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Archive for August 15th, 2020

The Republican Party goes for broke

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An opinion piece in The Hill by Edward Purcell:

I asked this troubling question six months ago. What was the Republican Party doing to our constitutional government? My answer was that in the preceding quarter century, and notably the past three years, it suggested it was driving to entrench itself in control of the presidency and the entire federal government. Indeed, the past six months have simply fortified this conclusion, as the Republican Party is no longer bound to our democracy but to the will of a single individual and his cult of personality.

Six months ago we knew the Republican Party embraced some principles that are antithetical to our democracy and handed Donald Trump powers to diminish legislative authority, corrupt agencies of the executive branch, ensure a striking conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and use the office to pressure countries to serve the domestic purposes of Trump. We also knew the Republican Party had continued to honor him even though he lied almost every time he spoke, undermined our interests around the world, and advanced the foreign policy ideas of Vladimir Putin.

Over the past six months, we have learned there is no limit to Republican Party ambition and servility. It backed Trump when he mocked the rule of law by turning the Justice Department into a shield to protect himself and his henchmen. It even stayed with him when he lowered the presidency to its most abject point in our history by refusing to criticize the dire Russian scheme to pay bounties to foreign fighters to kill American soldiers. Most obvious within our daily lives, it supported him when he blindly dismissed expert advice and failed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Now over 5 million American people are infected and over 165,000 have died, a number more than double the total military deaths that American soldiers suffered amid the Gulf War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. The contrasting experience of Europe proves his unmitigated failure. With 100 million more residents than the United States, the smart pandemic policies in Europe, contrary to those used by the White House, reduced coronavirus cases to just a fraction of the count here. However, the Republican Party still decided to remain subservient to him.

Of the greatest significance today is that we know the Republican Party, despite this disastrous presidency, is willing to stick with Trump in order to press its incredible gamble that it can seize permanent control of the federal government and that, in order to do so, it is willing to join Trump with resorting to his increasingly desperate and extreme tactics.

They have not taken action to end Russian influence in our election. They are cutting the 2020 census short in hopes that this incomplete tally will advantage red states and increase their representation in Congress. They have refused to make any efforts to reduce the likelihood that fear of the coronavirus will discourage turnout for the election and refused to enact effective safety measures protecting voters amid the pandemic.

They are seeking to discourage voters and undermine the election results by attacking the legitimacy of mailed ballots. They are also trying to limit the ability of the Postal Service in seeking to disqualify millions of mailed ballots, produce massive delays in the count, and cause confusion about the results. If Trump loses, this will allow them to claim that fraud played the role for his loss and that he is the true winner. They want 50,000 poll watchers in critical states to harass voters they deem suspicious.

Their attorney general is investigating Russian interference in 2016 and is planning a report, likely to be as misleading as his summary of the special counsel investigation, distracting from influence by Moscow and blaming all on evil machinations by enemies of Trump. Testifying before Congress, their attorney general indicated he will likely release the report before the election, using his role to create a news event in favor of Trump.

Finally, they have turned the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies of the executive branch into a paramilitary strike force used by Trump. They sent it into local areas for practice and now hold it ready, if necessary, to seize control of districts in swing states. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2020 at 6:03 pm

An all-out war over mail voting has erupted in courts across the U.S. Here’s what’s at stake.

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Jane Timm reports for NBC News:

Do you have to request an absentee ballot application, or will one be sent to you automatically? Will your ballot be counted if the mailman is late? If you fill out your absentee ballot wrong, can you fix it?

Questions like these — the fine print of democracy when it comes to mail voting — are at the heart of a record-breaking, high-dollar legal war being waged in courtrooms nationwide, fueled by the coronavirus that’s upended the idea of holding a presidential election as usual and by President Donald Trump’s constant warnings about widespread voter fraud that no one can prove exists.

“This is clearly a historic high,” Trevor Potter, the former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission and now president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog, said of the sheer number of lawsuits tied to vote by mail. “It would have been a contentious fall without the pandemic, but the pandemic changes everything because it has caused so many states to revisit how they vote.”

Substantive change to voter access in multiple states all at once is rare, but this year, officials have pushed to make mail voting easier to help protect people from the coronavirus. Plenty of these changes are happening in the courts — many state legislatures are out of session — as state officials, advocates and partisans duke it out over how to adapt existing election laws to fit a pandemic.

NBC News has reviewed more than 175 suits in 43 states and the District of Columbia contesting everything from whether postage must be prepaid on absentee ballots to where you can vote and how ballots can be legally transported from voters’ hands to election officials. It’s litigation that will decide who can vote in the 2020 presidential election and how, and advocates fear it will perpetuate and exacerbate racial biases that have long been baked into the voting system.

Democrats say they’re trying to make sure every vote counts, and voting rights advocates are raising the alarm that the expansion of existing absentee and mail voting systems could create widespread disenfranchisement and discrimination unless done correctly.

Republicans argue that last-minute election changes in the courts are improper and create opportunities for voter fraud and foreign interference, though they have presented no evidence of widespread fraud and experts say foreign meddling in mail voting is extremely unlikely. The Republican National Committee (RNC) is litigating in 17 states, backed by a joint budget with the Trump campaign of $20 million earmarked for election-related legal fights and a small army of Election Day poll watchers and attorneys.

The Republicans have repeatedly stepped in to defend against suits from advocacy and voting rights groups seeking to adapt election laws to pandemic realities. Justin Riemer, the RNC’s chief counsel, told Axios that the legal work is “on steroids this year.”

Much of voting rights advocates’ litigation is aimed at lowering the absentee ballot rejection rates that have skyrocketed during the primaries.

As many as 64 percent of Americans are expected to vote by mail this year, according to a group of researchers at Harvard, Northeastern and Rutgers universities, as well as the Harvard Medical School, and the litigation currently winding its way through the courts could affect millions of ballots.

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“We have this romantic notion that American democracy was designed for American participation. It is not. At its inception, our democracy was that Blacks were not human, Native Americans did not exist, women were to be silent,” said Stacey Abrams, founder of the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight, which has gone to court in Georgia and is organizing voter protection efforts. “We’ve had to pass three constitutional amendments to have something that approaches actual participation. The flaw in each of those amendments is that it delegates administration to the states.”

And in that administration, advocates and academics alike see discriminatory effects in mail voting systems.

“If you were to design a system that would enfranchise voters that are older and white — at the expense of voters who are younger and more diverse — in many states you would adopt the existing voting laws,” said Marc Elias, the Democrats’ top elections attorney. He’s working on dozens of lawsuits in 17 states this year.

Here’s what’s at the heart of the suits, and what could change about the rules surrounding vote by mail.

Ballot deadlines

A late ballot is the No. 1 reason an absentee ballot is rejected in America, according to data published in the Election Administration and Voting Survey from 2018 and 2016. In the primary elections, hundreds of thousands of ballots have already been rejected for this reason. The Post Office has reportedly warned state officials that on-time delivery cannot be relied on for mail elections in 46 states and D.C., including the 2020 battlegrounds Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Arizona.

Most states require that election officials receive mailed ballots by a certain time on Election Day, but advocates have sued to get officials to count ballots postmarked on or before Election Day in more than a dozen states.

Fights over ballot-receipt deadlines are ongoing in key 2020 battlegrounds, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia. In Minnesota, a court ruled that ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will count; Republicans appealed and the case is ongoing. In Arizona, the state agreed in a settlement to do more voter education and outreach, and to expand early voting to counteract the effects of the deadline. In Michigan, a state Supreme Court declined to hear advocates’ case.

In Pennsylvania, the state responded to a ballot deadline lawsuit by asking the court to extend the deadline to receive postmarked ballots by three days, pointing to a letter from the Post Office saying there was a strong risk of delayed mail service of ballots.

Elias said that by sheer numbers, it’s the most consequential reform states can undertake and pointed to a case he won during Wisconsin’s April primary as a prime example.

“If you look in the primaries, in Wisconsin the result of us winning that one issue led to 80,000 ballots being counted — that was in the primary and that was one state. It’s going to be hundreds of thousands or millions of ballots that are potentially right on that razor’s edge,” Elias said.

The Republican National Committee wants mail ballots to be returned to officials by Election Day, and has intervened on behalf of states in several suits regarding ballot deadlines.

And while many states and campaigns will try to counteract the issue of late ballots through voter education — celebrities with major followings like Chrissy Tiegen have also sought to sound the alarm about important deadlines — mail service is not created equal. For rural or very densely populated cities, unreliable mail service is a common issue. The Postal Service also recently announced big changes they say will curb financial losses, but also are reportedly slowing mail service, on top of already reduced hours.

Signed, sealed and… notarized?

More than 50 lawsuits in at least 33 states have been filed this year to address signature issues that have come up as a result of the pandemic, including the challenge of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives when it’s not safe to physically canvas. When it comes to mail voting, however, the process of signature verification is a major one that voting rights advocates want the courts to fix.

States use a variety of mechanisms to verify that absentee voters are who they say they are, most often checking ballot signatures against voters’ registration signatures. It’s a simple and effective security measure, but advocates say there should be standardized processes and voters need recourse for fixing ballot errors, like a forgotten signature.

Democrats and advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters have sued to change or institute “cure” processes in at least 10 states this year. New York’s state Legislature passed a law creating a cure process in July, while Georgia settled a suit with state Democrats to update their cure process after their primary. A North Carolina judge also ordered a cure process for ballots in November.

Thirteen states also require that absentee ballots be signed by a witness or a notary public, or require additional documentary proof like photocopies of a driver’s license.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more at the link, including a video report that the USPS is removing 671 high-volume mail processing machines. The GOP is determined to fix the election because they know that corrupting the election process is their only chance of winning, and for the GOP winning justifies anything.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2020 at 12:25 pm

America teeters on the brink of losing its democracy: Trump’s US Postal Service tactic

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Already we see troubling indications that President Trump will simply refuse to accept an election defeat since, in his eyes, if the vote goes against him, then the vote was rigged. Do not expect a concession, gracious or grudging.

Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post sets out clearly the stakes:

Listen to President Trump long enough, and, despite his penchant for falsehood, you’ll eventually hear some unvarnished truth.

That happened Thursday when he stated his intentions clearly in an interview with Fox Business Network. He doesn’t want to approve billions in emergency funding for the cash-strapped and struggling U.S. Postal Service for a simple reason: Democrats want to expand mail-in voting during the pandemic.

His words were stark: “Now, they need that money in order to have the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.” He added that holding back funding means “they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

In other words, he doesn’t want American citizens, fearful of exposure to the coronavirus, to have every opportunity to vote in November.

It’s not his first effort to cripple the Postal Service, one of the most essential — and popular — institutions in America. His statements Thursday came after he installed a Republican megadonor, Louis DeJoy, as the new postmaster general. In turn, DeJoy has unseated dozens of veteran postal officials. He and his minions have banned overtime and told carriers to leave mail behind at distribution centers, letting it pile up for days. Sorting machines that speed mail processing have been removed.

“Things are already going wrong,” Philip F. Rubio, an expert on the Postal Service and history professor at North Carolina A&T State University (and a former letter carrier himself), told Politico. There are “widespread mail slowdowns of all kinds of mail — first-class, marketing mail, parcels. Even the Veterans’ Administration has complained that veterans are not getting their medications on time.”

The news media — although numbed to Trump’s outrageous statements after years of standing in the path of his fire hose of distraction — managed a robust reaction to Thursday’s disgraceful remarks.

Postal Service warns 46 states their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots

Network news shows reported it high in their broadcasts. The Washington Post and the New York Times put the story above the fold on their print front pages and prominently on their home pages. (The Wall Street Journal did not mention it on Friday’s print front page.) The Philadelphia Inquirer nailed it, reporting that Pennsylvania mail ballots may not be delivered on time and that state officials foresee an “overwhelming” risk to voters. Vice’s Motherboard dived into the sorting-machine debacle.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, former congressional spokesman Kurt Bardella called out Trump’s intentions: “The only reason why there would be any resistance to funding the Postal Service is to try and subvert this election.” And in The Post, Paul Waldman justifiably called it a national emergency.

Can something as dull-sounding as the workings of the Post Office compete with former Trump attorney’s new tell-all book, whose foreword includes lines like: “From golden showers in a sex club in Vegas, to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union, to catch and kill conspiracies to silence Trump’s clandestine lovers, I wasn’t just a witness to the president’s rise — I was an active and eager participant.”

Can it break into the endless political takes on Kamala D. Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate, or the next political horse-race story that’s around the corner?

Fat chance.

But if journalists don’t keep the pressure on Postal Service problems, they will be abdicating their duty.

There’s very little that matters more than the Nov. 3 vote. Anything that threatens the integrity of the vote needs to be treated as one of the biggest stories out there — even if it’s not the sexiest.

Media coverage of the 2016 campaign was disastrous. Now’s the last chance to get 2020 right.

Dan Gillmor, co-founder of the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s journalism school, told me he sees a need for news organizations to put aside their competitive urges.

“Some stories demand collaboration, and this one is a plain example. The nation’s newsrooms — working together and, crucially, with the help of the public in communities around the nation — could find out and explain what is going on, at the macro and micro level,” he said.

ProPublica’s Electionland project, which focused on postal problems months ago and collaborates with more than 50 newsrooms, shows how it can be done. It investigates issues related to voter registration, changes to voting amid the pandemic, cybersecurity, voter education and misinformation.

But all news organizations need to turn up the heat.

Despite the president’s statements about Democrats, this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, as journalist Elizabeth Spiers noted: “Supporting the continued existence of the USPS, which is guaranteed in the Constitution, should be the most straightforward non-political bipartisan effort in existence. Everyone uses it and needs it, and the irony is older rural Trump supporters need it *more*.”

There’s very little reason to buy Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting as prone to rampant fraud, as multiple studies repeatedly have shown. What’s more, security concerns can be readily addressed, as the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice detailed in a report aptly titled “The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud.”

Granted, it’s tough for journalists to tell the story of a necessity that exists now but is being weakened by larger forces. You find yourself trying to describe a specter, as I’ve found in recent weeks, as I’ve talked about the devastating effects of the decline of local news.

Coverage of climate change faces the same challenge: How do journalists communicate a fast-arriving emergency when many citizens aren’t fully experiencing its ravages yet? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2020 at 10:28 am

A very good match: Omega Pro 48 and J.M. Fraser shaving cream

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Wonderful lather and wonderful brush feel. The Holy Black slant has the head of the Merkur 37 but the handle gives it quite a different feel. Very comfortable and efficient. And a good splash of that red cedar aftershave is a truly great pleasure, every time.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2020 at 9:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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