What’s behind the GOP reversal on COVID-19 vaccines? Money

You might have noticed a seemingly sudden turnaround by many Republican lawmakers, right-wing media personalities, and others with an oversize influence on conservative voters. They now claim that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a great idea after all.

The United States has not escaped the worldwide surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, especially from the highly contagious delta variant. The number of U.S. cases are averaging nearly 30,000 a day, up from only 11,000 a day a few months ago. The surges in COVID cases are mostly in areas with the fewest people vaccinated — an “unvaccinated surge,” mainly in Southern states and areas in Missouri and Florida. And the more people resist getting vaccinated, the higher the chances for even more variants to occur.

We’ve had weeks — months, even — of Fox News commentators and GOP politicians telling viewers and constituents that the risk of COVID is overblown; that people don’t really need the shots; that COVID isn’t so bad anyway.

Then there are the wacko conspiracy theories: the vaccines can cause infertility; your body will become a magnet; the vaccines contain microchips supplied by the government or Bill Gates; the vaccines themselves cause COVID; the vaccines are rewriting your DNA; and worse. Many pushing these Looney-Tunes ideas have been regular guests (along with their GOP enablers) on certain shows on Fox, Newsmax, and OANN. The theories also have been pushed widely on social media.

But now we have Republican members of Congress telling constituents how they really, really need those COVID shots. GOP leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are tweeting about the importance of getting the vaccine. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise finally got vaccinated himself days ago (don’t forget that he was eligible for the vaccine in January) and told those in his district that the vaccine was “safe and effective.”

So why the change of heart? There are two main theories, both of them cynical.

The stock market tanked in mid-July, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing down over 700 points. Of course the market came back — it always does — but blaring headlines blaming the drop on COVID concerns, especially about the ultra-contagious delta variant and possible effects on the global economy because of breaks in world supply chains, were enough to spook businesses. These same business are usually reliable Republican donors, so they sent the message to GOP lawmakers and Fox News hosts to knock it off and stop underselling COVID seriousness.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo had another idea: Polls that show Republicans losing because of COVID.

The most plausible answer continues to be bad polling. Perhaps not literally polling. There are other gauges of public opinion: focus groups, reactions at town halls. My best guess is that Republicans see that a lot of their constituents – despite the tough talk on Twitter – are suddenly pretty worried about COVID. And because of that – somehow – Republican politicians suddenly feel exposed. Like they’re the ones holding the “poo-poo COVID, don’t get vaccinated” bag when their voters are freaking out.

When Republicans lose elections, their business donors aren’t happy, because they can’t influence legislation. So GOP leaders got the message and quickly jumped on the COVID vaccine bandwagon. They must assume that voters are stupid enough to forget who told them for months not to get vaccinated, but I’m sure Democrats will be only too happy to remind the electorate in next year’s midterm elections.

What about the media, which has been selling the “don’t-get-vaccinated” message for months? That’s also a change. Except for the crazy Fox News holdouts such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, for whom no COVID conspiracy theory is too outlandish, even many at that network are now on board, telling viewers to get their shots. Host Sean Hannity told viewers that he now believes in the science of vaccination. Over at Newsmax, CEO Chris Ruddy delivered a pro-vaccine op-ed, actually telling viewers that he thought President Biden was doing a bang-up job in handling COVID. “Six months into his administration, President Joe Biden should be applauded for making a huge dent in the COVID pandemic,” Ruddy wrote.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a red-blue divide. Vaccination rates in counties that voted for Biden are much higher than rates in counties that voted for Donald Trump. Now, the COVID surge rates mirror those figures, but in reverse — the highest figures are in Trump country.

Please. Just get the vaccine already. And in next year’s election, remember who told you to get vaccinated. And who told you not to.

Kick the single-use plastic habit during Plastic Free July

There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, much of which ends up on beaches or are swallowed by fish and other sea creatures. How much of that ends up in our stomachs?

Straws, plastic bottles, coffee cups, plastic bags, food take-out containers and other plastic waste products are filling our oceans to the tune of 8 million tons a year.

It’s not just oceans. Single-use plastic also ends up in rivers, lakes, and landfills. Most people think plastic can be and is being recycled, but 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, according to a study by National Geographic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery stores and other retailers instigated a ban on reusable bags because of the mistaken belief that the novel coronavirus that causes the disease could be spread through physical contact with a contaminated bag or container. That turned out not to be true, but not before the world — especially the United States — was once again awash in plastic bags.

The average single-use plastic bag picked up at a grocery store has a lifespan of about 12 minutes. According to a CNBC story:

“For many of us, the pandemic has changed our relationship with single-use plastic in uncomfortable ways,” said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA, an environmental nonprofit organization. “The new types of useless plastic packaging piling up in our homes and filling our trash cans are leading many people — including policymakers and corporate executives — to think more about reuse.”

There are concerted efforts to get back on track by business and government agencies. Colorado just passed a ban on plastic bags and plastic foam containers that will take effect in 2024. The state joins the growing list of states and municipalities that ban or tax plastic bags and polystyrene carryout containers at stores and restaurants. The National Council on State Legislatures keeps a running count of actions by states regarding single-use plastic. Eight other states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont) and some 200 U.S. cities have banned or taxed single-use plastic bags, with limits. On the other hand, 10 states — Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin — have placed preemptive bans on banning plastic bags, passed by (no surprise) Republican legislatures.

In many ways, the U.S. is slow to join the plastic-free party. It should come as no surprise that the U.S. is much worse about throwing away plastic than any other country. Americans threw away 34 million tons of plastic waste in 2015, the most recent figures available.

In an action affecting its member countries, the European Union has banned the use of 10 single-use plastics that are most commonly found thrown away on beaches. Globally, plastic bags are banned or taxed in 32 countries, although sometimes enforcement is spotty.

Developing countries that once accepted imported plastic waste are no longer doing so, have instigated stricter rules when plastic garbage is contaminated, or are sending it back to its countries of origin, mainly the U.S, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

It’s way past time to start forming good habits of avoiding single-use plastic. You can become part of the solution by joining the efforts of Plastic Free July. The Plastic Free July website is filled with ideas on how to minimize plastic use, at home, at school, at work, while shopping, and everywhere. Here are just a few ideas to get started.

Take reusable bags and containers with you when you shop. This doesn’t just mean at the grocery store. Bring reusable bags to farmers’ markets for fresh produce and to retail stores of all kinds for purchases. Take reusable cups to coffeehouses. You’re only limited by your imagination. Always have reusable bags handy in the car for an unscheduled shopping stop.

Remember the three R’s for a better planet: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. There’s a fourth “R,” too — refuse. Refuse to accept a plastic bag when a clerk tries to give you one, especially if it’s for only one item. There’s nothing wrong with carrying out a purchase and receipt. Refuse to accept a Styrofoam container for restaurant leftovers — bring your own containers for a doggy bag.

Use your own reusable water bottles. Take one with you on a hike — more and more parks and businesses have water fountains with spigots to refill bottles. Keep an extra reusable bottle in the car.

Buy in bulk and buy less. Buying in bulk means there will be fewer containers to throw away. Could you share the cost with friends or family? Buying less means there are fewer containers to throw away. Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?”

Use compostable plates and serving utensils at group events. Compostable items are more available and cheaper than you think. That goes for compostable trash bags, too.

Try out these options during the month of July. Who knows — you might keep those habits all year long.

Georgia GOP rams through new voter suppression law

Let ’em vote? No, arrest them. (Juxtaposed images first shared by Stacey Abrams)

Guess not much has changed about trying to stop Black people from voting, especially in Georgia.

A draconian voter suppression law was jammed through the Georgia Legislature on a party line vote in just a few hours and signed that evening by Gov. Brian Kemp. The white-men-only signing took place behind closed doors, with a photographer there to capture the image that those in the room wanted to convey: White men are in charge. Women and Blacks need not apply.

State Rep. Park Cannon, pictured above in the photo on the right being led away by white state troopers, knocked on the door of the closed room to witness these voting restrictions being signed into law. Georgia state troopers “instructed her to stop.” Instead, she was arrested.

“Cannon is facing a charge of obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and she faces a second charge of disrupting general assembly sessions or other meetings of members,” said a story from NPR. Her arrest “prompted comparisons to civil rights and police brutality protests from this summer.” At 5 feet, 2 inches, Cannon was dwarfed by the troopers who were guarding Kemp’s door against interlopers — she’s hardly the threat they made her out to be.

The juxtaposition of the images of Cannon’s arrest in 2021 with the arrests at 1960s-era civil rights protests spread throughout social media faster than police dogs being unleashed on voting rights activists at those same protests. The original posting of the images was done by Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race to Kemp in 2018 in the face of other Georgia voter suppression. Since then, she and the group she founded, Fair Fight Action, have led efforts nationwide to register voters and to build and engage a robust network of grassroots activists that works to strengthen democracy at all levels. The group has challenged voter suppression laws in multiple states, and its effort against this new Georgia law will be fought just as hard.

Here’s just a sampling of “features” of the new law, which Kemp and his Republican allies claimed were being done in the name of “election integrity”:

  • Imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots. This puts even more requirements on those hoping to vote absentee, like so many voters did in 2020, as they feared waiting in line to vote because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Limits early voting. Can’t give voters so many opportunities to vote; better to make them wait in line for hours.
  • Empowers state officials to take over local elections boards. In other words, state Republicans can take charge before local officials certify vote totals if they don’t like the results; i.e., if Democrats win.
  • Limits the use of ballot drop boxes. Despite the fact that such drop boxes have been used successfully and securely for decades by other states with no problems, Georgia Republicans just knew that something was amiss when they didn’t win.
  • Establishes a hotline to report allegations of illegal voting and allows challenges to voter eligibility. Sure, that won’t cause any problems, especially when such “illegal” voting tends to favor Democratic candidates.
  • Shortens the time counties have to certify election results. Why bother to count votes accurately when you can rush through the results you want, even if all of the votes haven’t been counted yet?
  • Makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water. So forget about offering relief to Democratic and minority voters who often are forced to wait in line for hours on end because so many of their polling places have been eliminated.

“It’s like the Christmas tree of goodies for voter suppression,” Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan said on the Senate floor as lawmakers prepared to vote.

The “Election Integrity Act of 2021.” Talk about an oxymoron!

Kemp and his allies claim that the law was needed “to boost confidence in elections.” Well, sure. Donald Trump and his minions did all they could to spread the Big Lie that he really won, so that some — Republican — voters didn’t have faith in the election outcome. What better way to get back into the good graces of the Orange Menace ex-president than to make it harder for Democrats and minorities to vote?

At his March 25 news conference, President Biden blasted the new voter suppression efforts, using terms such as sick, un-American, and pernicious. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he told reporters.

The Georgia voter suppression law already is being challenged in court by the Black Voters Matter Fund, the New Georgia Project, and Rise, Inc. The groups are being represented by voting rights lawyer Marc Elias, a nationally recognized authority and expert in campaign finance, voting rights, and redistricting. “Despite nationwide scrutiny of Georgia elections, which only confirmed the absence of any fraud, insecurity, or wrongdoing, Republican members of the General Assembly voted to pass sweeping omnibus legislation that is clearly intended to and will have the effect of making it harder for lawful Georgia voters to participate in the state’s elections,” Elias said in the lawsuit.

The late U.S. Rep. John Lewis died in 2020 after a long career in the U.S. House representing Georgia, often fighting for voting rights. The civil rights hero’s head was cracked open on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers in 1965 as he helped lead the march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for the right to vote.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is named for the voting rights activist. It would restore and strengthen parts of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965, much of which was gutted by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. That law and H.R. 1, the For the People Act, would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Both measures have passed the U.S. House and face a tough road in the Senate unless the Senate changes its filibuster rules, specifically on bills that deal with voting rights.

Activists nationwide have their own strategy. They are promising to show up on early voting days and Election Day in Georgia in 2022, water bottles in hand, to challenge the law’s prohibition on delivering food and water to Black and Democratic voters waiting in line for hours just to cast a ballot.

As John Lewis would say: “It’s time for some good trouble.”

GOP doubles down on voter suppression (UPDATE)

The Republican playbook: Discourage Black voting by making people wait for hours, as these voters were forced to do in 2018.

When lots of people vote, Democrats win. Just ask President Joe Biden, with his nearly 8 million vote margin over Donald Trump. So naturally, Republicans are doing all they can to stop voters they fear will vote for Team Blue from taking part in the electoral process.

Since the November election, Republican officials in 33 states have introduced 165 bills for the 2021 legislative session to make it harder to vote, especially for Democrats and people of color. In 2020, there were only 35 bills in 15 states that limited voter access, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice. UPDATE: The latest information from the Brennan Center has a total of 253 voter suppression bills in 43 states.

The proposed restrictions include:

  • Cutting days and times for early voting, especially on Sundays. This especially affects Black voters, whose churches help with transport to get “souls to the polls.”
  • Increasing restrictions for mail-in ballots. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many voters to request absentee ballots instead of possibly exposing themselves to the novel coronavirus at the polls on Election Day or even at an early voting site. Next time around, GOP officials in some states want to limit absentee ballot requests only for voters older than 75. This gets rid of the “no-excuses” absentee voting, which worked so well in 2020.
  • Limiting the time to request and send out absentee ballots. Georgia officials propose limiting those requests to 78 days before an election instead of the current 180.
  • Eliminating automatic voter registration. States that have instituted automatic registration have seen increased turnout with no increase in voter fraud, but why make it easy for voters?
  • Limiting the use of voter drop boxes. Never mind the fact that drop boxes have been used by states successfully for years and have been shown to increase voter turnout. Oh, wait, that’s the point, isn’t it?
  • Making voter ID laws even more draconian. The Georgia GOP went all out: It wants voters to provide a driver’s license number or a copy of other identification to apply for a mail-in ballot, then make those same voters provide the same driver’s license information (or the last four digits of a Social Security number if they do not have an acceptable ID) on the mail-in ballot itself. There’s a time waster for all concerned.
  • Increasing voter “purges.” This would give states the right to remove voters from rolls if they haven’t voted in four years and don’t respond to a mail notice (because our mail delivery has been so good recently, hasn’t it?). Such purges have removed many legitimate voters from voting rolls, even though the voters are still alive and living at the same addresses.
  • Expanding poll watcher “access.” We don’t even need to explain that one, as we watched the Trump campaign challenge vote counting in multiple states across the country where he lost. The campaign, along with his crack legal team, filed lawsuit after lawsuit claiming that Republican “poll watchers” weren’t given proper access, even though they were. The Trump legal team ended up with a record of one minor win and 65 losses.

Some of the most restrictive ideas are in Georgia, which handed Biden a victory and also elected two Democratic senators, thus effectively giving Democrats control of the Senate. Given the Republican losses, GOP officials are going after voters with a heavy hand, especially Black voters, whose huge turnout meant victories for Democratic candidates.

“With exacting precision, the bill targets voters of color,” Nse Ufot, chief of the New Georgia Project, one of the groups that mobilized voters of color in Georgia, said in a story in the Guardian. “Georgia Republicans saw what happens when Black voters are empowered and show up at the polls, and now they’re launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of Black Georgians.”

Trump and his GOP cohorts did all they could to spread the Big Lie, that somehow Democrats had “stolen” the election. About three quarters of Republican voters still claim that Biden didn’t win in November. Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud (which barely exists) and his drumbeat for his supporters to “fight like hell” incited the Jan. 6 riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol, in which six people lost their lives.

The 2020 election saw a historic level of voter turnout, showing that people do care who wins and who loses. If there’s any good news in the face of such heavy voter suppression tactics, it’s that legislators in other states have introduced 406 bills expanding voter access.

No matter how many obstacles officials put in your way, make sure you vote in every election, from local municipal elections to state and local races to midterm elections to presidential contests. Do it for Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died from injuries inflicted by Trump’s goons on Jan. 6 as they tried to stop Congress from fulfilling the constitutional duty of certifying the results of the presidential election. Because in a sense, Sicknick gave his life protecting our right to vote.

Trump has ruined our inauguration celebration

At least 10,000 members of the National Guard will be stationed to protect Joe Biden’s inauguration. That’s more than the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

It used to be that the people of the United States looked at presidential inaugurations with a sense of pride. But like just about everything else he touches, Donald Trump has broken that, too.

Even if your candidate lost, you knew the inauguration was momentous — the views of the buildings in Washington, D.C., the swearing-in by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the oath of office on the Capitol steps, the proud family members and dignitaries watching, the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the glittering balls that evening. The peaceful transfer of power is a key reminder of our democracy. It was always a powerful moment that unified the country, even if you disagreed with who was taking power.

Instead, the nation will hold its collective breath and pray that no one gets killed.

There was no question that the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden would need to be scaled back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Whose fault is it that the novel coronavirus is out of control? Trump’s, because he downplayed and ignored its seriousness and gave up doing anything about it months ago.) Instead of welcoming a huge crowd to witness the event, the Presidential Inaugural Committee requested that people watch virtually, either online or on TV. But you couldn’t come if you wanted to; the entire National Mall is closed to the public for several days leading up to Inauguration Day.

There’s no surprise behind that decision by the National Park Service. The deadly Jan. 6 riot by Trump-supporting domestic terrorists who were incited by Trump’s lies about the election outcome and who tried to take over the Capitol in a (thankfully) failed coup attempt has caused everything to go on lockdown in our nation’s capital. “There are fears that violent pro-Trump mobs that stormed the US Capitol will return — and concern for the safety of Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and other dignitaries at the open-air ceremony,” said an analysis by The Washington Post. “When the world watches on Wednesday, it will take away a tragic truth: Two great icons of US democracy, the Capitol and the White House, must now be sealed inside a vast cage to protect them from the people they serve.”

Security officials from the FBI, the Secret Service, and area police are reporting continued threats on Washington and capitals of all 50 states from the same white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and right-wing groups who laid siege to the Capitol. Biden had been planning to take an Amtrak train from Delaware to Washington, as he did during his Senate career, but ongoing threats meant those plans had to be scrapped. There have not been as many security concerns about an inauguration since the 1861 swearing-in of Abraham Lincoln, where there were “endless reports of plots to kidnap or kill him,” according to a story in The Washington Post. It’s probably wise for Biden not to take the train; a bomb was planted on the train that carried Lincoln from Illinois.

So instead of watching in person, plan to tune in for several events leading up to Inauguration Day. There will be a virtual inaugural concert Sunday evening, hosted by Keegan-Michael Key and Debra Messing. Monday is a “United We Serve” National Day of Service; look for some way to help in your own community. There will be a National COVID-19 Memorial on Tuesday in honor of all the lives lost to COVID-19, which now are approaching 400,000. There will be a ceremony in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, and churches around the country are asked to ring bells simultaneously at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

On Jan. 20, Biden will take the oath of office as outlined in the U.S. Constitution (the ignorance of Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville notwithstanding, who somehow thought it could be postponed until “after we got this virus behind us a little bit”). He and the new vice president, Kamala Harris, will take part in the military tradition of a “pass in review” to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power. Then Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Harris, and Douglas Emhoff (the “second gentleman”), will be joined by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to lay a wreath at Arlington National Ceremony.

(Donald Trump won’t be joining that list of dignitaries; he’s expected to fly the coop that morning and will not attend the inauguration. No one wants him there anyway.)

A virtual “Parade Across America” will follow, featuring diverse performances in communities across the country. Wednesday evening, actor Tom Hanks will host a “Celebrating America” prime-time special with performers such as Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Ant Clemons, and Bon Jovi.

All of the official events can be found at the Biden Inaugural website.

Trump finally got his ‘American carnage’

Traitors to the United States thought it would be fun to scale the walls while storming the U.S. Capitol. Capitol police barely stopped them.

In his inaugural address in January 2017, Donald Trump promised to end “American carnage.” As his (thankfully single) term in office is about to end, he finally figured out a way to get his deranged followers to deliver that carnage.

As the world watched in horror, thousands of Trump supporters from such white supremacy and ultra-right-wing groups as the Proud Boys stormed the Capitol, the home of Congress, one of the three U.S. branches of government. The yahoos, many armed (illegally, as it’s unlawful to carry guns on such federal property in Washington) broke through four security fences, breached police barricades, scaled walls, and smashed windows to enter the Capitol. They roamed through all parts of the Capitol, some carrying treasonous Confederate flags and Trump paraphernalia — by this point, both of those racist “flags” represent the same thing. The Confederate flag had never been flown in the U.S. Capitol until this riot.

The mob rifled through congressional offices, leaving papers and files strewn on floors. They carried out furniture. One jerk put his feet on on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk and stole a piece of mail. As they took over the Senate chamber, another lowlife sat in the dais, where Senate leaders sit while presiding, and shouted that “Donald Trump won.” There was extensive damage throughout the building. All of this occurred as members of Congress lay on the floor in visitors’ galleries or were hurried out to shelter in secure locations.

“The pandemonium would seem to be a natural culmination of what Trump and compliant Republicans have wrought on the nation they swore an oath to protect,” said a story in The Washington Post. “Since his first presidential campaign, Trump has instigated his supporters to express their political views through physical demonstration and violence, and he has declined time and again to repudiate the actions of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremists.”

Not since the War of 1812 had Capitol security been breached like this.

At least two pipe bombs were found near the headquarters of both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, as well as a truck full of weapons and ammunition. As predicted, mobs of these same traitorous groups attempted to breach statehouses across the country, including in Kansas, Ohio, Washington, and elsewhere.

Five people died, including one Capitol Police officer who died of injuries after MAGA domestic terrorists beat him on the head with a fire extinguisher. But some 60 other police officers were injured, some seriously and some who are still hospitalized. Yet many of those same squads of officers allowed the insurrectionists into the Capitol in the first place, some even holding doors open as the traitors left, not under arrest, and posing for selfies with the rioters. Speaker Pelosi has called for the Capitol Police chief to be fired. The House Sergeant at Arms already has submitted his resignation. Those officers who cooperated with the mob really should be tried as co-conspirators. UPDATES: The Senate Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police chief are both out.

The carnage could have been much worse, of course. Imagine if those scaling the walls of the Capitol were Black or Muslim. There would have been a bloodbath. National guard troops arrived only after they were called in by Vice President Mike Pence (Trump refused to activate them). Capitol Police were much more efficient when removing protestors in wheelchairs who were calling for health care reform at representatives’ offices, or tear-gassing peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors to clear the streets so Trump could do a photo op in front of a church, initially holding a Bible upside down. This was an example of white privilege at its worst.

Before the attack, at an event egregiously called a “Save America” rally, the Trump thugs were egged on by Trump himself; his sons, Donnie Jr. and Eric (I can never remember which one is supposed to be Uday and which one is Qusay); and his “lawyers” (and we’re using that term loosely), including the disgraced Rudy Giuliani, who advised the gathered group of thugs that “trial by combat” would be needed to settle the election if the yahoos’ actions to stop the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s win wasn’t successful. And these same hypocrites later decried the violence.

Many pundits and members of Congress bemoaned that “America is so much better than this” and “this is not who we are.” Actually, under Trump, this is what too many in America have become. The obscenity that will still occupy the Oval Office for nearly two more weeks received 74 million votes in the 2020 election. Sure, Biden received more than 81 million, or 7 million more. But if 74 million people chose to ignore the incompetence Trump displayed and the hatred he spread over the last four years, then the actions of the Capitol rioters showed that, yes, that’s exactly what America is. As described in a story from TRT World:

Americans are perhaps waking up to the prospect that their country, like any other, rests on a fragile social contract that can’t be taken for granted.

And as Americans talk about “coups” and “insurrections” against their democratic order, they might spare a thought about so many other democratic orders that have been overthrown with US backing.

As one observer put it following the events in the US: “You are not more free, civilised or above other nations. Recognise your humanity, ability to err. That’s the first step to setting things right, rising up and doing better.”

How bad is it when the U.S. has to receive condolences on the Capitol riots from Turkey, a country not exactly known for adherence to democracy, with advice to “invite all parties in US to use moderation, common sense to overcome this domestic political crisis”?

America is no longer the gold standard of democracy. Under Donald Trump, it has grown far, far worse, as far-right white supremacists hold white grievance as their reason for being and consider the Second Amendment carte blanche to carry guns wherever and whenever they want. The Capitol Hill riot was ugly, and America will remain ugly as long as Donald Trump and his ilk have influence.

We can only hope and pray that a competent Biden administration steers the country back on a normal track. But it’s not going to be easy.

Stay in Mar-a-Lago, Trump. No one wants you back. (UPDATE)

Trump will cause less damage on the golf course than he would in the White House.

Donald Trump is spending Christmas the way he has spent much of his presidency: tweeting, golfing, being lazy, and ignoring the hard work of being president while trying to destroy the efforts of leaders actually carving out policy.

Over his four years (thankfully coming to an end soon) as president, Trump has played a total of 302 games on the links, as of Nov. 28, 2020. “Trump has spent nearly 22% of his days in office at one of his golf properties,” reported Golf News Net.

All that swinging of clubs on the course doesn’t come cheap for the rest of us. U.S. taxpayers have footed the bill for a total of $143 million over the last four years to give Trump the chance to cheat at golf. That includes transportation on Air Force One or Marine One; lodging for Secret Service agents, often paid directly to Trump properties; golf cart rental by the same Secret Service agents, also paid directly to Trump properties, and more. A GAO report gave a total of nearly $13.6 million in taxpayer funds for four trips to Mar-a-Lago on consecutive weekends in just one month in 2017.

But you know what? Let Trump stay in Florida until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021. No one seriously believes he’s going to show up for the inauguration, so why should Trump return to Washington just to cause more trouble?

Take the COVID-19 relief bill hammered out by Congress. The $908 billion package was finally passed by both houses of Congress, aiming to deliver $600 direct payments, extend unemployment benefits, fund COVID vaccine distribution, and so much more.

Of course, Democrats in the House passed their own version months ago in the form of the CARES Act, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even send it to committee for discussion, much less bring it up for a vote or hammer out differences in conference. Democratic leaders met over the months with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to try to come up with a compromise. Democrats kept agreeing to lower and lower price tags (the original CARES Act would have delivered $1,200 per person in direct payments), all while working with high-ranking administration officials acting with Trump’s blessing. So any talk of the delay being a problem of a “broken Congress” is just lazy reporting and both-sides-ism at its worst: The delay was completely the fault of Senate Republicans.

So there was finally a $908 billion bill to help Americans immediately, coupled with funds to keep the government running. The bill passed both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities and with promises from the White House that Trump would sign it.

Except Trump threw a hissy fit, claiming that $600 was “too low” — the figure needed to be $2,000 per person. This was after his own Treasury secretary and other White House officials promised they were acting in good faith.

Likely, Mnuchin and company did have promises that Trump would sign the bill. Trump is just trying to throw wrenches in the waning days of his presidency, to keep the spotlight on himself and to try to hobble the economy for incoming President Biden.

If Trump, pretending to be a populist once more, really cared about the U.S. populace, why was he AWOL for all these months of budget negotiations? A normal president (oh, who are we kidding) would have engaged with congressional leaders from both sides to hammer out a deal. But Trump was too busy tweeting lies about how the 2020 election, which he lost by over 7 million votes, was “rigged” (it was the most secure election in modern history); that there was “widespread voter fraud” (only, as it turns out, by a Pennsylvania GOP voter); and that voting machines were “switching Trump votes to Biden votes” (a claim so spurious that Dominion Voting Systems is suing the Trump campaign and conservative media for promoting the baseless lies).

Democrats gladly said, “$2,000 per person? Let’s do it!” Since the House isn’t in session, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to get the House to pass a separate measure by unanimous consent, but House Republicans balked at the dollar figure. So Congress is back to — exactly where?

Trump didn’t threaten a veto, he just felt like fuming. Will he actually sign the bill? Will he sit on the bill, ignoring it while he’s out on the links? Since a new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3, this bill could suffer the fate of a pocket veto, leaving millions of Americans with no extra money in their pockets. Even worse, the COVID relief package was tied to the budget measure funding the government, which runs out early next week. Pelosi says she’ll bring the House back into session right after Christmas for a new vote.

The Senate doesn’t want to revisit it. McConnell only finally brought the COVID relief package to a vote in an attempt to save the two Georgia Senate seats that might be lost in a Jan. 5 special election. Incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were getting hammered on the campaign trail for their inaction on COVID relief (and for the fact that they both profited handsomely from buying stocks that did well in pandemic times).

All of this could be avoided by a little bit of Trump chicken scratching. Then he could head back to the links, issuing pardons for crooks and cronies in between golf swings. And we could finally start ignoring him.

Jan. 20 can’t come soon enough.

UPDATE: OK, Trump caved and signed the bill. But he only did so after there will be a lag in benefits. And while he demanded changes in the package — on items that his own proposed budget specifically requested — House Democrats basically said, “Not gonna happen.” As New York Rep. Rita Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee who is retiring from Congress, said in an official statement: “The House Appropriations Committee has jurisdiction over rescissions, and our Democratic Majority will reject any rescissions submitted by President Trump. By turning the page on this request, we will allow the BIden-Harris administration to begin to Build Back Better.”

Biden Cabinet picks show the adults are back in charge

Well, that’s refreshing. The men and women President-Elect Joe Biden has chosen for his Cabinet and Cabinet-level posts so far not only look like America, as he promised, but also are capable of doing their jobs in a way to reassert America’s standing in the world and to reassure U.S. allies that they will no longer be abandoned.

As a Washington Post editorial put it: “Here’s a change: A national security team with integrity, experience and skill.”

Gone are the poorly qualified people who made up the revolving door of sketchy appointments made by soon-to-be-ex-President Donald Trump. Instead, we have:

  • Antony Blinken for Secretary of State. He was deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and has held senior foreign policy positions in two administrations over three decades. He also has his own rock band (Ablinken) and has explained the refugee problem to Grover on Sesame Street.
  • Alejandro Mayorkas for Secretary of Homeland Security. He would be the first immigrant (he was born in Cuba) and first Latino to head the department. He led the development and implementation of the DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which Biden has promised to reinstate. He also negotiated cybersecurity and homeland security agreements with foreign governments.
  • Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. She was the first woman to serve as deputy director of the CIA. Another first: She would be the first woman to head DNI.
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield for U.N. Ambassador. She’s a career diplomat and a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service who has served on four continents. She also practiced gumbo diplomacy, in which she invited foreign officials to help her make her homemade gumbo (she is a Louisiana native, after all).
  • Jake Sullivan for National Security Advisor. He’s a State Department veteran who was a lead negotiator in the initial talks that paved the way for the Iran nuclear deal. 
  • John Kerry for Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. The former senator and secretary of state was key in drawing up and passing the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Trump may have pulled out of the pact, but Biden promises to rejoin on day one of his presidency. Climate action has been on Kerry’s agenda since he left government at the end of the Obama administration.

There are more nominees to come, including Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary. Others will be announced in coming weeks.

In case you want to review the Biden appointees, you can check out the growing list at BuildBackBetter.gov. The fact that the transition website now has a “.gov” extension means it’s official.

Depending on which two candidates win the Senate runoff contests in Georgia in January, Biden will have a tougher time (if the Republican candidates win) or an easier time (if the two Democrats win) getting his picks through a Senate confirmation process. Already, Republicans senators with presidential ambitions are tweeting nonsense about “American greatness” or going on Fox News to spin lies or making false claims about “war enthusiasts” in hitting back at some of the nominees. No matter which party controls the Senate come 2021, it’s going to be a sharply divided chamber, and you can count on right-wing media to give Republicans plenty of airtime.

It will be hard to derail these excellent choices. These Biden picks already are known around the world and have strong relationships with other world leaders. They will be able to hit the ground running upon confirmation.

“America is back, ready to lead the world,” Biden said in introducing his team. Good thing, because President Biden is going to have his hands full working on the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the Post editorial put it:

Still, if they are confirmed, beginning next year, the United States will have national security principals who are capable, conscientious, well-versed in the issues they will face and not vulnerable to being undercut by presidential tweets. That’s a big step toward recovery.

America needs these competent leaders to reestablish the trust in the United States that the Trump administration squandered over the last four years.

You lost, Trump. Get over it and step aside.

With the news that PRESIDENT-ELECT Joe Biden has taken the lead in votes in Georgia and Pennsylvania, it’s now clear that the Donald Trump era in America will soon be coming to an end. Adding those two states’ counts to Biden’s total puts Biden over the 270 Electoral College votes he needs to win the presidency.

You’d like to say, “It’s all over but the shouting.” But in Trump’s case, shouting is all he has left, even if it’s just tweeting in all caps.

That, plus a whole boatload of ill-considered and frivolous lawsuits in multiple states, all of which are doomed to fail. The Trump team is spewing out baseless charges of mail-in voter fraud, demands to “stop counting votes” (in states where Trump used to be ahead), and clamors to “count the votes” (in states where Biden still is ahead). Other legal complaints involve supposedly being unable to “closely” monitor the counting of votes. So in Pennsylvania, Republican observers were allowed to move in closer to the poll workers. Didn’t change the outcome.

No doubt Trump thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will save his presidential bacon. As a Trump campaign legal adviser claimed on the Fox Business Network, “Meanwhile, we’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court, of which the president has nominated three justices, to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through and pick it up.” That wouldn’t exactly be calling balls and strikes, as Chief Justice John Roberts described the role of the Supreme Court at his confirmation hearing in 2005.

Trump shouldn’t count on a SCOTUS bailout. As summed up in a USA Today piece:

But the 6-3 conservative majority that Trump and Senate Republicans built over the past four years likely is in no position to save his presidency. It would take a razor-thin margin or a major legal dispute in a state whose electoral votes could hand the White House to Trump or Democrat Joe Biden. Such a reprise of the Bush v. Gore case in 2000, when the court ruled 5-4 along ideological lines that vote recounts in Florida had to stop after a month-long dispute, is not anticipated. 

Trump took to the podium in the White House briefing room to spew what an analysis in The Washington Post described as a speech of historic dishonesty.

For 15 minutes, he delineated nonsensical allegations about the state of the presidential election, claiming to be the victim of nefarious efforts to prevent him from earning a second term. And when he finished, after espousing obviously false claims to a room of reporters who knew better, he didn’t even have the courage to face their inevitably probing and challenging questions.

The Post, which has kept track of Trump’s lies over his time in office, reports that his number of falsehoods has topped 22,000, and that during the campaign he was averaging more than 50 lies or misleading claims a day. His rants two days after the election hit a new low, even for Trump.

It’s time for several things to happen.

All news organizations need to call the election for Biden. They need to start referring to him as the president-elect. With the exception of Fox News (and it hasn’t been total), most media organizations are finally starting to use the word “lie” when it comes to Trump, and are reporting that his claims are baseless. For now, news organizations are being reluctant to make a final call, as Georgia and other states may be heading for a recount. And “Fox News is instructing its talent not to call Joe Biden the ‘President-elect’ when the network calls the race,” according to memos obtained by two reporters.

Republicans need to call Trump out. I won’t hold my breath for people such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to come clean, as his lips are firmly stuck to Trump’s behind with Super Glue. But a few Republicans are showing some backbone: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie slammed the president after Trump’s lie-laden remarks for “refusing to provide evidence for his dishonest claims about winning the race and ‘illegal’ votes.” Pennsylvania Sen. John Toomey (who already announced his intention not to run for reelection in 2022), rebuked Trump’s attacks on his state, telling CBS This Morning that “The President’s speech last night was very disturbing to me because he made very, very serious allegations without any evidence to support it.”

Courts need to reject all of Trump’s lawsuits. Already, judges appointed by Trump and other Republicans have dismissed lawsuits from the Trump campaign. There should be no doubt in the minds of the American people that this election was won fair and square by Joe Biden, who already is more than 4 million votes ahead of Trump in the popular vote — a total that only keeps growing. That’s true even though wild-eyed Trumpanistas may never accept the inevitable. Biden is starting to receive increased Secret Service protection, and airspace over Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, is now National Defense Airspace.

Biden, the only adult in the presidential contest, is calling for patience and says “the process is working.” His campaign already has launched a transition website, Build Back Better, even though it’s largely empty right now. As he told supporters, “Democracy is sometimes messy. Sometimes it requires a little patience, as well.”

Donald Trump will not leave willingly. He likely will never invite Biden to the White House, as presidents do for presidents-elect, but Biden’s been there plenty of times already. Trump may not even attend the inauguration.

You know what, Donnie? We won’t miss you if you’re not there.

There’s a whole lotta voting going on

An Illinois voter inserts his absentee ballot envelope into a locked ballot drop-off box. Boxes are emptied every night to keep absentee ballots secure. On this particular day of early voting, the container was completely filled by noon.

Have you voted yet? If you have, you’re like more than 47 million other Americans. And there’s still more than a week until Election Day.

All signs are that the number of votes cast in the 2020 general election on Nov. 3 will shatter previous records in modern-day elections, both in numbers and in percentages. Approximately 138 million Americans, or 55.5% of U.S. adults of voting age population, voted in 2016, which was roughly the same percentage as other recent elections, give or take a few percentage points. Almost 92 million eligible Americans did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.

That likely won’t be the case this year.

As of Oct. 22, more than 47 million Americans already had cast their ballots, either with an absentee ballot or through in-person early voting. That’s already 89% of 2016 early voting totals. The most thorough website with voting statistics, the U.S. Elections Project, is updated daily by election expert and University of Florida professor Michael McDonald to make timely election data available. Numbers are broken down by state, and totals are searchable. McDonald publishes a weekly analysis of all the early voting data, with details by state and by political party. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that the total turnout in the 2020 election could be about 154 million people.

The total U.S. population is estimated at about 331 million people. It’s hard to get a fix on the number of total registered voters, as some states were still accepting voter registration through October, and some allow registrations as late as Election Day. The civic champions of Maine have 77% of the state’s eligible adults registered to vote. And the civic champions of Minnesota have the highest voter turnout at 74%.

But voter registration growth may be lagging in 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many voter registration efforts got bogged down. Fewer people visited state drivers’ license facilities, at which they also can register to vote. Many groups that regularly hold voter registration drives were limited in their outreach due to the necessity of social distancing. The Brennan Center for Justice found that voter registration has declined by an average of 38 percent in 17 of the 21 states the group analyzed, compared with 2016 registration rates.

Republicans are claiming superior numbers on new voter registrations, especially in some swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, although new registrations were closing the gap with Democrats rather than surpassing them. And although Democratic voter registration plummeted during the early months of the pandemic, it surged during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer. Several states, including battlegrounds like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, are approaching or passing voter registration records.

There’s no surprise as to why early voting numbers are so high. Many voters, fearful of the novel coronavirus, want to vote safely from home. Many early voters want their votes locked in and want to avoid what could be long lines on Election Day. The number of polling places has dropped by 20% nationwide, with nearly 21,000 fewer election sites than in 2012 and 2016, especially in California, Maryland, Kentucky, New Jersey, Nevada, and North Dakota.

I voted early, as I have for more than a decade, in general, primary, and municipal elections. Until this year, the longest I ever had to wait to vote was about 15 minutes. This year, the voting line stretched around the block, and I waited 90 minutes for the chance to cast my ballot. Even the line to drop off absentee ballots was about a dozen people.

Voting enthusiasm by both Democrats and Republicans seems to be through the roof, mainly because of the chance to vote against or for Donald Trump. A new Gallup Poll showed that 80% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans are “more enthusiastic than usual” about voting. Don’t forget that there was record turnout in the 2020 primary elections, with the biggest turnout surges by Democrats. And this was after the record turnout of 60% in the 2018 midterm elections. This year, 20% of the early ballots cast — so far — came from voters who did not vote in 2016. A Pew Research Center poll reported that 83% of registered voters said it “really matters” which presidential candidate wins this year.

President Barack Obama reminded everyone of the importance of voting in a barn-burner of a campaign speech in Philadelphia for Joe Biden, his vice president and the Democratic presidential nominee. As described by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin:

Obama made clear that voting is not about making things perfect — just about making things better. And in a much-needed moment of uplift he declared: “America is a good and decent place. But we’ve just seen so much noise and nonsense that sometimes it’s hard for us to remember. Philadelphia, I’m asking you to remember what this country can be.” …

“We can’t be complacent. I don’t care about the polls. There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn’t work out. Because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home and got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not in this election.”

Don’t stay home this time. Vote.

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