Saturday, October 31, 2020

Something to Know - 31 October

A few more days to the election.   There are just too many articles and stories each hour to analyze.  I have given up on getting close to the action, since my mood swings relative to the pessimistic or optimistic nature of the last read piece of news; so just stick with HCR for today, since she has the overview, with some shots of pessimism and optimism thrown in for balance:

And so it is Friday. We are in the final countdown to the 2020 election.

The polls at the popular political website FiveThirtyEight favor Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, but Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are not out of the running. Every poll shows Biden far ahead of Trump in the popular vote, but because of our Electoral College system, the president could still win reelection. Virtually no one is suggesting that Trump could win the popular vote, and his campaign's plan is simply to get enough Democratic votes thrown out in swing states that he can win those electoral votes and clinch the election. Never before in our history has a candidate openly planned to win an election by gaming the system, but here we are.

It feels today like a bunch of stories from the past are coming home to roost.

For all of the attention on the election, the top story remains the coronavirus, which is infecting Americans and killing us at an alarming rate. Today we broke a terrifying record: the U.S. had more than 100,000 new infections. In all but a handful of states, the virus is spreading unchecked. A scathing new report from a congressional panel chaired by Jim Clyburn (D-SC) calls the administration's response to the pandemic "among the worst failures of leadership in American history."

The coronavirus story is also the story of the election, as Trump and his supporters insist those eager to combat the pandemic are simply trying to hurt the president. Trump complains bitterly of the attention media is giving to "covid, covid, covid," and today told people attending his rally in Michigan that doctors are exaggerating the threat of coronavirus because they get paid more if a cause of death is listed as Covid-19. The American Medical Association released a statement saying "The suggestion is a… malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge." It pointed out that doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are risking their lives daily to try to defeat the virus.

The administration's changes to the reporting system for coronavirus have hampered our ability to combat it. In July, the administration shifted the way hospital data is collected, taking the project away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and giving it to a private contractor. CDC experts no longer check and analyze the data. Information on hospitalizations is no longer publicly available, so states cannot see what is happening elsewhere. This hides the picture of what is happening nationally, making it impossible for public health officials to plan for spikes.

Meanwhile, Twitter users today reminded us that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told the nation in mid-September that the White House was planning to have 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of October. A White House aide said today that that deadline was "kind of… arbitrary," although Trump told a rally in Arizona this week that we would have a vaccine "momentarily." No companies have applied for approval yet.

The Trump campaign mirrors the past practices of the Trump administration. The Government Accountability Office says Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli are in their jobs illegally, but Trump has kept them where they can do his bidding. He has recently dispatched the two men, along with top leaders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to hold press conferences in swing states boasting of Trump's immigration policies. In an unprecedented politicization of their offices, they are making the case for Trump's reelection, warning, for example, that there will be an "unimaginable public health crisis" at the southern border if Biden is elected. They are also putting up official billboards that support Trump's reelection.

Dave Lapan, a retired Marine Corps colonel who served as DHS spokesman during the Trump Administration when John Kelly was the secretary, told TIME magazine, "The rhetoric that's come out of Wolf and Cuccinelli is appearing to be a propaganda arm of the White House." The agency looks like "an extension of the president's re-election campaign."

The attempts of the Trump administration to manipulate the election through government appointments showed up in another way today, too, when a video surfaced of piles of mail at the Miami-Dade Post Office. The person who took the video said the mail, which included ballots, had sat unsorted for more than a week, precisely what people feared would happen when Trump's Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, implemented new rules for mail delivery this summer. Several Florida officials said they were launching an investigation, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan isn't waiting around. He ordered the United States Postal Service to implement emergency measures to speed up delivery of ballots.

Republicans have more than 300 lawsuits underway in 44 states to try to stop the counting of mail-in ballots in general. In Texas, for example, they want courts to invalidate more than 100,000 votes in and around Houston because voters cast them at drive-through voting centers. In Pennsylvania and Minnesota, election officials are setting aside mail-in ballots postmarked on or before November 3 but arriving afterward, anticipating court challenges.

But judges are inclined to defend voting rights. So Republicans are now turning their focus to individual ballots. In Nevada, for example, they hope to examine the signatures on every single ballot to challenge the ones they don't believe match.

Trump has hinted to his supporters that they should intimidate voters, either keeping them from voting or making them turn away at the polls. Voter intimidation—disrupting the voting process in any way-- is a crime under both federal and state law. States and the federal government take it very seriously indeed, setting up trained poll workers at every venue, and providing voter protection hotlines in each state and at the federal level as well. Earlier this month, right-wing activists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman were charged on four counts of intimidating voters in at least five states through robocalls. If convicted, the men could face up to 12 years in prison.

For his part, Trump continues to preach to the converted at his rallies, but social media trackers say his shocking performances are no longer attracting positive attention on those sites. Followers find him boring, and much prefer Biden's calm, solid messages.

So a better bet for Trump's reelection is his pitch to call the election on November 3. He says that a longer time period would be new and unfair, but this is just wrong: the election is not over until a state certifies the results, and no state does that on Election Day. More to the point was Trump's statement in March, when he objected to a Democratic proposal to encourage voting, saying "They had things, levels of voting that if you'd ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

Some stories from the past are continuing despite the election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today he would not take up a coronavirus relief bill until January. He also told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he had every intention of continuing to confirm judges, despite the Senate's traditional practice of stopping judicial confirmations at some point during an election year. "We're going to run through the tape. We go through the end of the year, and so does the President," he said. "We're going to fill the 7th Circuit. And I'm hoping we have time to fill the 1st Circuit as well." "We're going to clean the plate, clean all the district judges off as well," he told Hewitt.

One more returning story from the past: today one of the Louisville police officers who stormed Breonna Taylor's apartment has sued her boyfriend for emotional distress, assault, and battery. Taylor's friend, Kenneth Walker, a licensed gun owner, allegedly shot the officer, Jonathan Mattingly, in the leg as the law enforcement officers broke into the apartment on March 13. Walker thought they were intruders and fired his gun. The police opened fire and killed Breonna Taylor. They arrested Walker for attempted murder, but the charges were later dropped. He has filed a civil lawsuit against the city and the police department. And now Officer Mattingly is suing him.

"Walker's conduct in shooting Mattingly is outrageous, intolerable, and offends all accepted standards of decency and morality," Mattingly's lawsuit said. For his part, Walker's lawyer noted that his client was protected by Kentucky's laws about self-defense in one's home, and added, "One would think that breaking into the apartment, executing his girlfriend and framing him for a crime in an effort to cover up her murder would be enough for them…." He called the lawsuit a "baseless attempt to further victimize and harass Kenny."

And after all these stories from the past, a story from the future: today Madame Tussauds waxwork museum in Berlin threw its statue of Trump into a dumpster in preparation for a new president.







I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Something to Know - 30 October

Yes, we all wish it was over.  The mute button on my remote is working overtime to silence the cacophony of political ads.   My mood is reflective of the last news item or poll that I have read.  If it was an optimistic story, I am in a good mood, and if it is not good, I am depressed.  The solution is to not get too close, but just get a general overview of the daily events.  I read that some retired general speculated that Trump would be a flight risk if he loses - fine with me.  Hope he never comes back, however he might have a tough time trying to recover any property he has left behind, but I am sure that his creditors will gobble all that up.  Hang in there.

Four years ago, headlines across the country announced that FBI Director James Comey had sent a letter to Congress on October 28 saying that the FBI had "learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation" into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. That announcement, made despite the Justice Department's policy of taking care not to do anything that could affect an election, swung the election toward Donald Trump, who won.

Four years later, Trump's attempt to seed another "investigation" into his rival through the "discovery" of a compromising laptop has fizzled. Today, NBC News noted that a document purporting to show Democratic candidate Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden in a corrupt relationship with Communist leaders in China was actually ghost written by an academic and published under a fake identity.

Meanwhile, a record number of 80 million early ballots have already been cast, and we are all parsing the polls for clues about who will emerge as the winner of the 2020 election.

What is clear is that, as we approach the end of the campaigns, each is reflecting its presidential candidate.

This morning, the New York Times revealed that Trump and Attorney General William Barr worked together to try to stop a criminal investigation into a bank owned by the Turkish state. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, was preparing a case against Halkbank, which the government suspected was laundering money and sending billions of dollars to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions. Investigators believed Iran was using the money to pay for its nuclear weapons program. The case involved President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and members of his family and his political party. In June 2019, Berman was shocked when Barr asked him to end the investigations and let Halkbank get away with paying a fine and admitting some wrongdoing.

The story shows Trump undermining American policy to advance his own interests. From the beginning of Trump's presidency, Turkey worked to gain influence with the new administration, hiring Trump's former national security adviser Mike Flynn, for example, as a lobbyist. Erdogan had personally lobbied Trump hard to get rid of the Halkbank investigation. Senior officials worried that the president was chatting with an authoritarian leader about a criminal case, in a country where Trump does business. Erdogan had tried unsuccessfully to get the Obama administration to drop the case, but now appeared to be having better luck. Erdogan told reporters that Trump had assured him he would take care of the matter. It was not until Trump and Erdogan clashed over Syria last October that the U.S. charged the bank, but the charges did not include any individuals. Barr fired Berman this summer.

Similarly, Trump's willingness to defend his own interests at others' expense is showing in the final days of his campaign. It is showing generally, with his willingness to expose his supporters to coronavirus infections at his rallies. It is showing more specifically with Trump's refusal to support endangered Republican Senators who have stood by him and lost support because of it. At Trump's recent visit to Maine, he did not mention Senator Susan Collins, who is in a tight race with her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon.

In Arizona, Trump mocked vulnerable senator Martha McSally. "Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick. You got one minute!" Trump said, as the senator rushed to the stage for some airtime with the president. "One minute, Martha! They don't want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let's go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let's go." Trump gave McSally just 60 seconds to speak before turning the microphone over to other national figures.

A recent endorsement of the president was damning. The publisher of the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, urged people to vote for Trump only because he claimed Biden's policies would "strike at the economic well-being of the country." As for Trump himself, the editorial acknowledged, he "is a bully and a bigot…. He panders to racists and prevents sensible immigration reform in a nation built on immigrant labor and intellect. He tweets conspiracy theories. He's cavalier about Covid-19 and has led poorly through the pandemic. He seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without proposing a replacement. He denies climate change."

Even such a half-hearted endorsement drew rebuttals from an editor and a columnist at the paper.

The campaign continues to downplay the coronavirus. Tonight, campaign spokesperson Donald Trump, Jr., told Fox News Channel personality Laura Ingraham that the number of deaths from Covid-19 is now "almost nothing, because we've gotten control of this." But today alone, at least 951 Americans died of the coronavirus, and more than 91,000 new cases were reported. Our overall official death total is approaching 230,000. "If things do not change, if they continue on the course we're on, there's gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday night.

Trump has begun to muse about losing the election, and said he would like simply to drive away, or fly away, from the burden of the presidency. Yesterday, retired Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack wrote that, with his immense financial debts and pending legal issues, "Trump appears to be a classic flight risk."

Still, though, the president continues to fire up his base with accusations that Democrats are engaging in voter fraud, and that counting ballots after November 3 will mean a stolen election. His rhetoric is so worrisome that business owners in Washington, D.C., are boarding up their windows and Walmart is pulling guns and ammunition from its shelves (although it will continue to sell them on request).

Tonight, both candidates are in Florida, and while Trump could have focused on today's economic report showing 7% GDP growth in the third quarter, he went all-in with attacks on Hunter Biden and mused about losing.

In contrast to Trump's erratic personality-driven campaign, Biden's campaign is smooth and professional. Unlike the Trump campaign, it has plenty of money, and is running fun, moving, and professional ads on social media emphasizing unity and healing for the country.

In addition to the many other groups breaking in Biden's favor, early data suggests that young Americans are turning out to vote in record numbers. About 63% of voters from ages 18 to 29 say they support Biden, while only about 25% support Trump.

While the polls are suggesting there is little movement in the race, there has been a shift toward Biden in Georgia in the past few days. That shift will likely get a boost from an astonishing moment in a hard-hitting debate last night between embattled incumbent Senator David Perdue, a Republican, and his challenger, Democrat Jon Ossoff.

After Perdue attacked Ossoff for taking money from out-of-state donors who support a "radical socialist agenda," Ossoff countered with a devastating takedown: "Perhaps Senator Perdue would have been able to respond properly to the Covid-19 pandemic if you hadn't been fending off multiple federal investigations for insider trading," he said. "It's not just that you're a crook, Senator, it's that you're attacking the health of the people that you represent." Perdue seemed frozen. The clip has gone viral, and today Perdue pulled out of the final debate scheduled between him and Ossoff. Instead he will join Trump for a rally that night.

Biden and Harris are reaching out to Hispanic voters, whose support will matter a lot in southern states. In Florida tonight, at a drive-in event, Biden hammered on Trump's approach to the pandemic, called for racial justice, and promised that he will not be too hard on Cuba or too soft on Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president. Biden got a boost today from an op-ed in the Miami Herald by Hispanic business and economic leaders who endorsed Biden as the candidate who would build "a stronger, more dynamic economy that works for everyone." With Hispanic voters extra-concerned about charges of "socialism," the op-ed's authors emphasized that Biden is the candidate of "free enterprise."

Today, Biden wrapped together his pitch to Hispanic voters, an appeal to morality and a better future, and an illustration of how a Biden presidency will be different than its predecessor. He promised that, if he is elected president, he will immediately create a task force to reunite the families of the 545 immigrant children still separated from their parents.





I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Something to Know - 27 October

One week to go.  Jitters and nerves abound throughout the land.  I am not going to comment too much here, so this will be left today for Charles Blow of the NY Times as he clearly points out that the strength of the Trump base is RACISM, which many of us have known for a long time.   Then we have Prof. Heather Cox Richardson, who caps off yesterday's events:

Tonight, the Senate confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States to take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The vote was 52 to 48, with no Democrats voting to confirm Barrett. One Republican, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, voted against the confirmation, saying it is too close to an election to fill the seat. Collins is in a tight reelection race against Democrat Sara Gideon, and since Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not need Collins's vote, she could vote no on procedural grounds and hope to push fewer voters to Gideon.

Barrett is an originalist, and will cement a 6-3 majority of justices eager to unwind the judicial decisions of the past seventy years that protect civil rights, business regulation, and a social safety net. Today is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's birthday, and as soon as the vote went through, the Twitter account for the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted: "Amy Coney Barrett, confirmed. Happy Birthday, [Hillary Clinton]!"

McConnell promptly adjourned the Senate until November 9 without taking up a coronavirus relief bill.

An hour later, Trump held a public ceremony for Barrett at the White House, in an echo of the coronavirus super spreader event on September 26 at which he announced her nomination. The ceremony seemed designed to demonstrate that he rejects scientific recommendations about the virus. Barrett took the constitutional oath, administered by Justice Clarence Thomas, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the second oath she must take, the judicial oath, on Tuesday in a private ceremony at the court.) Trump congratulated her in a short speech.

Shortly after the ceremony, Trump released a video of the event with Barrett walking alongside him through the doors of the White House onto a balcony where the two stood for the crowd. It was a triumphant demonstration of Trump's power, and undermined the illusion that Barrett will be a nonpartisan judge. Traditionally in America, Supreme Court justices keep a distance from political leaders, yet she has just appeared in a campaign commercial for the president.

The significance of Barrett's elevation to the court showed just minutes before the Senate confirmed her, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 for Wisconsin Republicans who want to block the counting of votes postmarked before Election Day but received up to six days after it. Democrats and civil rights groups wanted the extension because of the pandemic. For this year's primary in Wisconsin, 80,000 ballots postmarked in time arrived after the election were counted; for the election, such late ballots will be rejected. The court's decision follows originalist ideology: it says states get to run elections however its legislators wish. That principle trumps the right to vote.

That seemingly principled stand in favor of local democracy hides the reality of one-party rule. Wisconsin has been so thoroughly gerrymandered that although Democrats actually won a majority in state elections in 2018, Republicans hold 63 of the 99 seats in the legislature. It is virtually impossible for Democrats to win control of the state and thus the Republican legislature will get to decide who votes. We have seen such political dominance before… just ask any Black or Brown American.

In a footnote, Justice Kavanaugh went further to argue that states need to avoid "the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of the election. And those States also want to be able to definitely announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter." This is the argument Trump has been making to delegitimize mail-in ballots, and it is political, not judicial. Absentee ballots do not "flip" an election; they are a legitimate part of an election that cannot be decided until they are counted. And the idea of calling an election on the night it is held is a tic of the media. In fact, no state certifies its election results the day of the election. Some take weeks.

So what we have tonight is the Republican Party under Trump ramming through a third Supreme Court justice who is far out of sync with the vast majority of the American people, an authoritarian ceremony for an election ad, and a sign that partisans are working to steal the upcoming election.

This is not a sign of strength—it is a sign of weakness. Trump's Republicans have gotten a reliable majority on the Supreme Court—for now—but they have delegitimized the Senate and the Supreme Court. It is the desperate act of a party that is so far out of favor with the American people it has given up winning elections fairly and is resorting to the tactics of strongmen. That McConnell pushed this confirmation through right before the election, rather than holding the seat open to fire up evangelicals as he did in 2016, suggests he thinks that even evangelicals cannot save the White House this time around.

The administration is sinking in bad news. It has given up on combatting the coronavirus, which infected 74,323 more Americans today and killed at least 534. Reflecting that the rising infection numbers mean a slower economic recovery, the stock market today had its biggest drop in a month. Financiers are so tired of Trump's volatility, including his tweets, that they are pouring five times more money behind Biden. Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who admitted the coronavirus policy on Sunday, is so hated that 18 administration officials talked to Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post about him; one White House advisor said "It's hard to count the ways Meadows has failed as a chief of staff…. It's been an unmitigated disaster."

A Trump appointee who chaired the Federal Salary Council overseeing federal pay resigned today in protest over Trump's recent Executive Order enabling him to fire key federal workers. "[T]he Executive Order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process," Ron Sanders wrote, "As a matter of conscience, I can no longer serve him or his administration."

And staffers at the Department of Health and Human Services are openly looking for other jobs. Three of them told Politico's Dan Diamond that they are voting for Joe Biden. "I've never voted for a Democrat for president, but Biden hit the sweet spot. I know he's not too far left and he understands how to make government work," one said. "And I know he'll never make fun of [Anthony] Fauci in public."

Biden's campaign, run quietly and steadily, has picked up steam until he is ahead in the polls by about 9 or 10 points nationally, and there is no sign that Trump is closing that gap. Clearly, the president had hoped the malarkey about the Hunter Biden laptop story—which we learned today White House lawyers tried to pitch to the Wall Street Journal before Rudy Giuliani took it to the New York Post-- would create the same stampede from Biden that the email laptop story caused from Clinton in 2016, but that stampede has not materialized.

On Sunday, nine days before the election, about 58.6 million Americans had already voted early, more than the total number who voted early or by mail in 2016. Registered Democrats have made up 51% of those votes, while registered Republicans have made up 31%, leading Trump officials to attack the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and to insist that "the huge majority of President Trump's supporters" were planning to vote on Election Day. But Black Americans, the heart of the Democratic Party, are turning out in huge numbers. "This election is for saving the U.S." business consultant Dave Richards told CNN's Faith Karimi.

People like Biden. They think he's a decent man, who cares about someone other than himself. He has plenty of that old word, fallen into disuse in the last four years: character. He has principles, honor, a work ethic, and he treats people with respect—attributes we should demand in our officials. He has provided detailed plans about how he would address the country's problems: systemic racism, economic inequality, and coronavirus, among others. At the same time, he offers a positive vision of America, a welcome contrast to Trump's dark vision of American carnage. Biden constantly repeats that there is nothing Americans can't do if we do it together.

And that, right there, is why the Republicans needed to pack the Supreme Court.






I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.