Investing in Opportunities, not Opportunists: The Biden Infrastructure Plan
Oct. 5, 2020, 5:27 p.m.
Biden War Room
There’s an internet meme that made the rounds for about two years after Donald Trump’s inauguration. It’s “Infrastructure Week.” It started out as a serious initiative, at least as serious as Donald Trump can be. Trump declared Infrastructure Week as if it were “a very special episode” of his presidency for Sweeps Week.The first real proposal for “Infrastructure Week” took place in early June, 2017. Granted, it might have gotten more attention if it hadn’t occurred at the same time as fired CIA Director James Comey’s damning Congressional testimony describing the Trump campaign’s “relationships” with Russian intelligence.Looking back, it’s tempting to wonder whether that first Infrastructure Week was merely a distraction to divert America’s attention from the Comey testimony. Indeed, every revival of Infrastructure Week appeared to coincide with some unprecedented new Trump scandal. In fairness, maybe the distractions were only coincidences. After all, there hasn’t really been a week without an unprecedented Trump scandal.At the time, optimists hoped that some Democrats would cross the aisle to support investment projects that would produce jobs. Instead, as is now a recognizable pattern, Trump’s recommendations focused on fattening the wallets of investors rather than improving the lives of Americans, leaving the crumbling bridges and roads behind.What was Donald Trump’s first “infrastructure” initiative? He proposed privatizing Air Traffic Control, not a new idea, and likely doomed from the start. The plan was chock full of tax breaks for private investors in construction projects, the only legitimate business within the nation’s entire GDP that Donald Trump has ever actually witnessed.Criticism of the plan began immediately, and Trump responded with his next jobs program, “apprenticeship week”. Unfortunately, that backfired, partly because people noticed that “Trump’s proposed budget would slash the Labor Department’s budget by a fifth to $9.6 billion and its job training programs by more than a third.” Maybe he confused “apprenticeship” with his TV show “The Apprentice” and assumed the program would be funded by commercial sponsors. Where is the My Pillow guy when you need him?Over time, “infrastructure week” became a meme on Twitter, used at times like this: “Trump insists that (some person who criticized him) should lose their job hosting a TV show.” During these tantrums (irrelevant to his actual responsibilities as leader of the free world), “Welcome to Infrastructure Week” would trend on Twitter. The whole notion of “infrastructure” has become a joke in which the punchline is Donald Trump’s incompetence.In comparison, who doesn’t know that Joe Biden rides the rails on Amtrak? His campaign motto, Build Back Better, recognizes the importance of infrastructure: “Build” is the foundation of roads, bridges, highways, public spaces, utilities, broadband access, and, of course, transit. “Back” recognizes that the pandemic has cut our national revenue stream, the fuel that funds infrastructure. It’s actually been declining for longer than just this year. In reality, politicians have systematically starved the mechanism that funds our foundation, so it needed to be built back before the pandemic even began. Lastly, “Better” recognizes that we now have the opportunity to use new technologies and set new goals for energy efficiency, retraining, and public health.Joe Biden was on the team that spearheaded the recovery of the US auto industry in 2009, and he sees this crisis as an opportunity to make the world better. He often says, “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, all he can muster is one word: ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, I think of a word as well: ‘jobs.’”Campaign slogans don’t move mountains, but earth moving equipment does, and Joe Biden has outlined very specific plans, with their costs, to invest in American infrastructure. Here are the elements of the Biden Plan:Build a Modern InfrastructurePosition the U.S. Auto Industry to Win the 21st Century with technology invented in AmericaAchieve a Carbon Pollution-Free Power Sector by 2035Make Dramatic Investments in Energy Efficiency in Buildings, including Completing 4 Million Retrofits and Building 1.5 Million New Affordable HomesPursue a Historic Investment in Clean Energy InnovationAdvance Sustainable Agriculture and ConservationSecure Environmental Justice and Equitable Economy OpportunityJoe Biden promises to create well-paid union jobs that expand the middle class. These jobs will be filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers – including women and people of color. He recognizes the nation’s obligation to workers who built our infrastructure for now-outdated technologies. For these workers, Biden will establish a task force similar to one created in 2009 to help Detroit weather the auto crisis.This task force will “help these communities access federal investments and leverage private sector investments to help create high-paying union jobs based upon the unique assets of each community, partner with unions and community colleges to create training opportunities for these new jobs, repair infrastructure, keep public employees like firefighters and teachers on the payroll, and keep local hospitals open.”The call for infrastructure improvement is inextricably woven with the dire needs to address both the struggling economy and the climate crisis. The Biden plan will create the jobs we need to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure. This will deliver the clean energy future that is long overdue and boost the economy with jobs that will still be relevant and necessary in the future.The climate-centered approach will leverage innovations already emerging from our national laboratories and universities. This plan will build jobs in new industries and re-invigorated regional economies, and focus on manufacturing products in America.Infrastructure investment in sustainable technologies will “lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.”Besides infrastructure, investments in the auto industry, transit, power, buildings, and housing will create jobs in the short term and create sustainability in the longer term. New jobs bring opportunities for workers entering the workforce as well as for experienced workers retraining for challenges in the new sustainable economy.The infrastructure program will require investment of $1.3 trillion over ten years. This investment will rebuild the middle class with competitive job skills, to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and to make sure that economic growth is shared across cities, towns and rural areas across the country. Furthermore, the programs will prioritize the communities that have suffered the most from our inaction—low income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities. They’ll get 40% of the investments in housing, pollution reduction, workforce development, and transportation.Joe Biden described his plan in detail in a Wilmington, Delaware speech on July 14, 2020. “These investments are a win, win, win for this country, creating jobs, cutting energy costs, protecting our climate.”Now that’s how you have an Infrastructure Week.
A Revival of American Diplomacy
Oct. 5, 2020, 5:25 p.m.
Biden War Room
On September 22, Donald Trump gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Much of it involved self-congratulatory statements, with Trump heaping praise after praise onto his own efforts. However, the most telling message came at the final minute. Staring intently at the camera, Donald Trump claimed that he had “rejected the failed approaches of the past.” He was “proudly putting America first” and calling on other nations to put “their countries first” as well. A few hours later, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the UN assembly soberly. He directed criticism straight towards Trump, asserting that “no doubt there will be a cure for the pandemic… but there will be no miracle cure for the destructuring of the modern order.” Poignantly, Macron urged his European allies to join Macron in taking proactive steps. If the United States cannot be called on to support its allies across the globe, then its allies must forge a path on their own. These developments have been long-standing in the Trump administration. Many articles have been written about Trump’s destruction of the liberal world order, and many others have explored the growing strength of populist, right-wing movements in the aftermath of Trump’s election. This trend is alarming. In the years since 2016, we have seen an uptick in authoritarianism. Countries that Trump claims friendship with have embraced radical policies that have disenfranchised millions. Trump has praised Turkish President Erdogan, calling him a “good person.” Turkey, meanwhile, has imprisoned thousands of individuals as political prisoners, including activists and journalists. Trump has defended North Korean President Kim Jong Un, claiming that "he's got a great personality. He's a funny guy, he's very smart, he's a great negotiator.” North Korea continues to move populations into forced labor camps, and crackdowns on civil liberties remain common. From Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, there is no shortage of evidence for Trump’s support of dictators, autocrats, and right-wing populists. Under Trump, the country has been at the heart of global crises. From escalation with North Korea in 2017 to the abandonment of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018, Trump’s actions on the world stage have lacked consistency, long term consideration, and care. While pandering to dictators and autocrats, Trump has also dismantled many of our closest relationships, insulting German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May on separate occasions. This has forced many nations, as President Macron said, to consider a new world order without the United States. Joe Biden’s foreign policy is the complete opposite. His political career demonstrates his support for values utterly alien to Trump, such as the promotion of democracy and inclusive institutions. On July 23, 1986, Joe Biden gave us a direct look at his views on the world. There, he criticized the South African government and its promotion of Apartheid, calling it the “ugly, white regime.” He carried on, explaining that his support went fully to the marginalized members of South African society and criticizing then-Secretary of State, George Schultz, for “refusing to act on a morally abhorrent point.” He holds these values to this day. President Barack Obama selected Biden as his running mate because of his prowess in foreign affairs. Indeed, Joe Biden’s voting record shows how he has promoted liberal values throughout the world. The highest priority of his policy plan is restoring “dignified leadership at home and respected leadership on the world stage.” Key to this plan is the reversal of Trump’s isolationist and xenophobic policies. Joe Biden will end the discriminatory Muslim travel ban. Joe Biden wants to support political asylum seekers and refugees. Joe Biden wants to restore the State Department that has been gutted by the Trump administration. In every sense, Joe Biden wants to re-engage the United States with the rest of the world, bringing the country back into multilateral agreements like the Paris Agreement on climate change.However, these are only parts of Joe Biden’s plans on the global stage. Trump’s policies have caused long-term damage to America’s reputation. Joe Biden recognizes this. At the DNC, Biden made himself clear, declaring that “the days of cozying up to dictators is over.” He has called out foreign adversaries, telling Putin that he was “on notice.” In every way, Joe Biden professes a foreign policy that will return America to its former trajectory, and from there, Joe Biden hopes to utilize American leadership to affect positive change. From issues like climate change, global poverty, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Biden has shown us a long-term vision. Cooperation is the only path forward. When we work alone, we are doomed to fail.
History of Voting
Oct. 5, 2020, 5:22 p.m.
Paul Sullivan, BWR Team
On January 31st, 1865, the Thirteenth amendment, abolishing slavery once and for all, was adopted by Congress. Though the amendment still had to be ratified by the states, that was more a formality than anything else. For all intents and purposes, slavery was legally dead in the United States. The mood in Washington that night was one of jubilation; the Republican congressmen who had fought tooth and nail to pass the amendment openly wept, and crowds of black and white people gathered in the streets to celebrate. Among the revelers was a Union army veteran named Charles Douglass, son of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He wrote to his father the next day, describing the scene. “I wish you could have been here,” he said, “such rejoicing I never before witnessed, cannons firing, people hugging and shaking hands.” The elder Douglass, while surely ecstatic at the news, took on a more somber tone. Just because slavery had been abolished did not mean that black people were truly equal before the law. That, he said, would not happen unless they were guaranteed the right to vote. “Slavery,” he later wrote, “is not abolished until the black man has the ballot.” Without the right to vote, Douglass said, the freedman “is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not a right.” In the immediate post-war years, Douglass’s activism was rewarded by the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments, which extend universal suffrage to all men, regardless of color or creed (women, much to the chagrin of the early suffragettes, were denied access to the ballot box). Soon enough, these amendments bore fruit. By 1867, 80% of all African American men in the old Confederacy had become registered voters. Less than three years later, these newly enfranchised freedmen sent the first black representatives to the US Congress. By 1876, around two thousand African Americans would be elected to various offices throughout the South. Douglass could not have been happier with these developments. It seemed as though America was finally living up to its founding creed — that all men were indeed created equal (though to activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, the words “all men” could scarcely have seemed more poignant). But in spite of this, dark storm clouds were on the horizon. The old guard of the Confederacy would not go quietly into the night. Determined to end this experiment in interracial democracy, the former rebels donned hoods, and branded themselves as “the knights of the Klu Klux Klan.” These men unleashed a wave of white supremacist terror upon the South, targeting African Americans and their white allies. Though President Ulysses S. Grant sent in troops to stop the slaughter, the Klan met with horrifying success. When President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew federal forces in 1877, over two thousand men, women, and children had been murdered in some of the worst political violence in American history. Douglass tried to remain optimistic in the face of this slaughter. “The sky of the negro is dark,” he told a crowd in 1883, “but not rayless.” One could be forgiven for thinking that this was a rather sunny portrait of the situation. Having successfully blocked freedmen from voting, black politicians lost access to their base of support and were summarily drummed out of office. White supremacist legislators replaced them, and passed the infamous Jim Crow laws. These, among other things, prevented black people from voting, turning practice into law throughout the South. But even this victory did not quench the bloodthirsty mobs of the postbellum American South — in 1883, an additional 77 African Americans met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs. Douglass continued the fight for equal rights for the rest of his life, but his time was drawing to a close — in 1895, he died of a heart attack in his Washington, D.C., home. And though Douglass was gone, his fight was far from over. A new generation of activists stood ready to pick up the torch. One member of this new generation was an investigative journalist named Ida B. Wells. Born into slavery in Mississippi, the young Wells was already known as a firebrand activist for her efforts to halt lynchings throughout America. Her journalism about the horrors of voter suppression and white supremacist violence was the stuff of legends. “If the American conscience were only half alive,” Douglass had told her several years before his death, “a scream of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven wherever your pamphlet shall be read.” Despite her newfound admirers, Wells found that her work had endangered her life, and fled the South for the relative safety of Chicago — then among one of the least segregated cities in America. Wells was convinced that lynchings would only be stopped once the right to vote was guaranteed; “With no sacredness of the ballot,” she wrote, “there can be no sacredness of human life itself.” Wells took particular comfort in the example of her home state of Illinois, where black voters and politicians successfully lobbied Governor Charles Deneen to pass and enforce anti-lynching laws. But, as a black woman, Wells found herself under attack from all sides; a devoted Suffragette, she was routinely iced out by the movement's white leaders. In 1913, at a Suffragist parade in Washington D.C., Wells and the other black attendees were told by the organizers that they would be relegated to the back of the march, out of sight and out of mind. Wells, infuriated by the idea of segregation at an event ostensibly dedicated to equality, refused. “Either I go with you or not at all,” she told the organizers. And, on the day of the parade, Wells donned a banner reading “Illinois” and marched alongside the white delegates. Shortly afterwards, Wells returned home to Illinois, where she and her newly founded Alpha Suffrage Club successfully lobbied the State to pass an equal suffrage amendment. The country as a whole would follow suit seven years later with the 19th Amendment. But while Wells’s women’s rights activism certainly paid off, her crusade for civil rights encountered far more difficulty; though lynchings were mostly on the decline in the United States, they still occurred with shocking regularity. In 1920, the same year the 19th Amendment was ratified, fifty three African Americans died to lynch mobs. Even Illinois descended into racial violence — in the Chicago race riots of 1919, twenty-three African Americans were killed by white mobs. Wells, however, never gave into despair. She fought for the right to vote and the end of lynching all her life, but lived to see neither. She died in 1931, at the age of 68. Once again, it was up to a new generation to continue the fight. That new generation found itself forged in fire on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, where, despite the horrific segregation they endured at home, Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics took up arms to defend America from foreign foes. In Europe, these men encountered a society free of the segregation which kept them repressed in the States; bars seated them alongside white soldiers, greeting them as liberators irrespective of skin color. “Look,” said actor Burgess Meridith in the US Army film “A Guide to Britain for Americans,” “that might not happen at home, but the point is, we’re not at home.” Such a statement could hardly have rung truer for GIs of color, who suddenly had a taste of what life could be like without segregation — and now that they had sampled it, they would not be denied. Among those men who fought facsism in Europe was Staff Sergeant Hosea Williams. After nearly being blown to pieces by a German bomb, he was discharged and sent home to Georgia, where he was promptly beaten by a white mob for drinking from a fountain marked “Whites Only.” The beating nearly killed Williams — indeed, the only reason his attackers stopped was because they thought he was dead — but somehow, he cheated death a second time. This attack, and others like it, triggered the beginning of the civil rights movement. At the time, it had little support from white Americans. But change was coming, whether they wanted it or not. Throughout the mid 20th century, the civil rights movement continued to pick up steam, boiling over in a town called Selma, Alabama, on March 7th, 1965. Several weeks earlier, a young black activist named Jimmie Lee Jackson had been murdered by an Alabama state trooper in an incident which remains morbidly familiar to modern Americans. To protest the murder — and to advocate for voting rights — six hundred protestors, lead by Williams and an activist from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Comittee named John Lewis, planned to march to Montgomery, Alabama. Lewis was, by then, a seasoned activist who had spoken alongside the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington. “‘One man, one vote,’ is the African cry,” Lewis had told the audience. “It is ours too. It must be ours!” But shortly after the march got underway, the protesters got in what Lewis might have called “good trouble.” They intended to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge - named for the Confederate General and Klansman who had participated in the murder of African Americans during Reconstruction. The marchers were greeted on the bridge by state troopers who attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas — once again, a scene depressingly familiar to the present-day US. Lewis himself suffered a fractured skull at the hands of a state trooper. Lewis’s and Williams’s activism, however, paid off. The display of violence in Alabama shocked the American conscience, which, if not yet half-alive, at the very least had a pulse. Scarcely three months later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, ending old Jim Crow with the stroke of a pen. But the fight was still not done, even as its warriors began to fall. King and Malcolm X, two of the movement’s strongest leaders, fell to assassin’s bullets. And while the forces of white supremacy had lost the day, they had not been entirely annihilated. They remained in the shadows, biding their time, and operating in far more insidious ways—through gerrymandering and voter suppression. Williams continued fighting all his life, but died in the year 2000. But John Lewis continued the battle, even as the other leaders of the civil rights movement lay silent in their graves. “There are forces — there are people who want to take us back,” he told an audience at the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington in 2013. “We cannot go back. We’ve come too far. We want to go forward.” But while none can doubt the progress that Lewis achieved, the momentum seemed, at times, stalled. While Lewis lived long enough to see the election of America’s first black President in 2008, he also lived to see voter suppression in Georgia defeat Stacey Abrams, and watched as President Trump, desperate to avoid an electoral thumping, used his powers to try to stop Americans from voting him out of office. Lewis did not live to see the end of the fight either. On July 17th, 2020, he died of pancreatic cancer. But while the warriors of yore have gone from the field, the battle rages on. It is up to a new generation of Americans to pick up the torch that was carried by men and women like Douglass, Wells, and Lewis, and, at long last, carry it to the finish line and sanctify that peculiar American motto; that “All men are created equal.”
How To Survive Election Night
Sept. 22, 2020, 3:20 p.m.
Biden War Room
On Election Night in 2012, the contest was close — between Barack Obama, who was running for reelection, and his challenger Mitt Romney. The votes for Ohio were pouring in, a state whose loss would be nearly insurmountable for Mitt Romney. Fox News had their journalists and analysts on board, including strategist Karl Rove, who had once been dubbed “Bush’s brain.”Every network has its numbers nerds, and the ones at Fox called Ohio for Obama. Rove was stunned and had a minor on-air meltdown. Megyn Kelly marched behind the scenes to make sure that the analysts were sure, and Rove continued to insist that the race was too early to call. Finally, he relented when it was obvious that the votes still uncounted were from Democratic strongholds.Here’s the takeaway. Election Night is stressful. The votes are reported one district at a time. If one candidate has a lead, even a small lead, in well-understood districts, an experienced analyst can look at the winning margins in the known places and you can guess the winning margins in the rest of the state. When the pros call races, it might still look tied to the rest of us. It might even look lost to the rest of us. (This could happen to either party.)Donald Trump, not known for sportsmanship, is already trying to undermine the election results because he believes he will lose a fair fight.He knows that mailed ballots are often counted after the polls close. The in-person votes are already known as soon as polls close. So the timeline works out that there will be news (in some states) that “with N percent counted, so-and-so-candidate looks like the winner.”But this year, one can predict that there will be a difference in the ways Biden voters and Trump voters cast their ballots. For many reasons, Biden voters are expected to vote by mail in a larger proportion than Trump voters. The Trump effort to keep Democrats from voting by mail (or voting at all) might be backfiring, and GOP operatives are working behind the scenes to recover. In some states, tabulating mail-in ballots will occur after the in-person votes are counted.Seeing RedEnter the new nightmare now described as “the red mirage.” Here’s how it works. Pennsylvania and Michigan voted for Trump in 2016, but they are potential wins for Democrats in 2020. Both of these states have historically tallied their in-person votes before they count the mailed ballots. So what if millions of ballots in Philadelphia, Detroit, and other cities aren’t in the earliest numbers? It will look like a Trump win, prematurely to millions of election watchers, and immaturely to Donald Trump himself.The reason it might be a mirage is that the closer you get to the end of this scenario, more and more votes would be tallied for Joe Biden. And if the early lead does turn out to be a mirage, the state’s electoral votes will go to Joe Biden. Great outcome, terrible narrative.In one frightening model, Trump could appear to be ahead 408-130 in an electoral vote mirage when as little as 15% of the vote is counted, only to lose to Joe Biden in a genuine 334-204 landslide.CNN reporter Marshall Cohen calls it the “blue shift” and uses the 2016 popular vote to make the point:“The "blue shift" in one image: Election night 2016, Trump won, and is declaring victory. But look at the graphics under Trump. He is leading the national popular vote by ~950,000. That was true at that moment. But weeks later, the final count put Clinton ahead by ~2.9 million.”(For a guy who just learned that he’s the President of the United States, Trump doesn’t look all that happy about it in this photo. Even today, he’s still harping on the fact that more Americans voted against him than for him in 2016.)It seems as though Americans disagree about just about everything this year, and whether to vote by mail is one of those areas. Significantly more Democrats (72%) than Republicans (22%) say that they plan to vote by mail. Let’s deconstruct this state-by-state. Different states have different rules for ballot counting. Here’s a list, sorted by estimated level of panic from a “red mirage” (or worse, no mirage).The scariest wait times:Michigan: More than 2 million Michiganders have requested mail-in ballots, a state record. Relaxed laws allowing no-excuse mail-in voting and fears about coronavirus have already resulted in 1.6 million absentee ballots cast in the August primary, and the state expects about 3 million mail-in ballots in November. The good news? This keeps voters safe and helps keep in-person voting less crowded. The bad news? Michigan doesn’t process or count mail-in ballots before Election Day, although the processing and counting might start before the polls close. It’s a state Trump won in 2016, and he’ll be watching it with great interest and lots of petulance if he loses.Ohio: Absentee ballot applications were sent to all 7.8 million registered voters in the state, a practice that has been in place since 2012. The state’s official positions on processing and counting timelines aren’t as clear as other states. Ohio’s Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, has been very proactive in making sure that Ohioans are able to exercise their constitutional rights. For example, LaRose is trying to include postage-paid envelopes with the mail-in ballots. Processing ballots can start before the polls close, but details are unclear as to how early that might be.Pennsylvania: The state may begin to process ballots at 7:00 AM on Election Day, but valid ballots will arrive to be tabulated for another three days after the polls close. On July 29, the USPS warned Pennsylvania that its ballot mail recommendations did not allow for on-time delivery. In the June 2 primary (1.4 million mail-in votes statewide), for example, in Philadelphia alone, 14,600 completed ballots arrived after the deadline. Some areas were granted extensions, but others were not. Officials warned that voters might receive their ballots too late to return them. For November, an extension of three days will be available for ballots mailed before 8:00 PM on Election Day. That might not be enough for voters who wait until the last minute. Another problem for mail voters is that the ballot will be rejected if it’s missing the inside “secrecy envelope” and the voter is not notified that their vote won’t count. In early returns, that error is discarding about 5% of ballots, probably disproportionately voting for Joe Biden. For what it’s worth, the “blue shift” was worth about 22,000 Democratic votes in the last four elections. Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes or .7% . This is another state that could make Trump cranky on Election Night.Wisconsin: Mailed ballots will begin processing after the polls open on Election Day. There’s an ongoing dispute about whether failed third-party candidates should be added to the Wisconsin ballot, and this could result in counting delays if ballot delivery deadlines are extended beyond Election Day. The candidates in question are Kanye West, supported by Republicans, and the new, not-Jill-Stein Green Party entry, supported by the Kremlin. There are other challenges: 23,000 mailed ballots were rejected in the April primary, fewer than 2%, but more than Trump’s winning 2016 margin. With only five polling places open in Milwaukee, lines were long, and it’s likely that some voters stayed home rather than face the pandemic and the rain. The good news? The conservative-controlled state learned some lessons about potential voter suppression. That’s the bad news, too.Medium scary:Georgiaprocessed upon receiptIowaprocessed the day before Election DayMinnesotaprocessed upon receipt; opened 7 days before Election Day. MN has also waived the witness requirement and extended the ballot receipt deadline.Nevadaprocessed upon receiptLeast scary:Arizonaprocessed 14 days before Election DayColoradoprocessed upon receiptFloridaprocessed 22 days before Election DayNorth Carolinaprocessed fifth Tuesday before Election DayTexasprocessed upon receiptLandslide = BedtimeA chart compiled by Charles Stewart III depicts what time various states called the 2016 election. Swing states reporting well after midnight that year included Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, and Nevada, with Arizona and Michigan described as “later”, which could be a very long time. But the way processing and counting will work for 2020 is different from previous elections and could change later in the cycle.Nobody but Donald Trump wants an electoral mess (well, maybe Vladimir Putin).Associated Press political writer Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) sums it up this way: “Mail ballots will be counted late in MI, PA and WI. But they will be counted early in AZ and FL, which should counterbalance that somewhat on election night.” Arizona must have fixed whatever was wrong in 2016.Florida political strategist Steve Schale (@SteveSchale) says “We know if we win Florida it’s over. We also know we will know rapidly.” With 2.22 million Democrats registered to vote by mail, their enrollment exceeds Republican mail-in voters by 717,000, an 80-fold increase over 2016 numbers. With no evidence, Trump seems to think that Florida mail ballots are safer than they are everywhere else.Unforced errorsMore than 550,000 absentee ballots were rejected during the 2020 primaries. If you are voting by mail, especially if you’re voting absentee for the first time, make sure you get it right. Here are some of the most common problems you might face: (1) Improperly filling out your ballot (2) Forgetting to sign your envelope (3) Using a different signature from the version your state has on file (4) Not including required additional documentation (or the inner secrecy envelope, at least in Pennsylvania) (5) Sending your ballot back too lateIn North Carolina, mailed ballots for the general election November 3 are already being returned. A mid-September review of returned ballots indicated that Democrats were out-voting Republicans 59% to 12% by mail at that early point. The review also revealed that about 4% of those ballots have errors that can be tracked and fixed with the help of a new system called Ballottrax. Most states will give you a chance to “cure” a rejected ballot. New voters, young voters, and minorities represent a disproportionate number of rejected ballots. You don’t want to find yourself on the cutting-room floor. While we’re looking for a vaccine, it’s a relief to know there’s a “cure” for something.You can helpIf you live in Florida, you can help make Election Night an early bedtime. Vote early, whether by mail or in person. If you decide to vote by mail, track your ballot online. Call your friends and help them get their ballot right and track its progress. A Biden landslide in Florida is an early night and almost undoubtedly a decisive national loss for Donald Trump.If you aren’t a Floridian, watch the polls if you like, but never forget that national leads can tighten. Approval polls don’t matter. And of course, polls don’t vote.The national popular vote doesn’t count (Don’t believe me? Ask President Hillary, or President Al Gore). To prevail in the Electoral College, Joe Biden needs to win the popular vote within enough states, not in the aggregate, for it to matter. What can you do?For you, Election Day is the day you receive your ballot. Fill it out with the right ink, seal it, sign it, and send it (or deliver it). The sooner it gets into the system — no matter when your state begins to process or count — the sooner you can track it to learn whether you got it right the first time.If you get something wrong on your ballot, or if the state didn’t get it for some reason, in many states, you get another chance. Take advantage of that. Get a provisional ballot to mail again or drop off, vote early in-person, or vote on Election Day. Wear a mask. Be heard. Right now, voting for Joe Biden is the most important thing you can do for your country.
It Started Early
Sept. 22, 2020, 2:24 p.m.
Nader Hussein, BWR Press Secretary
I first heard of Joe Biden in 2005, as an eighth grader. My civics teacher, Mrs. Collins, assigned us all to pick a law from a list and do a project on it. I was one of the first to get to pick, and the name stood out immediately; the Violence Against Women Act.I was 13 years old and I had been raised in a household and a family that valued women, and I had always been told to treat women with respect. It was shocking to me that not everyone believed in those values, and it made me furious, but it gave me great respect for the politician who introduced it, a senator from Delaware named Joe Biden.I probably bit off a bit more than I could chew, as it was such a large and comprehensive bill, but it stuck with me, so when the 2008 election cycle came around, I heard a name I remembered. I was now 17, and just started wading into the world of politics. I was inspired by a group of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for President. The possibility of the first Black president, the first female president or the man who I silently admired for four years. As the process played out and Senator Barack Obama won the nomination and selected Senator Biden as his running mate, I made my first endorsement.Watching the duo in action and looking more into their pasts, I learned even more about the Vice President that endeared him to me. As a Muslim, I was in awe watching the video of him on the floor of the Senate, passionately calling on his colleagues to support Bosnia's Muslim population against a genocide, then doing the same to aid Muslims in Kosovo. I was so excited at the prospect of Vice President Biden running again for the Presidency in 2016 to continue the work of the Obama-Biden administration.Then tragedy struck. Vice President Biden's son, Beau, passed away and it brought with it new awareness of Biden's previous heartbreak. I learned how he had lost his wife and baby daughter decades earlier before being sworn in as a senator, and I wondered how anyone could go through so much pain and still carry on.Watching his media appearances and addresses in the following years, one thing became crystal clear to me; Joe Biden is an absolute empath. When he says “I understand your pain,” you know he truly does. When he is asked about the trauma he's experienced, he pivots to others who have gone through similar trials with less support and he lauds them for carrying on. He does not dwell in self-pity, but he uses it as motivation to fight for others.On April 25, 2019 Joe Biden announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President. As a 27-year-old now fully immersed in politics, I had my candidate. As more and more people entered the race, I was extremely impressed with the brilliant, diverse field and I believed that no matter who won, we would be infinitely better off than we were with Donald Trump. Still, Joe Biden was my pick.During the campaign and in the primary debates, the way he brought up the plight of Uyghur Muslims in China evoked memories of his words on the floor of the Senate, speaking up against a different genocide of Muslims. Hearing him talk about the need for affordable childcare reminded me of the struggles he faced as a working single parent to two young boys. His advocacy for public transit recalled how he would ride Amtrak for four hours each day to be there for his sons while serving in office as a single father.After winning the nomination during a period of public health, economic and racial turmoil, Biden did not waste any time in addressing the issues, even when the President stayed silent and downplayed concerns. He laid out plans to combat each crisis, focused on helping people. He united a party, and even brought in disaffected Republicans in a time of increased political polarization, with a message of progress and empathy.Now 29 years old, I know that in these days of separation, we need a uniter. In these times of crisis, we need a proven leader. With a heartless current administration, we need an empath.We need Joe Biden.
Sept. 18, 2020, 5:59 p.m.
Biden War Room
“What private griefs they have, alas, I know not, that made them do it. They are wise and honorable, and will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.”In what is probably the first documented campaign speech of all time, Marc Anthony’s eulogy for Julius Caesar, as imagined by William Shakespeare, first describes Caesar’s assassins as “honorable” with insincere respect, and later growls the same word with outright contempt.This represents high-quality snark, written centuries ago. The quote above, for example, means, “Maybe they have their own reasons for being douches. I don’t get it. Let’s find out. Because they’re ...wise… and ...honorable.” Here Shakespeare’s quill pen drips with sarcasm.A student of the musical Hamilton might notice that the honor-defined culture in which our country's founders lived often resulted in dangerous and idiotic duels. Their notion of honorable behavior was nothing like our more modern view of justice that entrusts our legal system to handle disputes, flawed as it is. Furthermore, we will never condone those who owned slaves while they thought themselves moral.While we critically examine the morality of our country's founders today, there is one thing that has become apparent as we live with the Constitution in the 21st century — the men who wrote our guiding principles assumed that the people that we entrusted to lead our country had a sense of honor and that the framework supporting our government would not allow someone without a sense of honor to disrupt it.What do you do when a country founded on honor is chaired by someone who has no conception of honor and isn’t ashamed of that at all?It isn’t that we didn’t know. During the primaries for the 2016 election, we watched Donald Trump belittle his debate opponents with schoolyard nicknames and nasty tweets. His opponents folded one by one, as if it were orchestrated in a badly-written play. The allegations against Ted Cruz (and his non-political wife) were slanderous and personal. Unexpectedly, many of the victims of these attacks are now among his defenders.During the presidential campaign, Trump belittled the physically disabled, retweeted anti-Semitic memes promoted by far-right accounts, trashed a Gold Star family, and owned up to a vile interview about delightedly assaulting women, never apologizing or changing his indefensible behavior. He criticized the judge overseeing a case involving Trump’s fraudulent university, asserting that the judge’s judicial independence would be compromised because of his Mexican-American heritage. Trump’s fans cheered his “honesty” as they laughed off his many lies. And yet somehow Donald Trump eked out a victory.It has felt like the Trump Administration has lasted forever, but many still remember the on-air analysis constantly predicting a “pivot” in Trump’s behavior. His handlers were thwarted every time they thought they’d contained his basic instincts. This was finally so laughable that now there’s a meme whenever Trump does something like, well, tell people to vote first by mail and later to commit fraud by voting in person. You’ll see the tittering on Twitter, “This is the day Trump finally became President.” We all know that he will never become president.In office, Trump retained his lifelong appetites, and now he has power that he never had before. He can break the law, and then he can fire the enforcers. Inspectors General, judges (replaced by those considered unqualified by law groups and only appointed for their loyalty to Trump), and entire offices like the Federal Election Commission are neutered. He's banned disfavored journalists from White House briefings. All of these members of the loyal opposition were once left in place, perhaps without love, but with respect, by former presidents.Richard Nixon was the only U.S. president in history ever to resign, and he did so because his conduct resulted in three articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee. The worst day of Nixon’s behavior was called the Saturday Night Massacre. He wanted his Attorney General to fire the Special Prosecutor investigating Watergate. The sitting Attorney General wouldn’t do it and resigned. His replacement wouldn’t do it and resigned. The third Attorney General relented, a move that was remembered when his later nomination to the US Supreme Court was rejected. Nixon was finally implicated in the Watergate scandal, and he resigned. In the end, maybe he knew that his needs were subservient to honor. (He also knew that the Senate would remove him from office, with only 15 potential supporters.) That particular Senate only had 56 Democrats, but even the members of Nixon’s party understood the meaning of honor.Trump has dishonored the office from the moment he was elected. There are three driving forces, likely related, that have guided nearly all of his actions. One is Russia. Another is acquiring money for himself or for his associates that can provide him with more money. Last, he loathes anything that might reveal his associations with Russia or his appropriation of money he isn’t supposed to have. That’s it.Let’s decode Trump’s “governance”: Russia: Whether the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian intelligence is still vigorously debated, but there is no doubt that the Russians tried, and are still trying, to destroy our democracy, and that their efforts are embraced by Trump and his close associates. Why did we learn from the Kremlin, not our own press, that Russians were entertained — alone with Trump and their own entourage — in the Oval Office? Why has our press, constantly unraveling Trump’s cover stories about Russia, earned the Stalinist moniker “enemy of the people” as a constant refrain on the Trump Twitter feed? Why can’t Trump stand up to Russia on anything, even the poisoning of a political opponent? Russia knows a lot about Trump, and they know that the press is only your enemy when you have something very big that you don’t want anyone to know. To channel Carrie Bradshaw — “I couldn't help but wonder, with everything damaging we already know about Trump and Russia, what is still so terrible that Trump has to go to such lengths to hide it?”Money: Trump proclaimed that he wouldn’t take his salary as president, but we the people have funded his family’s lavish travels (they do not actually work for the White House) and of course, Trump’s golf (at his own resorts), which alone has cost us about $141,000,000. He routinely tries to broker federal “deals” in such a way that he or those close to him will benefit financially. Or he’ll launder federal money into his re-election campaign or launder money from his campaign coffers into his personal account. Trump placed unqualified donors and supporters into Cabinet and executive positions in departments such as Education, Housing and Urban Development, and the United States Postal Service. It’s common in normal times for political allies to become ambassadors to low-risk countries, but not for positions with operational responsibilities. On the fringes of the corruption, there’s a law that prevents those around the president from campaigning at official events because it redirects taxpayer funds for personal gain. Violations of this law were once enforced, but they pale in the pile of more serious and more obvious crimes. Enforcement: The biggest lie of all, of course, is that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is a “hoax.” Cascading from that, there are dozens of actions that make no sense for an innocent man to take. Firing Inspectors General who are investigating paths that might lead to Trump’s misbehavior. Hiding and fighting financial disclosures that are routinely revealed by all other presidential candidates. Preventing career executive branch employees from testifying to Congress. Hiding or seizing the translator’s notes from private meetings with Vladimir Putin. If Trump has done nothing wrong, he certainly has consumed a lot of energy trying to frame himself.Then there are the overt desecrations of democracy itself, with Trump trying to undermine our confidence in whether our votes will count, inserting delays into the voting process itself, threatening not to concede a loss, and asserting, always without any evidence, that the election will be “rigged”. These can’t be explained directly by Trump’s appetites for money, attention, or the approval of Russia. Maybe he knows that the office is the only barrier between himself and accountability for crimes that are still redacted or sealed. Maybe he just thinks that trashing our democracy is the surest path to reelection victory in the face of polls that even Russian disinformation might not overcome. If that’s the explanation, it’s truly shameless, and Trump has demonstrated time after time that he is incapable of shame. But it gets worse indeed.In mid-2016, we watched candidate Trump dishonor our war dead with his defensive and selfish reaction to the Democratic convention speech given by Khizr and Ghazala Khan. The speech was directed at Trump’s constant, unconstitutional attempts to ban Muslims from entering the country. Coming from a Gold Star family, the speech was powerful, and Trump reacted with his now-familiar disdain for those who gave their lives to our country. Like all Trump horrors, this dominated a few news cycles and moved on. We’d already forgotten his quip that John McCain hadn’t really been a war hero, because, “I like people who weren’t captured.”In a September 2020 article in The Atlantic, by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, Trump is quoted as calling our active and fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers”. It’s shocking, and tragic, and completely expected. We knew who he was in 2015 when he first ran; we knew in 2016 after his treatment of patriots like the Khan family, and enough people put that aside and cast their ballots for him anyway.Our heroes in the military fight for us, are imprisoned for us, and die for us. They fight for our right to make vile statements about them, even if those statements are lies, even if those statements are declared from a podium. Even if those statements are coming from their Commander-in-Chief.A recurring feature of Trump’s 2016 rallies, cheered by his audience, was a poem about a tenderhearted woman who saved a snake from freezing, appropriating a song (in rich irony) from a civil rights activist. In Trump’s version, the woman is America and the snake is a Muslim refugee. In the end, the snake bit the woman who cared for him.“Oh, shut up, silly woman!’ said the reptile with a grin. ‘You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”Yes, we did. We knew Trump was a snake, and we took him in anyway. Let’s get back to honoring our Constitution, our fellow Americans, and those who fight for our right to be whoever we are, whatever that is, even those of us who say vile things.If you have asked for a mail-in ballot, your Election Day is the day it arrives. If you plan to vote early in-person, make sure you’re equipped with the right identification. Make sure you sign in all the right places. Get it right. If you can, track your ballot and make sure that it’s counted. Honor those who gave everything to protect your freedoms. Vote for Joe Biden and bring honor back to our leadership.
The True Perils of the Presidency
Sept. 14, 2020, 4:29 p.m.
Dylan Hellebrand, BWR Team
For the last 231 years, the United States of America has grown from the original 13 colonies to 50 states. We have seen 58 presidential elections in which the American people chose the person they want to represent the third most populated country in the world. We have seen many ideologies and many hardships that make each election important, but we have never had a President be so erratic that American democracy was threatened until Donald Trump took the oath of office. When America was founded, it was founded on the crucial idea of democracy. It was established on the idea that we the people get to elect our leader. The United States was ruled by Great Britain and under a monarchy, and the Americans fought their way to create a country where the voices of the citizens were welcomed. Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he wants to serve for 12 years or even more. When George Washington was nearing the end of his second term as President, he chose not to serve another term in order to ensure America’s continued status as a democracy. He wanted to set a precedent of not staying in office for life as the United States was no longer under the rule of a king. When Abraham Lincoln was President, he oversaw a war that tore the United States into two. John F. Kennedy helped save the country from nuclear annihilation and both Presidents were assassinated while in office. Yet, Donald Trump states that out of all the Presidents, he has been treated the most “unfairly.” Not only is that statement incredulous, but it is disrespectful to the lives that Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy sacrificed for this nation. Presidents lead by example and are expected to tell the American people the truth. Franklin Roosevelt held “Fireside Chats” informing the American people of what they needed to know during his presidency and especially during World War II. Barack Obama declared H1N1 a national emergency by listening to our health officials. As of July 13, 2020, the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump has told 12 lies per day since the start of his presidency. Meanwhile, Joe Biden has promised to tell the American people the truth. While we are in the midst of a national pandemic, Donald Trump has repeatedly gone against the words of our scientists and health officials for his own political gain. Joe Biden has called for a national mandate on masks that would make the rate of COVID-19 infections lower, as a call for patriotism. President Ronald Reagan reinforced our military and subsidized innovative work on our weapons system. He even saw America’s future as a “shining city on a hill” and always promoted the idea that this country’s best days are yet to come. John F. Kennedy inspired millions of Americans to dream the impossible dream and wanted to put a man on the moon to prove that if we stick together, we can do anything we set our minds to. Barack Obama challenged the American people to hope and to change the course of this country during the worst recession since the Great Depression. Joe Biden has vowed to “restore the soul of this nation” and return America to a place where we can be civil to one another again. While those leaders focused on the future of America, Donald Trump has tried to take America backward by continuing to stoke the flames of white supremacy, equating white supremacists to protesters and to “very fine people.” Those who have occupied the office of President of the United States for the last 231 years have led by example. Dwight Eisenhower propelled the creation of NASA, which created America’s most innovative space program. Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which fundamentally made progress on race relations at the time. Barack Obama helped ensure that millions of Americans across the country were able to get the health insurance that they needed. While there are some instances of those who put party before country, the vast majority put their country before their own interests. Joe Biden has worked with every President from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama and has the experience needed to face the tough challenges America faces. While Joe Biden was co-authoring the Violence Against Women Act, Donald Trump was telling his friends to “be rougher” with their wives if they didn’t get their way. While Joe Biden secured three key Republican votes to get the Recovery Act passed which would help save the economy from the brink, Donald Trump was named in a claim over a failed construction venture. Those who invested said that Trump distorted his role in the finance portion of a new resort, expressing after the project's downfall that he didn't take any part in it's financial collapse. Joe Biden and his family moved from Pennsylvania to Delaware when he was young due to his dad having to find another job to support the family. Donald Trump claims that Joe Biden abandoned Pennsylvania. While Donald Trump is acting as a reality TV star, Joe Biden is always putting Americans and the middle class first. President Trump and Vice President Biden are polar opposites, but only one of them truly cares about restoring the backbone and the soul of this nation. I strongly urge you to vote for Joe Biden on November 3rd. Be a patriot and save this great American experimentation called democracy.“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits — despotic in his ordinary demeanour — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day — It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”~ Alexander Hamilton to George WashingtonSources:Crockett, Emily. “Donald Trump in 1994: I Tell My Friends to ‘Be Rougher’ with Their Wives.” Vox, Vox, 2 June 2016, www.vox.com/2016/6/2/11833912/donald-trump-1994-women-buildings-misogyny.Harrington, Joe. “Donald Trump Says Joe Biden 'Abandoned Scranton.' Here's Why He Left the Pa. City as a Child.” York Daily Record, York Daily Record, 20 Aug. 2020, www.ydr.com/story/news/2020/08/20/donald-trump-joe-biden-scranton-election-2020/5621608002/.Kessler, Glenn, et al. “Analysis | President Trump Has Made More than 20,000 False or Misleading Claims.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 July 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/13/president-trump-has-made-more-than-20000-false-or-misleading-claims/.Neuman, Johanna. “Joe Biden: the Train behind the Specter Defection.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 29 Apr. 2009, latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2009/04/biden-specter.html.
How Much of America Have We Lost to Covid-19? So Many Lives, and Much More
Sept. 9, 2020, 3:55 p.m.
Biden War Room
Among the many uncertainties that this pandemic has created, it seems like every day, one state or another admits that the number of deaths from COVID-19 is higher than the daily reporting we see. Some states have been less than forthcoming reporting the deaths, and blame can be shared across the aisle. Many of the states have risen to the challenge of correcting these oversights, which is better late than never. But death piled upon death illuminates the horrors of COVID-19 and its management; the virus has now killed more Americans than any war except the Civil War and World War II.Normally, in times of crisis, Americans come together. Somehow, the various tragedies of 2020 have had the opposite effect. Instead of coming together to address this national crisis, Americans are deeply divided, with one side cheered on by their President and the other side left to fend for themselves without federal support.It should be common knowledge by now that Donald Trump’s policies derive from his appetites at the moment. He craves attention and approval, and he needs to be reelected so that he can continue the former and validate the latter. When the virus was on the horizon, Trump insisted that it was unimportant and that it would go away “like a miracle.” When no miracle arrived and deaths began to mount, he touted his own meritless solutions. He blamed state governors for failing to solve the national emergency. Of his own role, “I don’t take responsibility at all”.The added incentive for him to sit back and do nothing to help in the beginning while Americans died was that the victims were typically Democrats. In the most charitable interpretation of that decision, Trump believes that his presidency only applies to his own supporters.What is the evidence of Trump metaphorically muttering “La la la la” with his fingers in his ears? He’s a reality show host, where everything is staged and the term “reality” is a brazen lie. He has one overarching goal: to win reelection. So he stage-manages everything to pretend that there is no virus, and if there is one, it’s easily avoidable, or treatable, or not lethal, or not his fault. And his followers line up like baby ducks imprinting on the first thing they see waddling along.Our disagreements span the spectrum from the lifesaving to the ridiculous. And generally, the lifesaving perspective is held by Democrats, experts, and scientists. Trump invariably touts solutions that attempt to foster an image of strength or decisiveness, but are often worse than doing nothing at all. First, it was the masks. Trump wouldn’t wear a mask, partly for psychological and cosmetic reasons, and partly because the sight of a mask on himself or others on his stage would verify that there’s a gigantic problem on his watch. Democrats and Republicans have differed significantly on whether to wear masks, although the divide is shrinking as the virus creeps towards Republican strongholds.Other countries with mask mandates (and other protocols like testing and tracing) have come out the other side of this virus, still acting vigilant while without a vaccine. Those living in Asia and Europe are in schools, in theaters, and bringing their economies back. US governors who monitored overseas successes instead of Trump’s nightly COVID-19 rallies are opening their states with caution. States that instead listened to Trump are still in near hibernation or experiencing infection spikes after six months. This is as crazy as having a political spat over whether to look straight at an eclipse. Oh wait.When the virus became too deadly to ignore, vaccines were still far in the future. Trump had to pretend that an experimental treatment would defang the killer that was keeping sensible people in their houses. That treatment was hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that had some success in hospitals when used off-label. It also had some severe outcomes where it hurt far more than it helped. After months, it’s still used only sporadically.That didn’t stop Trump. He promoted it as a preventive treatment with no justification, and his followers bought out supplies that left lupus patients without lifesaving care. A man died and his wife was hospitalized after following Trump’s invented advice that a chemical like this would prevent the disease in the first place. Does Donald Trump at least take responsibility for that?A new line of attack involved corrupting or eliminating all of the nonpartisan experts who might have been able to help steer policy and demonstrate leadership to a fearful populace. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s 78% approval rating rankled Trump against his own 44% approval against the coronavirus, and the expert quietly disappeared from the nightly rally-briefings.Other experts were removed or silenced when they continued to inform Americans about safety protocols that hunkered down instead of opening up. They were replaced by conspiracy theorists whose main qualification was making telegenic appearances on right-wing opinion outlets. But Democrats have learned to follow the expertise and ignore Trump’s parade of alchemists, and the information divide widens. It’s impossible to contain or treat this virus by ignoring it. Viruses don’t slither away when their feelings are hurt. The lies told about it will result in the deaths of those naive or corrupted enough to believe them. On August 30, a month after his death from COVID-19, the Twitter account of former presidential candidate and Trump supporter Herman Cain stated, “It looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media first made it out to be.” After their own deaths, the followers still believe.Since the outset, Donald Trump has been fixated on opening up the economy, no matter the stakes. Money is his brand, and he knows that he's ruined the US economic engine he inherited, so he’d like a do-over. He wanted the economy to be fully opened by Easter, something that sounds almost quaint now. He lobbied for a grand opening for summer holidays, which were discreetly ignored by all. Then he insisted that schools open for in-person fall classes, especially colleges. Many who tried closed back up again within a COVID-19-laced week.And most recently, Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory that only about 6% of the deaths were really due to COVID-19, because the victims must have died from other physical conditions (like obesity, diabetes or heart disease) or were elderly. Even the CDC, who published the data that were twisted into this hypothesis, disputes this. If a sumo wrestler is hit by a train, nobody thinks the cause of death is obesity just because he’s a bigger target. The messaging is everything to Donald Trump. Politico reported that Health and Human Services has put out a $250 million bid to communications firms for messaging that would “defeat despair and inspire hope” about coronavirus. The result of Trump’s interference in the work of that once-nonpartisan agency is that “nearly a fifth of adults would refuse a coronavirus vaccine if one were available, in some cases over fears that any approval would be motivated by politics rather than science. Just 14 percent of voters would be more likely to take a vaccine recommended by Trump.” Wouldn’t that money be better spent on PPE and testing and tracing? Trump’s staunchest followers continue to believe. When asked about the soaring death toll, Trump said, “It is what it is,” as if he were a mere bystander—and maybe he is.A CBS News/YouGov survey determined that 57% of registered Republicans viewed the 170,000 deaths at the time as “acceptable.” The other 43% of Republicans viewed this carnage as unacceptable, a shockingly low number as compared to 69% of Independents and 90% of Democrats.After learning of this survey, author Stephen King lamented, “What happened to you, America?” Imagine that; the consequences of Donald Trump’s absent leadership have spooked Stephen King. And that’s the guy who wrote Pet Sematary and The Shining.In contrast, Joe Biden has stated categorically, “As president, the first step I will take will be to get control of the virus that's ruined so many lives. Because I understand something this president doesn't. We will never get our economy back on track until we deal with this virus.”He couldn’t be clearer: “I promise you this: A Biden-Harris Administration will always listen to scientists.”Here are the components of the Biden-Harris seven-point plan to address COVID-19 and get it out of our lives:Fix Trump’s testing-and-tracing fiasco to ensure all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing.Fix personal protective equipment (PPE) problems for good.Provide clear, consistent, evidence-based national guidance for how communities should navigate the pandemic — and the resources for schools, small businesses, and families to make it through.Plan for the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines because discovering isn’t enough if they get distributed like Trump’s testing and PPE fiascos.Protect Older Americans and Others at High Risk.Rebuild and expand the defenses that Trump has dismantled to predict, prevent, and mitigate pandemic threats, including those coming from China.Implement mask mandates nationwide by working with governors and mayors and by asking the American people to do what they do best: step up in a time of crisis.You can find the details of his plans on the campaign website.We haven’t only lost American lives to this virus. As anyone who misses the joys of summer can attest, we have also lost American life, at least in 2020.Beyond all that, part of what makes us America — our unity, our meritocracy, our trust in science — has been corrupted. Joe Biden will have to be the vaccine for that, too.
A Housing Crisis, Exacerbated
Sept. 1, 2020, 3:15 p.m.
Biden War Room
Let’s set the stage. Coronavirus is everywhere. You’ve been quarantined in your house, with your family. You feel safe. It’s boring and unending, but your home is a sanctuary.What if you were locked out of your home and had nowhere to go and no money to pay for it? On July 24, the federal moratorium that was protecting many renters from eviction ended without a replacement plan. This provision in the CARES Act prevented landlords from filing eviction notices, or charging penalties for nonpayment of rent, or giving renters a 30-day notice to vacate. For those months, renters who had lost their jobs had the small assurance that they would not lose their homes as well. For homeowners, most financially-stressed mortgage holders saw a six-month forbearance window, with the possibility for more if needed.To make matters worse for the unemployed, the weekly $600 unemployment benefit that kept many afloat expired on July 31. While legislators negotiate a follow up bill, working-class people try to imagine what life will be like without a room of their own. Some states and cities provide help, but American families depend on federal assistance and the enforcement of laws preventing eviction.According to Census Bureau data in July, nearly 12 million adults live in households that missed their last rent payment, and 23 million have little or no confidence in their ability to make the next one. And this survey took place before the financial assistance ended.Without a steady income and without eviction protections, American families face the unthinkable: losing a place to live and being unable to demonstrate an income to rent or buy somewhere else.If only the pandemic were the only housing crisis facing America. Sadly, housing insecurity was already a crisis and it’s been compounded by Trump Administration actions.Even in early 2019, despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades and solid economic growth, millions of middle-class Americans were just one missed paycheck away from poverty and could not cope with a sudden disruption to income. Note that this wasn’t a problem just for the poor, and this was a problem in a better economic climate than today’s and the unchanged downturn we expect for the immediate future.In mid-2019, a survey from NORC at the University of Chicago found that 51% of Americans would need to dip into savings if they missed a single paycheck. Savings have been battered for months for the Americans who are now losing housing protections that have helped them survive the last few months. In the same survey, 65 percent of Hispanic households and 67 percent of households earning less than $30,000 annually would be unable to pay for necessities if they missed more than one paycheck.The American Bar Association (ABA) expressed its concerns about fair housing policy in late 2019, stating that “HUD has been eliminating, delaying, or revising its fair housing regulations in ways that are at odds with the intent of the Fair Housing Act, and in conflict with longstanding federal housing policy”. Most of the Trump Administration changes result in reductions to programs that help minorities.The ABA cites unfavorable changes to the Small Area Fair Market Rent Rule that enables low-income families to move to areas with better job opportunities, the suspension of a recent Fair Housing rule against racial bias, and gutting the Disparate Impact Rule, which “would allow financial institutions, insurance companies, and housing providers to adopt policies and practices or engage in covert discriminatory practices”.The head of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon with no experience in housing policy. So now the pandemic is here. The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was the largest economic stimulus package in US history and helped millions of Americans stave off disaster in the months after the US economy succumbed to the coronavirus. But right now, the Senate has not yet formulated a strategy for keeping Americans in their homes, and the help from the CARES Act is over. The House has passed a bill, and is awaiting negotiations with the Senate and the White House; neither the Senate nor the White House put forward any plans in time for a seamless transition to a new stimulus.The Economic Policy Institute issued a report that explores how Black Americans are most hurt by the pandemic, because of health, wealth, and yes, housing inequality. As of April, less than half of the adult Black population was employed. White families hold five times as much in liquid assets as Black families, and median income for white households is 70% higher than for Black households.In 2015, the Obama-Biden Administration set up the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule (AFFH) as part of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The 2015 rules required cities and towns that receive funding from HUD to document patterns of racial bias, to publicly report the results, and to set and track goals to reduce segregation.This is the rule that HUD suspended in early 2018 without much fanfare. In 2020, in an effort to improve his polling among white suburban voters, Donald Trump announced that he had rescinded the AFFH rule, via a shamelessly racist tweet. He’s the first openly pro-segregation politician in decades.In contrast, Joe Biden has fought for housing equality since his first year in government as a County Councilman. He sought to end “redlining”, the practice of excluding communities, usually minority communities, from business services such as banking, or promoting discriminatory practices that offer the services at a higher price than the cost to surrounding communities.Vice President Biden believes that housing is a right, not a privilege. He envisions an investment of $640 billion over 10 years. The goal of this investment is so that every American has access to housing that is affordable, stable, safe and healthy, accessible, energy efficient and resilient, and located near good schools and with a reasonable commute to jobs. It’s the life most of us take for granted and couldn’t stand to be without. Don’t we want that for our neighbors?As Joe Biden said in a July 29 interview, “Look, this is a crisis. We have an enormous opportunity to build back better and to finally tear down the barriers that have kept far too many people from fully participating.”Redlining is still a problem in poor communities, and Joe Biden addresses many of these inequities with proposals such as creating a Homeowner and Renter Bill of Rights, including protections against mortgage brokers leading borrowers into above-market loans, protections against precipitous foreclosures, and additional rights to seek financial redress, to receive timely notifications about the status of loan modifications, and to appeal modification denials.He will create infrastructure to help tenants facing eviction to find legal assistance, and work with localities to find alternatives that can reduce the number of evictions. He will address discriminatory practices affecting people of color and low-income families, and hold financial institutions accountable for discriminatory practices. He’ll expand the Community Reinvestment Act and reinstate the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule that was rescinded by Donald Trump.Biden’s plans include creating a new refundable, advanceable tax credit of up to $15,000 to help families buy their first home, ensuring that no one has to pay more than 30% of their income for rental housing, introducing tax credits and housing benefits, and creating a public credit reporting agency to improve credit reporting and address racial disparities.He’ll work to invest in constructing affordable, energy-efficient housing, and expand existing programs that provide housing to communities in need. Through tax incentives, funding and regulatory initiatives, the Biden Plan will improve access to affordable housing. In coordination with the Biden infrastructure plan, urban and rural communities will benefit from transportation and other investments, and special attention will be paid to the unmet needs of our valued military families.Plans are in place to protect the most vulnerable of us from homelessness, especially for groups such as veterans, LGBTQ+ individuals, those with disabilities, the elderly, the formerly incarcerated, and victims of sexual violence.According to a study made using a Columbia University model, Biden’s plan “could cut child poverty by a third, narrow racial opportunity gaps, and potentially drive progress on the broader middle-class affordability crisis in the largest coastal cities as well.”There’s a lot to do, and Joe Biden has a plan to get it done. This pandemic has put housing insecurity front and center and made us all realize how terrifying it must be to experience it. We need laws, not Congressional stalemates. Let’s help our neighbors by electing Joe Biden and Democrats up and down the ballot. As Joe Biden reminds us, housing is a right, not a privilege.Here are some resources if you need help:The Consumer Financial Protection BureauFor renters: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/renter-protections/For mortgage holders: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/mortgage-relief/Legal help FAQ on eviction and rent protections:https://legalfaq.org/
Plan ahead. Vote early. Get it right.
Aug. 27, 2020, 10:57 p.m.
Biden War Room
It’s two months to the election and maybe you’re impatient. Or a little bit frustrated and bored. Or a little bit worried, with USPS under attack and the constant drone of Trump’s Twitter lies about voting and his obvious attempts to suppress Biden votes. Early voting hasn’t started. Ballots haven’t been mailed out. You’d like to do something, if only to take your mind off all the chaos.It’s critical to remember that Trump can only cheat his way into office if it's close. This time, we need an avalanche. So far the polls are much too close, even the ones that favor a Biden-Harris win. USPS is predicting mail delays. Some states will continue their egregious polling station closures in typically Democratic neighborhoods. If things stay the same as they are right now, it looks like a long night or week at best, and at worst, a very long four years to come. It doesn’t have to be. We can fix all of this with turnout. Turnout of solid, validated Biden votes.The difference between a great Election Night and any other outcome is you. Yes, you.If you vote, and vote early, and your vote follows all the rules, you can help make November 3 the end of the mess we’re living. Your vote might be the deciding vote in your district or your state. And when you’re finished with all the voting with weeks to go, you can leverage your power by helping others, and we can bury the Trump trainwreck in Biden ballots. Furthermore, your help in getting others to vote Biden-Harris could mean we don’t even have to wait until November 4 to learn that we've kicked this nightmare to the curb. To make this happen, you need a plan. And then you need to do the things you planned. And you need to do them right. Daunting? No. Voting in-person and voting by mail aren’t any harder than ordering fast food at a counter or ordering online.There’s a lot of help available to you, full of registration dates and places, mail-in voting requirements, and early voting opportunities, and they’re detailed on many, many websites, including NBCNews, Axios, 538, and even us.What you should do now.Let's not use deadlines as a starting point. Deadlines start with “dead” for a reason. Deadlines represent the time that you risk missing this election completely. We’re better off never to think about last chances and focus instead on as early as possible. Now is not the time for a photo finish.You can find start dates on many social media sites, or on websites as identified above, and there are even other voting guides on websites that normally aren’t very political. That demonstrates how important this election is. You’ll get great guidance from your local newspaper’s website. But unless you’re checking with the local government directly and frequently, these websites won't all get every iota right in every county and every state.Wherever you get your information, pay no attention to end dates. What if a nationwide site has a typo that sets the deadline just one day too late in your jurisdiction? Maybe the deadline is "midnight on the 1st". Does that mean the end of the day on the 1st? Or does it mean 12:01AM on the 1st is too late? Maybe the deadline changes because it’s a Sunday, or because bad weather is coming. State governments add or subtract voting opportunities without a lot of fanfare.The way to beat the deadlines is to vote as early as you possibly can, any way you find convenient. Deadlines should be meaningless to you. Instead, do the following now.Make sure you’re registeredIf you’ve never voted before, or if you haven’t voted in a while, or if you live somewhere new since the last time you voted, you need to register. If you voted recently, check on your registration. You’ll probably find a link to check on your registration or register for the first time on the website of your county or the Secretary of State website in your state. Check that the address in your voter registration matches your current ID. If it doesn’t, you might be turned away at the polls. We have to get everything right.If you’re not registered and you’ve missed the registration deadline, your state might still have Election Day registration. You might have to vote in person on Election Day, but that’s better than not voting at all this year. Consult the local election websites and call your local elections office to see if you have additional options.Ask for a mail-in ballot if you don’t want to vote in personMost states will let you ask for a paper ballot. If you live in one of them and you’d prefer to vote from home, you can apply for mail-in voting right away, even before the ballots are printed. You’ll receive your ballot in most states well before Election Day. (Some states are resolving issues, worried that ballots won’t come in time). You might be able to pick up a ballot at your local election office. Call your local Election Supervisor or consult your state’s Secretary of State website, which you can find on our voting guide.Bear in mind this advice from the USPS: “If you plan to vote by mail, plan ahead.” This is the Postal Service telling you. They get it.Make sure your vote will count.Vote in-person with lots of time to spare.Many states are providing early voting polling stations. They’re especially helpful during this pandemic because all that extra time spreads out the voters for shorter lines and lots of social distancing. Early early voting might be less crowded than last-minute early voting, and if the early-early line is daunting and you can’t stay, you have time to come back again. States are making sure that voting in-person will be very safe, assuming that you and your neighbors follow their guidelines. Make sure that your ID is current and in your hand. Mask up.You don’t have to vote in every contest on the ballot, although it’s best if you do. Your vote for President will count even if you don’t vote for every office. Your vote for the races you choose will still count if you leave some places empty. But if you can, you should vote for everything on the ballot, assuming that you know anything about your choices.And this year, it’s especially important to vote Democratic for your US congressional representative (who is definitely on your ballot this year) and any US Senator who’s running in your state. While you’re at it, vote for Democrats for state positions. They’re the ones who decide, among other things, how easy it will be for you to vote in the future.Read local ballot initiatives with a critical eye. Google them at home before filling out your ballot. Their titles are often artfully worded. A proposal called "Keep Our Students Safe Now" might very well call for AR-15s to be issued to all schoolchildren. Maybe that isn’t what you’re looking for. Read up.Vote by mail with lots of time to spare.Let’s say you’re voting by mail and that you’ve already requested a mail-in ballot. For you, election day is the day you get your ballot.Whenever you get your ballot, that very moment is a fine time to fill it out and send it in. In fact, there aren’t a lot of reasons to sit on it; it’s the paper version of early voting. In most places, you can send it back via USPS (assuming you have at least 3 weeks to go before Election Day.) If you’re worried about mail delays, there are other options. Some places let you drop off the ballot at any polling station where early voting is taking place. You don’t have to wait in line if there is one. Some places have ballot boxes specifically designed to take your vote. Other places let you drop off the ballot at your county’s election office.If you’ve filled out your ballot but you haven’t mailed it yet and you can’t figure out how to get it delivered in time, you can still vote in person. Just make sure you destroy your unused ballot after you’ve voted so that it doesn’t find its way into the system.If it’s getting close to Election Day and you haven’t received your ballot, you can go vote in person at your early voting location. As long as your paper ballot is never sent in, your in-person vote will count. You know not to fill out the paper version after you’ve already voted, right? If you ever want to vote again, please don’t vote twice.If you mess up your paper ballot, you can get another one from your election authority. Or you can vote in person. Just make sure you don’t let too much time go by. Even with early voting, lines are likely to be long on Election Day.Time out for a horror story.Do you worry that we haven’t done enough to address climate change, for example? Should we have done something 20 years ago? 2000 Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore would have been your guy. But three things happened in Florida that year in the bluest of areas, Broward and Palm Beach counties:In-person voting machines in Broward didn’t punch voter choices through the cardboard ballot hard enough, leaving “hanging chads”, many of which were rejected in the recount. They have new machines now. That doesn’t make Al Gore feel better, though.Palm Beach County created a confusing “butterfly ballot”, which caused hundreds of lifelong Democratic Jews to vote for Pat Buchanan, a white supremacist, instead of their intended candidate, Al Gore. Even Buchanan said “When I took one look at that ballot on Election Night... it's very easy for me to see how someone could have voted for me in the belief they voted for Al Gore.”Third-party entry Ralph Nader drew nearly 100,000 Florida votes.Al Gore lost Florida by 537 votes statewide, 9 votes for every 100,000 cast in the state and that tipped the electoral college.Things go wrong in every election. Some of those problems are institutional. Others are our own fault. Don’t be part of a horror story.Make sure your ballot isn’t rejected.This year, there will be a lot of mailed ballots, especially from first-time voters and first-time absentee voters. Surges in mail-in voting tend to have lots of rejected ballots. Most rejections are from voters who didn’t sign properly or didn’t sign at all. Another reason is that the ballot missed the deadline. It’s always important, but especially important this time, that your ballot follows the rules. Let’s deconstruct the mail-in voting package you get. The ballot is the piece of paper that you fill in with your votes, and it has no information about who you are. Your completed ballot keeps your votes private. Whether you voted is tracked; how you voted is your secret.The page that contains your votes might go into a sleeve or inner envelope, and that inside protection goes into an outer envelope that has information identifying you. You need to seal that envelope after your ballot has been safely tucked into the sleeve and the sleeve is inside the envelope. There’s a place to sign and date the outside envelope with your name printed on it.Put your ballot into the privacy sleeve, put the sleeve into the return envelope, sign and date the envelope (look carefully for any other places on that envelope in case there are other requirements.) Then seal the outer envelope.The outside envelope might contain a bar code that identifies you, and the election office does a check of your signature to make sure that the right person has filled out the ballot. Once they’re happy it’s you, they pull out the sleeve covering your completed ballot and drop it in a bin with the other ballots from your area. This is how mail-in voting is very safe, not only for you, but for democracy. Nobody can see your votes. Nobody can vote instead of you.But it means that your signature must match the one that is on file, and that signature is often the one on your driver’s license or the one from your voter registration, where you might have signed on a pad, not with a pen. You can check which signature your state checks here. Look at the name on the ballot and sign accordingly. Now isn’t the time to try out a new signature persona. This is as serious as a courtroom. No snark.After you’ve votedYou’d think that after your ballot is submitted, you’re done, but you aren’t. If you voted by mail, you can track your ballot in many states to make sure that it was accepted. If it was rejected, you might have time to get another one, or you might be able to vote in-person. You’ll be demoralized, but you get a second chance, which you should use. With time to go until voting day and your own vote behind you, you can now help other people to vote. Call your friends and family and beg them or help them to vote safely. Check your mother’s or grandmother’s registration and ballot tracking. Sure, your grandmother follows you around on Facebook, but chances are she can’t navigate a Secretary of State website.Drive elderly voters to the polls (with masks on all of you) at early voting or on Election Day. Volunteer to be a poll worker for early voting or for Election Day. Volunteer for the Biden campaign.Or go on the Swing Left or the Vote Save America website now and leverage your impact by helping to swing other districts from red to blue this year. They give you opportunities to reach out to others to get out the votes in the districts we need the most.Every vote counts, but only if it's counted. Trying and failing has the same result as staying home, and staying home is not an option. Not this year. Help yourself. And then help others. Help Joe Biden get the landslide we need by making a voting plan and then making it work.
Extinguish the gaslight: Be a smart information consumer
Aug. 23, 2020, 9:48 p.m.
Biden War Room
Donald Trump is in a bit of a pickle. He’s running for reelection. Unlike in 2016, he is no longer the new face in Washington. He’s now forced to run on the basis of his performance. Among many obstacles for him to overcome is that more than 180,000 people have died so far because of his many failures.One of those failures is Trump’s inability to admit he did something wrong and then change course. If he decides that the virus will go away like a miracle and it doesn’t, he just postpones the miracle’s arrival date and repeats the lie. If he decides that a malaria drug is a cure and it isn’t, he’ll disparage anyone who disputes what he says, even peer-reviewed scientific studies or his own spokesperson. This character flaw is one of the main reasons that the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 response has been such a fiasco.At the same time, the economy has fallen off of a cliff. For a guy whose brand has been about money and success, the truth of Donald Trump is now out there for all of us to see. He bankrupted his companies and now he's bankrupting us. Whatever success he’s had is because of salesmanship, not sustainability. (Those who did their homework before 2016 knew that the Trump brand was a con, even then.)So Donald Trump now has a track record as President, and it’s awful. Now there’s no chance he can make campaign ads adorned with smiling constituents and shiny jobs numbers. Even his ardent supporters always seem to be growling about something. He needs something else to talk about until November. And like many of us, he can’t seem to find anything serious not to like about Joe Biden.The one thing that seems to work well for Trump is lying. It might be that his lies work best because they are relentless and unceasing, so one lie can’t be debunked in time for the next lie to come tumbling down. It might be that his lies work because he never, ever admits that he lied. He’s probably still telling anyone who will listen about his record-breaking inauguration crowds.Little lies like crowd size are relatively benign, but things are getting dangerous. Let’s talk about gaslighting.The term gaslighting came into being because of a 1938 British play (that was eventually adapted to movies). An abusive husband manipulates his wife by changing their environment (such as dimming and raising the gas lights) and insisting that she should not believe what she sees with her own eyes. Turns out, gaslighting is used by sociopaths and narcissists for their own gain. And this technique was honed in Soviet Russia as dezinformatsiya, from the English word disinformation.“Russian disinformation teams used social media to recruit Americans across the political spectrum to help push their themes online and also to participate in real-world political rallies and other events, Mueller found.”That’s the analysis by the Washington Post to describe the Russian interference in the 2016 election as uncovered in the Mueller investigation. Maybe you were targeted in that election. Maybe your vote in the 2016 primary or general election was influenced by something in your social media news feed. Maybe you don’t think you saw anything odd. The Russians are good at this.Fool me once, shame on you, as they say. But we’re all being tested again. The gasbag-in-chief is trying to gaslight us all.“Absentee ballots are good. Mail-in ballots are bad.” There's no difference between mail-in and absentee ballots.“We should delay the election.” We can’t, by law, and we shouldn’t, because there's no need to do so.“The Postal Service can’t handle so many ballots.” Yes it can, and that’s why they have always been able to deliver all of our Christmas cards and packages, mailpieces that aren’t even limited to one per voter the way ballots are. Yes, one per voter. If you manage to vote twice, your second ballot is thrown out, and someone might come knocking at your door.“I might not accept the results.” Sorry, Mr. Trump, but nobody will ask you to certify the outcome. If you lose, you leave. Those Secret Service guys that now surround you work for us, not you. In the moment that spans a Joe Biden inauguration, you go from the guy they’ll take a bullet for to the guy who threatens the guy they’ll take a bullet for. Don’t test them. They’re armed.Some of us are disenchanted with the state of our news choices. This is the first time in human history that we each curate our very own news sources. Those providers are motivated by business metrics, and truth is desirable, but malleable. We ourselves aren’t blameless. We listen to the politicians who tell us what we want to hear, and we can’t stand the grating voices of those who present us with opposing views of varying veracity.We pick our favorite cable channel; we follow sources on Facebook or Twitter; we join groups on Reddit or 4Chan. There are credible posts and less credible propaganda on all of these platforms and yes, the Biden War Room posts on most of them. And beyond our individual constructions of news sources, our subscribed channels and the platforms themselves curate the facts we see.When you watch television, you can usually tell when you’re watching a commercial or a product placement that’s paying for your show. To avoid the commercials, you can stream for a monthly fee. In contrast, when you’re using free social media, the reason you don’t pay is that you’re the product. Every click, every article you open, every exit to a website, all of that is sent to someone who thinks that this knowledge about you is useful. Most of the time, that only results in ads that match your needs. No harm done.Used against us, these sales techniques are called “active measures”. They trigger emotional responses in us rather than cool rationality. If we don’t know how to distinguish between reporting and spin, we’re gaslighting ourselves.In the end, we might get frustrated and conclude that we can’t trust anyone to tell the truth. We might think that this makes us analytical and discerning. It doesn’t. It makes us into trophies for the professional gaslighters.Here’s the trick to disinformation and gaslighting. Those who trade in disinformation aren’t trying to persuade you to join their side. They just want you not to trust anyone. “Never trust the mainstream media”, says the news channel that claims to have the largest audience in the news media.Ronald Reagan translated a rhyming Russian proverb as “trust, but verify.” At the time, he was describing our vigilance in overseeing a nuclear nonproliferation treaty we had with Russia (Donald Trump withdrew us from this treaty in 2019).But this advice should apply to ourselves, too. Don’t fall for lies, not theirs, and not your own. Vet your sources of information. Evaluate carefully the line between journalism and opinion. Everyone but you benefits if you’re oblivious to being manipulated.It’s time to assume that everything Donald Trump says is for his own benefit, not ours, and there are already hundreds of thousands of examples to mourn. But in the face of a potential loss, Trump and his surrogates will say anything that might keep you from voting for Joe Biden. Trump doesn’t need your vote; he just needs you to give up. Just like last time. Don’t fall for it. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Too Close Isn't Comfort
Aug. 12, 2020, 2:10 p.m.
Biden War Room
Whether it’s a pandemic or an election, too close isn’t comfortImagine that it’s Election Night, and we’re selecting a president. State by state, the polls close. Then we all wait for the winners of congressional districts and statewide races to be called, including the battle for the presidency. News organizations release their exit polls, where pollsters offer summaries based on voter surveys at polling stations. They don’t draw conclusions about winners. We learn who voted and why they voted the way they did, but not how they voted. And then we wait.Waiting sucksWe’ve been waiting since March for the pandemic to be behind us. We’re waiting for a tomorrow that’s different from today and yesterday. Too many of us are waiting for the economy to help us go back to jobs that we’ve lost, fun that we’ve missed, and grandmothers we hug.Maybe you’re watching the polls right now. Polls before about September include registered voters instead of likely voters, so these polls include nonvoters. Nonvoters are generally less white, less educated, poorer, younger, and more likely to be women. Nonvoters have historically favored Democrats. This means that any Biden/Harris lead in today’s polling includes a lot of unreliable voters. Early leads aren’t permanent. Don’t get overconfident.Right now, many polls show a close race or have a wide margin of error. Many of the polls show national preferences. For a presidential election, the only thing to watch is the voter preference in each individual state. For most states, the winner in each state gets all the electoral votes. National presidential polls don’t matter. Stop watching them.Within a state, a single poll is just a snapshot. A single-digit lead in a state is not a compelling predictor. Many factors influence whether a vote gets cast at all, even for likely voters. What’s the weather on Election Day? Is early voting or vote-by-mail available? How many polling stations are there, and where are they? Other than the weather, these questions are decided by politicians who have an interest in the election’s outcome. Take nothing for granted.The only math that matters is electoralIn the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received 48.2% of the votes, to Donald Trump’s 46.1%. Electoral math put Donald Trump into the White House against the wishes of the majority of American voters. Based on Trump’s current approval ratings, he is still there against the wishes of most of us.Razor-thin margins in a few swing states often result in close electoral college totals. In 2016, Trump won Michigan (0.2%), Pennsylvania (0.7%), and Wisconsin (0.8%) by a total of less than 80,000 votes. That’s not a lot in a 140,000,000 vote contest. Often, close results like this precipitate court battles and bad inter-party relationships.For example, in 2000, George W. Bush finally won Florida by 537 votes after a long court battle. That’s a difference of 0.009%, or 9 votes for every 100,000 cast in Florida. Passions were high during the recount. The Supreme Court decision favoring George Bush didn’t decide the election; our commitment to democracy did. Al Gore conceded, and it was over.On the other hand, in 1984, Ronald Reagan sailed into his second term with less than 60% of the popular vote, but he carried 49 of the 50 states. This gave him 525 electoral votes to Walter Mondale’s paltry 13, because of electoral mathematics. Two out of five Americans voted against him, but nobody doubted that Reagan won fair and square.Peak > ekeDisruption from the pandemic will certainly change the usefulness of exit polls that rely on counting in-person voting on November 3. Phone surveys of early voters can help, but it isn’t the same. Close elections, especially those with lots of paper ballots, take a long time to estimate and an even longer time to count.Yet, in 2018, even with significant early and mail-in voting, some congressional elections were called as soon as polls closed. That’s because the winning margins were overwhelming. Early wins are fun on Election Night, but big winning margins are great for more reasons than that.For one thing, when winning margins are large in a presidential race, the winning party often gets a boost in that state’s Senate and House and local races as well. Those winners might be called early, too. Drink!“Elections have consequences”, President Obama has said. That’s true for all wins. All wins have consequences. But big wins have mandates.What’s a mandate? Technically, it means that an election gives the winner the legal authority to conduct governmental business. But after a resounding victory, it means that the winners can be confident that they can implement the policies that elected them.Run on improving health care or changing the tax structure or addressing the climate crisis, and then win big? Politicians in the losing party might disagree on how to accomplish those goals, but they understand that the majority of Americans have spoken in support of them. The losing party can’t be obstinate; they have to negotiate. Laws will get passed. That’s why you vote, isn’t it?Here’s another, and unprecedented, reason that the 2020 election needs to be a big win for Joe Biden, and a win in many states. The following is an important sentence about our democracy, from the National Archives:It is a tribute to our forefathers that a successful election leads, time and again, to a peaceful transition of power to the successor. Al Gore conceded in 2000 to heal our country. Hillary Clinton conceded early in the 2016 race, even with tiny losing margins in states that had polled in her favor. Regrettably, Joe Biden is running against a petulant narcissist who hasn’t yet decided whether to accept a loss if it should happen. The US Constitution? Peaceful transfer of authority? Pish. Here’s an exchange Donald Trump had with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday on July 19, 2020:WALLACE: But can you ... give a direct answer you will accept the election?TRUMP: I have to see. Look, you – I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.What would encourage a crybaby like this to slither away without a fight? Losing big. It isn’t enough to beat Donald Trump. We’ll need to win a resounding victory and get an overwhelming mandate. We’ll need to win many more states than the 270 electoral votes that are minimally required to put Joe Biden into the White House.Luckily for America, Donald Trump is probably too lazy to fight the results if he has to do it in multiple states. He’d be laughed out of the courtroom for recounts in some states if Joe Biden wins by a large enough percentage of votes.Maybe you’re thinking about making a statement by staying home or voting third-party. Your vote against Donald Trump won’t matter unless your vote goes to Joe Biden. Don’t throw away your shot.We can all control how long we’ll have to wait on Election Night 2020. We make it happen by voting, and making sure our friends and family vote, and winning lots of states and their motherlode of electoral votes.After the polls close on any election night, noted forecaster David Wasserman (@Redistrict) looks at the percent of counted ballots in every district and who is ahead so far. He’s the House Editor for the Cook Political Report. Wasserman’s knowledge and experience help him predict what the yet-uncounted ballots are likely to show. He famously tweets “I’ve seen enough” moments before he calls a race.Haven’t you seen enough by now, too? Vote for Biden/Harris and let’s have a resounding victory and an overwhelming mandate.