Monthly Archives: August 2020

Defeating Trump’s Coup d’état

Donald Trump is planning to take control of the U.S. government regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. I believe that deeply. Even if I’m wrong about that, we must prepare on the assumption that I’m right. If wrong, and he goes quietly, fine. If I’m right, saving the country and its republican form of democracy will likely depend on how we prepare in the next three months.

The classical definition of a coup d’état is the “sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.” But there are other, more subtle ways of accomplishing a coup. Trump himself, a master of the “I am a victim” trope, has argued repeatedly that the Mueller investigation was an attempted coup. Many Republicans have reiterated that “argument.” Now the argument has morphed into an attack on mail-in voting, a process similar to absentee voting and identical to the voting procedures used in five states: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Timothy Snyder, author of  On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from The Twentieth Century, has described Trump’s position as a “prime historical fascist tactic”: create a crisis, then use that as an excuse to reject the peaceful transfer of power. Snyder knows a thing or two about tyranny and how it can work to destroy a democracy. He has written that “Trump’s ‘Delay the Election’ tweet checks all 8 rules for fascist propagandahttps://wapo.st/3i0remw We ignore his warnings at our extreme peril.

Since Trump can’t legally delay the election on his own, his main task is to find someone to foul up the election so he can claim a right to stay in power. The tactic is not unlike the infamous “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest,” an utterance by a king that led to the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has launched a multi-front attack to get his way: undermining the U.S. Postal Service and claiming mail-in voting is the cause of massive voter fraud.

Let’s move from the sublime to the practical. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, there are about 200,000 polling places in the United States even after the Republicans’ massive voter suppression efforts in multiple southern states to reduce polling places so as to increase voter travel and waiting-in-line times. Election Administration & Voting Survey, 2018 Comprehensive Report to Congress. https://bit.ly/39UakD7

That Report notes that,

more than120 million Americans voted in the 2018 general elections, a turnout rate of 52 percent of the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) .… turnout in the 2018 general elections increased in nearly all states when compared to 2014. Some states saw turnout levels that approached those of a typical presidential election.

That was the glorious Blue Wave that swept Democrats into control of the House of Representatives. Moreover,

More than half of voters cast their ballots in person on Election Day, and one-quarter of participants cast their ballots by mail. Nearly one-fifth voted early at in-person early voting sites, a rate that more than doubled since the 2014 elections. In six states, more than half of ballots were cast at in-person early voting sites. Although the overall rate of by-mail voting has not changed significantly since 2014, the states of California, Montana, and Utah saw large increases in their statewide by-mail voting rates.

These remarkable results involved more than 600,000 volunteer poll workers. However, nearly 70 percent of responding jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to obtain a sufficient number of poll workers. That was, obviously, long before the coronavirus pandemic. This year the challenge will be massively greater.

There are numerous other obstacles to more robust voting. For example,

Thirteen states do not offer online voter registration

Fewer than half of states allow for same day voter registration

Only three states run their elections entirely by mail (4 others have all-by-mail voting in select local jurisdictions

About a quarter of states require in-person early voters to provide an excuse for doing so

Less than one-third of states have vote centers or allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in their jurisdiction.

That is what Republican control of many state legislatures, combined with active Republican voter suppression tactics, have left us.

Given the pandemic and ongoing threats to voting by Republicans in 2020, what could go wrong? Answer: everything; the signs are unmistakable.

Republicans, including Trump himself, have publicly admitted that, for example, changes like universal automatic voter registration and mail-in voting will favor Democrats. Therefore, Republicans conjure various bogus and non-evidence-based claims of massive voter fraud, mistakes and delays, even as Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. Postal Service works to cripple the Service’s ability to adapt to major volume increases for the upcoming election. And Trump urges the voter suppression work onward because, as Prof. Snyder has observed, he pretty well knows he’s going to be defeated in a fair election process.

What can Democrats do to avoid the roadblocks Republicans are going to place in the path of increased voter turnout?

The answer is to plan out every potential obstructionist scenario and prepare countermeasures accordingly.

At the most basic level, it is crucial to identify polling places where long lines are likely on November 3. For every such location, Democrats should provide portable toilets, snacks, water, rain ponchos and anything else that will make it easier for voters to stay in line as long as it takes. Virtually everyone who gives up and leaves the line will not return later to vote, so it crucial to help every Democrat stick it out as long as needed.

The actual voting process must be closely observed to assure that bogus obstacles are not thrown in the path of voters. In cases of asserted issues, poll watchers must insist that provisional ballots be provided, and a close count must be maintained of how many such ballots are collected. Watching the final tally at the end of the voting day is equally important. This process can be tedious and a bit complicated; trained observers are important, as their mere presence will discourage shenanigans during the counting and reporting process.

To the extent consistent with local laws, videos and photographs should be taken of the physical setup of each polling place. Record any incidents of potential voter interference outside the polling station. The recent incidents in Minnesota, for example, in which armed “protesters” demanded removal of mask requirements and opening of lockdowns at state legislatures and elsewhere are evidence suggesting that armed groups may appear at polling places in “open carry” states to try to intimidate voters by their presence.

Democratic watchers must be present to record any such incidents and to reassure waiting voters that they should not be deterred from exercising their right to vote. Armed “militias” should not be allowed to, for example, interrogate voters approaching the polling station about why they are there. Poll-watchers should be equipped with contact information for the State and Local Police as well as key media outlets in the area. The more eyes on the situation, the less likely actual acts of intimidation will be successful. In polling places located where potential disruptions are considered most likely, Democrats should always have more than one person on-site from opening to reporting of the final tally.

These recommendations are a tall order, requiring a large commitment from many people. Nevertheless, the stakes are also extremely high — nothing less than the survival of American democracy. Trump intends to steal the election by whatever method works and he has started multiple paths to that end. Having sent federal “troops” to Portland and other cities on the pretext of protecting federal property, with the predictable result of further destabilizing the situation and increasing the violence, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The people must stop at nothing to thwart his plan to undermine democracy.

It’s important to remember that Trump’s hard-core supporters are a minority of the voting population. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote was larger by just under 2.9 million votes. Her defeat was a product of many things, not least of which was Russian interference and the Electoral College, the vestige of a past time that enhances the voting power of the smaller states and thus, for example, enlarges the impact of southern state resistance to social policies favored by Democrats. It is likely Trump is getting help from Russia again this year. The election rules are fixed for now so the answer to Trump is maximum Democratic voter turnout.

Also keep in mind that Trump has lied repeatedly about his agenda. Just one example — his lawyers are in court right now trying to end insurance protection of pre-existing conditions. If re-elected, Trump will have free-reign to bring down what remains of America’s best institutions. If defeated, we can immediately begin rebuilding a civil society that treats all citizens fairly and promotes the common good of everyone, including recovery from the pandemic.

It’s up to you. If you can do it, please volunteer to help on Election Day. We must prepare for the worst case if we’re going to win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake

Putting aside the apocryphal nature of the title phrase, it fits perfectly the current attitude of the Republican Party in the Senate where they are doing their best to mimic Ebenezer Scrooge by denying suffering workers a meaningful relief program. The situation is so bad that,

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday he was not optimistic on reaching agreement soon on a deal for the next round of legislation to provide relief to Americans hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. [https://reut.rs/2EIOKpL]

The key problem should be the easiest to resolve:  whether to extend the $600 per week in extra federal unemployment benefits for Americans that has literally saved millions from total economic destruction. The benefit expired on July 31.

According to the Reuters report,

The Trump administration and some Senate Republicans have been pushing for a reduction in those extra federal benefits, saying they should be tied to wages. Other Senate Republicans have rejected any extension. [emphasis mine]

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin claims Trump supports the enhanced benefits but does not want people to make more when they are unemployed than they would if they had a job. Mnuchin reportedly said, ”we want to make sure there’s the right incentives.” Typically, Republican leaders are more worried about a few people getting an “undeserved benefit” than helping the overwhelming majority of people who are is increasingly desperate need of help.

Yale economists have studied the data on the alleged disincentive to work arising from unemployment benefits and concluded that “expanded jobless benefits did not reduce employment.” https://bit.ly/3gnWdIY At the risk of letting actual economics get in the way of Republican orthodoxy, the Republican Party would do itself and the country a favor if it stopped bowing down to Donald Trump’s uninformed view of work incentives for people with whom he has only enjoyed a master-servant relationship. The Republicans are focused on the wrong, and least significant aspect, of the problem.

In addition to the classically dense Republican view of economics, the most stunning element of this fiasco is that the Democrat-controlled House proposed relief legislation in May – MAY – but it has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate until last week (more than two months of no action) and Republicans remain divided on what should be in the next round.

Meanwhile, America burns while the Republicans fiddle.

It’s time to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire they have stoked. The coronavirus rages largely out of control around the country and the economy is in a dead stall. Republicans own the disaster because they supported Donald Trump’s ignorance, incompetence and corruption. The time for political posturing is over. It’s time to act and help the people who elected this legislators and expect them to do their job.

ICYMI – Part 6: Fast & Furious

News worth remembering in a few months when you vote:

If you’re looking for something positive to do, consider signing up to work with ProtectOurVotes.com (@ProtectVotes on Twitter). The group is working on multiple projects to guard against vote manipulation in November, an increasing risk in many states led by Republicans. And, in case it’s not obvious (it is), contribute as much as you can as often as you can to the Biden campaign as well as down-ballot candidates in your state. We must not only win the presidency but also control the Congress to prevent Republican obstruction of the post-Trump recovery.

Per Axios [https://bit.ly/2CTjqEr] the Trump administration is sending increased PPE, test kits and top health officials like Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx to coronavirus hotspots as part of a campaign called the “Embers Strategy.” The name “Embers Strategy” is meant “to highlight the risk level of ’embers’ to decrease the likelihood of ‘fires,'” a senior WH official said. If anyone knows what the hell that means, please advise.

While three former presidents were eulogizing Rep. John Lewis, the sitting president of the United States was on Twitter hawking pizza from a company on Long Island, NY whose leader apparently said something nice about Trump. Don’t believe me? Here it is:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.). Great Pizza!!!

10:26 AM · Jul 30, 2020

Two hours later, Trump pinned a new tweet raising the question whether the 2020 election should be postponed. Sen. John Cornyn mansplained to reporters it was just a joke “so all you guys [no females in press corps??] in the press, your heads will explode and you’ll write about it.” By this standard, everything Trump ever said was a joke, including all the claims about his intelligence, business skill and leadership qualities. Oh, yes, and his loyalty. That was a joke too. Just ask Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, many Republicans are saying “oh, no, the election will not be postponed,” as if the U.S. Code was not absolutely clear on when the election is to be held. Trump, however, may yet think otherwise since he fancies himself a king with supreme power over everything: “I can do whatever I want.” The price of freedom, someone once said, is eternal vigilance.

Speaking of law, and the rule thereof, the Michael Flynn case is going to be heard by the full federal circuit court (en banc, we lawyers call it) in the District of Columbia, thus staying the panel decision that overturned the trial judge’s decision to investigate the Justice Department’s decision to drop the Flynn prosecution. Wheels within wheels. Trump/Flynn celebration may have been premature. https://wapo.st/312r86X

Trump endorsed as “very impressive” and “spectacular” the rantings of a witch doctor {licensed to practice pediatric medicine in Texas) who believes, among many bizarre ideas, including that vaginal cysts and endometriosis are caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. She also believes  scientists are developing a vaccine to prevent people from being religious and that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19. https://wapo.st/316QY9W Nothing more to say about this except that millions of Trump supporters believe her and him and they’re going to vote in November. You know what to do.

In a shocking (for Ohio) display of fealty to the rule of law, the Ohio House of Representatives voted 90-0 to remove Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder from his position as Speaker, following his indictment by a federal grand jury for a $61 million bribery scheme. He was noteworthy for having led the fight to establish concealed carry, always popular with the 2nd Amendment crowd, and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In a new extension of Trump’s totalitarian ambitions, the Department of Homeland Security, formed after the 9/11 attacks to coordinate the protection of the US homeland from foreign attacks, was revealed to have been compiling ‘intelligence reports’ on journalists who published leaked documents. https://wapo.st/2EH3pSu In the ensuring firestorm of criticism, DHS removed the acting head of the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. https://politi.co/3i2UjOl Apparently, the office also monitored protesters’ electronic communications. It’s hard working for Trump – one minute you’re doing as ordered; the next minute, you’re the sacrificial lamb. As the election draws closer and Trump becomes even more panicked at the prospect of defeat, we can expect more lambs being hatcheted by the “firer in chief” – cleaning house to free him, he thinks, of the taint of corruption that he has manifested throughout his presidency.

 

Alexa Gets the Last Word

At breakfast this morning, for no particular reason, I wondered aloud what the origin was of the Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato sandwich, affectionately known as the BLT. [Don’t let on, but we were having them for breakfast, one of my favorite meals] My wife put the question to Alexa who advised that the sandwich became popular after WWII. Not that helpful.

My wife then asked Alexa, “Do you love me?”

Alexa responded with “I have not figured out the human concept of love.”

This was too much of a challenge, so I asked, “Alexa, do you hate me?” Alexa responded, “Yes, I think that’s why I am.”

Clearly, Alexa was experiencing some confusion about philosophical concepts.

After we stopped chuckling, my wife asked, “Alexa, do you hate me?” to which Alexa now responded, “I think you’re alright.”

I couldn’t let that pass, so I asked the question again, “Alexa, do you hate me.”

Alexa said, “I think you’re magnificent.”

The end.