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VIDEOS

Utah gubernatorial hopefuls Lt. Gov and Dem opponent call for unity in joint ad: 'There's a better way'

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) and his Democratic opponent Chris Peterson are offering a relatively diplomatic look at opposition as election day approaches.

With Democrats and Republicans at odds across the United States, Cox and Peterson are reminding the American public about the importance of disagreeing in a diplomatic manner. Despite their differences in political views, they are calling for unity among voters.

On Tuesday morning, Cox took to Twitter with an announcement and a quick clip that featured him and Peterson. Both candidates acknowledged the dire state of America's national political dialogue as they weighed in on the importance of mature interactions during the campaign season.

"I'm not sure this has ever been done before...but as our national political dialogue continues to decline, my opponent @PetersonUtah and I decided to try something different. We can disagree without hating each other. Let's make Utah an example to the nation. #StandUnited #utpol"

Peterson went on to urge the citizens of Utah to lead by example, re-commit to decency and continue to uphold America's democracy despite everything going on on the national stage.

"While our national political dialogue continues to decline, Chris and I agree that it's time we expect more of our leaders and more of each other," Cox said. "Utah has an opportunity to lead the charge against rank tribalism and commit to treating each other with dignity and respect."

"There are some things we can agree on. We can debate on issues without degrading each other's character. We can disagree without hating each other," they said, adding, "And win or lose, in Utah, we work together. So let's show the country that there's a better way.

Touching on the importance of a peaceful transfer of power, Peter also appealed to the American public asking for "a national commitment to decency."

"The time-honored values of a peaceful transition of power and working with those with whom we differ are an integral part of what it means to be an American," Peterson said. "It is time to reforge a national commitment to decency and our democratic republic."

Then, Peterson added, "Let's reforge our national commitment to decency and democracy."

news & politics

Aviation companies laid off thousands of workers while taking coronavirus relief funds: congressional report

Passed by Congress earlier this year as part of the CARES Act of 2020, a coronavirus relief program was created to "preserve aviation jobs" in the United States. But according to a congressional investigation, thousands of aviation jobs have been lost nonetheless.

Business Insider reporter Tyler Sonnemaker explains, "The Trump Administration's mismanagement of a coronavirus bailout program that Congress created to 'preserve aviation jobs' has instead led to 16,655 layoffs across the industry while overpaying companies that fired workers, a congressional investigation concluded earlier this month."

The Payroll Support Program, which was part of the CARES Act, expired on October 1. The day before that, on September 30, Business Insider's Lauren Frias reported that American Airlines and United Airlines were expecting to furlough thousands of workers — 19,000 at American, roughly 13,000 at United.

The Payroll Support Program, Sonnemaker notes, "tasked the U.S. Treasury Department with allocating $3 billion to aviation contractors to help them avoid unnecessary layoffs as the pandemic ground travel to a halt. The money was intended to cover companies' payroll for six months, until September 30 — and in exchange, recipients were supposed to keep workers employed for those six months. But the Treasury Department's 'delays' and 'perverse' approach to implementing the PSP encouraged companies to fire workers while they waited to receive funds, the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis concluded in a report published on October 9."

According to the report, "These delays led at least 15 different aviation contractors to lay off or furlough at least 16,655 employees before the agreements took effect — more than 15% of the existing aviation contractor workforce."

Sonnemaker points out that the U.S. Treasury Department "let companies continue to lay off workers while their PSP applications were pending." And according to the report, this decision "had the perverse effect of incentivizing companies to lay off or furlough workers before executing the agreement" and encouraged the companies to "stockpile the money rather than rehire laid-off workers."

Swissport, Gate Gourmet and Flying Food Fare were among the companies connected to the aviation industry that, according to the report, laid off workers while accepting coronavirus relief funds — and some companies used the funds to pay their top executives. The report found that Flying Food, for example, received more than $85 million in taxpayer dollars and "restored senior executives and management to full pay" even when many others at the company were being laid off.

election '20

National Democratic super PAC says it will double its spending to $12 million in battle for the Texas House

"National Democratic super PAC says it will double its spending to $12 million in battle for the Texas House" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The national Democratic super PAC Forward Majority is doubling its spending to flip the Texas House, bringing its commitment to over $12 million.

The political action committee said in early September that it would drop $6.2 million to help Democrats capture the majority. But in an announcement first shared with The Texas Tribune, Forward Majority said it is now surging its spending to keep up with Republicans in the homestretch of the fight to control the lower chamber ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, the chief national GOP group focused on state legislative races, had vowed to top Forward Majority's initial $6.2 million investment, and it raised $5.3 million into a Texas-based account between July 1 and late September. Of that haul, $4.5 million came via GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

"The RSLC and Karl Rove aren't going to call the shots in Texas in this election," Forward Majority spokesperson Ben Wexler-Waite said in a statement, alluding to both the national GOP outfit and a state-level PAC with which Rove, the famous party strategist, is working. "Republicans are hemorrhaging millions on Texas state house races because they know their majority is in grave jeopardy and that this is the most important state in the country for redistricting."

Democrats are nine seats away from the majority, and they also have to defend the 12 seats they picked up in 2018. Forward Majority has been exclusively on offense, targeting its original $6.2 million effort at 18 Republican-held seats.

Forward Majority said its spending surge was prompted by millions of dollars in TV ad buys by Republicans in some of the most competitive districts, such as those of Republican Reps. Jeff Leach of Plano, Angie Chen Button of Richardson, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Sarah Davis of Houston. In two of those districts — Meyer's and Davis' — Forward Majority is teaming up with Everytown for Gun Safety, the national anti-gun violence group, to try to counter increased GOP ad spending.

The ramped-up spending plan by Forward Majority reflects just how fiercely competitive the fight for the majority has become. While Democrats had plenty to boast about on the latest campaign finance reports, Republicans in general had more money to spend heading into late September, and they are getting seven-figure aid in the final weeks from not just the RSLC but also Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign.

"We've long seen several paths to flipping the Texas House and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure Democratic legislative candidates aren't drowned out by millions in special interest money," Wexler-Waite said.

Disclosure: Everytown for Gun Safety has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/20/texas-house-super-pac/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

economy

Struggling Wisconsin voters are unimpressed with Trump bragging about the economy

In 2016, President Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984. But four years later, many polls are showing Trump struggling in the midwestern Rust Belt state. Between the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment and the state of Wisconsin's economy — journalist Dominic Rushe emphasizes in an article for The Guardian — Trump is facing an uphill climb in Wisconsin this time.

"Trump beat Clinton in Wisconsin by just 0.77% in 2016," Rushe explains. "The polls currently have Biden ahead by a clear 6.5% in the state, but in a year that feels like no other, anything can happen between now and 3 November. In this volatile environment, progressives have been making gains with voters, reflecting on the fragility of the economy Trump had hoped would re-elect him."

For many years, Wisconsin had a reputation for being a deep blue state. Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, lost the popular vote by 8% to Republican Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988's presidential election, but he carried Wisconsin. However, Republicans gained a lot of ground in Wisconsin during the Barack Obama years, and Trump's narrow victory in Wisconsin in 2016 was a very unpleasant surprise for Democrats.

"The Republicans have been remarkably successful in their economic messaging, not least in Wisconsin," Rushe notes. "Since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has promulgated the idea that there is a simple formula for economic success: lower taxes, less regulation and smaller government. That message, repeated over and over for 40 years, helped Wisconsin shift from a bastion of progressive politics to a union-bashing laboratory for right-wing economic experiments led by Scott Walker, the former governor, and Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, and backed by the Koch Brothers."

But now, Rush explains, many Wisconsin residents are struggling badly.

"Until February, Trump could have confidently boasted that he had made good on his promises," Rush writes. "Unemployment had fallen to record lows in the state, manufacturing was coming back — albeit at the same, snail-paced crawl that it had under Obama. The headline figures looked good. Then came the coronavirus — a disease that is now ravaging the state and has, in its wake, exposed the fault lines beneath those headline figures."

Dana Bye, campaign director for the group The Hub Project, emphasizes that Wisconsin residents who are hurting economically are unimpressed when Trump brags about the stock market.

Bye told The Guardian, "Nationally and in Wisconsin, people look at the stock market and the jobs figures and think that's the economy. But often, their personal experiences are not reflected in those macro figures…. The pandemic has crystalized the idea that there is one economy for the rich and another for working folk."

culture

How toxic masculinity became a threat to public health

As if the first two waves of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States weren't enough to inspire serious political changes to stop the coronavirus, health experts have sounded the alarm that a third wave is underway. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising across the nation, specifically in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Montana, as the seasons change and the election nears.

It's certainly taken a lot of resilience and strength to persevere through this pandemic — particularly given the backdrop of political chaos, uncertainty and immense change in our daily lives. Yet perhaps it is this attitude of "staying strong," and acting stoically — which is rooted in a culture that favors and thrives off toxic masculinity — that has hurt and continues to hurt us the most.

Toxic masculinity, which has become a household phrase over the last few years, is when the archetypal image of masculinity, like displaying strength, becomes harmful to oneself. In 2005, in a study of men in prison, psychiatrist Terry Kupers defined toxic masculinity as "the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence." The phrase is used to describe the issues men face or sometimes, wrongfully, justify them. Certainly, in a patriarchal society, toxic masculinity not only defines people but politics — as its mores trickle into our entertainment, discourse and politics.

Notably, the pandemic response is being led by the most psychologically compromised, toxic men in America. As I wrote last weekend, President Donald Trump's insistence on depicting himself as so strong as to be able to "work through" his COVID-19 illness is deeply harmful, and apt to put Americans' lives at risk who mimic his behavior — either by working while sick or hiding symptoms.

Meanwhile, Trump's re-election campaign has tried to frame Trump as a "warrior" — masculine, strong and void of emotion. The administration's individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric personifies toxic masculinity, and trickles down to Trump's underlings, too. In June, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal claiming there was no second wave of COVID-19, despite all the evidence to the contrary. "We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy," Pence wrote then, adding "our greatest strength is the resilience of the American people."

Yet as psychologists will warn, there is a dark side to resilience.

"There is no doubt that resilience is a useful and highly adaptive trait, especially in the face of traumatic events," psychologists Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Derek Lusk wrote in Harvard Business Review. "However, when taken too far, it may focus individuals on impossible goals and make them unnecessarily tolerant of unpleasant or counterproductive circumstances." In other words, self-sufficiency is not always a show of strength; humans, as social creatures, rely on others for society to function and to remain healthy. Denying that means hurting ourselves, either by delaying care or eschewing guidance that may help us or save others.

I've often wondered how much my so-called "resilience" in all of this is just making me numb and tolerant, in an unhealthy way. When looking at which countries have the pandemic somewhat under control, we look and judge their leaders. It's interesting to do this through a gendered lens. For example, New Zealand has some of the lowest coronavirus numbers in the world under Prime Minister Jacinda Adern's leadership. That's partly because she never advertised grandiose ideas about being above or stronger than the coronavirus. As I've previously written, the strengths—such as empathy and compassion— Ardern has brought throughout her tenure are the very same traits that have been used against women seeking leadership positions in the workplace and in the public sector. When male leaders display traditionally feminine qualities, they can also be maligned as weak — former House Speaker John Boehner, for example, used to shed tears in public; Politico's response was to ask, "Why Does John Boehner Cry So Much?"

It's obvious the Trump administration is terrified of appearing "weak" during the pandemic. But where has that gotten us? Prioritizing the economy over our health. Over 8 million infections, and 218,000 Americans dead. And the politicizing of wearing masks, as though wearing them were a sign of weakness — something Trump mocked his opponent Joe Biden for at their first and so far only debate.

As much as toxic masculinity's social repercussion are harmful to our physical health, it is also taking a toll on our mental health. A study published in JAMA Network Open in September showed that three times as many Americans met criteria for a depression diagnosis during the pandemic compared to before it. According to an analysis of Google Trends, symptoms of anxiety increased too.

Why? In part, it could be a result of having to power through these extraordinarily abnormal times without seeking help — that "bootstraps" mentality innate to toxic masculinity. One's attempts to hold it together can devolve into emotional suppression, which in return can cause more emotional distress. In July 2018, Penn State researchers found that women tried to suppress their fears about the Zika virus reported higher levels of fear later. "It turns out that not only is suppression ineffective at handling fear, but it's counter-productive," one researcher said. "It creates a cycle of fear — and it's a vicious cycle."

As a society, many of us — particularly men — haven't been authorized to express sadness publicly, and these studies reflect that. With over 200,000 Americans dead of coronavirus, their loved ones are grieving. Seven months later, we've yet to have a moment of national reflection to mourn.

As it is with the death of a loved one, grief isn't lessened by ignoring one's uncomfortable emotions. Instead, it requires collective vulnerability, compassion and patience. As author David Kessler told HBR:

Emotions need motion. It's important we acknowledge what we go through. [...] We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn't feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn't help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they'll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we're not victims.

As we try to stay strong through this pandemic, the strength we seek to feel will come from falling apart and allowing ourselves to feel the loss and the chaos—physically and emotionally. By persevering through that, still standing in so much unknown, we can experience real strength. In other words, the non-toxic kind.

science

A physics Nobelist has an odd theory about black holes and the universe. Here's the evidence for it

University of Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose won a Nobel Prize earlier this month for a lifetime of work studying black holes, singularities from which not even light can escape. Yet he is also behind a provocative and controversial theory about the formation of the universe — namely, that the Big Bang did not mark the beginning of the universe as we know it, but merely started the next iteration of our universe. In his theory, known as conformal cyclic cosmology, our current conception of the universe is merely one of a series of infinite universes that came before it and which will come after, too.

Cosmology, of course, is full of theories of assorted degrees of harebrainedness, and many of the most famous ones — such as string theory — lack any observational evidence. But Penrose's prediction is different, as there is some evidence in observations of the cosmic background radiation — meaning the average background temperature of the entire night sky, in which one can see remnant heat from the Big Bang and differentiate bright patches in the sky. As pictured in the featured photo on this story, some of those "bright spots" could be, as Penrose believes, radiation emanations from ancient black holes that predate this universe.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email. Specifically, Nurowski says, in order for Penrose's theory to make sense, one would have to observe a universe that has a positive cosmological constant (meaning the mysterious, constant repulsive force that pushes everything in the universe which is not gravitationally bound away from everything else), as well as a universe that would look similar at its end as it did in its beginning. Observations of our universe suggest that it will end in a disordered, empty state, with all matter converted to stray photons that never interact with each other.

Nurowski concluded, "We believe that every possible universe will have all these three features," that "we have an infinite sequence of universes (eons)" and that "Penrose considers this sequence of conformally glued eons as the full physical Universe."

"In this picture, our standard cosmology Universe is only one of the eons," Nurowski added. "So the main difference between 'conformal cyclic cosmology' and the standard cosmology is that our Universe is only a part of Penrose's universe," whereas adherents to the traditional idea of a Big Bang believe that that specific event began our current universe.

This brings us to the recent discovery that may support Penrose's CCC hypothesis. According to a paper co-authored by Penrose, Nurowski and two other scientists, unexpected hot spots that have been discovered in the cosmic microwave background of the universe suggest that there are "anomalous regions," perhaps enormous black holes left over from previous universes that have yet to decay. These regions are known as "Hawking Points," after Stephen Hawking, who first came up with the theory that black holes would very slowly decay over unimaginably long timescales, emitting what is called Hawking radiation in his honor. The discovery of these Hawking points suggests that Penrose's cosmological model is accurate.

"The existence of such anomalous regions, resulting from point-like sources at the conformally stretched-out big bang, is a predicted consequence of conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC)," the paper explains, adding that these so-called Hawking points would be caused by radiation emanating from "supermassive black holes in a cosmic aeon prior to our own."

It must be emphasized that Penrose's Nobel Prize was not awarded because of his theory of a conformal cyclical cosmology. Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb clarified in an email to Salon: "In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a paper in Annals of Mathematics doubting that black holes exist in nature. Roger Penrose demonstrated that black holes are a robust prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity and in doing so invented a new mathematical tool to depict spacetimes, called Penrose diagrams."

Loeb added, "He also showed that it is possible to extract energy from a spinning black hole as if it was a flywheel, through the so-called Penrose Process."

Loeb says that Penrose's belief that the hot spots prove that the black holes in question came from previous universes is controversial.

"The particular theory advocated by Penrose, Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, asserts that the Big Bang expansion repeats in succession of cycles of expansion, implying that one can see through our current Big Bang into past Big Bangs, giving rise to patterns in cosmic microwave background," Loeb explained. "Penrose made the controversial claim that such patterns are seen in data, but it was shown by others that the patterns he identified are not statistically significant.... and so his claim is controversial."

There are skeptics in the astrophysics community. Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist who pens a science blog that is published in Forbes magazine, was very critical of Penrose's theory. Last week, he penned an article titled "No, Roger Penrose, We See No Evidence Of A 'Universe Before The Big Bang.'"

"The predictions that [Penrose] has made are refuted by the data, and his claims to see these effects are only reproducible if one analyzes the data in a scientifically unsound and illegitimate fashion," Dr. Siegel wrote. "Hundreds of scientists have pointed this out to Penrose — repeatedly and consistently over a period of more than 10 years — who continues to ignore the field and plow ahead with his contentions."

Nurowski and Loeb both pushed back against Siegel's claims.

"The person that wrote this article seems to never read our recent Monthly Notices paper," Nurowski wrote to Salon, linking to he and Penrose's article showing evidence for Hawking points. "[Siegel] also seems not to read our three other papers. He gives a quote of a picture from an old paper with Penrose and Gurzadyan. He has not a single argument against our newest MNRAS [Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society] paper.... I stress that the statistical analysis in our paper is at the highest astronomical standards."

He added, "I am happy to answer any critics, provided that I hear a single argument against this what we have written, and not the repetition of this what the standard cosmology says. Either we are talking about facts or beliefs. Our paper is about facts. But to talk about them, one has to read the paper first."

Loeb seemed to echo this view, despite his own skepticism about CCC.

"My problem with Penrose's theory is that it is not fully worked out and that there is no statistically irrefutable evidence to support the patterns that he claims to have identified in the cosmic microwave background, but we should remain open minded to new ideas on what preceded the Big Bang," Loeb explained. "This is the story of where we came from, our cosmic roots. The simple picture we have now is clearly incomplete and requires more scientific work. Not more bullying of any new idea."

belief

Attacking COVID, not religion: New York City, state have the right approach

The two Brooklyn federal judges who reviewed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new temporary COVID restrictions in stretches of that borough and Queens both rightly decided that the rules do not unfairly intrude on religion. The lawsuits seeking to set aside the 10-person cap on worship services, one brought by Orthodox Jews and the other by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, were properly denied by Judges Kiyo Matsumoto and Eric Komitee.Matsumoto noted, in fact, that Cuomo gave extra latitude to faith, as nonessential gatherings of any size are banned entirely. However, still undefined is what com...

human rights

Trump expresses all his pent-up contempt for women in two words to NBC's Savannah Guthrie

The takeaway from Trump's self-immolation at his Town Hall on Thursday can be found exactly at the 1:57 mark in the video above, when he sarcastically expresses his contempt for moderator Savannah Guthrie, who has clearly gotten under his skin. He mutters it, underneath his breath, and you could be forgiven for missing it, but for a fleeting second we get a glimpse of all the animosity, all the malice, all the narcissism, all the misogyny and contempt this man feels towards women. You can just hear it in his voice:

"Ha Ha. So cute."

From The Independent:

The president and the Ms Guthrie exchanged barbs during a heated opening to the NBC event.
Mr Trump even sarcastically told the TV host "so cute" when she pressed him to denounce QAnon's wild conspiracy theories.

From the New York Times:

"Why aren't you asking Joe Biden questions about why doesn't he condemn antifa?" Mr. Trump asked her.
"Because you're here," she said, matter-of-factly.
"So cute," Mr. Trump responded, in a condescending tone that was unlikely to endear him to the suburban women voters he has been trying to win back.

x

I think the suburban women will love Trump telling Savannah Guthrie sarcastically that she is "so cute."
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) October 16, 2020

And one other note; As of 9:55 EST, nearly a half hour after his own town hall ended, Joe Biden is still there, answering voters' questions.

more news

Trump is collapsing into a ball of self-absorbed spite and destruction

In the last weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump is collapsing in on himself. That's the story his campaign and White House team itself seems to want to push in the scurry to avoid blame themselves. On Sunday, a New York Times piece reported on gloom, grievance, and "backbiting" among Trump's staff as his reelection prospects dim, but more of note is the blame getting directed at the big orange hateburper himself.

"Among some of Mr. Trump's lieutenants," reports the Times, there is "a sense that the best they can do for the final stretch is to keep the president occupied, happy and off Twitter as much as possible, rather than producing a major shift in strategy."

Yes, it is truly a shocking development. In the last weeks of the campaign, Donald Trump is ignoring all advice, doubling down on his most hateful behaviors, and choosing closing themes based solely on his own obsessions, grievances, and malevolence. Whoever could have seen that coming? (Aside from everyone.)

The results speak for themselves—no, are so toxic that they are noticeable even to a four-year-flaccid national press. Trump's propensity to target women, select political enemies for demonization, and his renewed vigor in seemingly attempting to goad supporters into violent acts against them are becoming topics with more public weight than any campaign message the shouting twit threatens to stumble into in these last preelection days. It turns out that Donald Trump, left to himself with campaign staff abandoning any further pretense at controlling him, is hateful, spiteful, anti-democratic, misogynistic, openly racist, paranoid, and self-absorbed to the point of self-destruction.

If there's anyone who has survived through four full years of Trump's attentions and they didn't predict that, among his inner circle, they would have to be burrowed so far up his *** that they can peek out his nostrils.

The problem here is that Trump is only going to get worse in the next few weeks—no matter what. If polls continue to look bleak, his narcissistic bitterness will overwhelm him and his demands of his supporters will get even more extreme. His attacks on Democratic leaders that take pandemic precautions—which he considers to be personal attacks on himself and therefore illegitimate, whether the moves save American lives or not—have been getting more vigorous, but his inner circle continues to support those attacks wholeheartedly. He is already obsessing over the notion of invisible election "fraud" as means of delegitimizing the results—as a malignant narcissist, he will adopt whatever delusion is necessary to protect himself from the notion that his own actions are responsible for his failures, as opposed to widespread conspiracy against him.

And if he wins? God help us. A Trump fully untethered from ever having to face voters again, supported by an attorney general who has been so eagerly crooked in tilting the scales of justice that he may already rank as the worst in history, backed by a party fully purged of any but the most obscene lawmakers hailing from the most hard-right of gerrymandered districts; there would be no institutions left. No government scientists, no statistics gatherers, no oversight, no public services, nothing but a hierarchy of sycophants from Washington down to every office. His "conservative" team is turning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into a Trump-tailored propaganda shop during a worldwide pandemic. There's literally nothing left they would not be craven enough to do.

The good news is it looks like he's losing. Possibly even for real this time. The transparent Russian propaganda, though propped up this time by Republican senators and the clownish Rudy Giuliani, isn't motivating his hard-right base into nearly the froth against his male opponent that near-identical hokum spurred when directed at a woman. The Trump question of what do you have to lose has been clarified to all. The notion of choosing a reality show host as world leader does not have the same appeal as it once might have across generic American suburbia.

Trump's campaign and White House staff seem to know it. Last week saw a Washington Post report of the angst of Trump's phalanx of worst enablers as they fretted over possible career repercussions of 1) endlessly lying to the American people and 2) support a corrupt, cretinous toad of a man in 3) reforming the government into a white nationalist-premised, incompetent kleptocracy while destroying longstanding democratic institutions and premises. Consequences! Can you imagine there being consequences for such things? Truly, conservative pundits are beginning to stammer, it would be the end of democracy as we know it.

Lord help us, we are almost there. Only to Election Day, mind you: After that, even under the best-case scenario of American voters delivering a thumping to Trump so severe that not even his scandal-mongers can discredit the results, we still face an embittered Trump and Republican Party willing to dynamite the country into oblivion rather than let it pass unscathed into non-Republican hands.

For now, let's take some comfort in Dear Orange Leader apparently beginning to realize that he is in deep, deep trouble. Hopefully it will unhinge him mostly in ways that harm only himself and his malevolent aides, allies, and hangers-on. If we're lucky he'll demand William Barr arrest himself, or will turn on Rudy Giuliani for failing to sell the Moist Laptop Of Secret Crimes story with enough vim.

Cash-strapped Trump campaign in danger of having lawsuits thrown out over unpaid legal bills: report

According to a report from Politico, Donald Trump's cash-strapped campaign is frantically attempting to collect settlements in legal disputes because it needs the money to fund other lawsuits that are in danger of being dismissed.

Noting that the campaign of the embattled president is pressing Omarosa Manigault Newman to make a delinquent $52,000 payment for writing an unauthorized book about White House doings, the report explains the money is desperately needed.

According to the report, the campaign is currently engaged in a "flurry of legal actions" in the days before the election which is an indication that money is tight.

Pointing out that Trump's people had previously pushed to collect $1 million from Manigault Newman, Politico reports the campaign is under the gun to keep itself funded.

"At one point, Trump's attorneys suggested Newman pay for a nearly $1 million ad campaign "to counteract the long-term adverse effects" of her remarks," the report states. "Yet the campaign has thus far stiffed the arbitrator assigned to mediate the case, according to a letter sent to the parties in the case. If Trump's attorneys don't pay the outstanding bill by next week, the case could be tossed out."

The Omarosa lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg of lawsuits that the campaign is involved in with Politico reporting, "The campaign is helping fight accusations Trump harassed and sexually assaulted women. It's helping keep documents about his business deals hidden. Other cases are proactive, such as attempts to enforce nondisclosure agreements and to punish media companies the campaign accuses of defamation. And it is responding to lawsuits from people who say they were assaulted at Trump events, including one from a Missouri man who claimed he was arrested after laughing at a MAGA rally."

Those lawsuits won't go away after the election with one Washington attorney saying the president is facing massive legal bills.

"Even if he loses the election, very little actually ends once Trump leaves the White House in January 2021," explained Bradley Moss, a Washington lawyer who defended one of Trump's targets. "Litigation Trump has personally brought under his own name or through the campaign, whether it be protecting his tax returns or suing Omarosa, will continue for however long there is money to pay the lawyers."

According to the report, lawyers may be wary of continuing their representation of the president once he is out of office because of his extensive history of stiffing people he owes money to.

"Private contractors, bartenders, painters, real estate brokers and others have all claimed that Trump didn't adequately compensate them for their work before he was sworn into office. More recently, Trump has been accused of failing to pay local officials who provide thousands of dollars' in security assistance to the president's campaign during rallies," the report states before highlight the president's money woes with, "The Trump campaign's financial outlook is also faltering in the election's final weeks. Trump has fallen behind Biden on fundraising. In August, Democrats for the first time outraised Republicans by a staggering $154 million, eroding the president's longstanding cash-on-hand advantage. The pattern repeated itself in September, when Biden raised $383 million to Trump's $247.8 million."

You can read more here.

Democrats are missing a big chance to increase turnout and take down the Trump machine

The anxiety over changes and irregularities with the United States Postal Service (USPS) in August finally spilled over. A functioning postal service undergirds many of our society’s most basic functions, so there was no shortage of reasons to be alarmed. However, one concern—the threat to November’s election—overwhelmingly rose to the top. And the public outcry over that threat pushed a normally lethargic House majority into action, winning some mild but incomplete reversals from USPS.

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Barr claims Trump cannot be sued for denying writer's rape accusation: Using DOJ 'to crush a victim'

In Attorney General Bill Barr's latest attempt to help President Donald Trump avoid accountability for an alleged rape he is accused of committing in the 1990s, Barr on Monday argued in court filings that when the president denied columnist E. Jean Carroll's accusation last year, he was acting not on behalf of his own interests but in his capacity as a public servant representing the people of the United States.

"Given the president's position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant," wrote Justice Department lawyers, who last month at Barr's direction replaced Trump's personal legal team to represent the president in the case, in a highly unusual move. "The president's statements fall within the scope of his employment for multiple reasons."

The statements the government lawyers were referring to include Trump's claim that Carroll was "not [his] type," that he had never met her despite photographic evidence to the contrary, and that she was a liar who was trying to sell books by accusing him of raping her in a department store more than two decades ago, long before Trump's political career began.

"There is not a single person in the United States—not the president and not anyone else—whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted," Carroll's attorneys wrote in response to the DOJ's claim on Monday.

Carroll, who sued Trump for defamation in a New York state court following his remarks, tweeted that she and her legal team are planning to argue in court that Trump's denial was "not an official act."


The DOJ lawyers' claim comes a month after Barr intervened in Carroll's case against Trump, both by replacing the president's legal representation and by attempting to transfer the lawsuit from the state court to a federal district court. Both moves suggest the DOJ aims to have the case treated as one that was filed against a government employee who is immune from defamation lawsuits, in order to have Carroll's case dismissed.

Former federal prosecutor and NBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner tweeted that Barr's latest action goes against the department's responsibility to work "on behalf of victims."

"Bill Barr is trying to use the DOJ to crush a victim," Kirschner said.


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden last week criticized the president for using the DOJ as his "own law firm" to gain the upper hand in his legal troubles.

"'I'm being sued because a woman's accusing me of rape. Represent me. Represent me,'" Mr. Biden said in imitation of the president. "What's that all about?"


Pompeo facing investigation after alluding to the possible release of Clinton emails 'before election day'

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is at the helm of an investigation and the Office of Special Counsel will determine if he illegally used his position to bolster politics on behalf of President Donald Trump.

The investigation into Pompeo was sparked from a Fox News interview conducted in early October where he teased about the release of emails connected to former secretary and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "before the election," per Politico.

"We've got the emails, we're getting them out. We're going to get all this information out so the American people can see it," Pompeo told Fox News's Dana Perino during the interview. "We're doing it as fast as we can. I certainly think there'll be more to see before the election."

During that interview, Pompeo responded to pressure and criticism from Trump who had also discussed the Clinton emails that same day when he said: "They're in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad, actually. I'm not happy about him for that reason. He was unable to get them out. I don't know why. You're running the State Department, you get them out."

Pompeo insisted the release will come before the election, raising questions about whether or not he could be violating the Hatch Act, which "limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs," according to the Office of Special Counsel's website.

"The law's purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation."

In a letter dated Friday, October 16, the watchdog group American Oversight expressed concern about Pompeo's remarks with Election Day just two weeks away. According to the group, Pompeo's remark "warrants an investigation of whether Secretary Pompeo has given directives or orders to State employees in violation of the Hatch Act."

Now, Pompeo is denying any possibility that he would illegally politicize his office. When asked whether he would release Clinton-related emails so close to the upcoming election date, he said: "Releasing emails for the sake of transparency can't possibly be a violation of the Hatch Act. That's a ridiculous question."

Trump’s inner circle ‘furious’ with FBI’s Wray for undercutting Biden smear: report

According to a report from Politico, high-ranking members of Donald Trump's administration are "furious" with FBI Director Christopher Wray for siding with the intelligence community and calling recent revelations about former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

As the New York Post story about the Democratic presidential nominee's son continues to fall apart — with even Fox News reportedly passing on it before Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani took it to the Post — Wray, who has had a strained relationship with the president is allowing his department to investigate Russia instead of the Biden's.

That, in turn, has angered White House officials looking for a helping hand to help out the president's cratering re-election campaign.

According to Politico, "Trump's inner circle was already furious at Wray for echoing the intelligence community's finding that Russia is acting to damage Biden's candidacy, as well as his description of antifa as 'an ideology' rather than an organized entity. Now, they're ratcheting up calls for Trump to fire his handpicked director."

The report goes on to note that Republicans had been hoping that Wray would open up a full-scale investigation into the sketchy accusations based upon unverified information reportedly found on the younger Biden's laptop computer.

For his part, Wary is reportedly loath to enter the fray with an eye on the election just two weeks away, and his own future uncertain.

"Other congressional and law enforcement sources noted that Trump might lack the leverage to bend Wray — who, like past FBI directors, was appointed to serve a 10-year term, a setup designed to insulate the bureau from politics — to his will," the report states. "A public offensive against Biden by the FBI would doom Wray's chances of remaining atop the bureau in a potential Biden administration. Wray, they say, would have no incentive to burn the rulebook in order to score a point for Trump, particularly when he enjoys relatively bipartisan support in the Capitol."

According to those who know Wray, he is unlikely to take the president's side this time.

"Chris does not need my advice," explained Chuck Rosenberg, a former FBI chief of staff. "He is smart and thoughtful and principled and has the best interests of the FBI and the nation in mind."

You can read more here.

Trump's final ad buy betrays just how broke his campaign really is

On a call Monday, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien revealed the campaign's total ad buy for the last two weeks of the presidential race would be a whopping a paltry $55 million ... split between no fewer than 11 states.

Um, just wow. And that's not only the Trump campaign, it represents coordinated spending with the Republican National Committee (RNC) too. Far from being a muscular way to close out the race, it feels more like a cry for help. By comparison, Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said last week that she still anticipates raising another $234 million through the election.

The 11 states included on the target list for both entities are: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine-2, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.


According to an Axios article last week, Stepien views Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Maine's 2nd district as the foundation of their path to 270—in other words, must gets. In fact, the article quoted Stepien calling that line up the "easy part," but apparently not so easy that they're forgoing dropping money in all four supposed gimmes.

As New York Times journalist Shane Goldmacher, who was on the call, noted, "On the one hand, Stepien says he is 'certain' that they are winning Ohio and Iowa. On the other hand, he announces the campaign will be up with ads in those two states in final two weeks." Go figure.

One state the Trump campaign appears to have finally given up on altogether is Minnesota. Earlier on Monday, the Trump camp had announced cancelling ad buys in several Midwestern states even as they were preparing to reinvest in some of them through this coordinated ad buy with the RNC. But Minnesota, which has pretty much always been a pipe dream for Team Trump, was dropped altogether.

Even before this final Trump ad buy in the closing weeks, Biden's ad spending had outpaced Trump's by a 2-to-1 ratio for months, according to The New York Times. In a review of the two campaigns' spending in 10 battleground states, the only state where Trump outspent Biden was Georgia—which doesn't exactly jibe with that state's inclusion in Stepien's so-called "easy" list.

Biden's spending strategy has clearly centered on the Midwest. "His dominance is most pronounced in three critical swing states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where he spent about $53 million to Mr. Trump's $17 million over the past month largely on ads assailing the president's handling of the virus as well as the economy and taxes," writes the Times.

And while Trump initially enjoyed a digital ad advantage in the early part of the campaign, Biden has steadily closed that gap in recent months, achieving near parity in the last 30 days at $50 million for each ad campaign on Google and Facebook, according to the Times.

What is perhaps most interesting in these final weeks is just how small Trump is playing even as Team Biden has played very big—and not just in terms of overall spending. As this Politico piece explains, the Biden campaign has seen so many paths to 270 open up that in some cases they realized it would be more cost effective to make national buys rather than spending astronomical amounts in smaller battleground markets. It's a worth a read.

Under normal circumstances, most campaigns at this point would be making buys to leverage their position in 10 or even fewer states. But the Biden campaign realized that making some national buys through the networks would actually cost only slightly more, for instance, than purchasing air time in states with major Senate races like Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia, where pricing had gone through the roof. The big upside of the national buys was that they had the advantage of not only reaching the desired markets in key battlegrounds but also establishing a Biden presence in states that were newly on the radar, like Texas.

"We are looking at a very wide map right now," Becca Siegel, the Biden campaign's chief analytics officer, said. "Normally at this stage of the campaign, we would be narrowing in. But at this stage of the campaign, we have a lot of pathways that have opened up."

So as Trump closes out with a whimper, Biden is heading out with a roar, and his sizable cash advantage has made all that possible.

Is the Republican Party over?

The theme of the day was the palpable sense of rats leaving a sinking ship as Republicans, administration officials, and administration-adjacent people distanced themselves from the president.

There was a foreshadowing of that exodus on Wednesday, when Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) let loose about the president in a telephone call with constituents. Sasse was an early critic of Trump but toned down his opposition significantly in the early part of the administration. On Wednesday, he reverted to his earlier position, saying he had "never been on the Trump train." He complained about the way Trump "kisses dictators' butts," and went on: "The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor…. [He] mocks evangelicals behind closed doors…has treated the presidency like a business opportunity" and has "flirted with white supremacists." He said: "What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?"The theme of abandoning the administration became apparent yesterday, when officials leaked the story that intelligence officials had warned Trump against listening to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. This was a high-level leak, and suggests that more and more staffers are starting to look for a way off the S.S. Trump.

The audience numbers for last night's town halls was also revealing, as Biden attracted 700,000 more viewers on just one ABC outlet than Trump did on the three NBC outlets that carried his event. Biden's town hall was the most watched event since the Oscars in February. It appears that people are simply tired of watching the president and are eager for calm and reason.

Today, a group called "43 Alumni for Biden" released an ad called "Team 46." It says that they are all lifelong Republicans, but because they recognize the qualities of leadership—including empathy– everyone "on this team" is voting for Biden. "Let's put Joe Biden in the White House." The ad features a number of pictures of President George W. Bush, the forty-third president, and is narrated by someone whose voice sounds like his. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance notes, "This looks awfully close to an endorsement of Biden from George W. Bush."


Also today, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Committee, Jennifer Horn, urged "my fellow Republicans" not to vote for Trump's reelection. In a piece in USA Today, Horn reminded Republicans of "the overwhelming sorrow and grief that this president" has inflicted on the country. Citing Covid-19 deaths, "cultural divides, racial unrest, economic disparity and constitutional abuses," all of which "are just tools to be used to feed his narcissism, advance his political ambitions and line his pockets," Horn indicted both Trump and the Republican Party that enables him.

"This election poses a unique challenge," she wrote. "It will test not Republican vs. Democrat or Trump vs. Biden, but rather, "We the People." It is our role in this constitutional republic, our leadership, and our dedication to the promise of America that is being tested. Trump or America," she wrote. "We cannot have both."

Under pressure, Trump changed course today and approved the emergency declaration for California that he denied yesterday. Such a reconsideration would normally have taken until after the election, but this one happened fast. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted: "People are fleeing California. Taxes too high, Crime too high, Brownouts too many, Lockdowns too severe. VOTE FOR TRUMP, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!!!"

Today CNN began teasers for a special on Sunday that will explain how former senior Trump officials believe Trump is unfit for the presidency. According to former White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, "The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life."

Also today, Caroline Giuliani, the daughter of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, urged people to end Trump's "reign of terror" by voting for "a compassionate and decent president," Joe Biden. "[C]orruption starts with 'yes-men' and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience to maintain their proximity to power," she wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair. "We've seen this ad nauseam with Trump and his cadre of high-level sycophants (the ones who weren't convicted, anyway)." Giuliani cheered Biden's choice of Kamala Harris for his running mate, and wrote, "in Joe Biden, we'll have a leader who prioritizes common ground and civility over alienation, bullying, and scorched-earth tactics." "[T]ogether," she said, "we can vote this toxic administration out of office."

And yet another story from the day: a third career prosecutor from the Department of Justice resigned after publicly attacking Attorney General William Barr for abusing his power to get Trump reelected. "After 36 years, I'm fleeing what was the U.S. Department of Justice," Phillip Halpern wrote. "[T]he department's past leaders were dedicated to the rule of law and the guiding principle that justice is blind. That is a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten." Noting that "Barr has never actually investigated, charged or tried a case," Halpern expressed deep concern over Barr's "slavish obedience to Donald Trump's will." "This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy," he warned.

Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler, who worked as a federal prosecutor under Barr when he was George H. W. Bush's Attorney General, told Katie Benner of the New York Times that such criticism is "unprecedented," and reflects Trump's pressure on the AG. "I have never seen sitting prosecutors go on the record with concerns about the attorney general," he said.

And yet, Barr's willingness to bend the Justice Department to Trump's personal will may, in the end, not be enough to keep Trump's favor. Angry that Barr did not produce a report attacking the Russia investigation before the election, Trump just yesterday said he wasn't happy with Barr's performance, and might not keep him on as AG if he wins a second term.

There are signs people in the administration are preparing for Trump to lose the election. His cabinet is rushing to change regulations to lock in Trump's goal of giving more scope to businessmen to act as they see fit. Normally, changes in regulations require setting aside time for public comment on the changes, but the administration is shortening or eliminating those periods over changes in, for example, rules allowing railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, what constitutes "contract" work, how much pollution factories can emit, and who can immigrate to America.

Russell Vought, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement: "President Trump has worked quickly from the beginning of his term to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations," and that the current push simply continues that effort. But no one is missing the quiet distancing going on in Washington as Republican lawmakers are shifting away from public support for the president.

Meanwhile, at his rally tonight in Georgia, Trump told the crowd "You should… lock up the Bidens, lock up Hillary." The crowd then began to chant "Lock them up." But one thing about a bully: when people finally start to turn on him, there is a stampede for the exits.

Tonight, at his Georgia rally, Trump outlined all the ways in which he was being unfairly treated, then mused: "Could you imagine if I lose?… I'm not going to feel so good. Maybe I'll have to leave the country, I don't know."

We are pleased to be presenting daily posts from Heather Cox Richardson's "Letters From an American" email newsletter. You can sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

This single sentence from a federal court's ruling exposes the dark right-wing view of voting

Three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday stayed an injunction by a lower district court that sought to protect the voting rights of Texans voting by mail.

The majority decision, written by Judge Jerry E. Smith, blocked the lower court's orders to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that would have required officials to notify Texans whose mail ballots were rejected because of an apparent signature mismatch and give them an opportunity to address the issue. Under current law, election officials can reject a mail ballot if they determine that the signature does not match the voter's signature on file; officials must notify the voter of the rejection within 10 days. But even then, the voter may not be given an opportunity to fix the problem.

As the result of an ongoing lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered Hughs to adopt procedures that would allow voters to address a signature mismatch, or to stop rejecting ballots based on signature issues altogether. Judge Orlando Garcia said the existing policy "plainly violates certain voters' constitutional rights." But the Fifth Circuit rejected this injunction, saying Hughs should follow the law as written — rejecting ballots without necessarily giving voters any due process.

In a remarkable sentence encapsulating the emerging right-wing view of voting rights, the decision explained:

Because Texas's strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state's voting procedures place on the right to vote, we stay the injunction pending appeal.

While this may sound like dry legalese, it's a dramatically bold and unambiguously dangerous idea. The court's claim is that "any burden" on the right to vote can be justified if it is meant to restrict the opportunity for voter fraud.

This notion sounds like a farcical caricature of Republicans' views on voting, but it's an actual statement from right-wing judges defending a right-wing administration. It falls apart under even the mildest scrutiny though. While preventing voter fraud is surely a legitimate interest of the state, there must be some reasonable limits on how far the government can go in trying to prevent it. Is it reasonable to, say, create so many obstacles to voting that 10,000 fewer ballots will be cast in an election if doing so will also stop a handful of fraudulent ballots?

The answer should obviously be "no." The problem with voter fraud is that it distorts the will of the electorate, undermining the very point of a democracy. But if efforts to combat voter fraud distort the democratic process even more than fraud would, it's difficult to see how they can be justified. And all the best evidence indicates that voter fraud is incredibly rare.

But when Republicans discuss voter fraud, all they ever seem to care about is stopping the extremely rare cases of illegally cast ballots. They almost never consider balancing the risk of fraud with the risk of preventing legitimate votes from being cast. In this decision, the court made that view explicit. And it's even more absurd than it sounds, because the decision actually allows election officials to literally throw away votes that may have been legitimately cast without giving the voter any platform to challenge this decision. Isn't this at least as bad as voter fraud?

The Texas Tribune reports of this process:

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

So at best, the disposal of ballots may be entirely capricious. At worst, it could disproportionately target groups of voters that the existing government would rather not have voting — minority groups, for instance, that may be likely to vote Democrat. It may be hard to say what the motivation is for the laws in this particular case, but the GOP's actions in the past decade have made clear that they see restricting the right to vote as a vital part of retaining electoral power. The court's reasoning lays bear this motivation: Based on the slimmest fears about "voter fraud," they can justify restricting voters' rights as much as possible. The path to illegitimately holding on to office is clear.

The Fifth Court's decision justified the stay in part by arguing against the idea that there's a due process protection for the right vote. But even if there is, the court argued, there isn't a right to vote by mail — that's simply an option that Texas provides without being obligated to.

This reasoning, though, is spurious. If Texas provides voters the option to vote by mail, it is not reasonable that it can then simply reject those ballots based on dubious and unreviewable claims of a signature mismatch that the voter may not even be alerted to until after Election Day has passed. Once it has provided the option of voting by mail, Texas is still obligated to ensure that the process provides reasonable protections for voters' rights.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Patrick Higginbotham rejected the majority's arguments for the stay. He agreed with issuing the stay, however, noting the difficulties of changing election rules while votes are already being cast. And he warned that the matter in question is grave:

In 2016 and 2018, "approximately 5,000 [Texas] ballots were rejected on the basis of perceived signature mismatches."8 Such "small" differences have the potential to decide both local and national elections. And with the large increase in votes cast by mail in our ongoing pandemic that error rate would toss out far greater numbers. There is much at stake here.

Trump Jr. says dad’s ‘next move’ is to ‘break up’ the FBI: ‘He has to get rid of these things’

Donald Trump Jr. on Sunday called on his father to "break up" the FBI if he wins a second term.

During an interview on Fox News, host Maria Bartiromo asked the president's son what his father would do if the FBI does not do his bidding by smearing the son of Democratic nominee Joe Biden and by preventing Democrats from increasing the use of mail-in ballots.

"We have to keep fighting," Trump replied. "We're fighting with one leg and two arms tied behind our back. You know, we don't have the mainstream media that's willing to at this point, not even just boost the other side, but literally run cover for what would arguably be the biggest corruption scheme in American political history. This is the stuff that makes Watergate look like kindergarten."

According to the younger Trump, the FBI tried to "knowingly peddle" information about his father's connections to Russia.

"They refuse to acknowledge their own corruption," he explained. "And the reality is, I think, when Donald Trump wins, he has to break up the highest level of the FBI. He has to get rid of these things. And more importantly, maybe break up the swamp in general."

"You know, why is the Department of the Interior headed out of Washington?" Trump asked. "Why don't we spread all of those things up throughout America?"

"That's Donald Trump's next move," he predicted, "if I'm him and if he wins, which I think he will. Because what's going on is disgusting. This is the stuff of communist China!"

Watch the video below from Fox News.


Donald Trump Jr.: Dad's 'next move' is to 'break up' FBI youtu.be

'Trumpcare' doesn't exist. That doesn't stop Big Tech from cashing in on ads for 'garbage' health insurance

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

“Trumpcare" insurance will “finally fix healthcare," said an advertisement on Facebook.

A Google ad urged people to “Enroll in Trumpcare plans. Healthcare changes are coming."

The problem is, there's no such thing as “Trumpcare."

Facebook and Google have promised to crack down on lies and misinformation about politics in the run-up to next month's presidential election, but they have run tens of thousands of ads in the past year containing false claims about health insurance reform and plans.

The “Trumpcare" ads don't appear to have a political aim and don't advocate for the reelection of President Donald Trump over former Vice President Joe Biden. Nonetheless, the Facebook ads touting these nonexistent products have been viewed some 22 million times in the past year, disproportionately in battleground states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to Facebook data.

The ads are placed by marketers targeting consumers — politically conservative ones in some cases — who become sales leads if they respond. Then the consumers get deluged with phone calls from brokers hawking health insurance plans that are not the comprehensive solution that's often promised, but instead are less conventional products that have traditionally been used as supplemental coverage or for when people transition between jobs.

The Affordable Care Act requires traditional health insurance plans to provide “minimal essential coverage," which includes preventive care, mental health care, substance abuse, maternity and more. The less-conventional plans are exempted from those requirements. Some of the plans are offered by name-brand companies like UnitedHealthcare, but critics say they're typically big moneymakers for the companies that can leave patients with unexpected medical bills. The plans' limitations often are not explained in the advertisements or in brokers' high-pressure sales presentations. Hundreds of complaints about the plans show up on consumer sites like the Better Business Bureau or Yelp.

“The marketing is extremely deceptive," said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “Both the advertising and the brokers use terms that to the average consumer would make them think they are buying a comprehensive insurance plan that provides coverage if they get injured or sick. But quite often nothing could be further from the truth."

The misleading marketing may be ensnaring more consumers now, as an estimated 14 million Americans have lost employer-sponsored health benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Google and companies involved in the marketing generally defended the term “Trumpcare," saying it's legitimate to use to describe the president's general philosophy about health care or his 2017 executive order that allowed short-term insurance plans to cover a time period of up to 12 months rather than three months. Facebook said the word “Trumpcare" on its own didn't violate its rules. However, Facebook and Google both initially accepted “Trumpcare" ads that, after they were flagged by ProPublica, the companies later said did violate their rules.

A ProPublica reporter responded to one of the “Trumpcare" ads and took calls from five insurance brokers. The brokers seemed to have no idea what type of ad had led to the call. They were focused on closing the deal. One said, wrongly, that “Trumpcare" was just a new name for “Obamacare." The other four acknowledged that there's no such thing as “Trumpcare."

“It's fake news," said one.

“Trumpcare" “is not even in existence yet," said another.

“They're starting to change over from 'Obamacare' to 'Trumpcare,' but it hasn't switched over yet," a third broker said.

Traditional health care plans sold under the Affordable Care Act must comply with a host of regulations, including not discriminating against people with preexisting conditions. But the plans are expensive, and some consumers may not qualify for the income-based subsidies that reduce the cost. For example, a 40-year-old single person who makes more than $50,000 would likely not qualify for a subsidy to help pay for an individual health care plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Insurance Marketplace Calculator.

The less conventional plans — called short-term, fixed indemnity, accident-only or specified disease plans — offered by the brokers are less expensive. Some provide benefits for a short term or give a fixed payment to cover a portion of a doctor or hospital bill. Others pay out only if the beneficiary had some type of accident. A purchaser would need to read the fine print to know what they did or did not cover.

ProPublica contacted the Federal Trade Commission and insurance regulators in all 50 states and found hit-and-miss enforcement of misleading ads and sales tactics. Some states, like Delaware and Virginia, have meted out discipline for using misleading tactics to sell the limited plans. But many have not. Most who spoke to ProPublica said they have no jurisdiction over the online “lead generation" advertisers. The regulators say it's like playing “whack-a-mole," as those caught using abusive marketing tactics can simply incorporate under a new name and resume the same behavior.

Online “Lead Generators" Lure in Consumers

Identifying deceptive tactics related to health care plans is as easy as going online and looking.

Southern California marketer Stuart Millar said he's placed “Trumpcare" advertisements to join in “the gold rush of online entrepreneurship."

Millar has spent at least $350,000 on 12,500 “Trumpcare" ads from four Facebook pages with “Trumpcare"-themed names since last October. “Thanks to our President," one of them said, “U.S. health insurance companies have had to drastically drop their rates." (ProPublica can see how much Millar spent because he had proactively marked his ads as political, triggering Facebook to disclose this information.)

Millar isn't an insurance broker — one of the people who sell insurance and are regulated by the states. He's a “traffic broker," a marketer in charge of running ads to drive visitors to his clients' websites. There's little regulation of his activities. His ads have focused so much on the term “Trumpcare," he said, because it's clickbait. He called it far more attention-getting than the “left-wing one," his term for “Obamacare."

“I've got to find a fun way to make health care interesting," Millar said. “'Trumpcare' is interesting but health care in general isn't."

“Traffic brokers," like any Facebook advertiser, can select the specific demographics of the Facebook users who will see their ads.

Millar declined to get into details about how he targeted his ads, but said he mostly relied on Facebook's algorithm to find him the people who'd click. He said he tested thousands of iterations of the ad to make sure it found an audience. “What I went with was what converted," Millar said, a reference to people responding to the ads.

Some “Trumpcare" ads — not apparently linked to Millar — have been targeted at people Facebook labels as “interested in Donald Trump," according to targeting data provided by Facebook to users along with ads that are shared with the Ad Observer project.

Millar says he didn't come up with the idea of using “Trumpcare." That came from his clients, whom he wouldn't name. Many of Millar's ads led to a page featuring a red, white and blue “Trumpcare" logo on HealthPlansAmerica.org, which is owned by a company called Apollo Interactive. (The company is not a nonprofit, but anyone can buy a .org website address.)

Apollo Interactive isn't an insurance broker either. It's what's called a lead broker, yet another cog in the lightly regulated machinery of insurance “lead generation" marketing. That means it gathers profiles of people who are looking for health insurance. Those who input their information on these sites become “leads." And then they're put up for auction.

Officials from Apollo Interactive wouldn't say how the company sells leads. But Colin Sholes, an activist and former online health insurance marketer, said lead generators extract an anonymized sample of each person's data: ZIP code, age, gender. This profile, without any contact information, gets shared with potential buyers, who bid for it in an instant, automated auction. The winning bidder or bidders get the person's name and their contact information.

Leads are often sold as “shared leads" — meaning they're sold to more than one buyer at the same time. Some of the buyers are insurance brokers. Some are other lead brokers who bid so they can resell data that originated elsewhere. “It's a big web and everybody's interconnected," Sholes said. “A lot of data just floats around."

So how much is each “lead" worth? Sholes estimated that a lead for a person under 55 would cost as much as $20.

The lead might be even more valuable if it was sold as what the industry calls a “warm lead," he explained. Some companies exist just to buy leads, then have a call center agent call and, if a human picks up, the agent “warms you up," Sholes said. That means they check to make sure the consumer is interested in buying insurance. At that point the company sells the call to an insurance broker as a “warm" transfer. “A connected call," he said, might sell for up to $80.

Millar confirmed he got paid by the lead, but he refused to say how much. He did say that he made a profit on what he paid Facebook to run the ads. He was not aware of what happens to consumers who click on his ads, then purchase the health plans. “I didn't ever call in myself. I am not exactly sure how any of that works."

Facebook and Google Profit From the Misinformation

This fall, someone Googling for affordable health insurance might have come across an ad that said: “Healthcare changes are coming. Check out the new pricing tiers under the American Health Care Act."

The American Health Care Act — the bill most commonly called “Trumpcare" — failed to pass the Senate in 2017 when the terminally ill Sen. John McCain dramatically walked across the chamber's floor and gave a thumbs down, leading to the bill's defeat. So there were no new “pricing tiers" on offer, as the ad claimed, in 2020.

Those ads led to Apollo's HealthPlansAmerica.org site. Apollo Interactive attorney Chris Deatherage said in a written statement that the Google ads “appear to be old ads" from when AHCA “was actively being discussed in the legislature."

Deatherage said “Trumpcare" is an “abstract" term used to “tie together" various pieces of intended or existing legislation and policies and that Apollo's “Trumpcare" website said the term refers to Trump's “collective policy updates." He compared it to “Obamacare" — which specifically refers to the Affordable Care Act — and proposals for “Medicare for All," which are not law. He added that Apollo Interactive's website lets visitors connect with brokers who can explain the term.

Google's rules say it does not allow ads that “deceive users by excluding relevant product information or providing misleading information." Facebook says it bans ads with “deceptive, false, or misleading claims." But both accepted the “Trumpcare" promotions. Google even gave the misinformation prime real estate, with the ads as the top-listed results when people search for affordable health insurance.

Christa Muldoon, a spokeswoman for Google said, “Health care ads cannot make misleading claims about the advertiser's identity or the services they offer." She said Google removed the ads referencing AHCA under that policy after ProPublica contacted Google about them. She wouldn't explain why the company apparently let the ads run for years, despite violating Google's rules.

Until last year, Google also sold ads that lured in consumers with the phrase Healthcare.gov — the federal government site where you can purchase plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act — even though they were for private, lead-generation websites.

It's not clear how much Google earned from selling “Trumpcare" ads. Unlike Facebook, Google doesn't consider ads about “Trumpcare" political, so it doesn't publish any data about them. Muldoon would not say how much Google made from the ads.

But, she said, citing Trump's executive orders on health care, “We do not consider the phrase 'Trumpcare' alone to be misleading," so it's allowed in Google ads.

A report a year ago from Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, criticized Google and other search engines for showing ads for for-profit lead-generation sites listed above the official Healthcare.gov site when a person searched for “Obamacare" or even “Healthcare.gov." Casey called for search engines to put an “answer box" above all content, even ads, with a link to Healthcare.gov on searches for health insurance.

Muldoon hinted at a coming change to what kinds of health insurance-related ads the company will allow. She said that Google is “evaluating the health insurance space to strengthen our protections for users and prevent misleading ads."

After Newsweek flagged the Facebook ads in a blog post in August, the Lead Stories news organization published a fact-check saying that “there is no such thing as Trumpcare." That prompted Facebook to stop accepting the ads, under a policy that bans ads with content that fact-checkers have found to not be true.

Devon Kearns, a Facebook spokesperson, told ProPublica that some of the ads were removed for violating a Facebook policy that bans “scammy tactics."

But then in mid-September, more “Trumpcare" ads appeared on Facebook, from something called “National Center for Medical Records," which didn't return a request for comment. These ads led to another company's website, not Apollo's. One of them featured a smiling Trump with his arm around the shoulder of a doctor and the slogan: “Trumpcare from $1/Day."

Omissions and High-Pressure Sales

ProPublica wanted to learn more about the sales tactics involving “Trumpcare" ads, so we checked for ourselves. One of the reporters on this story, Jeremy, had been laid off in May. So he clicked on an ad in Facebook's ad transparency portal, featuring photos of a health insurance card and a tuxedoed Donald Trump with Melania Trump in a ballgown. It took him to HealthPlansAmerica.org, which prompted him to input his contact details, as well as his age, gender, address, income range and whether he had any “major medical conditions."

Jeremy is young and healthy, and he answered the questions honestly, so his information made him a hot prospect.

Jeremy entered a burner phone number that he acquired for this project — a good choice, because he got 67 phone calls the day he submitted the form; the day after, he got 46 more. The plans the brokers offered were legal, to the extent that they gave enough information to check. But to be informed, a consumer would want to know each plan's limits and exceptions and be provided with detailed information about what's covered, or not. The brokers often withheld crucial information.

Alex, from “the Enrollment Center," said his plan offered free preventive care and would let Jeremy pick his own doctor. Using the lingo of the Affordable Care Act he described the insurance as a “minimum essential coverage plan." But that's exactly what it was not. Jeremy, who is married with no children, had to ask if the plan covered maternity costs, something that might be relevant to a childless couple. Alex said that would require something else, a “major medical plan."

When Jeremy asked Alex to email the plan documents, so he could read what the plan covered or excluded, the line disconnected. Alex never called back.

When we called back several weeks later to ask for comment, the line was apparently disconnected.

Another company, “Modern Health," would not even provide a brochure about its health plans. A supervisor named Louis said he was “in charge of the company" and that it would be a violation of patient privacy laws to send information in writing about the plan. (It isn't.) Those details would supposedly have to come from the insurance company, and only after Jeremy signed up.

Anthony, who said he worked for the “National Health Enrollment Agency," also wouldn't send anything in writing. But his reason made it sound like he needed to lock in a fare on a flight that was rapidly running out of seats. “Once we disconnect the line, the companies aren't going to let me hold onto the plan," he said.

When Jeremy said he wanted to talk it over with his wife, Anthony countered: “Is she a licensed broker?" He offered to add her to the call rather than have the couple discuss it alone.

None of the salespeople volunteered the details a consumer would need to make an informed choice. Brandon, the salesman from Modern Health, for example, offered a plan from a company called “HealthShield." It's for “things like emergency surgeries, hospitalization, ambulances and prescriptions," he said. He went into painstaking detail about the amount it paid for certain items. But when asked if he'd shared everything Jeremy needed to know, he said, “It does have your essential package that a lot of people sign up for, especially at this time." Only later, when asked what category of insurance the plan fell under, did he say that “they do remove certain things, which include substance abuse, mental health and maternity benefits."

Reached for comment for this article, a man who said that his name was Brandon Greer and that he was now in charge of Modern Health said “I'm not sure" when asked if these omissions might confuse consumers. He said that the company instructs its salespeople to note the exclusions “upfront." He then ended the call.

When we tried to reach the National Health Enrollment Agency minutes later, to get a comment for this story, the phone rang at the offices of Modern Health. The person who picked up denied knowing what the National Health Enrollment Agency was and hung up when asked his name.

Omitting the details of health insurance plans can harm consumers. In August, the Government Accountability Office, the auditing and investigative unit of Congress, published a secret shopper investigation of the sales tactics for the plans. GAO investigators tested 31 brokers by using a fake persona, a person who had a preexisting condition. Eight of the 31 brokers made misstatements, the report says. One was selling the GAO investigator — who claimed to have diabetes — a health insurance plan that the broker said would cover the investigator's diabetes, but it really didn't. In a different case, the investigator told the broker that they had diabetes, but the application completed by the sales representative said there was no treatment or diagnosis for diabetes in the past five years. “This indicates that the broker may have intentionally falsified information," the report said.

The GAO didn't disclose the names of any of the brokers in its report, but it said it referred them to the Federal Trade Commission and state insurance regulators.

“Garbage" Insurance Generates Profit for Brokers and Insurance Companies

USHEALTH Advisors, one of the companies whose broker contacted Jeremy, posts videos online to show off how much money its brokers are making selling limited insurance plans.

“How much can you earn monthly at US Health Advisors?" asks one of the videos, posted by US Health Advisors Coral Springs.

“$16,000," says a bearded man in a black shirt and tie.

“$18,000," says a woman in a sleeveless top.

“$34,000," says a man in a dress shirt and tie, a family photo in the background behind him.

Then, the closer: “$42,000 — in one month," a man says.

Justin Brain, the USHEALTH benefits specialist whose number is on the US Health Advisors Coral Springs Facebook page, said commissions vary depending on a broker's “production," or sales totals. He declined to say how much the commissions were per sale, but he said the video is used for bringing in new sales recruits to “give them what's possible."

An April study by the Urban Institute found brokers making commissions of around 25% for the type of plans offered by the company. Other insurance brokers told ProPublica the commissions on some plans could be as much as 50%.

The video closes with a USHEALTH Advisors logo that adds, “A UnitedHealthcare Company." UnitedHealthcare is a massive company that provides health insurance and benefits. It's part of UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest companies in the country, with $242 billion in annual revenue in 2019. UnitedHealthcare declined to say how much the brokers made in commissions.

A USHEALTH broker pitched Jeremy a plan sponsored by Freedom Life Insurance Company of America, which is also a UnitedHealthcare company. The broker characterized the coverage as similar to Affordable Care Act plans and sent a 36-page brochure that laid out the details of the offer.

The document he sent made it clear that the Freedom Life plan would provide limited coverage that could leave a person with hefty bills. But it would take an exceptionally savvy consumer to sort through dozens of pages of insurance jargon to understand that. At ProPublica's request, Jeffrey Hogan, the Northeast regional manager for Rogers Benefit Group, a national benefits marketing firm, examined the document.

Hogan pointed out that it disclosed on Page 3 that the plans would “supplement" any “essential health benefit plan," meaning one of the more comprehensive plans sold under the Affordable Care Act. If this plan was meant as a supplement, then it would not be ideal for an uninsured couple. This was not mentioned in Jeremy's sales presentation from the Freedom Life broker.

One portion of the plan listed its “maximum" benefit for various “defined" sicknesses. It did not say what its “minimum" payment might be. The daily maximum paid under the plan for an X-ray would be $50. For a CAT scan it would be $200. For an outpatient lab it would be $30. Each of those procedures could cost many hundreds of dollars more than the maximum benefit.

Hogan called the plan a “cascading mess" of coverage for specific conditions. “I wouldn't sell this stuff if it was the last piece of garbage on earth," Hogan said.

The limited benefit, accident or defined benefit plans like the ones offered by Freedom Life are highly profitable for the companies that operate them, Hogan said. “They pay very little out on the dollar," he said.

In 2019, Freedom Life took in $171 million for Accident and Health policies covering about 291,000 people, according to a report by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Its “loss ratio" was 46%, the report said, which means Freedom Life spent less than half of what it brought in from premiums on medical claims and funding its reserves. That leaves plenty of revenue for profit and to pay commissions and fees to brokers and lead generators.

By comparison, the plans sold under the Affordable Care Act have a minimum loss ratio of 80% to 85%, meaning 80 to 85 cents of every dollar must be spent on medical care for the people paying premiums. If companies spend less, they are required to refund the difference to consumers or employers.

Hogan said that he's been selling insurance for 35 years and that it wasn't easy for him to sift through all the jargon and limits and caveats about coverage in the Freedom Life document. One of the most insidious details was “buried" on Page 22, Hogan said. That's where the company disclosed that any cost incurred as a result of a preexisting health condition would not be covered under the short-term plan included in the package. “This just makes my blood boil," Hogan said. “This hurts people."

Maria Gordon-Shydlo, a spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare, said in an email the plans provided by USHEALTH provide “valuable health coverage options to meet people's individual financial and care needs." Its brokers present various options, including Affordable Care Act plans, to help people find the plan that's best for them, she said.

Jorie Jacobi, a 31-year-old from St. Louis, signed up for a plan through Freedom Life Insurance in 2018 when she was working as a freelance writer. She searched for affordable health insurance on Google and put in her phone number on a website that promised she'd receive quotes. She got inundated with phone calls that went on for more than a year.

Jacobi is relatively healthy, so she figured she didn't need to pay for the more comprehensive, higher-priced plans offered under the Affordable Care Act. She spoke to a USHEALTH agent selling Freedom Life and said she was under the impression at the time that the package of limited health plans provided by Freedom Life would make sense for her. Her monthly premium came to $224 — not cheap, she said.

Jacobi admits that she didn't do her due diligence when she signed up for the coverage. “I feel silly about this now, but I just trusted them," Jacobi said. She doesn't remember her exact conversations with the agent, and UnitedHealthcare said that there are no recordings of the sales calls, and that it would not provide a recording or transcript of a follow-up call. Jacobi insisted that she would have made sure she had coverage for routine visits to her internist and obstetrician-gynecologist, but after she went to the doctors she received bills for lab work that came to $311 and $710.

After about a dozen hours on the phone with Freedom Life's customer service representatives, Jacobi said the bills still hadn't been paid. So she wrote a negative review on Yelp. That led to a phone call from a company vice president who helped make sure the insurer paid the bills.

In another case, the Freedom Life plan did not cover a drug Jacobi needed. And when she needed a minor surgical procedure she learned it would not be covered by the plan, so she paid cash.

Gordon-Shydlo, the UnitedHealthcare spokeswoman, said Jacobi had selected coverage that had a lower premium but only covered specific diseases, accidents and other items. The insurer complied with its “stringent application process" and addressed Jacobi's questions and correctly paid her claims, Gordon-Shydlo said.

Jacobi is now covered by a health plan sponsored by her employer. She regrets getting caught up with Freedom Life. “It makes you feel really stupid that you fell for it," she said.

Regulators Play “Whack-a-Mole"

Frank Pyle has been chasing junk insurance companies for years as the director of market conduct enforcement for the Delaware Department of Insurance. “As soon as you take one down another one pops up in its place."

Pyle said regulators across the country are aware of misrepresentations by insurers selling limited, short term, accident and defined sickness plans.

Pyle and his team in Delaware have to get throwaway phones when they play secret shopper on the lead generating websites, because the lines get inundated with so many calls from brokers.

In one investigation, Pyle said his team listened to a random sample of 87 recorded sales calls from a particular company. At least half of them contained some form of deception, he said. The level of misrepresentation seemed to depend on the savviness of the consumer, he said. A consumer would ask if the limited plan was the same as an Obamacare plan and the broker would tell them it's just as good. If the consumer asked if the plan covered diabetes, the broker would tell them it did when it didn't, he said. The case resulted in a fine against the company, he said.

When some states identify violations, they impose weighty penalties, like fines or revoking the license of a broker. But in others the penalties are light or sometimes limited to warnings.

Numerousstateinsurance commissioners have warned consumers to “be wary of telemarketers from the 'national enrollment center,' 'national healthcare center,' or other official-sounding names."

The Virginia State Corporation Commission settled a case for $6,300 with Freedom Life that alleged the company misrepresented benefits or terms of a policy with advertising that was “untrue, deceptive or misleading" and failed to give applicants a summary of their rights. The company agreed to a corrective action plan that addressed the alleged violations, documents show. Gordon-Shydlo, the spokeswoman for UnitedHealthcare, which owns Freedom Life, said in an email that the company's brochures included notices about the limitations of the products and that the company did not admit to any violation of the law.

It was hard to find state regulatory agencies that had taken action against lead generating companies. One state insurance regulator, who spoke anonymously because he didn't want his colleagues to be criticized, said his agency “probably" has the authority to regulate the lead generators, because they are engaged in selling or soliciting the sale of insurance. “But it's something we haven't done in the past," the regulator said. “It's something that hasn't been the best use of our time."

New Mexico's superintendent of insurance issued an official warning, saying it intended to hold insurance brokers and companies responsible for “abusive marketing practices by lead generators." It also said the kinds of sales tactics used by brokers — such as referring to limited plans with terms associated with “Obamacare" plans — were misleading and deceptive, and banned them.

Corlette, the Georgetown insurance expert, said the Federal Trade Commission could take a “more aggressive" look at deceptive advertising and lead generating. An FTC spokeswoman said in an email that the agency is “concerned with illegal lead generation across the board," but could point to only five enforcement actions that related to the deceptive marketing of health care plans. Only one of the cases took place within the past five years. None involved Millar or Apollo Interactive.

The FTC's jurisdiction includes almost any sales claim that is “unfair" or is misleading and would affect a consumer's decision to buy, says Aaron Rieke, a former FTC staff attorney. Because the agency is “super understaffed for their jurisdiction," he said, its attorneys aim to take enforcement actions that yield real systemic improvement for consumers. But the fact that the lead-generation ecosystem includes many small players who buy ads on Google, Facebook and elsewhere presents a “structural challenge" — because “swatting [them] down doesn't feel like a very effective way to go."

Pyle said the state regulators should hold the insurance companies responsible for their advertising tactics, including the actions of lead generators. In 2016, the Delaware Department of Insurance fined Companion Life Insurance Company $487,000 for violations that included “deceptive acts," documents show. Many of the problems in the case came from the lead generators the insurer was paying to do the outreach to consumers, Pyle said.

A person in the Companion Life compliance department referred ProPublica to its parent organization, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. But no one returned requests for comment.

Pyle said he's troubled that legitimate insurance giants own some of what he calls the “bad companies." “I'll be honest with you," he said. “I am surprised UnitedHealthcare is involved as much as it is."

Pyle said regulators from various states have regular meetings and are considering pursuing criminal action against insurance company executives. “If the insurance company is paying someone to work on their behalf, they are responsible for their actions," Pyle said. “You can fine these companies and they consider it the cost of doing business. But if you lock up their CEO in federal prison, they'll think twice about harming our consumers."

Republicans are growing anxious about losing a Senate seat in Texas — once again

The final two weeks of the 2020 election are upon us, and with the political climate continuing to favor Democrats overall, Daily Kos Elections is moving our race ratings in 11 more contests—nine shift to the left, while two move towards the GOP. We also now have a total of 11 GOP-held Senate seats rated as Lean Republican or better for Democrats. You can find all our Senate, gubernatorial, and House ratings at each link.

TX-Sen (Likely R to Lean R): Democrat MJ Hegar not only swamped Republican Sen. John Cornyn 2:1 in fundraising over the last quarter, she just got a big vote of confidence from the Senate Majority PAC, which announced it would invest almost $9 million to support her bid—the first time outside Democratic groups have spent money on a Texas Senate race in forever. (Yep, even Beto didn't get that kind of love.)

All polls still have Cornyn ahead, and Texas is still Texas. But the gap has narrowed, and with presidential polling showing a near-tie, the once unthinkable is now a whole lot more thinkable. Cornyn himself also seems to be feeling the heat: After spending four years positioning himself as nothing but an ardent Trump ally, the senator insisted to reporters over the weekend that he'd disagreed with the White House plenty of times but kept his dissent private.

CO-Sen (Lean D to Likely D): With reports that the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Senate Leadership Fund have both drastically scaled back their spending in Colorado's Senate race, Republicans have now all but abandoned Cory Gardner. Confirming the development, the top Democratic super PAC, Senate Majority PAC, has also cut seven figures from its planned advertising. Every single poll of this race has shown Gardner trailing Democrat John Hickenlooper, most by double digits. At this point, Colorado is simply too blue for a Republican with no real ability to distance himself from Donald Trump—like Gardner.

VT-Gov (Likely R to Safe R): Despite Vermont's deep blue hue, the state has continued its long history of electing Republican governors, and Phil Scott has remained exceedingly popular, in part because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Limited polling has shown him crushing his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, and there's been no indication that outside groups plan to get involved here in the final weeks.

CA-21 (Lean D to Tossup): Democrat TJ Cox narrowly unseated Republican Rep. David Valadao in one of the biggest upsets of 2018, and he faces a difficult campaign to stop Valadao from reclaiming California's 21st Congressional District this year.

The only recent poll we've seen out of this southern Central Valley seat was a mid-September American Viewpoint internal for the pro-Republican Congressional Leadership Fund that found Valadao ahead 49-38. It may seem implausible that Valadao could have a huge lead in a district that Trump lost 55-40, but Democrats have not responded with better numbers, and Politico also recently reported that this was one of only a few seats that Team Blue is "growing increasingly nervous" about.

There are some other factors that could complicate Cox's chances even in a good year for his party. National polls show Trump running better with Latino voters than he did four years ago, which could help him make up some ground in this heavily Latino district. And Valadao has always run ahead of the GOP ticket in past years, sometimes quite dramatically. Cox may still be the slight favorite to hang on, but a Valadao win would no longer be a surprise.

FL-18 (Safe R to Likely R): Republican Rep. Brian Mast looked secure after he beat a well-funded opponent by a convincing 54-46 during last cycle's Democratic wave, but he faces another credible challenge this year from Navy veteran Pam Keith in Florida's 18th Congressional District.

A mid-September survey from St. Pete Polls found Mast ahead by a wide—but not insurmountable—50-42 margin even as respondents narrowly favored Biden in a district that had backed Trump 53-44 four years earlier. An early October Keith internal from Clearview Research then showed her ahead 45-43, and Mast's allies haven't responded with alternate numbers. There has been no notable outside spending so far in this seat, which includes the Palm Beach area and the Treasure Coast to the north, but an upset is possible if Nov. 3 is a strong night for Team Blue.

IL-13 (Lean R to Tossup): We had thought that Betsy Dirksen Londrigan's near-miss against Republican Rep. Rodney Davis in 2018 might have been a high-water mark for Democrats in central Illinois' 13th Congressional District, which isn't necessarily the most favorable sort of turf from Team Blue. But a recent survey for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) found her leading Davis by five points in her rematch after prior polls showed the race neck-and-neck, and we haven't seen any sort of GOP response.

The D-Trip has backed up its data with hard dollars: Along with the House Majority PAC, they've matched spending with the big outside Republican groups. This one is looking very close once again.

MI-03 (Likely R to Lean R): Michigan's 3rd Congressional District hasn't been competitive in a general election in some time, but outside groups from both parties are spending serious amounts of money in the contest to succeed Republican-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash, who is retiring after a tumultuous career.

The few polls we've seen have shown an unsettled contest in this Grand Rapids-based seat between Democrat Hillary Scholten, an immigration attorney, and Republican Peter Meijer, whose family owns an eponymous retail chain with almost 200 locations. A mid-September internal from Global Strategy Group for Scholten's allies at House Majority PAC showed a 41-41 tie as Biden led 49-41 in a district that backed Trump 52-42 in 2016; weeks later, the Democratic nominee released numbers from ALG Research that had her ahead 44-42. Meijer did get better news, though, when a late September survey from the conservative firm We Ask America had him leading 48-41 as Biden and Trump deadlocked 47-47.

This seat is still red enough that Meijer remains the frontrunner, but Scholten's chances are as strong as they've ever been.

NC-08 (Likely R to Lean R): While Republican Rep. Richard Hudson is still the favorite against Democrat Pat Timmons-Goodson, a former justice on the state Supreme Court, major outside groups on both sides have begun spending serious amounts of money late in the contest for North Carolina's 8th Congressional District.

The only two polls we've seen in recent weeks have both come from Democrats, and they've each shown a close race. A late September internal from Brilliant Corners for Timmons-Goodson showed Hudson up 44-42 as Trump led only 47-44 in a seat he took 53-44 four years ago. An early October DCCC Analytics poll was even more favorable: It found Timmons-Goodson and Biden up 42-39 and 47-43, respectively. Republicans have yet to release contradictory numbers.

There's also one other factor that could complicate Hudson's path in this seat, which includes Fayetteville and some of Charlotte's suburbs: Because of court-supervised redistricting, the Republican is seeking reelection in a seat where a quarter of all residents are new to him, which could prevent him from enjoying the full benefits of incumbency.

SC-01 (Tossup to Lean D): Freshman Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham won South Carolina's coastal 1st Congressional District in one of the bigger upsets of 2018, but he's the frontrunner going into the final weeks of his bid for reelection.

An early October DCCC internal from GQR found Cunningham leading GOP state Rep. Nancy Mace by a wide 55-42 margin as respondents backed Biden 48-47 in a district that Trump took 53-40 last time. Mace responded the following week with a Strategic National survey that showed her ahead 47-45 as Trump led 47-44, but even fellow Republicans don't seem to believe she's actually doing that well: Last week, Politico recently reported that Republicans privately believe Mace's prospects are "dimming."

Major outside groups on both sides are still spending heavily here, and a Mace win is still very possible, but Cunningham, for perhaps the first time in his political career, is the favorite.

TX-32 (Lean D to Likely D): Freshman Democratic Rep. Colin Allred flipped Texas' 32nd District after a very expensive 2018 battle, but it will be hard for businesswoman Genevieve Collins to reclaim it for her party.

This historically red suburban North Dallas seat swung from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton, and diverse and well-educated constituencies like this have only become more hostile to the GOP over the last four years. Major outside groups also aren't acting like this will be close: While both parties are pouring millions into the neighboring 24th District, they've steered clear of this race so far. Collins still has the resources to run a credible campaign on her own, but it would be a big surprise if she emerged victorious.

WA-03 (Likely R to Lean R): Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is still the frontrunner against Democrat Carolyn Long, whom she defeated 53-47 in 2018, but their rematch for southern Washington's 3rd Congressional District has been looking more competitive recently.

In late September, Long released an internal from GQR that found Herrera Beutler up 49-47 as Trump led just 48-47 in a district he took 50-43 in 2016. That's the only survey we've seen here in some time, but major outside groups are acting like this seat is very much in play. The National Republican Congressional Committee and Congressional Leadership Fund went on the air on Oct. 13 to aid the congresswoman, the very same day the DCCC released its first anti-Herrera Beutler ads. Altogether, national GOP groups spent almost $900,000 during the week of Oct. 12, while the DCCC dropped $470,000 during that time.

Herrera Beutler still has the advantage, though, in this conservative seat. The incumbent pulled off a healthy win last cycle, and even Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell narrowly lost the 3rd District 51-49 that year while she was winning statewide in a 58-42 landslide. However, if 2020 turns out to be a stronger year for Team Blue than 2018 was, Long will have an opportunity to notch an upset.

Trump and the right share a Darwinist 'herd mentality' — and preference for sacrificing the weak to capitalism

Donald Trump's promise in an ABC News town hall last month that the United States would soon achieve herd immunity for the coronavirus, and conflating that with herd mentality, may be explained because Trump is counting on the latter to rescue his second term. It's otherwise impossible to imagine a campaign whose endgame is to recover the lost loyalty of voters over 65 selecting as its closing argument, "Not enough of you have died yet."

It's a safe bet that none of his 2016 Republican primary challengers would have embraced the idea that the solution to the pandemic was more American casualties than the Civil War and World War II combined. But many of Trump's Republican comrades-in-arms have embraced, often eagerly, a default preference for herd immunity — harkening back to the harsh social Darwinism that underlies much of modern conservatism. Early on in the pandemic there were Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana and radio host Glenn Beck, all of whom argued that the loss of more American lives was preferable to scaling back the economy. Then, when the issue became wearing masks, some opponents argued "if I'm going to get COVID and die from it, so be it …" Of course they really meant, "If you are going to get COVID ..." Wearing masks was a deprivation of freedom — although this argument seems never to have been extended by Republicans to the prohibition on public nudity.

As the pandemic surged again, by October Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was referring to "unjustified hysteria" about covid, and asked, after he became infected, ""Why do we think we actually can stop the progression of a contagious disease?" (The obvious answer is that we have been doing so, with increasing success, since the 1854 cholera pump moment. That is rejected by many on the right, because stopping a pandemic may require the government to prevent citizens from endangering others.)

Herd immunity can sometimes reduce mortality from a disease, but over the centuries has failed to end the curse of influenza, tuberculosis, smallpox, polio, rabies or dengue fever. It fits neatly, however, into a social Darwinist framework. Those who die are the "weak" — the poorest, the youngest and the oldest young — or can at any rate be classified as weak and deserving to die, because they died. Survival of the fittest requires discarding the weak. Remember the "let them die" hecklers who populated some of the 2011 Republican debates on health care.

This underlying value distortion — my personal freedom extends to my right to endanger you — spreads out across a range of other issues. Today's Republican reluctance to curb pollution even when it is demonstrably is killing a power plant's neighbors, to keep pesticides that kill farm workers out of the fields or to do anything at all about the climate crisis, which conservatives have privately conceded for years was real and caused by carbon pollution, are all illustrations of how the toxin of social Darwinism still contaminates much of the right's thinking about freedom.

So Trump's response to the COVID crisis — and the willingness of the Republican congressional establishment to enable it — illustrates a deep-rooted flaw in the American right. In a world in which we are, like it or not, all bound together, a tolerable conservatism is one that is willing to protect me from irresponsible neighbors, whether those are COVID-risking teenagers, irresponsible gun owners or multinational chemical companies.

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