Laura Clawson

Rev. Raphael Warnock defeats Sen. Kelly Loeffler in Georgia runoff

The Rev. Raphael Warnock is now Senator-elect Raphael Warnock. He is projected to defeat Sen. Kelly Loeffler in one of Georgia's two runoff elections.

Warnock, the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, will become Georgia's first Black senator. He kicked off the runoff campaign with one of the more memorable and effective ads in recent election cycles, and then followed it up with another one using the same themes, just as effective.

Loeffler was appointed to replace Sen. Johnny Isakson when he retired, so she cannot be said to have lost reelection. Rather, she failed ever to be elected—and she failed on the basis of a racist campaign in which she relentlessly pandered to Donald Trump and the worst of his base. In a last-ditch pander, Loeffler promised Monday night to join the Republicans objecting to the counting of electors from battleground states won by President-elect Joe Biden. (And after it became clear she was going to lose, late on Tuesday night she announced she was heading to Washington to follow through on that pledge.)

A Democrat won the presidential race in Georgia. A Black Democrat is going to the Senate from the state. Holy wow, and a big thank you to Stacey Abrams, Nse Ufot, and so many other tireless organizers.

How segregated is your culture consumption? It's time for a year-end gut check

If you're white, it can be all too easy to normalize your whiteness. The powers that be put whiteness at the dead center of our politics and culture—think about how often white people are framed as the real Americans or the most meaningful voters in our politics—and you, a white person, could go through your life thinking that's an accurate reflection of the world around you. It's not. But it's on us white people to try to undo that in our own lives, and culture can be a key part of that, a way to stretch beyond simple opposition to overt racism or dutiful nods to diversity.

Let's be clear here that structural racism is far more important than whether you as an individual white person personally listen to or watch or read culture produced by people of color. But the two issues aren't completely detached, either. For one thing, there are industries involved here. According to a recent analysis, 95% of fiction published by the top U.S. publishers between 1950 and 2018 was by white authors, and it wasn't just the early years of that sample skewing things: 89% of the books published in 2018 were by white authors. Unless you think that writing skill is that unevenly distributed, there's a racist imbalance within the industry that you can help do something about by eliminating the "we just publish what sells" excuses.

In the movie industry, diversity is improving in front of the cameras, but not so much in writing and directing roles. That can lead to situations like the one actor Leonard Roberts recently wrote about in Variety, in which the diversity of the cast on the television show Heroes did not translate to equity. Roberts, as a Black man, saw his role diminished and his voice unheard, and was ultimately fired because his white female costar refused to be professional, let alone decent, about working with him, and the producers chose her over him.

On an individual level, how do you know where structural racism is erasing vast swaths of life in the U.S. from your view if you don't look? Nonfiction is of course invaluable here, but many of us take in more art and culture, and the latter can offer shades of feeling and experience that nonfiction won't. (You can also try talking to your nonwhite friends, but you're going to want to be really careful not to force them to be your teacher and absorb your ignorance out of friendship. Also, your specific Black or Brown friends do not speak for all Black or Brown people. Neither does any given book or movie or other work of art, but you can check out a lot of those.)

So, white people: What books by people of color have you read in the past year? What movies have you seen? What music have you listened to?

This year the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic and the election, as well as a case of shingles that robbed me of a month or so of reading time, reshaped this list. For much of the year, at the end of a day of reading and writing about the news, I just didn't have the mental space for many nonfiction books.

All this said, let me be clear: These are books I like or at least value, even if they're difficult. I'm not suggesting that white people read books by people of color as a dreadful chore. I'm suggesting that other white people, too, can go out and find books (or movies, or music) that you like that will provide you with a lens onto how the world you inhabit is shaped by your whiteness. Now, if you can't find any art or culture created by people who aren't just like you that you enjoy, that might be a conversation to have with yourself.

As an additional note, I've often written about my love of romance novels. I'm so glad to see them increasingly getting recognition as something other than not just a guilty pleasure but a shameful one. Five of the books here—Farrah Rochon's The Boyfriend Project, Mia Sosa's The Worst Best Man, Alisha Rai's Girl Gone Viral, Jasmine Guillory's Party of Two, and Sonali Dev's Recipe for Persuasion were on NPR's best books of 2020 list, and Courtney Milan's The Duke Who Didn't was a New York Times notable book.

Books I read:

McConnell congratulated President-elect Biden. A predictable Trump meltdown ensued

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to acknowledge President-elect Joe Biden's win for more than five weeks after major media organizations called the election—not through multiple recounts and more than 50 lawsuits affirming Biden's win. Not until the Electoral College voted. But once he did, Donald Trump lashed out almost immediately.

"Many of us hoped that the presidential election would yield a different result, but our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20," McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. "The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden." More consequentially, McConnell, joined by Sens. Roy Blunt and John Thune, went on to beg other Senate Republicans not to join some House Republicans in objecting to counting electoral votes from key states when Congress—and Mike Pence—tally the votes on January 6.

McConnell reportedly called that a "terrible vote" for Republicans, because they'd look disloyal to Trump in voting down the effort.

In response, late Tuesday night, Trump did a Trump, tweeting a Daily Mail article headlined "Trump's allies slam Mitch McConnell for congratulating Biden" along with the commentary, "Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!"

Biden, of course, got more than 81 million votes. And the idea that Mitch McConnell doesn't know how to fight—or, more specifically, how to abuse power to the greatest extent possible—is truly outlandish. Electorally and legally speaking, Trump is the guy who's been leveled in a bar fight and is lying barely conscious on the sticky floor, still mumbling through a broken mouth that the winner of the fight is too much of a coward to take him on. The problem is that Trump continues to have the loyalty of his base, and as long as they remain dangerous, he does.

McConnell gets the Katie Porter treatment over COVID stimulus hold-up: 'A slap in the face to businesses'

Why is another COVID-19 relief package held up? Rep. Katie Porter wants there to be no doubt: The help Americans need is held up by Republicans, and particularly by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's insistence on giving corporations "get out of jail free" cards for their reckless handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

McConnell insists on putting corporate immunity from liability into any stimulus package that passes, insisting it's necessary to protect businesses from a flood of lawsuits he predicts. But, Porter writes in an op-ed at NBC News, "Eight months into the pandemic, lawsuits related to Covid-19 exposure are few and far between. According to data from the law firm Hunton Kurth Andrews, which tracks Covid-19 lawsuits, there are only 383 lawsuits in the entire country related to coronavirus exposure. Compare that to the over 15 million confirmed U.S. Covid-19 cases, leading to over 290,000 deaths."

And those lawsuits are not remotely frivolous, as McConnell would have us believe. "The cases that have been filed represent some of the grossest instances of corporate abuse," Porter writes. "For example, workers at a pork processing plant sued alleging that management literally took bets on how many employees would catch the virus. Other cases allege horrific patient abuses at nursing homes or workplaces that forbid employees from using protective gear."

McConnell is using the pandemic as an excuse for another giveaway to corporations, this time not in tax breaks but in the form of blanket permission for abuses. But, Porter points out, that means that the businesses that would benefit are overwhelmingly the ones that have done the wrong thing, while the businesses that have worked hard and gone to expense to do the right thing will see their shady competitors get an edge.

"When businesses have acted creatively and quickly to protect public health, they deserve our praise," Porter points out. "Shielding bad actors from accountability is a slap in the face to businesses that have made the necessary sacrifices for public health, like restaurants that have moved operations outside or mom-and-pop stores that have provided employees with proper protective equipment."

Thanks to Republican gutting of the government's oversight and worker and consumer protection functions, the courts may be the only recourse for people who've been endangered: "Without scrutiny of allegations of corporate abuse in the courts, there may not be any justice for victims at all. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency responsible for protecting workers, has closed over 10,000 complaints, most without conducting inspections. The citations it has issued are tiny slaps on the wrist. McConnell is pushing for even fewer worker protections, tying up Covid-19 relief to put down a welcome mat for corporations knowingly putting employees in harm's way."

Mitch McConnell wants to let corporations expose their workers—and, in many cases, by extension their customers—to COVID-19, and to strip regular people who've been harmed of the meager protections offered by either government regulators or the courts. He's willing—hell, he's eager—to hold desperately needed aid hostage for that. There can be no both-sidesing this in considering whether Democrats or Republicans are responsible for delays in relief.

The electors make it official: Biden is president-elect

With the vote of California's electors, President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College win over Donald Trump is formalized. States have been voting throughout the day, but it took California's 55 votes to bring Biden over the 270 needed to win.

Hawaii's four electors still have to cast their votes, but Biden's win is sealed. Not that we should expect a gracious—or any—acknowledgement from Trump. Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany refused to even answer a question about whether Trump would accept the result.

Trump's coup attempt now includes phone calls pressuring Pennsylvania House speaker

Donald Trump expanded his coup attempt yet again with two calls trying to get the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to overturn the will of the voters. "'I'm hearing about all these issues in Philadelphia, and these issues with your law,'" a spokesman for Bryan Cutler reported Trump saying. "'What can we do to fix it?'"

The spokesman denied Trump pressuring Cutler, but come on, now. Cutler is not the first state lawmaker Trump has tried to get to overturn election results after dozens of lawsuits failed to undo his loss. He previously summoned Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature to the White House and called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in an attempt to get him to replace the state's electors—attacking Kemp when the pressure failed.

"Cutler made it very clear what power the legislature has and does not have," his spokesman said, and the legislature does not have the power to do what Trump wants. Cutler did, however, join a group of 64 Republican Pennsylvania legislators calling on the state's congressional delegation to reject its electors. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has said he "will not be objecting" to President-elect Joe Biden's win of Pennsylvania's 20 electors.

December 8 should end this phase of Trump's coup attempt, because it's Safe Harbor Day. That means that, by law, Congress is required to accept the results of states that have certified their results by this day. That gives Biden the win that he earned at the ballot box, despite Trump's barrage of lawsuits and pressure on state officials to overturn results.

Trump's coup attempt is failing. That doesn't mean things are okay. America's democratic institutions are shuddering, straining at the seams, showing their weaknesses and breaking points, but holding. Barely. A few Republicans have genuinely pushed back on his pressure, while others have tried to slither along between the lines of, on the one hand, actually breaking the law and, on the other, suggesting it sure would be nice if someone else overturned this election. Meanwhile millions of Trump's supporters have been fooled into believing that the election was stolen from him, setting the stage for more years of dysfunction and violence.

But on December 14, electors will officially cast their votes. On January 6, Congress will—not without conflict and challenge—count those votes. And on January 20, Joe Biden will be inaugurated.

Trump's attorney general mulling his 'you can't fire me, I quit' moment — but the damage is already done

William Barr may stop being attorney general before the end of Donald Trump's time in the White House, but will it be because he quit or was fired? Days after it was reported that Trump may fire Barr, new reports have Barr considering quitting.

Anonymous sources tell both The New York Times and The Washington Post that Barr was totally, absolutely, thinking about quitting before the reports that he might be fired. But even if this isn't a case of "You can't fire me because I quit," it's definitely a rat deserting the sinking ship. As long as Trump was in a position for Barr to advance an agenda of unchecked executive power, firing squads, white supremacy, and attempting to crush U.S. cities under federal power, Barr was on board—he reportedly told people that he would like to stay on into a second Trump term if Trump had won. But now, be it the impending humiliation of being fired or the impending loss of power anyway, he's ready to go.

One key question about Barr is whether he hopes to rehabilitate his reputation. He came into the job hailed as a guy who was going to be sober, respectable, and serious, a counterweight to Trump. He's been anything but—a brazenly dishonest figure abusing power in lockstep with Trump. At 70 years old, it's unlikely he thinks he's going to hang on to become attorney general in a third administration, but he could still be a prominent figure in the conservative legal world, the Republican Party, and the media.

The question is which part of the conservative legal world, which part of the Republican Party, and which part of the media. Does Barr want to resume being an establishment guy, quoted approvingly in media not owned by Rupert Murdoch and those to his right? Or does he want to stay full Trump?

Either way, the man who's presided over a federal capital punishment killing spree and sent unmarked federal militias to kidnap people off the street in U.S. cities cannot be gone soon enough. Here's hoping he and Trump trade blows on the way out.

GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler's attempt to win over Black voters is completely ridiculous

If Sen. Kelly Loeffler has learned one thing from Donald Trump, it appears to be shameless nerve. A new ad attempting to woo Black voters in Georgia's Senate runoff includes this astonishing line, spoken by Janelle King, a Black former deputy state director of the Georgia Republican Party: "We need someone who understands how to not only write paychecks and sign paychecks, but how it feels like waiting on that paycheck."

And Kelly Loeffler is supposed to be that person?

Loeffler likes to make much of the fact that she grew up on a farm, but at this point she is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, people in Congress—in a Senate that includes Mitt Romney, mind you. She and her husband have around $500 million and live in a 15,000 square foot home that was the most expensive real estate transaction ever in Atlanta. And even her much-touted farming roots allowed her to pay for graduate school by mortgaging land she'd inherited. Waiting on that paycheck does not appear to have been a huge feature of her life.

This kind of ridiculous ad—in which Loeffler pretends to be a woman of the people to peel Black voters away from the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Black man who grew up in public housing—shows the desperation Republicans are feeling in the runoff elections scheduled for Jan. 5, 2021. In another sign of that desperation, Donald Trump Jr. is launching a super PAC focused on the Senate, starting with Georgia. (Don Jr.'s own rumored Senate aspirations may also be relevant here, to be sure.)

The Save the U.S. Senate PAC is starting with a six-figure ad buy on conservative radio stations, then will expand to television and digital with ads featuring Junior himself in an interesting effort to push back on his father's habit of undermining Republican voters' faith in the election system.

Moderna submitting its COVID-19 vaccine to the FDA for emergency approval

It's a day we've waited for: Moderna is applying for Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine. The drug manufacturer announced updated data on the vaccine trial, showing 94.1% effectiveness, in line with earlier results showing 94.5% effectiveness. Of 196 COVID-19 cases found among people in the trial, 185 had gotten the placebo and just 11 had gotten the vaccine. There were 30 severe cases among people who had gotten the placebo, one of whom died, and not one severe case among people who got the vaccine.

The EUA application will undergo final review on December 17, and the first vaccinations could be administered by December 21. Moderna expects to have 20 million doses—enough for 10 million people—by the end of December. Those doses are expected to go to healthcare workers, other essential workers, and employees and residents of nursing homes. But since Donald Trump will still be in charge of the federal government for the first month of vaccine distribution, don't expect a smooth rollout.

Perhaps predictably, Trump has punted vaccine distribution decisions to the states. States will get doses in proportion to their population, and have to make tough decisions about who's first in line.

"States are going to have to pick and choose who gets the first doses," Josh Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, told Politico. "It's very obvious that states are in different places when it comes to planning and identifying who those people are." But Trump is building in an ability to deflect blame for distribution disasters—while taking credit for the existence of the vaccine.

A vaccine is a huge, huge step forward. But vaccinations are what ultimately matters, and there will be a month of Trump-era vaccinations before President-elect Joe Biden can start to get the process under control.

Trump's plan to burn the civil service to the ground is moving forward at this major agency

Donald Trump signed an executive order last month taking aim at the existence of a nonpartisan civil service with job protections for career employees that prevent the entire government from being politicized—and 88% of the workers at the Office of Management and Budget are already in the crosshairs, ahead of schedule.

OMB Director Russell Vought has determined that 425 OMB workers—again, 88% percent of them—should be converted to the new "Schedule F," which would allow Trump to purge those who aren't sufficiently loyal to him personally, and would potentially strip the agency of many of its most experienced, knowledgeable staff immediately before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

A long list of good government and government ethics organizations sent Congress a letter urging lawmakers to block Trump's executive order, writing "Our nonpartisan civil service has served as a model for other countries for more than a century. Since the passage of the Pendleton Act of 1883, civil servants have been hired based on their qualifications, and have been protected from removal based on political affiliation. These protections do not exist for the sake of the civil servants themselves, but rather to ensure the government delivers services insulated from undue political influence."

The executive order risks doing concrete damage to the function of government—as Team Trump no doubt intended.

"At best, this EO will serve as a distraction at a time when the focus should be on ensuring a smooth transfer of power from one administration to another," they write. "At worst, career civil servants upon whom Americans rely for deep expertise and lifesaving services during the pandemic and economic crisis—from approving vaccines to distributing loans—could be removed for political reasons."

And if Trump officials hire a large number of new staff following a purge of the existing civil servants, it could be incredibly difficult for the Biden administration to undo the damage. This may sound like an obscure issue, but it is dangerous stuff, and it's just one part of Trump's efforts to trash the entire federal government on his way out the door.

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