for the presidency, Congress and other elected positions — could be determined by a relatively small number of votes.

Many rejected absentee ballots came from those voting by mail for the first time. And the rejections were uneven across the board: In Florida, Black and Latinx voters’ ballots were twice as likely to be rejected as were ballots of white voters. Maybe that’s one reason that some Black and Latinx voters don’t trust mail-in voting. Nearly two-thirds of Latino and Black voters prefer to vote in person because “they believe their vote is more likely to be counted than if they vote by mail,” said a Politico story.

Nevertheless, if you choose to vote by mail, don’t let your ballot be thrown out. Whether you’ve voted absentee many times over the years or you’re one of those voting by mail for the first time, familiarize yourself with all of your state’s voting rules.

An excellent guide on how to vote by mail, and, more important, How to prevent your mail ballot from being rejected, was published recently by The Washington Post. It lists several possible red flags and offers some practical advice:

  • Request your ballot early. Some states (not all) are mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters. Some states have had mail-in voting for years. Election officials across the country are asking voters “to begin the process as soon as possible,” as the Post reported, to give voters plenty of time.
  • Mail your ballot early. The U.S. Postal Service usually says voters should allow a week for your ballot to arrive. With the widespread mail slowdowns all over the country, make that at least two weeks — or more. Even if it’s a postage-paid envelope, add a stamp. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has suggested that those envelopes won’t be counted as first-class mail, thus delaying them even more. Another option is to drop the absentee ballot in a ballot drop box, which gets emptied by election officials once a day. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia allow voters to deliver absentee ballots by hand.
  • Read the instructions on your ballot. Look, this isn’t like clicking a box with small type saying you agree to the rules on a website, which no one reads anyway. This is your vote. Do you need witness signatures, along with their addresses? “If you are confused about how to complete your ballot, contact your local election official, who is often the county or city clerk,” advised the Post story. Election officials have accurate information on local voting regulations; don’t believe everything you read about voting on social media, the Post story advised.
  • Learn about signature matching. “If a matching signature is required, sign your name while keeping in mind that election officials may be comparing it with an old signature. If you sign with your initials but your signature on file contains your full name, your ballot might not be counted,” the Post story said.
  • Don’t stain or tear your ballot or the envelope. It seems like a ridiculous reason to reject a ballot, but some states have rules dating back to the 1800s, when “a small alteration to a ballot could indicate that a voter was owed a payoff,” the Post said. And don’t use your own envelope; use the official one.
  • If you think you made a mistake, don’t try to fix it. A ballot with what might look like erasures is a red flag. It’s best to contact local election officials, get a new ballot, and start over.

Given the greater chance, however small that chance might be, that an absentee ballot will be rejected, don’t rule out voting in person, even in the midst of a pandemic. Most states (not all) offer early voting. Some professional sports teams are offering their arenas to be mega polling stations and house hundreds of socially distant voting machines.

So put on your mask and do your civic duty. As former President Barack Obama said at the Democratic National Convention, “Our democracy depends on it.”

How to overcome the danger that your vote won’t count

Imagine how much higher voter participation (and Democratic turnout) would be if voters in the entire country could mail in or drop off ballots as they do in several states.

Donald Trump is trying to convince his base that mail-in voting — which he and most members of his administration use regularly — is somehow “rigged” and will delegitimize the results of November’s election. He’s even gone so far as to cast doubt on whether he would accept the election results.

Never mind the fact that the GOP boogeyman of “voter fraud” is extremely rare, whether it’s in-person or mail-in voting. According to a Reuters story:

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has warned of the risks of mail voting, found 14 cases of attempted mail fraud out of roughly 15.5 million ballots cast in Oregon since that state started conducting elections by mail in 1998.

Go ahead, do the math: That’s a .00009% rate of mail fraud.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing more and more voters to turn to mail-in voting, both for primaries and for the general election — likely twice as many voters will vote by mail this fall. It’s hardly a new practice: In the 2016, election, nearly one-fourth of all voters voted by mail.

The fear of coronavirus transmission, along with the fact that the majority of election judges are senior citizens and thus more likely to decline that civic duty this time around, already has led to closure of polling stations across the country. For the April Wisconsin primary, the city of Milwaukee, which normally has 180 polling stations, had only five stations open.

No doubt Trump and Republicans are frightened that more mail-in voting will give Democrats an edge when more people vote. Yet that’s not the case, according to the Reuters story, even though it’s true that voter turnout increases.

Turnout rates tend to be higher in states that conduct elections by mail. A Stanford University study found that participation increased by roughly 2 percentage points in three states that rolled out universal voting by mail from 1996 to 2018. It had no effect on partisan outcome and did not appear to give an advantage to any particular racial, economic, or age group.

This GOP attack on mail-in voting could backfire on Trump and Republicans candidates. While Trump rails against the practice, GOP leaders worry that Republican voters might follow his lead and refuse to cast an absentee ballot, possibly lowering the number of votes for Trump and other Republicans. As a Washington Post story explains:

Multiple public surveys show a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans about the security of voting by mail, with Republicans saying they are far less likely to trust it in November. In addition, party leaders in several states said they are encountering resistance among GOP voters who are being encouraged to vote absentee while also seeing the president describe mail voting as “rigged” and “fraudulent.” …

State and local Republicans across the country fear they are falling dramatically behind in a practice that is expected to be key to voter turnout this year.

Even as more voters are counting on voting by mail, there is evidence that delivery of first-class mail is being slowed down deliberately, as this story from the Philadelphia Inquirer explains.

The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing significant changes. The new Postmaster General’s policies eliminate overtime, order carriers to leave mail behind to speed up their workdays, and slash office hours, which — coupled with staffing shortages amid previous budget cuts and coronavirus absences — are causing extensive delivery delays.

The new practices have an obvious reason: kill the Postal Service. (The new Postmaster General, Trump campaign fundraiser Louis DeJoy, has between $30 million and $75 million in assets in Postal Service competitors and contractors such as UPS.) As the Inquirer story says:

Philip F. Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T State University who has written numerous books about the Postal Service, said the current changes are part of the Trump administration’s quest to turn the public against the post office and ultimately privatize it.

The mail slowdown could threaten the speedy delivery of millions of expected absentee ballots, causing some social media posts to advise mailing in ballots a full two weeks before Nov. 3. Politifact claims that the two-week warning is an exaggeration. “The Postal Service recommends that domestic, non-military voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials,” Politifact explained. Although several states are now sending out automatic ballot applications in plenty of time, the Postal Service also advises voters to request their absentee ballots “as early as possible.”

Some states, such as California, require that ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day — ballots from Golden State voters can arrive up to 17 days after Election Day and still be counted. Others, such as Iowa, require that ballots be postmarked at least one day before the election. Several other states require that ballots must be received no later than Election Day.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a state-by-state breakdown of when ballots must arrive. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia also allow voters to return their ballots by hand if they don’t trust the mail. 

So how can you make sure your ballot is delivered in a timely enough fashion to be counted correctly?

Double-check your voter registration. Some states (led by Republicans, naturally) are notorious for scrubbing voter rolls ahead of elections. Go to Vote.org to make sure you’re registered to vote. If you’re not registered or if you’ve moved, there’s still plenty of time to do so.

Request your absentee ballot early. If you know you’re going to vote by mail, it’s not too soon to send in that request. You won’t receive the actual ballot for a while, but your request is on record.

Don’t wait to do your homework on other races. Ballots are local, as there are county- and statewide races, judges’ races, ballot initiatives, and much more. You might know which candidate will get your vote for president, but you might not know all there is to know about the candidates for county coroner or state’s attorney.

Make sure you know your polling place. Not everyone will vote by mail; some will vote early and some want to show up on Election Day. With so many polling places closed, check to make sure you know where to go. In the June Kentucky primary, many voters in Louisville went to the huge Fairgrounds to cast ballots, where hundreds of voting machines were set up, all at least six feet apart. Voters said it took them longer to find a parking space than it did to wait in line to vote. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, along with his nonpartisan nonprofit organization More Than A Vote, is trying to get NBA arenas to serve as mega polling stations. So far, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Detroit Pistons are on board.

If you’re worried, drop off your ballot in person. Inserting your ballot into a ballot drop box before or on Election Day ensures that your vote will be counted. In the states that have them, drop boxes (such as the one in the photo above) are clearly marked, are secured and locked at all times, and are in public places such as city halls and public libraries. This PDF, from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and Sector Coordinating Council’s Joint COVID Working Group, explains more about the regulations for drop boxes. Some states without drop boxes will allow voters to deliver absentee ballots to early voting sites. Pressure your elected officials to install ballot drop boxes throughout your state.

This election is too important to leave anything to chance. Decide how you’re going to vote — and then, as Nike says, just do it.

If you want to reopen schools, conquer COVID-19 virus first (UPDATE)

Will students line up this way to enter school? Fat chance.

Schools can’t reopen for a “normal” school day until the U.S. has a better handle on the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

It’s a broken record by this time, but public health experts have made it clear that the infection rate must be lowered before schools can reopen. The latest message is from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, delivering his message on several regular morning TV shows, even on (gasp) Fox News. As Dr. Adams said on CBS This Morning, as reported by CNN:

What I want people to know is the biggest determinant of whether or not we can go back to school actually has little to nothing to do with the actual schools — it’s your background transmission rate. And it’s why we’ve told people constantly that if we want to get back to school, to worship, to regular life — folks need to wear face coverings, folks need to practice social distancing. Those public health measures are actually what’s going to lower the transmission rate.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against opening schools without precautions and have developed general guidelines for schools, which Donald Trump insists are “too expensive.” Vice President Mike Pence downplayed the CDC guidelines, saying they shouldn’t be used as a “barrier” to students returning to classrooms. 

It’s only a matter of weeks before many schools have to make final decisions on how to hold classes for the fall session: in person, remotely, or with some kind of hybrid combination. Many of the largest school districts in the country, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, with more than 600,000 students, won’t start in-person classes this fall. Many districts in major cities have postponed the start of classes, hoping that COVID-19 numbers will drop before they must make a definite decision. This CNN roundup describes the state of school starting plans across the country, even as some cities are going against state directives.

Of course, Trump is threatening to withhold federal money from schools if they don’t reopen — an empty threat, as that decision is made by Congress, not the president.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and who has the trust of 65% of the American people about coronavirus (as opposed to only 30% who trust Trump) has been cautious all along on whether schools should reopen. Dr. Fauci said that while schools’ goal should be to reopen in the fall, the decision should be left up to local districts in areas where the virus is surging.

Instead of listening to Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, or GOP governors who are insisting that school reopen no matter what, local school districts and parents might learn more by paying attention to countries where schools are more hopeful about reopening this fall because the virus is more under control. According to a story in Science magazine:

When Science looked at reopening strategies from South Africa to Finland to Israel, some encouraging patterns emerged. Together, they suggest a combination of keeping student groups small and requiring masks and some social distancing helps keep schools and communities safe, and that younger children rarely spread the virus to one another or bring it home. But opening safely, experts agree, isn’t just about the adjustments a school makes. It’s also about how much virus is circulating in the community, which affects the likelihood that students and staff will bring COVID-19 into their classrooms.

TIME has a roundup on what some other countries are doing.

Certain countries have reduced class sizes and implemented social distancing measures and have not seen rises in new daily cases. American schools might also look to other countries for examples of how not to reopen when the academic year begins.

For instance, Denmark, a country with a low incidence of COVID-19 transmission because of an early lockdown, reopened schools in April. Children ages 2-12 are sectioned off into “bubbles” of no more than 12. These groups arrive at staggered times, eat lunch separately, and have their own zones in the playground. There is no face mask requirement (you try getting a young child to wear a mask all day), but all students are required to wash their hands every two hours. Desks are roughly six feet apart, all education material are cleaned twice a day, and when possible, classes are held outside. “Other countries who followed similar measures — such as Germany, Finland, and Norway — have also avoided significant spikes in the number of new COVID-19 cases,” TIME reports.

Other countries have taken a much stricter approach. In Korea, “schools have temperature checks at school entrances and require students to wear masks, socially distance and frequently wash their hands,” TIME says. “Some schools are having students come in on alternate days while others have adopted a hybrid in-class and online approach to lessons.”

On the other hand, after initially adopting the “bubble model,” Israel eventually dropped it and let children leave masks at home during a heat wave. But by June 3, “the Israeli government was forced to close down schools after 2,026 students, teachers and staff had tested positive for COVID-19,” TIME reports. In addition, more than 28,000 students were placed under quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus.

No U.S. school district wants that — to reopen just to close again after widespread virus transmission. And that doesn’t even address the likelihood of spreading the virus to older relatives at home, who will be more susceptible to a more serious case of COVID-19.

Illness for relatives is not the only issue. If a teacher gets sick, where will a substitute come from? Who would want to be a substitute teacher in a class where the virus is spreading?

Best to listen to the public health experts in the first place. “Like herd immunity with vaccines, the more individuals wear cloth face coverings in public places where they may be close together, the more the entire community is protected,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and two colleagues wrote in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Redfield went further in a JAMA Live webcast. “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really think in the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control,” the CDC director said.

A new study in PLOS Medicine makes it simple with three basic rules: Wash your hands regularly, wear masks, and keep your social distance from each other. These three simple behaviors could stop most all of the COVID-19 pandemic, even without a vaccine or additional treatments, says a CNN story on the study.

You want kids to return to school? You want life to return to some semblance of normalcy? #WearADamnMask.

UPDATE: After first standing their ground, officials at the CDC caved to Trump’s demands and revised their standards to offer more leeway for schools to open. It turns out the the looser guidelines also were edited by the White House. The revised guidance stresses the importance of getting parents back to work and kids back in the classroom with few points about health. There is a brief mention that there could be exceptions for reopening schools in COVID-19 “hot spots,” which include parts of 33 states.

It’s only fair to point out that the school attended by Trump’s youngest son, Barron, will not fully reopen this fall.

A virtual town hall hosted by the National PTA was held in mid-July to discuss how and if schools could reopen safety. A Washington Post story listed 10 common-sense takeaways, such as staggered drop-off times, social distancing, the need for local control, etc.

Bottom line: Don’t except many schools to open in August or September.

Even with COVID-19, don’t forget about cutting plastic waste

This cleanup activity at a beach in the Philippines shows only a tiny part of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. (Photo by Daniel Muller/Greenpeace)

The overwhelming news of a worldwide pandemic, a coming presidential election, and the daily battering of scandals from the Trump administration threatens to downplay one of biggest issues we all still face — climate change. Here’s an easy way to bring part of this issue back to the forefront: Adopting a plastic-free July.

Organized attempts to cut out or at least limit the amount of single-use plastic items consumers use have been going for nearly a decade. Plastic Free July is a worldwide movement asking people to take a pledge to avoid single-use plastic for a month, hoping that the habits become ingrained to last all year long. The group has involved 250 million participants in 177 countries, and its website offers practical tips to cut down on plastic.

One simple way to start is to avoid using plastic bags and stop accepting them at stores. Putting groceries in 20-30 plastic bags during each trip to the grocery store adds quickly to the overwhelming total of 100 billion plastic bags Americans use every year. And only 1% of those 100 billion actually get recycled. Worldwide, more than 1 million plastic bags end up in the trash every minute.

Many countries successfully passed plastic bag bans, as did 200 municipalities across the U.S. (only a few states did, though — California, Hawaii, New York, and Oregon). The European Union, Canada, and 34 countries in Africa have banned or are phasing out many single-use plastic items. Cities around the world and in the U.S. also instituted fees when consumers asked for items to be bagged in single-use plastic.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to put an end to those positive actions, as health concerns about possibly spreading the novel coronavirus meant states banned the practice of using reusable bags, lest it put baggers at risk. Several states suspended the five- or 10-cent fees they had imposed on single-use plastic bags.

Now, however, some states are moving forward again. The Connecticut Department of Public Health determined that, given the most current scientific information available, reusable bags do not serve as a significant source of infection for COVID-19. The state has reimposed its 10-cent fee for single-use bags. California reinstated its ban on plastic bags in late June.

If your state is still one of those banning reusable bags, here’s an easy tip: Take your reusable bags to the grocery store and leave them in your trunk. In the checkout line, tell your checker and bagger just to put all items back in the cart without bags. Once you get back to your car, bag your groceries yourself. You just saved up to 30 single-use plastic bags from entering the waste system.

Upstream, a nonprofit seeking to reduce plastic pollution, gathered research on how coronavirus transmission has been overblown, mostly by the plastics industry. According to a story on Grist:

Health experts don’t think that a pivot to single-use plastic is necessary. In a statement released on Monday, more than 125 virologists, epidemiologists, and health experts from 18 different countries said it’s clear that reusables are safe to use during the pandemic. You just have to wash them.

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 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.

All of that plastic waste makes its way into the world’s waterways and oceans. It breaks down into microplastics that are consumed by birds and fish. Here are just a few depressing statistics:

  • Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into the world’s seas. The annual total is about 12.7 million tons.
  • Plastic is found in one-third of fish caught for human consumption.
  • Some 100,000 sea creatures and 1 million seabirds die each year from being tangled in plastic.

It’s not just ocean creatures. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research reveals that microplastics are absorbed in fruits and vegetables, too. According to a story at Inhabit.com:

Some of the most commonly consumed produce, including apples, carrots, pineapples, kale, and cabbage, may be contaminated with high levels of plastic. The study found that apples and carrots are among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables.

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, mostly in drinking water and shellfish. The study found that in the United States, nearly 95% of tap water samples contained plastic fibers.

I don’t know about you, but I want food to be just food and water to be water. Let’s leave the plastic out of it.

On a national level, let’s work for passage of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, introduced in February in Congress by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California. The bill is co-sponsored by six senators and 29 representatives, all Democrats. The legislation is 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.” It would phase out many single-use plastic items and put a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags in 2022.

While it won’t pass with a Republican Senate and a climate denier in the White House, the bill is one more reason to vote in November for people who take climate change and plastic waste seriously.

But you can do something on your own. Take the pledge and change your habits. Let’s all aim for a plastic-free July.

Police reform could save cities millions of dollars in misconduct payouts

Police behavior during protests over George Floyd’s killing only reinforced impressions of police brutality and racial disparity.

Why should we reform the police? Besides being the right thing to do, it will save a ton of money in the long run.

How to reform the nation’s police forces is turning into a potent political issue for the November election. The ongoing protests in nearly 150 U.S. cities about police violence against African-Americans haven’t let up since George Floyd died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, and a growing number of activists and lawmakers are calling for change.

It’s a moral imperative for police to treat all citizens fairly and equally, regardless of race. It’s also an imperative for police not to brutalize citizens. But when they do, those same victimized citizens and their families file lawsuits against police departments when they’ve been treated unjustly, injured, or killed. Huge settlement payouts in lawsuits over police misconduct are bleeding budgets dry in both small cities and major metropolitan areas.

The frequency of police killings nationwide is staggering: A Washington Post investigation shows that police shoot and kill nearly 1,000 Americans each year. “Since 2015, police have shot and killed 5,400 people,” according to the ongoing Post tally. In addition, “Black people have been shot and killed by police at disproportionate rates — both in terms of overall shootings and the shootings of unarmed Americans.”

Of course, it’s not just shooting and killing unarmed people. Three common types of police misconduct are false arrest from illegal search and seizures; the use of excessive or unreasonable force; and the misuse of a position of power, which can include sexual assault during a pat-down or body cavity search. You can add to that list wrongful conviction, planting evidence, stealing evidence in drug cases, lying on officials reports, driving drunk — there’s no shortage of misdeeds. At least 85,000 police officers nationwide have been investigated for misconduct in the last decade.

It’s not easy to challenge police misconduct, as police accountability boards are often made up of former officers. But successful lawsuits by victims of police misconduct can mean major payouts by the nation’s cities, often to the tune of millions of dollars each.

A story from VirTra News explains it.

Cities across the country spend millions upon millions of dollars defending themselves or even settling lawsuits dealing with police wrongdoings. Litigation fees, settlement fees, and in some cases, court-ordered payments can all but bankrupt a city.

There is no overall compilation of how much the nation’s cities have paid out to settle cases of police misconduct, although one 2018 study looking at 20 big cities found a combined annual payout total of over $1 billion. Such payouts mean an increasing drain on city budgets. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • In Los Angeles, police misconduct was responsible for 42% of the $880 million in settlements from 2005 to 2018, a sum higher by far than for any other municipal department.
  • Chicago paid out more than $113 million in 2018 alone to settle police misconduct cases. The total tab from 2011 to 2018 is more than half a billion dollars. The median payout was $50,000 for all police misconduct cases, and Chicago paid for an average of one lawsuit every two days.
  • New York City pays out more than any other municipality. In 2017 alone, New York paid a record $302 million for police misconduct lawsuits.

It’s not just big cities getting hit with a financial sledgehammer. According to a story in Governing, smaller cities also feel the pain and are sometimes forced to close their police departments.

Most small governments have liability insurance to help them cover the costs of lawsuits. But legal costs for police misconduct can still place huge strains on budgets and, in some cases, can lead to law enforcement agencies being disbanded. …

When misconduct lawsuits start mounting, insurance companies can withdraw coverage. Without insurance, a single claim against a local police department has the potential to bankrupt a small municipality. As a result, cities in California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have in recent years opted to disband their police departments after losing coverage.

Another factor in the debate over police reform is the idea of defunding or abolishing police departments all together, which is putting the issue front and center politically. A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has announced its intention to disband the city’s police force, so naturally Republicans were quick to pounce. Donald Trump immediately tweeted: “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!”

Some other big-city mayors also are proposing cuts to police department budgets. Los Angeles Mayor Gil Garcetti wants to cut the LAPD budget by $150 million, and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio wants cuts to the $6 billion NYPD budget.

What, exactly, does defunding the police mean? Here are well-thought descriptions of defunding or abolishing the police by Christy Lopez, Georgetown Law School professor and co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program, writing in The Washington Post.

Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental-health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.

Police abolition means reducing, with the vision of eventually eliminating, our reliance on policing to secure our public safety. It means recognizing that criminalizing addiction and poverty, making 10 million arrests per year and mass incarceration have not provided the public safety we want and never will.

Nevertheless, few Democrats are embracing the terms. Congressional Democrats announced sweeping legislation on police reform designed to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system but did not call for defunding or disbanding police departments. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made clear that he opposes defunding the police and instead backs a criminal justice reform plan based on community policing and other proposals.

The Minneapolis proposal to disband the police, however, is not the first time such an idea has been tried in the U.S. The police department in Compton, California, for instance, was disbanded in 2000, and all policing was turned over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Camden, New Jersey, serves as an example of how to disband police successfully. Camden dissolved its city police department in 2013 and joined forces with the Camden County Police Department. The city instituted a series of incremental reforms with an emphasis on community policing. Although some local activists still see shortcomings and are pushing to create a civilian review board for cases in which force is used, complaints of excessive force in Camden have dropped 95% since 2014.

Despite the fact that payouts over police misconduct should be a matter of public record, cities rarely publicize them. “Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed,” said a 2019 USA Today investigation looking into records of such actions.

The settlements that make the news are the high-profile and high-dollar payouts, often over an unjustified killing. For instance, In Chicago, the family of Laquan McDonald, the black teenager shot 16 times by a white officer in 2015, received $5 million. In New York, the family of Eric Garner, who died in a police chokehold in 2014, received $5.9 million.

So local and independent journalists have been forced to dig on their own. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism site that has reported on all types of police misconduct since 2014, lists individual payouts by municipality, city by city, and few cities are immune. The Chicago Reporter established a searchable database detailing the amount paid out per officer in police misconduct settlements. USA Today launched its investigation in partnership with the nonprofit Invisible Institute and discovered a motherlode:

The records obtained include more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies.

This USA Today database lets readers search a list of those 30,000 officers banned in 44 states.

Republicans always say they’re against high levels of government spending (except when deficits skyrocket because of tax cuts). So selling police reform as a way to save cities millions of dollars should appeal to them. Getting rid of brutal police practices will help in the area about which Republicans claim to care the most — the bottom line.

And it will save a lot of innocent lives at the same time. Because Black Lives Matter.

We can all be heroes in the time of COVID-19

Superhero fabric makes superhero masks for health care heroes.

News stories are filled with images of health care heroes in medical facilities nationwide treating patients sickened with the novel coronavirus. No one would disagree with that characterization — those working on the front lines deserve nothing less than our full respect, not to mention hazard pay. That includes not only health care workers, but all essential workers restocking grocery shelves and making deliveries.

What about the rest of us? How can we rise to the challenge of service? You don’t need to have superpowers to make a difference and become a hero in your own right, even if it’s in a limited fashion.

Here are just two examples on how people are stepping up during this time. We may not personally be working on finding a cure, treatment, or vaccine for COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be part of the force that helps those who have been affected by this global pandemic.

Food insecurity. Food pantries throughout the country are being overrun with requests from new clients. With the national number of people filing claims for unemployment now reaching nearly 39 million, it’s no surprise that people need help to feed their families.

We’ve seen the staggering photos of what looks like miles of cars or hundreds and hundreds of people waiting in line to pick up food donations. A story from Vox spelled it out.

“Our city struggled before Covid — many … families [are] living on the edge — and Covid knocked them over the edge,” says San Antonio Food Bank President Eric Cooper.

The spike US food banks are experiencing now is unrivaled in modern history. The images of thousands queued up to receive basic necessities throw the effects of the recent economic downturn into sharp relief.

How you can help: Food banks can do more with your money than they can with the forgotten canned goods lurking in the back of your cupboards. Every dollar donated “helps secure and distribute at least 12 pounds of food — the equivalent of 10 meals — through our nationwide network of food banks,” says the Feeding America website. “Through large-scale negotiating and nationwide donation programs, we’re able to stretch your donation to make the biggest impact possible.” With a network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, Feeding America can help you find service providers in your ZIP code, whether you need food or want to volunteer.

Feeding America is not the only national group fighting hunger, but it receives high marks from both Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. Charity Navigator also has compiled a list of well-rated nonprofits responding to the coronavirus pandemic. That list contains both national and local groups and is broken down into those providing the following:

  • Medical services.
  • Relief supplies, health and medical.
  • Relief supplies, community support and services.
  • Funding local organizations.
  • Education and awareness.
  • Cross-categorical.

If there was ever a time to make a donation to help those in need, this is it. Every charity you ever supported is likely asking you to step up. It’s probably best to start with those meeting the basic need of hunger. If you can’t donate, you could still volunteer at a local food bank, especially because many regular volunteers are older and might not feel comfortable going out in public more than necessary.

The mask and PPE shortage. Before this pandemic hit, unless you worked in a medical field, I bet few of us knew that PPE stood for personal protective equipment, but now it’s an abbreviation that few of us will ever forget.

How you can help: First of all, wear a mask yourself while out in public. Just because Donald Trump refuses to wear a mask in front of a camera doesn’t mean the rest of us have to mirror such ignorance. The practice is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wearing a mask is your way of saying you care about those around you, especially for people who may not know they’re infected.

What about other masks? If you sew, you can become part of the sewing army. The New York Times chronicled stitcher’s early efforts:

All over the country, homebound Americans are crafting thousands upon thousands of face masks to help shield doctors, nurses and many others from the coronavirus.

They are pulling together to meet an urgent need: Hospitals, overwhelmed by the fast-spreading pandemic, are burning through their supplies of protective gear, in particular masks, at an alarming rate. Doctors and nurses are getting sick and dying.

Because I sew, I decided to start making masks. A local group in my Chicago suburb started small, with one person who said, “I can’t cure corona, but I can sew a mask.” She and another mask-maker formed a Facebook group that started with a handful of members. It gradually added more volunteers to become an army of sewers, suppliers, and supporters. Its geographic volunteer base spread from one suburb to throughout the Chicago area.

Chicago Mask Makers is run by seven volunteer leaders, all women and moms, one of whom is a registered nurse, but they haven’t all met each other in person. “We bonded with a common mission,” said one of the group’s administrators, Christine Baumbach (full disclosure: I knew Baumbach before COVID-19; we carpooled to our kids’ preschool).

While the group has about 2,000 members in support, many of whom have donated supplies, about 200 take part in actual mask-making. They sew; cut fabric squares; track down elastic, pipe cleaners, metal nose pieces, thread, and nonwoven fabric; and transport supplies, since some of the older volunteer sewers don’t drive. The group’s Facebook page and website offer online tutorials and a PDF with step-by-step instructions on how to sew a mask.

Medical organizations in need of masks can fill out a request form. So far, in the group’s two months of existence, more than 13,000 masks have been donated to health care professionals at more than 40 area hospitals, ICUs, ERs, birthing centers, nursing homes, and clinics, but there’s always a waiting list of requests. “We opened it up to first responders, so anybody who is caring for a COVID patients is welcome to ask for masks,” Baumbach said.

“So many of our sewers had not sewn in 20 years, but it was incredible how many people were willing to step up and say, ‘I can contribute.’ It’s very gratifying,” Baumbach added.

“We have not done any real fundraising. Almost everything has been donated, but for some things we do need to buy, such as elastic, someone steps up with a donation.”

Sewing these masks has made me feel that I’m making a contribution. When I pick up fabric squares each week, I like to imagine that they were leftover fabric from a loved one’s quilt or a child’s curtains. I felt like I scored a home run when I received fabric with Marvel superheroes.

I keep telling myself, “This isn’t Project Runway,” but I like to coordinate the fabric and non-woven backing. Dark blue fabric and orange backing? I hope that hospital has lots of Bears fans. Yellow fabric and backing with blue ties? Maybe that will go to a Michigan Wolverine.

I’ve made more than 100 masks, when I count masks I’ve sewed for friends, family, church members, and health professionals. But I feel like a total slacker compared with what Rob and Susan Parks are doing.

The Parkses (full disclosure again: I’ve known Susan since our days in the PTO of the elementary school our kids attended) started a network to make and donate 8,000 face shields for health care professionals throughout Chicago. They use a 3-D printer to create a plastic frame. A heavy-duty plastic page protector, like the kind bought at an office supply store, serves as the actual shield. They put out a call for volunteers and have dubbed their group the “Noble Army.” It’s up to 40 people creating 200 frames a day, according to WTTW, the local PBS station (click link to play video).

https://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/3042855077/

The couple also created a website with directions on how to make such frames on a 3-D printer. The cost per unit is about $1, and donations are covering much of those costs. “I will be glad when what we do is not necessary anymore,” Susan Parks told WTTW, “because that means that people will not need this type of protection. But while it is there we will fill the need.”

You likely have a volunteer story one of your own, with a talent of your own that you’re using to help others during this time.

But we all have a superpower that we don’t need to keep hidden. We can use that power in the months leading up to Nov. 3 to elect people who share our empathy for patients, those out of work, and those on the front lines. Work for the candidates of your choice, even if social distancing requires a new kind of campaigning and volunteering from home. Send postcards. Make phone calls. Most of all, VOTE.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to head to the basement to sew some more masks.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 27, 2020.

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