VIDEOS

‘Very tired’ president shocks with short speech: 'I've never seen Trump look less interested'

President Donald Trump has given rally speeches that last longer than 100 minutes, but on Friday cut thing short for his speech at a rally in Minnesota.

"President Trump only spoke for 21 (!) minutes at this smaller event in Rochester, MN tonight. Can't remember him ever speaking for less than 45 minutes at a rally but this was restricted to only 250 people due to coronavirus safety guidelines and Trump was not pleased," NBC News correspondent Monica Alba reported.

ABC News producer John Santucci said, "I've never seen Trump look less interested.

"This is about half his average speech length, and he often goes much longer when he's into the crowd (nearly 90 min in Tampa yesterday)," LA Times White House correspondent Eli Stokols reported.

NBC News reporter Garrett Haake said, "Maybe it's the small crowd. Maybe it's the cold. But this is the lowest energy I've ever seen the President be at a rally. He's blowing through his applause lines, just checking the boxes on his usual speech, like he's got somewhere to be."

"Trump appears very tired at this rally in MN, slowly moving through his prepared remarks," CNN's Jim Acosta noted. "People of Twitter reminding me he was up at 3 a.m. tweeting."

https://twitter.com/RawStory/status/1322156446046396417

news & politics

The 'hanging chads' of 2020: More than 1 million mail-in ballots could be rejected this election

More than 1 million mail-in ballots could be rejected in the 2020 election if recent trends hold up, experts say, raising fears that the rejections could swing close races.

Mail-in ballots have been rejected at around a 1% rate in recent years, though 2020 is expected to be on the higher end due to the number of voters casting ballots by mail for the first time, mail delivery issues at the U.S. Postal Service, and court decisions disenfranchising voters whose ballots were cast by Election Day but do not arrive in time.

"It is possible millions of ballots will be disqualified — at least one or two million due to the normal 1-2% disqualification of mail-in ballots, primarily for errors in completing the ballot, such as a signature problem or late submission," Richard Briffault, a professor a the Columbia School of Law, told Salon. "Of course, in a close election, rejecting thousands of ballots would be enough."

Just under 1% of mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2016 election, according to the Election Administration and Voting Survey, and about 1.2% of all mail-in ballots cast between 2016 and 2018 were disqualified, according to an analysis by ABC News.

But researchers at Dartmouth University found that first-time mail-in voters were about three times more likely to have their ballots rejected. More than 51 million mail-in ballots have already been cast in the 2020 election. With a surge in mail voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, about 2% of mail ballots were rejected in this year's primary elections, according to research by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald.

Ballots are rejected for several reasons. About a third of all mail-in ballots rejected in 2018 were tossed because of problems with voter signatures, which in most states must match the signature on file. Some states also require a witness signature. Some ballots are also rejected because they are missing information like addresses or dates. Ballots can also be rejected if voters incorrectly bubbled in their candidate selection.

More than a quarter of mail-in ballots rejected in 2018 were disqualified because they were not received by the state's deadline. Some states require ballots to be received by Election Day, while others allow ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day but arrive several days later.

Some states allow voters to fix or "cure" their ballot before the election but most states have no such mechanism.

Andrea Mercado, executive director of the grassroots racial justice group New Florida Majority, told Salon that educating voters to avoid having their ballot rejected has been a "massive undertaking."

"It's been a challenge to make sure people are educated on how to properly fill it out, how to properly sign the outside of the envelope," she said. "And also that they don't have to put it in the mail, they can put it in a drop-box. And then most importantly that their ballot has to be received by Election Day. It can't be postmarked by that date, it has to be received by that date."

Tens of thousands of ballots have already been flagged for rejection in states like Florida and North Carolina, though groups like Mercado's have recruited thousands of volunteers to help voters cure their ballots in states where it's possible. Mercado said the percentage of rejected ballots has not increased to a "number that gives us cause for great alarm" but the group is focused on the disproportionate impact of the ballot rules on communities of color.

"We're seeing that here in Florida and it's registering to us because we know that the GOP has used their stranglehold on power … to pass laws like the signature match law that disproportionately disenfranchises Black and brown communities," she said.

About 0.47% of mail-in ballots have been flagged for rejection in Florida and about 1.2% of mail-in ballots have been flagged in North Carolina. Florida's 2018 Senate race was decided by just 10,033 votes. North Carolina's 2016 gubernatorial race was decided by just 10,277 votes. A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that there is greater than a 10% chance that the Electoral College could be decided by just 20,000 votes in a single state.

These rejections don't just affect the presidential race but every down-ballot election as well.

"Whether or not the rejection rates are higher enough to necessarily cause the presidential election to go one way or another, there is reason to think that these could be shifting local races, like races for local district attorneys," Kevin Morris, a researcher at the Brennan Center for Justice, told ABC News.

"The vote-by-mail ballot rejections are going to be the hanging chads of 2000," Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, told NBC News.

Smith estimated that more than 100,000 mail-in ballots could be rejected in Florida alone based on the rate of rejections in the primaries and Philadelphia City Commissioner Lisa Deeley warned that more than 100,000 ballots could be rejected in Pennsylvania due to a rule barring "naked ballots," or those submitted without a second privacy envelope.

"Every vote cast can affect the outcome of the election. Every ballot that is rejected could also potentially swing the election and the Electoral College. Rejected ballots can be the margin of error that swings the election results in certain states," Hannah Fried, the national campaign director at the voting rights group All Voting is Local, told Salon.

Fried said "naked ballots" have been a "confusing issue" for voters, particularly in states like Pennsylvania.

"Mail-in ballots submitted without the privacy sleeve will be considered 'naked' and not counted. If a voter returns an absentee or mail‐in ballot but the ballot was rejected by a county elections official, and the voter believes they are eligible to vote in person, the voter may cast a provisional ballot on Election Day," she said. "As long as their mail-in ballot was rejected, their vote will be able to be counted. For mail-in ballots, signature matching and/or accidentally writing your birthday on the 'outer envelope' instead of the date cannot be the sole basis for ballot rejection."

Fried said the "most important thing" Pennsylvania could have done is install uniform cure procedures for each of the state's counties. The state currently does not have any process that lets voters address naked ballot issues.

Fried stressed that voters should "get comfortable with the fact that we likely won't know the election results until days or weeks after Election Day" due to the influx of mail-in ballots.

"The pandemic has disrupted every part of society and the election is no exception," she said. "Different voters will make different choices about how they can vote safely during this pandemic. Some people will vote in person with a mask, some will vote by mail. While having multiple options for voting keeps people safe and socially distant, it also means election officials will need to take a little longer to count and verify that all the ballots are valid."

The U.S. Postal Service and voting rights advocates have also warned that ballots mailed after Oct. 27 may not arrive in time to be counted.

"The time for mailing in your ballot has passed," Mercado said.

Voters should use drop boxes to submit their mail-in ballots or vote in person either at an early voting location or their assigned polling place on Election Day to ensure their vote is submitted in time.

President Trump has repeatedly urged his supporters to avoid casting ballots by mail due to widely debunked claims tha mail ballots are plagued with fraud. Millions of Democrats are expected to vote in person on Election Day as well.

A recent investigation by Vice News found that nearly 21,000 polling locations have been closed ahead of 2020 and primaries in states like Wisconsin and Georgia were marred by poll closures and excessively long lines.

Mercado said the New Florida Majority is monitoring for issues with lines and other voting difficulties but some groups say the closures already pose an impediment to some voters.

"Having polling locations farther away or that are more crowded creates a hardship for many workers, particularly blue-collar and hourly workers," Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, told Vice. "This level of doubt this late in the process is concerning. There are so many new variables on top of old problems. We're talking about how voting will be carried out in the midst of a pandemic. We just don't know."

Democrats have been far more likely to cast their votes by mail and Republicans have long pleaded for Trump to stop sowing doubt about mail-in voting to no avail. Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California Irvine School of Law, argues that Trump is "shooting himself in the foot" by discouraging mail voting and fighting mail-in ballot expansions in court.

"He's discouraged his supporters from voting by mail, and some will have trouble voting in person on Election Day," he said.

Voting rights groups, meanwhile, are working overtime to ensure that voters, particularly groups that have been disproportionately impacted like Black and Latino communities, have their voices heard.

"In the face of voter suppression, Black and Latino communities are organizing to address some of the structural problems in our democracy," Mercado told Salon. "While there are agents of chaos that seek to sow confusion and distrust at the highest levels of our government, there are also thousands of organized volunteers and community members that are doing everything they can to protect and expand democracy."

election '20

Court order segregating Minnesota ballots that arrive late could signal more trouble on Election Day

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit's decision to separate late-arriving ballots casts doubt on whether or not late-arriving ballots will even be counted and signals the revival of Minnesota's Election Day deadline unraveling the seven-day extension that the state agreed to uphold in a separate state court case.

For the 2020 election, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon initially agreed to a deal with two voter groups in state court. Under that deal, they were ballots were supposed to be accepted up to seven days after the November 3 election date as long as they were postmarked prior to that date. Republicans, subsequently, challenged that rule, according to KARE9.

"However well-intentioned and appropriate from a policy perspective in the context of a pandemic during a presidential election, it is not the province of a state executive official to re-write the state's election code, at least as it pertains to selection of presidential electors," the order reads.

The publication goes on to break down the meaning of the latest abrupt change:

"This would mean if you have a mail-in ballot, you must drop it off at your designated location or you can vote in-person through early voting or vote in-person on Election Day. If you are returning a mail-in ballot in-person on Election Day it must be dropped off no later than 3 p.m."

Simon also released a statement admitting the order is a "tremendous and unnecessary disruption to Minnesota's election." Now, he is hoping to make sure voters are aware of the changes, which could greatly impact the outcome of the state's election results.

In the wake of the latest order, Democratic leaders are urging voters refrain from mailing in ballots at this late date because there is no guarantee they will arrive on time with just four days until the election.

On Thursday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) took to Twitter with a warning for the residents in her state. She tweeted, "Because of LAST MINUTE ruling, Minnesota DO NOT put ballots in mail any more.

Klobuchar added, "In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote. Stand up for YOUR rights: Vote in-person or take mail-in ballot directly to ballot box."

It is now recommended that Minnesota voters mail-in ballots in-person by 8:00p.m. on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. All ballots received after that time will be separated.

economy

Economists warn against deceptive White House spin on new GDP figures: 'Don't be fooled'

With the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis set to release third-quarter economic growth estimates Thursday that are expected to show a historic surge in GDP following the worst contraction on record in the previous quarter, experts and Democratic lawmakers are sounding the alarm about President Donald Trump's election-minded efforts to portray the deceptive numbers as proof that the economy is roaring back under his leadership.

Even though the numbers have not yet officially been released, the Trump reelection campaign is already running Facebook ads touting the "fastest GDP growth in history" and celebrating the "Great American Comeback" that the figures supposedly show.

"The economic calamity threatening American households is largely self-inflicted, and will get even more dire unless Congress takes bipartisan action soon."
—Rep. Don Beyer

But several economists and analysts have warned in recent days that the new BEA statistics will likely paint a highly misleading picture of the economy, which remains mired in deep recession as the coronavirus continues to spread and Congress fails to approve additional relief spending, leaving tens of millions of jobless and hungry Americans without desperately needed assistance.

The BEA is expected to peg third-quarter GDP growth at over 30% at an annualized rate—a figure that would be staggering if it didn't come on the heels of the worst GDP drop in U.S. history in the second quarter.

"Some basic math and data can help pierce through the mirage," economist and Brookings Institute fellow Jay Shambaugh wrote in a blog post Monday. "One reason 30 percent growth doesn't mean the economy is healed stems from how percentage changes work when going down and then up. If you own a stock priced at $100 and it drops 30 percent, it is now worth $70. If it gains back 30 percent, it is then worth $91 (the gain is just $21 because 30 percent of 70 is 21)."

"In the same manner," Shambaugh continued, "the large drop in output in the second quarter followed by similar sized increases in the third quarter will still leave a large hole."


Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted Tuesday that "the economy would have to grow at a 53.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter to make up the ground lost in the first and second quarters."

Given that the BEA figures are likely to be among the last major economic indicators released ahead of the November 3 election, the Trump campaign has rushed to seize upon the numbers and the president is all but certain to hail them upon their release Thursday morning.

"Trump will claim credit. Don't be fooled," tweeted economist Robert Reich. "It follows one of sharpest drops in history. And the growth hasn't lasted. Latest indicators show big loss of momentum."

In a brief report (pdf) released Wednesday ahead of the new BEA statistics, Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee said Thursday's numbers "will not fully reflect the worsening public health crisis."

"Instead, on the surface, it will appear to suggest a dramatic economic turnaround," the committee says. "However, even record-breaking third quarter real GDP growth of 30%-35% will leave the U.S. economy substantially smaller than when the year began."


The Trump campaign's touting of the GDP figures as evidence of a booming economic recovery also ignores the deteriorating material circumstances of countless Americans as millions remain unemployed and struggle to afford food, rent, and other basic expenses.

Shortly after confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court late Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) adjourned the Senate for recess until November 9, effectively killing the chances of a coronavirus relief package ahead of Election Day.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that "Republicans' failure to reauthorize unemployment supports is a catastrophic mistake that threatens to engulf the personal finances of millions of families."

"The economic calamity threatening American households is largely self-inflicted, and will get even more dire unless Congress takes bipartisan action soon," Beyer added. "We are no longer talking about stimulus, we are talking about life-preservers for millions people who have been terribly hurt and face worse personal tragedy."


culture

Fox News viewers write about 'BLM' the same way CNN viewers write about 'KKK'

It's no secret that U.S. politics has become highly polarized.

Even so, there are probably few living Americans who ever witnessed anything that quite compares with this fall's first presidential debate.

Was it really the case that the nation could do no better than a verbal food fight, with two candidates hurling fourth-grade insults and talking past each other?

To us, the discordant debate was just one more symptom of the nation's fraying civic discourse, which, in a recent study, we were able to show extends to the words we use to talk about politics.

Earlier this year, we started constructing a data set that consists of all of the viewer comments on YouTube videos posted by four television networks — MSNBC, CNN, Fox News and One America News Network — that target slices of the political spectrum. Together, the data set contains over 85 million comments on over 200,000 videos from 6.5 million viewers since 2014.

We studied whether there are distinct variants of English written in the comments sections, akin to the distinction between British English and American English.

Using machine learning methods, we found these permutations do exist. Moreover, we can rank them in terms of the "left-ness" and the "right-ness." To the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical demonstration of quantifiable linguistic differences in news audiences.

Our second finding, however, was even more unexpected.

Our machine learning translation system found that words with vastly different meanings, like "KKK" and "BLM," were used in the exact same contexts depending on the YouTube channel being analyzed.

The company a word keeps

When translating two different languages — say, Spanish and English — automated translation systems like Google Translate begin with a large training set of texts in both languages. The system then applies machine learning methods to become better at translating.

Over the years, this technology has become increasingly accurate, thanks to two key insights.

The first dates back to the 1950s, when linguist John Rupert Firth came up with the aphorism "You shall know a word by the company it keeps."

To modern machine translation systems, the "company" a word keeps is its "context," or the words surrounding it. For example, the English word "grape" occurs in contexts such as "grape juice" and "grape vine," while the equivalent word in Spanish, uva, occurs in the same contexts — jugo de uva, vid de uva — in Spanish sentences.

The second important discovery came rather recently. A 2013 study found a way to identify — and thereby link — a word's context in one language to its context in another. Modern machine translation depends heavily on this process.

What we have done is to use this type of translation in an entirely new way: to translate English to English.

When "Trumptards" become "snowflakes"

That may sound bizarre. Why translate English to English?

Well, consider American English and British English. Many words are the same in both languages. Yet there can be subtle differences. For instance, "apartment" in American English may translate into "flat" in British English.

For the purposes of our study, we labeled the language used in each network's comment section "MSNBC-English," "CNN-English," "Fox-English" and "OneAmerica-English." After analyzing the comments, our translation algorithms uncovered two different patterns of "misaligned words" — terms that aren't identical across the comment sections but are used in the same contexts.

One type was similar to "flat" and "apartment," in the sense that both are describing ostensibly the same thing. However, the word pairs we uncovered have different intonations. For example, we found that what one community calls "Pelosi," the other one calls "Pelousy"; and "Trump" in one news-language translates into "Drumpf" in another.

A second — and deeper — kind of misalignment occurred when the two words refer to two fundamentally different things.

For example, we found that in CNN-English, "KKK" — the abbreviation for the Ku Klux Klan — is translated by our algorithm to "BLM" — shorthand for Black Lives Matter — in Fox-English. The algorithm is basically finding that the comments made by one community about KKK are very much like the comments made by the other about BLM. While the belief systems of the KKK and BLM are about as different as can be, depending on the comment section, they seem to each represent something similarly ominous and threatening.

CNN-English and Fox-English are not the only two languages displaying these types of misalignments. The conservative end of the spectrum itself breaks into two languages. For example, "mask" in Fox-English translates to "muzzle" in OneAmerica-English, reflecting the differing attitudes across these subcommunities.

There seems to be a mirrorlike duality at play. "Conservatism" becomes "liberalism," "red" is translated to "blue," while "Cooper" is converted into "Hannity."

There's also no lack of what can only be called childish name-calling.

"Trumptards" in CNN-English translates to "snowflakes" in Fox-English; "Trumpty" in CNN-English translates to "Obummer" in Fox-English; and "republicunts" in CNN-English translates to "democraps" in Fox-English.

Uncharted territory

Linguists have long emphasized how effective communication among people with different beliefs requires common ground. Our findings show that the way we talk about political issues is becoming more divergent; depending on who's writing, a common word can be imbued with an entirely different meaning.

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We wonder: How far are we from the point of no return when these linguistic differences begin to erode the common ground needed for productive communication?

Have echo chambers on social media exacerbated political polarization to the point where these linguistic misalignments have become ingrained in political discourse?

When will "democracy" in one language variant stop translating into "democracy" in the other?

Mark Kamlet, University Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University; Ashique KhudaBukhsh, Project Scientist at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and Tom Mitchell, Founders University Professor of Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

science

‘It’s science, stupid’: A school subject emerges as a hot-button political issue

At the top of Dr. Hiral Tipirneni’s to-do list if she wins her congressional race: work with other elected officials to encourage mask mandates and to beef up COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Those choices are backed up by science, said Tipirneni, an emergency room physician running for Arizona’s 6th Congressional District.On the campaign trail, she has called on her opponent, Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), to denounce President Donald Trump’s gathering of thousands for a rally in Arizona and his comments about slowing down COVID-19 testing.“I believe in data; I believe in facts,” Tipir...

belief

Faith and spirituality run deep in Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matters (BLM) has been portrayed by its detractors as many things: Marxist, radical, anti-American. Added to this growing list of charges is that it is either irreligious or doing religion wrong.

In late July, for instance, conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan tweeted that BLM was “incompatible" with Christianity.

He isn't alone in that belief. Despite receiving the backing of diverse faith leaders and groups, BLM has been attacked by sections of the religious right. One evangelical institution felt compelled to issue a statement warning Christians about the movement's “Godless agenda." Other evangelicals have gone further, accusing BLM founders of being “witches" and “operating in the demonic realm."

Joining conservative Christians are some self-proclaimed liberals and atheists who have also denounced BLM as a social movement that functions like a “cult" or “pseudo" religion.

As scholars of religion, we believe such views fail to acknowledge – let alone engage with – the rich spiritual and religious pluralism of Black Lives Matter. For the past few years, we have been observing the way the movement and affiliated organizations express faith and spirituality.

Since 2015 we have interviewed BLM leaders and organizers as well as Buddhist leaders inspired by the movement. What we found was that BLM was not only a movement seeking radical political reform, but a spiritual movement seeking to heal and empower while inspiring other religious allies seeking inclusivity.

A love letter

Black Lives Matter was born from a love letter.

On July 13, 2013 – the day of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had killed an unarmed black teenage named Trayvon Martin – soon-to-be BLM co-founder Alicia Garza, posted “A Love Letter to Black People" on Facebook. She declared:

“We don't deserve to be killed with impunity. We need to love ourselves and fight for a world where black lives matter. Black people, I love you. I love us. We matter. Our lives matter."

Since its inception, BLM organizers have expressed their founding spirit of love through an emphasis on spiritual healing, principles, and practices in their racial justice work.

BLM leaders, such as co-founder Patrisse Cullors, are deeply committed to incorporating spiritual leadership. Cullors grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, and later became ordained in Ifà, a west African Yoruba religion. Drawing on Native American, Buddhist and mindfulness traditions, her syncretic spiritual practice is fundamental to her work. As Cullors explained to us, “The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight."

Theologian Tricia Hersey, known as the “Nap Bishop," a nod to her Divinity degree and her work advocating for rest as a form of resistance, founded the BLM affiliated organization, The Nap Ministry in 2016.

In an interview with Cullors, Hersey said she considers human bodies as “sites of liberation" that connect Black Americans to the “creator, ancestors, and universe." She describes rest as a spiritual practice for community healing and resistance and naps as “healing portals." Hersey connects this belief to her upbringing in the Black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, where, she explained, “I was able to see the body being a vehicle for spirit."

The movement is committed to spiritual principles, such as “healing justice" – which uses a range of holistic approaches to address trauma and oppression by centering emotional and spiritual well-being – and “transformative justice" which assists with creating processes to repair harm without violence.

Black Lives Matter protesters pray near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Transformative justice, central to the beliefs of many in the BLM movement, is a philosophic approach to peacemaking. With roots in the Quaker tradition, it approaches harms committed as an opportunity for education. Crime is taken to be a community problem to be solved through mutual understanding, as often seen in work to decriminalize sex work and drug addiction.

BLM affiliated organizer Cara Page, who coined the term “healing justice," did so in response to watching decades of activists commit themselves completely to social justice causes to the detriment of their physical and mental health. She advocates that “movements themselves have to be healing, or there's no point to them."

'Without healing, no justice'

BLM-affiliated organizations utilize spiritual tools such as meditation, reiki, acupuncture, plant medicine, chanting, and prayer, along with other African and Indigenous spiritualities to connect and care for those directly impacted by state violence and white supremacy.

For instance, Dignity and Power Now or DPN, an organization founded by Cullors in Los Angeles in 2012, hosts almost weekly wellness clinics on Sundays, often referred to as “church" by attendees.

On July 26, 2020, they held a virtual event called Calm-Unity, to remind people that “without healing there is no justice." Classes included yoga, meditation, African dance, Chinese medicine, and altar making.

In interviews, movement leaders described honoring their body, mind and soul as an act of resilience. They see themselves as inheritors of the spiritual duty to fight for racial justice, following in the footsteps of freedom fighters like abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

BLM leaders often invoke the names of abolitionist ancestors in a ceremony used at the beginning of protests. In fact, protests often contain many spiritual purification, protection and healing practices including the burning of sage, the practice of wearing white and the creation of sacred sites and altars at locations of mourning.

'More religion, not less'

BLM's rich spiritual expressions have also inspired and transformed many American faith leaders. Black evangelical leader Barbara Salter McNeil credits BLM activists in Ferguson as changing the Christian church by showing racism must be tackled structurally and not just as individual sin.

U.S. Buddhist leaders presented a statement on racial justice to the White House in which they shared they were “inspired by the courage and leadership" of Black Lives Matter. Jewish, Muslim and many other religious organizations, have incorporated BLM principles to make their communities more inclusive and justice oriented.

As University of Arizona scholar Erika Gault observes, “The Black church is not the only religious well from which Black movements have historically drawn," and with Black Lives Matter, “We are actually seeing more religion, not less."

Religious pluralism

Attempts to erase the rich religious landscape of Black Lives Matter by both conservative and liberal voices continues a long history of denouncing Black spirituality as inauthentic and threatening.

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The history of white supremacy, often enacted within institutional Christianity, has often vilified and criminalized Indigenous and African beliefs, promoted the idea that Black people are divinely destined to servitude, and subjected communities to forced conversions.

As Cullors said to us in response to current attacks against BLM as demonic, “For centuries, the way we are allowed to commune with the divine has been policed; in the movement for Black lives, we believe that all connections to the creator are sacred and essential."The Conversation

Hebah H. Farrag, Assistant Director of Research, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Ann Gleig, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Central Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

human rights

Texas leads fight to end protections for Native American children

The top legal officers of Texas, Louisiana and Indiana—all Republicans—are trying to end legal protections that make it more difficult for child welfare agencies to tear apart Native American families.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment because children are put into one of two child welfare systems based on whether they are Native American.

"The ICWA unlawfully attempts to coerce state agencies and courts to carry out an unconstitutional and illegal federal policy of deciding custody based on race," Paxton said.

Congress set up this dual system in 1978 after decades of native American families being destroyed by child welfare agencies. Twenty-five percent to 35% of all Native American children had been separated from their families and placed in adoptive homes, foster care or institutions.

Native American children are still more likely to be removed from their families by state child welfare systems.

The act, signed by President Jimmy Carter, requires that state agencies use "active efforts" to try to prevent the breakup of Native American families, notify people of pending proceedings and their right to intervene and keep records and make them available for inspection.

When a Native American child is removed, preference in placing the child must be given to the child's extended family, then to the child's tribe and then finally to other Native American tribes.

Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, a Fort Worth couple who have adopted a Native American boy and are trying to adopt his half-sister, are also plaintiffs in the suit. Chad Brackeen said in a court hearing that he had concerns about the Native American relative who also wanted to adopt the baby girl, including her smaller house.

"I don't know what that looks like—if she needs space, if she [the child] needs privacy," he said. "I'm a little bit concerned with the limited financial resources possibly to care for this child, should an emergency come up."

In October 2018, federal judge Reed O'Connor ruled the act was unconstitutional, but that decision was reversed by a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges. Paxton asked for all the judges of the Fifth Circuit to hear the case; oral arguments were held in January. Even Team Trump, which has presided over losing track of the migrant parents of 545 children, supports the Indian Child Welfare Act, writing that Native American children were removed by "abusive practices" by state and private agencies.

Psychiatrist Joseph Westermeyer told Congress before the act was passed that Native Americans he treated who had been removed from their families often did reasonably well in early childhood. But as teenagers, they frequently tried to kill themselves, used drugs and ran away.

"It's been my own experience that the vast majority of social workers called to assist Indian families when there is a crisis or distress, do a very poor job," Westermeyer said. "They do not work to keep the family intact."

The act widely is considered a"gold standard" in child welfare policy and provides rights to Native American families that other families in our country don't have such as requiring expert witness testimony before a judge approves placing a child in foster care.

Even with the extra protections, Native American children are still more likely to be removed from their families by state child welfare systems.

Our nation's Children's Bureau founded more than a century ago under President William Howard Taft, spends about $9.8 billion a year to support and monitor child welfare agencies.

All that money hasn't done much to improve justice for children and families in the child welfare system, said law professor Vivek Sankaran.

More than 250,000 children were removed from their parents in fiscal 2019, many who may have never needed to be separated from their parents. Less than half of children are reunified with their parents, and judges are terminating parental rights at a higher rate.

more news

Trump’s border wall is costing taxpayers billions more than initial contracts: federal spending data review

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

On the same day in May 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a pair of contracts worth $788 million to replace 83 miles of fence along the southwest border.

The projects were slated to be completed in January 2020, the Corps said then. Four months into this year, however, the government increased the value of the contracts by more than $1 billion, without the benefit of competitive bidding designed to keep costs low to taxpayers.

Within a year of the initial award, the value of the two contracts had more than tripled, to over $3 billion, even though the length of the fence the companies were building had only grown by 62%, to 135 miles. The money is coming from military counter-narcotics funding.

Those contract spikes were dramatic, but not isolated. A ProPublica/Texas Tribune review of federal spending data shows more than 200 contract modifications, at times awarded within just weeks or months after the original contracts, have increased the cost of the border wall project by billions of dollars since late 2017. This is particularly true this year, in the run-up to next week's election. The cost of supplemental agreements and change orders alone — at least $2.9 billion — represents about a quarter of all the money awarded and more than what Congress originally appropriated for wall construction in each of the last three years.

President Donald Trump made construction of the border wall a signature issue during his 2016 campaign, claiming that his skills as a builder and businessman would allow his administration to build the wall in a more cost-efficient way than his predecessors. “You know the wall is almost finished," he told a crowd of supporters in Arizona recently, and they weren't paying a “damn cent" for the border wall. It was “compliments of the federal government."

Yet an accounting of border wall contracts awarded during his presidency shows that his administration has failed to protect taxpayer interests or contain costs and stifled competition among would-be builders, experts say. In all, Trump's wall costs about five times more per mile than fencing built under the Bush and Obama administrations.

Experts say the frequent use of so-called supplemental agreements to add work or increase the price has amounted to giving no-bid contracts to a small group of pre-selected construction firms, many with executives who have donated to Trump or other Republicans.

Some contracts and add-ons have been handed out without press releases or announcements, making it harder for the public to track the expanding costs.

Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore contracting expert, said the contracting actions involving the border wall project are unusual for the normally restrained Corps, whose contracts aren't typically characterized by massive price increases. Tiefer called the amount of money awarded through modifications “amazingly high."

“These (border wall) modifications do not look like something the Army Corps of Engineers would get by competitive bidding," Tiefer said. “The taxpayer is paying much more than if the whole contract were out for competitive bids."

The Government Accountability Office told ProPublica and the Tribune that it was looking into the contract modifications as part of a broader review of the process the Corps has used to award border wall contracts using military funds. The report is expected to be released early next year.

While adding work to a contract is not unusual on its own, some of the very rapid and significant supplemental agreements in some of the border wall contracts raise red flags and don't always provide enough information to determine if they are problematic, said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of Celero Strategies and former deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and reform during the Clinton administration.

Raini Brunson, a spokesperson for the Corps, said she couldn't comment on specific contracts, instructing reporters to file records requests for more information. But she added that modifications are “made all the time for a variety of reasons." And while the Corps doesn't provide specific updates on a regular basis, she said contract awards and modifications are posted on federal procurement websites and in databases accessible to the public.

But the sites can be difficult to navigate, and the databases often don't reflect recent changes. Neither U.S. Customs and Border Protection nor the Corps publicly maintains a comprehensive list of all border wall contracts and their modifications. Some projects lack enough detail on government websites to even determine basic facts, such as what the additional work is for.

Some of the border wall contract modifications essentially amount to new projects that in some cases then undergo their own modifications.

A review of recent Corps non-border wall contracts shows no recent contract add-ons that approach the scale of border wall awards. Two contracts for walls surrounding a Florida reservoir awarded in early 2019 for about $130 million have had no cost increases, according to federal procurement data.

Of the Corps' five largest active non-border wall contracts in fiscal 2020, three received no additional money through supplemental agreements, and a fourth received three supplemental agreements totaling $584, according to usaspending.gov. A fifth contract, to replace locks along the Tennessee River, did increase substantially, but 98% of the rise was due to pre-agreed contract options, not after-the-fact supplemental agreements or change orders that have been added on to so many border wall contracts.

Building a wall along the southern border has been one of Trump's core promises and perhaps one of his most politically divisive battles.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by advocacy groups over a move to shift billions of dollars from the military for border wall construction after Congress refused to fully fund the project. The federal government's own watchdog agencies are reviewing some of the contracts after lawmakers raised concerns that political favoritism played a role in how the government awarded them.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the wall contract changes is Galveston-based SLSCO, which has won the second-most in border wall contracts since 2017, about $2.2 billion, including nearly half a billion dollars in supplemental agreements. North Dakota-based Fisher Sand & Gravel has also won more than $2 billion in contracts since building a controversial private border fence in the Rio Grande Valley, which a ProPublica/Tribune investigation found was in danger of toppling if not fixed and properly maintained. On May 6, federal officials gave the firm a $1.2 billion contract, first reported by the Arizona Daily Star; the government did not publicly announce the massive award. The company's CEO, Tommy Fisher, could not be reached for comment. SLSCO officials referred questions about its border wall contracts to CBP.

“Spiraling Costs"

When Trump first touted his plan to build a “beautiful" wall all along the southern border, he said it would cost $8 billion — $12 billion tops — and that Mexico would pay for it.

The nation's self-anointed “best builder" bragged in 2017 that his construction know-how and savvy would bring the price of his border wall “WAY DOWN!" once he got involved in the process.

In the last three years, the administration has awarded nearly 40 contracts to 15 companies worth at least $10 billion to build more than 500 miles of fencing plus roads, lighting and other infrastructure, according to the most recent usaspending.gov data compiled by ProPublica and the Tribune. (Initially, the president proposed building 1,000 miles of wall, but he later revised that figure down to 450 to be completed before the end of his first term.)

In an October update, the administration said it had identified $15 billion — most of it from military funds — to build a total of 738 miles, which comes out to roughly $20 million a mile.

That's compared with the $2.4 billion the government spent from 2007-15 to build 653 miles of fence, as well as gates, roads, lighting and other infrastructure, according to the GAO.

Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman, said it's not reasonable to compare prior expenses to current ones. “CBP is constructing a border wall system which includes a combination of various types of infrastructure such as an internally hardened steel-bollard barrier 18' to 30' high, new and improved all-weather roads, lighting, enforcement cameras and other related technology to create a complete enforcement zone," he wrote in response to questions. “This is very different than the barriers we constructed in 2007-2009 where it was just the 18' steel-bollard barriers in some locations and vehicle barriers in others."

So far, Trump's administration has completed 360 miles, with an additional 221 under construction, according to CBP. Very little of that has added new fencing where there was none, though. Most of the work has been replacing shorter vehicle barriers and dilapidated fences with more imposing 30-foot bollard poles largely on land already owned by the federal government in Arizona and California.

Much less work has been done in Texas, one of the busiest border regions in terms of drug and migrant crossings, but which features the border's largest stretch without barriers. That is due both to the Rio Grande that snakes its way along the 1,200-mile Texas border, dividing the U.S. and Mexico, and the fact that most of the land is privately owned.

Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 after the Democrat-led House refused to give him more than $5 billion to fund the border wall, instead offering $1.4 billion to build fencing in the Rio Grande Valley Sector. The impasse led to a 35-day partial government shutdown before Trump bypassed Congress. By declaring a national emergency, Trump was able to shift billions of dollars from the Department of Defense and the Treasury Department. The rest comes from CBP appropriations.

To those following the border wall construction closely, the contracting process has triggered alarm.

“I'm just extremely concerned about the spiraling costs of the border wall … and about the amount of money that they are having to take away from DOD projects to build this wall," said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, which is tracking the increasing costs of border wall-related contracts.

“Trump is trying to make good on a campaign promise that he made four years ago, and he's rushing through the construction of the wall," he added.

In February, the administration waived 10 federal contracting laws to speed up construction along the southwest border, doing away with rules that promote contract competition and small-business participation, as well as requiring justifications for the exercise of contract options, which prompted experts to issue warnings about the potential outcome.

In awarding additional money through contract modifications, the agency has frequently cited “unusual and compelling urgency" to further erode rules requiring a competitive bidding process. Experts say that “urgency" has little credibility and has led to environmental and other damage along the border.

“Whenever you do that, there are some compliance risks, and ... there's the risk of not getting really adequate, robust competition," Soloway said. “The more and better competition you have, the more and better decisions you can make."

A July report from the DHS Office of Inspector General said costs for the border wall could grow exponentially due to CBP's poor planning ahead of construction in an apparent rush to build the wall.

The agency “has not fully demonstrated that it possesses the capability to potentially spend billions of dollars to execute a large-scale acquisition to secure the southern border," the inspector general reported.

Until it improves its acquisition planning and management, the DHS watchdog said, “any future initiative may take longer than planned, cost more than expected and deliver less capability than envisioned to secure the southern border."

In response, DHS and CBP said they were being “chastised" for following the president's executive order from 2017, which directed the “immediate construction of a physical wall."

The inspector general countered that DHS' lead role in building the border wall doesn't exempt it from “following congressional requirements and established acquisition practices to safeguard taxpayers dollars from fraud, waste, and abuse."

A Track Record of Violations

There's no universal list of all border-wall-associated contracts. ProPublica and the Tribune found 68 contracts since late 2017 using CBP news releases, DOD and Corps announcements, and a search of federal databases for a group of 12 companies given pre-approval status by the Corps. Roughly two dozen of these contracts have only been awarded a minimum guarantee of about $2,000 but no border wall work yet. Not included in this list are millions more awarded to companies for peripheral services including acquiring land, aerial imaging, the removal of munitions debris and cactuses, and environmental monitoring.

Of the awarded contracts identified by ProPublica and the Tribune, four companies earned the vast majority of the funds — about $9 billion. The analysis focused on the total value of the contracts, rather than the amount spent to date. Top officials at the firms have been frequent donors to Republican candidates, and records show some of the companies have a host of safety violations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for offenses including failing to provide adequate shade to workers and not operating equipment safely, as well as wage violations.

One contract obtained by a Montana company shows how the awards can grow to several times their original size. In May 2019, BFBC LLC, a subsidiary of Barnard Construction, won a$142 million contract just a few days after it learned it was one of 12 construction firms selected by the Corps.

The contract called on the firm to replace about 5 miles of aging, low-slung vehicle barriers with 30-foot-high steel bollards near Yuma, Arizona. The project, one of the first to be paid for with diverted military funds, was widely publicized and featured a quick turnaround, with completion scheduled for Jan. 31, 2020.

What was less publicized was that the contract was open-ended. In technical terms, it was “undefinitized," which is allowed when the government seeks to begin work immediately, but which experts say provides little incentive to keep costs contained.

Four months later, the contract was “definitized," bringing the cost to more than $440 million. A DOD announcement says the money was for “replacement of El Centro and Yuma vehicle and pedestrian barrier," but it gives no additional details.

Six months later, in March 2020, the Corps issued a $172 million change order. This time, no press release or announcement hailed the contract modification; a federal database says the money is for “additional miles" near Yuma, but it provides no details.

Then, in April, a week after Democratic members of Congress urged border wall funds be redirected to the then-exploding coronavirus pandemic, BFBC received its biggest contract modification to date: $569 million for 17 additional miles in San Diego and El Centro — or $33 million per mile. A Corps spokesperson told the Daily Beast it awarded the half-billion-dollar contract add-on without competitive bidding because the firm was already “mobilized and working in close proximity."

Congressional Democrats called on the GAO to investigate what Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called a “no-bid contract to an apparently politically connected, private contractor" as part of the federal watchdog's broader review of Corps contracts. Campaign finance reports show BFBC's owner is a longtime GOP donor who has given nearly $200,000 since 2017 to Republican causes and candidates, including to those in his home state of Montana as well as Texas and Arizona. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Southwest Valley Constructors, a New Mexico-based affiliate of Kiewit Corp. that formed several months after Trump's inauguration, has received the most in border wall contracts since 2017. This subsidiary alone has been awarded contracts worth at least $2.7 billion for about 100 miles of border wall work in Arizona and Texas. More than $2 billion of that has come from the single May 15, 2019 contract and subsequent modifications.

While most of the work is ongoing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in Arizona have already raised concerns that the company's work is dropping groundwater levels at a wildlife refuge, according to emails obtained by the Arizona Daily Star. In South Texas, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the company after descendants of the family that started the Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery accused it of working in such “hurried manner" that it was causing excessive shaking and vibrations at the historical sites.

The firm already faces three serious OSHA violations related to excavation safety rules that stem from a single inspection, sparked by a complaint. Southwest Valley Contractors is contesting them. Kiewit and its subsidiaries have a long track record of violations related to worker safety, the environment and employment. Since 2000, it has paid more than $5 million in penalties, records show. Kiewit representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The $2.2 billion Texas-based SLSCO has won since 2018 has been for at least nine contracts for border wall construction, including about $300 million to build 13 miles of fencing on top of concrete levees in the Rio Grande Valley. That fencing skirts the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Chapel and the National Butterfly Center, which Congress exempted from border wall construction in 2018.

The firm's work has come under scrutiny previously: A section of fencing built by the company in Calexico, California, blew over in January during the construction process, which officials blamed on high winds and drying concrete.

The firm has also received more than $410 million in supplemental agreements to a $390 million contract originally awarded in April 2019 to build fencing west of El Paso. Some of that money went to pay for an additional 2.4 miles of fencing; it's not clear what the rest went to.

As the presidential election approaches, both contractors and administration officials are racing against the clock: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, has pledged to cancel the existing contracts if he is elected. If this happens, construction firms would likely be awarded termination fees and get paid based on the amount of work they have completed by the time contracts are canceled.

While there's not an overall estimate of how much that could cost, court documents filed by the administration as part of the legal battle over the use of military funds provide a window into what a Biden administration might face come January: A single contract awarded to BFBC in November 2019 for 33 miles of fence replacement in Arizona, currently valued at about $420 million, could cost the government nearly $15 million to terminate.

“While ending construction is easy to say, it might not be so easy, because he'll have to consider the phase of construction, gaps in the wall that could be exploited and the termination costs for existing contracts, which can come with a high price tag for taxpayers," said Amey, with the Project on Government Oversight. “President Trump might have boxed in Biden, requiring completion of certain portions of the wall whether he likes it or not."

Here's why the most determined tracker of Trump's lies finally had to give up

At CNN, President Donald Trump has had a very aggressive and tireless fact-checker in Daniel Dale — who, time and time again, has called out the president's lies and distortions. The Canadian reporter discussed his fact-checking of Trump during a Q&A interview with the Los Angeles Times, noting that Trump lies so much that keeping up with all the lies has been a never-ending task.

Friday on Twitter, Dale tweeted the Times' article and posted, "So...in September, I had to abandon my 3.75-year count of every Trump false claim. Because he's talking so much and telling so many important lies that I don't have the time to research all the little ones. It was fun while it lasted. (No it wasn't.)"

The Times' Meredith Blake notes that Dale's fact-checking of Trump started in 2016, when he was a Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Toronto Star. On September 21, 2016, progressive activist and filmmaker Michael Moore praised Dale for fact-checking Trump so thoroughly, writing, "This Canadian journalist, every single day in the Toronto Star, lists all the lies that Donald Trump spoke that day. Shames the US media."

Blake asked Dale, "What's the tally of Trump's false claims as of right now?" — to which he responded, "I don't know because I've fallen behind during the campaign. I had to make a decision to stop updating over the last month and just focus on the big stuff. Because the president is talking so much — just the sheer volume of words right now is very large, and so many of them are false that if I tried to keep up comprehensively as I have for the past four years, I wouldn't have found time to write the most important stories about the most egregious stuff he's saying. So, I've had to make an executive decision to put it on hold for now. My tally for his presidency is over 9,000 false claims."

Blake asked Dale if there was a "most egregious" lie from Trump that stood out the most, and he replied, "Some of the claims of the pandemic I would put on the most egregious list. The claim that it's disappearing, which he's made 40-plus times since February. This is a national crisis where millions of people respond to the president's words, and he's constantly reassuring them, 'It's fine, it's going away' — and it is just not. The other claim he's emphasized this week is that the increase in cases is simply a result of more tests being done, and that's just not true."

When Blake asked Dale how effective fact-checking is at a time when politics in the U.S. are "so polarized" and there is so much "disinformation on social media," he responded, "I feel that there are obvious limitations to our work, and there are people we cannot currently reach. That's just a fact. There are people who will never click on a CNN article or never watch CNN…. My role is to put as much factual information out there as I can, and what people do with that is up to them."

Donald Trump Jr. showed his true colors when caught in a disgusting lie about COVID-19 deaths

This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci — discussing recent coronavirus surges in the United States and fears that the pandemic could become even worse this winter — warned, "There's going to be a whole lot of pain in this country." But despite the warnings of Fauci and other medical experts, Donald Trump, Jr. has downplayed the severity of the autumn surge. And on Thursday — a day in which almost 1000 people died from COVID-19 in the U.S. and a record of near 90,000 people tested positive for it — the president's son claimed that the COVID-19 death count has fallen to "almost nothing."

During an appearance on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle" on Thursday night, Trump, Jr. told far-right host Laura Ingraham, "I went through the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data because I kept hearing about new infections, but I was like, 'Well, why aren't they talking about deaths?' Oh, oh, because the number is almost nothing. Because we've gotten control of this thing. We understand how it works. They have the therapeutics to be able to deal with this."

Trump, Jr. insisted that the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. had "gone to almost nothing." And he ridiculed Democrats who continue to stress the importance of social distancing, saying, "Why don't we shut down for 10 or 15 years?"

President Donald Trump's son, not surprisingly, didn't say anything about how overwhelmed hospitals are becoming in many parts of the U.S. because of all the new COVID-19 patients. That same Thursday, NBC News aired a segment on the challenges that some hospitals are having staying on top of the surge — and an ICU nurse at St. Vincent Health Care in Billings, Montana said, "It's been shocking to me how fast it's accelerated in the last couple weeks." When the nurse was asked how close the hospital was to being "at capacity," she replied, "We're close. We're very close. We can find beds, but it's probably going to be at the expense of non-COVID patients."

NBC News' Rebecca Shabad noted that Johns Hopkins University reported on Thursday that almost 1,000 people died from COVID-19 — far more than "almost nothing" in single day. According to the university, the COVID-19 death count had passed 229,000 in the U.S. by Friday afternoon and more than 1.1 million worldwide.

Trump's own officials are terrified about what he'll do the day after the election: NYT

Journalist Ron Suskind has talked with multiple current and former Trump administration officials who say they're deeply concerned about what President Donald Trump will do the day after the election next week.

In multiple interviews, these officials sketched out a scenario in which Trump would encourage his supporters to disrupt voting in cities in key swing states.

"Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first," Suskind writes. "Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations. It could be anything, maybe violent, maybe not, started by anyone, or something planned and executed by any number of organizations, almost all of them on the right fringe, many adoring of Mr. Trump."

The big danger, these officials tell Suskind, is that early news of unrest at polling places will spark further instances across the country.

"News of even a few incidents could summon a violent segment of Mr. Trump's supporters into action, giving foreign actors even more to amplify and distribute, spreading what is, after all, news of mayhem to the wider concentric circles of Mr. Trump's loyalists," he writes.

Officials then say Trump will claim some kind of "victory" on November 4th even if the vote tallies show him behind.

"If the streets then fill with outraged people, he can easily summon, or prompt, or encourage troublemakers among his loyalists to turn a peaceful crowd into a sea of mayhem," Suskind writes. "They might improvise on their own in sparking violence, presuming it pleases their leader."

One FBI official tells Suskind that the agency has been gaming out how it will handle weeks of unrest that could come after the election.

"We've been talking to our state and local counterparts and gearing up for the expectation that it's going to be a significant law-enforcement challenge for probably weeks or months," this official said. "It feels pretty terrifying."

Read the whole story here.

Democrats' Senate map is expanding in some very unexpected places

If you're seeking evidence that the Senate map is expanding, not contracting, for Democrats, look no further than Cook Political Report's ratings change in the Mississippi Senate race from "solid" to "likely" Republican. Republicans will most likely hold that seat on election night, but the idea that things are loosening even a tad in a state like Mississippi is somewhat astonishing.

The movement in such an unlikely state also suggests Democrats are very much in the running to bring home some of the lower-tier Senate races. One of Democrats' best chances for a pickup in a state that initially fell below the radar appears to be Montana, where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is in striking distance of unseating GOP Sen. Steve Daines.

A new poll released Wednesday by Montana State University put Bullock up 1 point, 48%-47%, with 5% undecided. And although Donald Trump is still running 7 points ahead of Joe Biden, 52%-45%, the other statewide races for governor the state's at-large congressional seat are neck and neck. In the gubernatorial race, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte are tied at 45%, while Republican at-large candidate Matt Rosendale holds a one-point lead over Democrat Kathleen Williams, 47%-46%. In other words, Montana looks to be very competitive and Democrats could pick up some important seats there.

In Kansas, Democrat Barbara Bollier won the endorsement of the Kansas City Star, which compared Bollier's GOP opponent Rep. Roger Marshall to the highly unpopular Republican, Kris Kobach. "Don't be fooled," wrote the Star, "Marshall is every bit as conservative as Kobach. Bollier is far better prepared to meet this moment." Kansas.com also endorsed her as "an independent thinker," writing, "It's no surprise that more than 80 current and former Republican leaders have endorsed her campaign." An internal poll conducted by GBAO found Bollier leading by 1 point, 46%-45%, with Libertarian Jason Buckley drawing 4% and 4% undecided. Yet apparently, Marshall feels so good about the state of play that he decided to skip the final debate altogether. In a pretty stunning move, Marshall suggested he got "set up" after the Topeka TV Station KSNT tried to contact him repeatedly and even sent a certified letter inviting him to participate in the debate.

In South Carolina, Cook Political has the race between Democrat Jaime Harrison and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham in tossup territory. Since Harrison's eye-popping $57 million fundraising haul in the third quarter, he has also picked up the endorsement of the South Carolina's oldest newspaper, The State. The Economist's forecast model is also "unclear which candidate will win," putting the race in the same category as other tight races that have been viewed as slightly more ripe for Democratic pickups, such as the two Georgia Senate races along with the one in Iowa.

Some Democratic Senate candidates are obviously much better poised to deliver wins on election night, but if there's one thing that unites nearly all these races—from the "very likely" flips to the "unclear"—it's that they are trending in Democrats' direction, according to forecasts and recent polling.

That's a good sign and suggests Democrats might walk away with an unexpected victory or two in some of the scrappier races that weren't originally viewed as being in the offing for Democrats.

'Signs of a coming conflict are everywhere': Why a 2nd Civil War would be quite different from the 1st

In 2020, the United States has been rocked by everything from a deadly pandemic and a brutal recession to civil unrest in a long list of cities to fears that violent conflicts will occur either on Election Day or after the election. Journalist Matthew Gault, in an article published by Vice this week, wonders if the political divisions in the United States run so deep that the country is headed for another civil war.

Describing the unrest that has occurred this year, Gault writes, "People are marching in the streets, aligned with two ideologically distinct factions. Many of them, overwhelmingly from one side, are armed, and violence and death has resulted when these two sides have clashed. The signs of a coming conflict are everywhere."

Certainly, the U.S. has had plenty of unrest in the past, from riots and assassinations during the 1960s to the Los Angeles riots in 1992. But Gault views 2020 as especially disturbing.

"Political polarization is up, gun and ammunition sales have spiked, killers such as Kyle Rittenhouse are being lauded by their political allies, and protests are widespread in American cities," Gault explains. "Police kill unarmed people in the street, the government is polarized and corrupt, and our institutions are failing. Armed militias patrol U.S. streets."

Gault goes on to note that as if everything else that has occurred in 2020 weren't enough, Philadelphia erupted in violence the week before the presidential election following the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr. — a 27-year-old African-American man — by police.

"In the aftermath of the shooting, protestors have smashed windows and spray painted the police substation," Gault notes. "Police say 30 officers have been hurt, and one who was hit by a pickup truck has been hospitalized for a broken leg."

Gault adds, "We have a sect of the president's supporters who have vowed to show up at polling places armed. If you have a terrible and ominous feeling about all this, you're not alone. Some on the far right are talking about another civil war."

What would another civil war in the United States look like? The last one occurred during the 1860s, when Americans were still using horses to commute to work — and a great deal has changed technologically since then.

Gault explains, "According to several experts I spoke with, a new civil conflict will look nothing like the first American Civil War. It's not likely that clear sides will be drawn up with massive armies of Americans marching towards each other as drones strike from above. An insurgency is more likely — a period of sustained and distributed conflict where non-state actors carry out violence to achieve a political goal."

One of the people Gault interviewed was David Kilcullen of Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Kilcullen is worried about the United States' future, telling Gault, "The worst atrocities come from fear, not hate. Because people think they're good, and they can justify incredible atrocious violence to themselves on the basis that it is defensive….. You need a belief that some other group is encroaching on your territory."

Gault also interviewed journalist Robert Evans, known for his reporting on conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Evans told Gault, "We are in a state of civil war whenever, in more than one geographical location in the United States, it becomes commonplace for multiple non-state armed groups to fight each other with deadly force. When that is an occurrence that is common in more than one location in the country, that's a civil war."

According to Evans, "To most people, the idea of a second American Civil War feels more like science fiction than a possible future…. I have seen systems collapse. Everything I've seen and everything I've read over the past two years has convinced me that the United States is closer to that kind of terror than anyone is willing to admit."

Adam Isacson of WOLA — a group that promotes human rights in Latin America — told Gault that a civil war in the U.S. might resemble the one that occurred in Colombia, where the conflict didn't occur throughout the entire country. Isacson recalled that when he was in Bogotá in the early 2000s, Colombia didn't seem like a country that was in a state of civil war.

Isacson told Gault, "You realize that even in this horrible period for Colombia, for most of the country, this conflict was just something you saw on television. It doesn't really impact their everyday lives…. Collapse is not evenly distributed…. I'd say there's a real danger that (the U.S.) is going to see sustained political violence."

Pete Buttigieg had the perfect response to a Trump-loving heckler trying to crash a Biden rally

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) gave a Trump-supporting heckler a taste of his own medicine when he interrupted his campaign rally for Joe Biden.

On Wednesday night, Buttigieg held a rally in St. Pete, Florida to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee. He crossed paths with a man wearing a red MAGA hat and khaki shorts, reports Pink News. The man held his cell phone up to live-stream his heckling protest.

Buttigieg's staffers made attempts to remove the heckler but to no avail. However, that did not stop Buttigieg from getting his point across.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who will serve him just as enthusiastically as he will serve us?" the former mayor asked. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who cares just as much about protecting the lives of those that protest us as those who stand at our side? Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who does not believe in violence against those who disagree with him?"

He went on to note the importance of inclusion in America as he painted a picture of a better America focused on "rejecting racism and embracing one another for a better future."

"Are you not proud to be an American in a country that makes room for all of us, but whose values include rejecting hate and rejecting those who would deny science when it could save lives? Rejecting racism and embracing one another for a better future for this country?"

Then, Buttigieg offered a direct message to the heckling Trump supporter saying, "And don't you feel a little sorry for a president who finds it necessary to draw this kind of support? But it's OK sir, because when Joe Biden is president you will be safer too."

As Buttigieg attempted to get back on track and focus on the rally, the heckler continued with his antics. So the once-presidential hopeful challenged the heckler again asking, "Can I finish my remarks? Are you afraid to hear what I have to say?"

When that approach did not work, Buttigieg went for another angle asking, "Do you denounce white supremacy?"

To that question, the man nodded that he did. Buttigieg hit back with remarks on President Donald Trump checkered public stance on white supremacy. "Good, then we agree on something. That's a beginning point. See if you can get your president to do the same thing."

Buttigieg also took a dig at Fox News and Vice President Mike Pence as he recalled his commitment to helping the Biden-Harris campaign on their road to the White House. Over the last several weeks, Buttigieg has become one of Harris' top allies as Democrats band together to take the Oval.

"I've told the Biden-Harris campaign I would go anywhere to support the cause. I didn't know that would mean going into the mind of Mike Pence for a while to help with debate prep," Buttigieg said during the rally. "I didn't know it would mean going on Fox News quite as often as it has."

His latest remarks come shortly after his previous Fox News appearance with host Martha McCallum. He was asked about Harris change of heart regarding Medicare for All. Buttigieg quickly fired back with an argument of his own as he noted the hypocrisy of Pence, an evangelical Christian, running on a political ticket with Trump, a president caught cheating on his wife with a known adult film star.

"Well, there's a classic parlour game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates," Buttigieg quickly fired back.

He added, "If people want to play that game, we could look into why an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a president caught with a porn star. Or how he feels about the immigration policy he called unconstitutional before he decided to team up with Donald Trump."

Experts warn Trump HHS is 'endangering people' by covering up key data

s surging coronavirus hospitalizations across the U.S. push already-strained medical facilities to the brink of full capacity, internal documents obtained by NPR show that the Trump administration is withholding from the public critical hospital data that experts say would be extremely useful in helping communities prepare for, track, and overcome Covid-19 outbreaks.

NPR reported Friday that the documents—which are based on hospital data collected and analyzed daily by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—"highlight trends in hospitalizations and pinpoint cities nearing full hospital capacity and facilities under stress. They paint a granular picture of the strain on hospitals across the country that could help local citizens decide when to take extra precautions against Covid-19."

"The documents show that detailed information hospitals report to HHS every day is reviewed and analyzed—but circulation seems to be limited to a few dozen government staffers from HHS and its agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health," NPR noted. "Only one member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Adm. Brett Giroir, appears to receive the documents directly."

Dated October 27, the most recent internal report obtained by NPR shows that around 24% of the nation's hospitals—including facilities in major cities like Atlanta and Minneapolis—are utilizing more than 80% of their intensive care unit capacity and names specific hospitals that are over 95% capacity. The document also shows an uptick in ventilator usage over the past month as coronavirus infections continue to rise at a record-shattering rate.

Experts said the detailed local data currently only circulated among a small group of Trump administration officials would, if made widely available, play a significant role in better informing Americans and health officials about nearby hotspots and encouraging greater safety precautions.

"The neighborhood data, the county data, and metro-area data can be really helpful for people to say, 'Whoa, they're not kidding, this is right here,'" Lisa Lee, former chief science officer for public health surveillance at the CDC, told NPR. "It can help public health prevention folks get their messages across and get people to change their behavior."

While some state officials are able to access HHS reports for their own state, the inability to view broader regional data leaves them without potentially crucial information.

"Hospitals in Tennessee serve patients who are from Arkansas and Mississippi and Kentucky and Georgia and vice versa, and so we're a little bit blind to what's going on there," said Melissa McPheeters, adjunct research professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "When we see hospitals that are particularly near those state borders having increases, one of the things we can't tell is: Is that because hospitals in an adjacent state are full? What's going on there? And that could be a really important piece of the picture."

Ryan Panchadsaram, co-founder of the website Covid Exit Strategy and a former data official in the Obama administration, said the decision to keep the detailed hospitalization data out of public view is "reckless," particularly in the face of soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide.

"It's endangering people," Panchadsaram told NPR. "We're now in the third wave, and I think our only way out is really open, transparent, and actionable information."

In a tweet Friday, Panchadsaram wrote that "there's a mismatch: the rigorous work that's happening internally by the rank and file at HHS/CDC/USDS [United States Digital Service] and what is being shared externally by the administration."

According to publicly available data analyzed by the Covid Tracking Project, more than 46,000 people in the U.S. are currently hospitalized due to the coronavirus as of Thursday, which saw a daily record of 90,400-plus new cases.

"Approaching the eve of the election, President Trump has downplayed the steep rise in cases, attributing much of it to increased testing," the New York Times noted earlier this week. "But the number of people hospitalized for the virus tells a different story, climbing an estimated 46 percent from a month ago and raising fears about the capacity of regional healthcare systems to respond to overwhelming demand."

Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health, tweeted Friday that the HHS hospitalization data "needs to be available to the public."

"It is critical to hospital surge planning and guiding local and state policies," said Wen.

At least 6 Trump cabinet secretaries are accused or under investigation for violating federal law

An Additional Eight or More Administration Officials Also Accused or Under Investigation

At least six Trump Cabinet secretaries are under investigation for violating federal law or are accused of violating federal law, as are an additional eight or more administration officials.

The Cabinet secretaries include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

In recent days White House officials have been assisting President Donald Trump's re-election efforts so intensely that at least one has been officially named a campaign advisor – in addition to being paid by the taxpayers for their day job inside the executive branch.

It's causing a great deal of outrage in some quarters.

An NCRM investigation finds more than a dozen White House officials are either under investigation or according to a government ethics watchdog or others, should be under investigation for appearing to be in violation of the federal law known as the Hatch Act.

Take White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who is now traveling with the president and appearing on Fox News as a Trump 2020 campaign "senior advisor."

CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins pointed out the startling "title" addition on Tuesday:

McEnany appears to have done it again today:

The New York Times's Maggie Haberman on Thursday described this as "further blurring the lines between government and political activity."

In one appearance earlier this week, in which she was announced as both a campaign senior adviser and the White House press secretary, Ms. McEnany talked up the president's political rallies.

“At each of our rallies yesterday, I was with the president, we made three stops on Lancaster and all across the state," she said in the interview. “And in each of those stops we played a video for the public. Joe Biden said roll the tape, President Trump. When did I say ban fracking? Well, we rolled it."

McEnany is far from the only one "blurring" the lines.

Senior advisor to the president Stephen Miller, the Trump White House white nationalist who is the architect of its child separation policy, held a Trump campaign call with reporters on Wednesday. It was a disaster, with Miller spewing lies about Joe Biden, leading one reporter to describe his attacks this way: "Stephen Miller basically describing to reporters the plot of the Purge if Joe Biden wins the election."

Today, top Trump White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow will hold another Trump campaign call with reporters.

And then there's White House senior advisor and First Daughter, Ivanka Trump:

Some other Trump Cabinet Secretaries, including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, are raising eyebrows for travel that appears to be campaign-adjacent.

So is any or all of this illegal?

Here's what CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has to say:

(CREW previously called for McEnany to be investigated for apparent Hatch Act violations. They also called for investigations into Pence chief of staff Marc Short and Trump National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.)

There's of course also White House trade advisor Peter Navarro:

It's not just McEnany, Miller, Navarro, Ivanka, and Kudlow.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under investigation for several "potential" Hatch Act violations.

The nation's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Bill Barr, is accused by CREW of violating the Hatch Act:

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt caused some to accuse him of a Hartch Act violastion over this video:

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is under investigation:

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is accused of a Hatch Act violation by a sitting U.S. Congressman:

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is also under investigation:

And then there's the Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, in another apparent Hatch Act violation:

These are all recent potential violations or investigations.

CREW back in July also said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows should be investigated for Hatch Act violstions:

Stephen Miller details the horrifying second-term agenda for Trump's immigration policy

President Donald Trump's senior adviser Stephen Miller has revealed the Trump administration's plan to impose stricter immigration policies if the president is re-elected for a second term.

During an interview with NBC News, Miller outlined the plans Trump has to aggressively overhaul immigration as he stressed that he was speaking from the context of the Trump campaign and not from the perspective of a White House employee.

He made it clear that one of the Trump administration's top priorities centers around "building on and expanding the framework that we've created with the travel ban, in terms of raising the standard for screening and vetting for admission to the United States."

"That's going to be a major priority," Miller said. "It's going to require a whole government effort. It's going to require building a very elaborate and very complex screening mechanism."

The expansion would likely make it far more difficult for applicants to qualify for VISAs. The enhanced protocols and increases in the complexity of screening measures may include "enhanced screening methods, changes to the interview process, more information sharing among government agencies and vetting the "ideological sympathies or leanings" of those applying for visas," according to Newsweek.

He also said the administration would want to further crack down on "sanctuary cities" — those jurisdictions which have decided not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to various degrees. Often, local governments determine that having deportation as a persistent threat in dealing with the authorities can make communities reluctant to report crimes or otherwise engage with important municipal services. But Trump and his allies despise these policies and want to punish the communities that adopt them.

Miller, an outed white nationalist, even went a step further as he insisted the president's ultimate goal would be to expand his immigration policy, globally.

"The president would like to expand that to include the rest of the world," Miller revealed. "And so if you create safe third partners in other continents and other countries and regions, then you have the ability to share the burden of asylum-seekers on a global basis."

Although some of the changes Miller discussed would require legislation changes, Miller is confident the Trump administration would be able to take the necessary actions to bring the policy into law.

"In many cases, fixing these problems and restoring some semblance of sanity to our immigration programs does involve regulatory reform," he said. "Congress has delegated a lot of authority. [...] And that underscores the depth of the choice facing the American people."

Voting wars: Inside the Republican Party's most overt voter suppression effort in years

Two countervailing forces are competing to determine the outcome of the 2020 elections' highest-stakes contests before the close of voting on November 3.

President Trump and his Republican allies are pursuing a full-court press where their success hinges less on winning popular vote majorities and more on disqualifying volumes of absentee ballots via lawsuits to be filed after Election Day—if preliminary results in a few key states are close. The Democratic Party and their allies, meanwhile, have been pushing their party's more highly motivated voter base to continue their turnout lead seen in early and absentee voting, so Republicans cannot gain traction when they turn to the courts to disqualify late-arriving absentee ballots, or cite other technicalities to disqualify votes.

"We are targeting 8.8 million students, faculty and staff in universities in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. We have state-specific ads for every one of our campaigns," said Andrea Miller, executive director of People Demanding Action, which has been turning out voters in communities of color. "And then we are also advertising our election protection tool, 'See Something, Say Something'… We have done outreach to nearly 20 million people and the election isn't over."

More than 85 million people have already voted as of Friday, October 30, according to the U.S. Elections Project early voting tracking website. So far, more than 55 million absentee ballots have been received by local election officials, 30 million people have voted in person, and another 35.5 million absentee ballots have yet to be returned. According to those voters' party registrations, Democrats and Republicans have split the in-person voting, but Democrats lead in absentee ballots—where sizable numbers of voters registering as independents have cast ballots.

Whether or not the apparent enthusiasm gap continues through Election Day—or shifts via what the Republicans hope will be a large in-person turnout on November 3—is an open question. However, the Trump campaign and its allies are not counting on popular vote victories to secure a winning margin among state Electoral College delegations. Their litigation strategy arguably has been the Republican Party's most overt voter suppression effort in years—building on Trump's ongoing and baseless attacks on the legitimacy of absentee balloting.

The voting wars are legal fights over technicalities in processes that can end up disqualifying—or empowering—blocs of voters to tilt close-margin contests. The 2020 election has seen more litigation over these technicalities, especially surrounding the use of mailed-out (or absentee) ballots, than any recent presidential election. While Democrats secured many early victories, especially in state and federal district courts, Republicans in recent days have won notable decisions—and legal arguments—in the Supreme Court and federal appeals court.

There's a common thread running through these decisions that appears to give Republicans an opening to initiate post-Election Day litigation. In rulings affecting Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Minnesota, conservatives have highlighted a way to disqualify what may become thousands of absentee ballots that were properly mailed and postmarked (by Election Day), but are received by election officials days later via mail delivery.

Various judges—including a likely Supreme Court majority among the high court's conservatives without Chief Justice John Roberts—have said that only state legislatures have the authority to regulate elections with federal candidates. That construction is based on the U.S. Constitution, whose opening articles delegate no power to state supreme courts, state constitutions, secretaries of state or statewide election boards to run elections. These non-legislative actors took steps this year to issue regulations to assist voters and election officials in response to COVID-19.

Thus, in Wisconsin, the Supreme Court said absentee ballots that were not received by November 3 would not be counted—because the state's (Republican majority) legislature did not extend the deadline. Justice Brett Kavanaugh also commented that election results should be known by election night, which mirrors Trump's rhetoric but does not reflect the reality of states like Wisconsin where local clerks will only start processing 1.1 million ballots that morning.

In Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the Supreme Court said one week before Election Day that it was too late to overturn ballot-return deadlines that went past Tuesday. (In Pennsylvania, it's Friday, November 6. In North Carolina, it's Thursday, November 12.) While much national press coverage said those two rulings were Democratic victories, those assessments glossed over statements, concurrences and dissents from four conservative justices that basically said that ballots arriving after Election Day could be disqualified if a legislature didn't extend the return deadline. Newly seated Justice Amy Coney Barrett didn't participate in those cases.

In response, Pennsylvania's attorney general told the Supreme Court that the secretary of state was directing all county election officials to "segregate" all absentee ballots arriving after November 3 and through the November 6 deadline. Election law experts said that Pennsylvania's move would insulate absentee ballots arriving earlier from challenges—because late-arriving ballots would not be mixed in with those earlier batches of ballots when counted.

North Carolina's state election board is not following Pennsylvania's lead—as a precautionary measure. It issued a statement urging all voters to return absentee ballots as soon as possible, but said the final deadline was on November 12.

A day after the Supreme Court ruling in the Pennsylvania and North Carolina suits, a federal appeals court in Minnesota threw out its week-long absentee ballot-return deadline extension—issued this summer by the secretary of state as part of a legal settlement with Republicans.

"The Secretary and his respective agents… are ordered to identify, segregate, and otherwise maintain and preserve all absentee ballots," the Eighth Circuit Court's decision said, "in a manner that would allow for their respective votes [for president and vice president]… to be removed from vote totals in the event a final order is entered by a court."

Taken together, the highest rungs of the federal courts have given the Republicans an opening to seek to disqualify any late-arriving ballots in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Minnesota. (All other states with extended absentee ballot-return deadlines resulted from legislation.)

How many votes could be implicated should post-Election Day legal challenges arise? Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling, a Democrat who oversaw its shift to all-mail balloting, said that 90 percent of voters who apply to vote with absentee ballots return those ballots. According to the U.S. Elections Project, which gets its data from state election officials, as of Friday, October 30, hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots are still in play.

  • In North Carolina, 883,000 ballots have been returned, out of 1.45 million requested ballots, a return rate of 61 percent. Nearly 600,000 absentee ballots have not yet been received.
  • In Pennsylvania, 2.1 million ballots have been returned, out of 3.1 million requested ballots, a return rate of 68 percent. Nearly 985,000 absentee ballots have not yet been received.
  • In Minnesota, nearly 1.6 million people voted early and returned their absentee ballots. The state doesn't further break down those figures. Statewide, 1.97 million absentee ballots were requested.

While there may yet be more federal litigation before Election Day, the big picture is that the Republicans appear to be placing little stock in popular vote victories and are on track to try to win some swing states via challenging late-returning absentee ballots—and as the opening move in post-Election Day litigation. Democrats, on the other hand, are continuing to push voters to return their absentee ballots in person, vote early or vote on Election Day.

Under any scenario, it's not likely a presidential election winner would be known until later in the week—at the earliest. The U.S. Senate's majority will take longer, as some states such as Georgia are likely to see runoffs. And control of state legislatures may take longer still, if the balance comes down to a few contests where recounts are triggered.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Justice Kavanaugh's 'sloppy' opinion is an embarrassing mess riddled with errors

Late Monday night, the Supreme Court issued a ruling blocking a lower court's decision to force Wisconsin election officials to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots, as long as they were post-marked by Election Day. This decision to limit ballot access was unsurprising given the conservative majority on the court, but as I noted, Justice Brett Kavanaugh's concurring opinion disturbed many readers because of the views it seemed to express about voting and elections.

But there's a related aspect of Kavanaugh's opinion that has attracted significant attention in addition to its ideological bent. It was, many commentators noted, extraordinarily sloppy for a Supreme Court ruling. The opinion was riddled with errors, embarrassingly so, and some of which even relate to the substance of his argument.

For instance, Kavanaugh wrote:

To be sure, in light of the pandemic, some state legislatures have exercised their Article I, §4, authority over elections and have changed their election rules for the November 2020 election. Of particular relevance here, a few States such as Mississippi no longer require that absentee ballots be received before election day. See, e.g., Miss. Code Ann. §23–15–637 (2020). Other States such as Vermont, by contrast, have decided not to make changes to their ordinary election rules, including to the election-day deadline for receipt of absentee ballots. [emphasis added]

But as Vermont's own secretary of state confirmed, the state had changed its election rules this year. It sent every voter a ballot by the first of October:

That doesn't really change the substance of Kavanaugh's ruling, but it does throw doubt on his understanding of the current environment and shed light on his lackluster fact-checking.

Another mistake from Kavanaugh, though, really is important to his argument. He wrote of the reasons that states have for limiting the deadline for absentee ballot returns to Election Day itself:

States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election. And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter. Moreover, particularly in a Presidential election, counting all the votes quickly can help the State promptly resolve any disputes, address any need for recounts, and begin the process of canvassing and certifying the election results in an expeditious manner. See 3 U. S. C. §5. The States are aware of the risks described by Professor Pildes: "[L]ate-arriving ballots open up one of the greatest risks of what might, in our era of hyperpolarized political parties and existential politics, destabilize the election result. If the apparent winner the morning after the election ends up losing due to late-arriving ballots, charges of a rigged election could explode."

But Kavanaugh's quote here from Professor Richard Pildes in The University of Chicago Law Review Online is extremely misleading. Pildes argued in the article cited for the opposite outcome. He urged that states extend deadlines for receiving ballots past Election Day:

States that require absentees to be received by election night or shortly after should move this date back. Even if this fall the same percentage of absentee ballots as in normal elections would be rejected for coming in too late, the same point noted above holds true: a 3 percent rejection rate risks undermining the perceived legitimacy of the election if 70 percent of the vote is cast by absentee ballot. And this problem would be compounded, of course, if mailing back ballots five days before the election is normally sufficient to get them back in time, but not this year. The overall burden on the U.S. Postal Service makes that five-day figure less realistic this time around. Moreover, if a significant number of votes come in after a receipt deadline that has not been changed and that is much tighter than in other states, ex post litigation challenging that deadline is easy to imagine. This is exactly what we do not want to face for a risk that can be mitigated in advance.

Now, Pildes' argument here isn't on exactly the same topic as the question before the court. But it's disingenuous for Kavanaugh to present him as if his argument supported the Supreme Court's decision. Pildes did agree that a long vote count could undermine trust in the election, but he also said that cutting off the deadline by Election Day also "risks undermining the perceived legitimacy of the election." It was dishonest and alarming for Kavanaugh not to acknowledge that the risks cut both ways, especially since the president that appointed him has been trying to discredit mail-in ballots.

Pildes added:

In Wisconsin's election, the federal court pushed the date back six days. But that was for a presidential primary. In the general election, participation rates will be much higher. In choosing an updated receipt deadline that anticipates a dramatic rise in mailed-in ballots, policymakers face a trade-off. The longer the permitted time, the more ballots will be valid. But the longer that time, the longer it will take for the final result to be known. If we thought voters would be patient, that would not pose any risk. But in our climate of existential politics—with partisans all too prepared to believe or charge that elections are being manipulated, and a social-media environment poised to heap fuel onto the fire—the longer after Election Day any significant changes in vote totals take place, the greater the risk that the losing side will cry that the election has been stolen.

Election administrators in different states must weigh in on whether, in their circumstances, a six-day deadline post-election is appropriate, as the federal district court held for Wisconsin. The National Vote at Home Institute, one of the leading advocacy organizations for absentee and mail-in voting, suggests the deadline should be three business days after the election, which seems unduly short under our new circumstances. But state legislatures and election officials need to start facing this issue soon.

Others picked up on another error in the section of Kavanaugh's opinion cited above. He warned about a situation in which "thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election" [emphasis added]. But this is completely wrong. Additional ballots don't flip the "results" of an election because there are no results until all the legitimate votes are counted. Kavanaugh surely knows this, because he worked on the Republican side in Bush v. Gore, which was an extensive argument about the counting of ballots after Election Day in Florida. There was no result until the election was certified. States don't typically "definitively announce the results of the election on election night," either, as Kavanaugh claimed. The media, of course, makes projections about what the final vote will be prior to certification, but that's not the same — as we learned in 2000 when the media incorrectly projected the Florida results. It's rhetoric like Kavanaugh's that truly serves to undermine the legitimacy of this process, rather than extensions of deadlines.

Kavanaugh's argument also incorrectly claimed that the the desire to obtain a quick election result was the Wisconsin legislator's reason for not extending the mail-in ballot deadline. But as Talking Points Memo reporter Tierney Sneed pointed out, this is clearly not so. Otherwise, Wisconsin would have permitted mail-in ballots that were received prior to Election day to be counted ahead of time, making the final count much more efficient. It has not done so, which likely means the ballot counting will extend past Election Night.

Despite Kavanaugh's claim, it's more plausible that the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature doesn't want to receive late mail-in ballots because they think those votes will advantage Democrats.

Election law expert Rick Hasen pointed to another error in Kavanaugh's opinion in a piece for the Washington Post, pointing to an incorrect citation of precedent:

Kavanaugh cited a case that came to the Supreme Court during the disputed 2000 presidential election before Bush v. Gore — Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board — as standing for the proposition that state legislatures have this power — negating the power of state courts to expand voting rights under state constitutional provisions that protect the right to vote. As law professor Justin Levitt pointed out, though, Kavanaugh was wrong: The Supreme Court in the Palm Beach case unanimously raised but did not resolve that question. Kavanaugh further embraced this theory as advanced again by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist in Bush v. Gore itself, but that was an opinion joined only by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

At another point in the opinion, Kavanaugh tried a clever argument to suggest that no matter the deadline that is set, some voters will miss it:

But moving a deadline would not prevent ballots from arriving after the newly minted deadline any more than moving first base would mean no more close plays. And more to the point, the fact that some ballots will be late in any system with deadlines does not make Wisconsin's widely used deadline facially unconstitutional.

This is true, but Kavanaugh seems to misunderstand the difference between a deadline for sending a ballot and the deadline for receiving it. Extending the deadline for receiving the ballot give more grace to voters for a consideration that is out of their hands: how quickly the postal service can deliver ballots. That's how many such deadlines work; for example, you only need to send your taxes into the government by April 15 — it doesn't need to receive them by that date. Kavanaugh's failure to notice the difference in this analogy is telling.

It's notable that, in all the tumult controversy that surrounded Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court, many people told us that — whatever his personal faults — he was an excellent and upstanding jurist. This latest opinion gives us reason to question that conclusion.

Hasen, in particular, seemed disturbed by this turn of events.

"Why was Justice Kavanaugh so sloppy with the facts and law here (and presumably in the earlier Wisconsin election per curiam)?" he asked on Twitter. "He is usually a careful writer. It just undermines his points. A huge, unforced error."

The errors and sloppiness reflect another sad fact about the court: There's little we can do to encourage good behavior among Supreme Court justices. Short of impeachment or expansion of the court — either of which would be heavy lifts, though they're possible — there are few ways to limit their power. That means Kavanaugh can write sloppy and erroneous opinions on the bench with little fear it will cost him.

Lincoln Project condenses Trump’s 90-minute Nevada rally into hilarious 74-second video

On Monday, The Lincoln Project released a video that clipped together 74 seconds of some of the strangest moments at President Donald Trump’s 90-minute campaign rally in Minden, Nevada on Saturday.

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