Wednesday, October 21, 2020

I Voted

It took twenty minutes from the time I got out of the car, walked across the parking lot of the Pinecrest Library through the phalanx of campaigners for various candidates, some I’d never heard of (I live in a different community than this particular early-voting location), got my ballot, marked up the three pages of candidates, constitutional amendments, and charter amendments for Palmetto Bay, got my I VOTED! sticker, and got back in my car.  There were a lot of voters, and the parking lot was full, but apparently in anticipation of a large turn-out, the county had set up a lot of polling stations.  Social distancing was enforced, and everything went smoothly.

Don’t ask me how I voted because other than the Big One, I don’t actually remember all the names.  Frankly, for a lot of the local races, I rely on seeing who has yard signs along side the candidates I do know.  So if a candidate for vice-mayor in Palmetto Bay is next to the one for the presidential candidate I support, they probably get my vote.  Yeah, I know, I should be doing better research, but a lot of it is hard to find, Google notwithstanding.  That said, I did read up and research the state constitutional amendments and made my informed choices.

The most important thing, though, is that I voted.  You can listen to all the hype, the pundits, the Twitter feeds, the Facebook posts, your friends, your neighbors, the crazy uncle, and the guy at the gas station, but it doesn’t do anything until you stand alone in that little portable polling station, with the ballot printed out and the ball-point pen that you use to fill in the little bubble on the page next to the name.  It is the most important act in our journey as a country and as a civilization.  And in those twenty minutes — the average length of a TV sitcom episode — I was doing something that people have fought and died for: the simple act of casting a vote.  Doing the one thing that will actually count.

What I will never understand, especially this year, are those who have the vote and don’t use it.  The state and county has made it as easy as they can even with the pandemic: early voting at a lot of locations with ample parking and open for 12 hours a day; absentee and mail-in secure ballots, doing practically everything but coming to your house.  How much easier can they make it, and what’s stopping you?

To be honest, I don’t want to hear your excuses for not voting because it’s not worth hearing, and if you don’t care about the outcome, then I really don’t want to be around you.  This is too stark a choice not to have a voice.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sunday Reading

Robert Mueller Speaks — The former special counsel breaks his silence on the commutation of Roger Stone.

The work of the special counsel’s office — its report, indictments, guilty pleas and convictions — should speak for itself. But I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.

Russia’s actions were a threat to America’s democracy. It was critical that they be investigated and understood. By late 2016, the FBI had evidence that the Russians had signaled to a Trump campaign adviser that they could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to the Democratic candidate. And the FBI knew that the Russians had done just that: Beginning in July 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen by Russian military intelligence officers from the Clinton campaign. Other online personas using false names — fronts for Russian military intelligence — also released Clinton campaign emails.

Following FBI Director James B. Comey’s termination in May 2017, the acting attorney general named me as special counsel and directed the special counsel’s office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The order specified lines of investigation for us to pursue, including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. One of our cases involved Stone, an official on the campaign until mid-2015 and a supporter of the campaign throughout 2016. Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers.

We now have a detailed picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel’s office identified two principal operations directed at our election: hacking and dumping Clinton campaign emails, and an online social media campaign to disparage the Democratic candidate. We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel — Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities. The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.

Uncovering and tracing Russian outreach and interference activities was a complex task. The investigation to understand these activities took two years and substantial effort. Based on our work, eight individuals pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities, including senior Russian intelligence officers, were charged with federal crimes.

Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.

Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.

We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.

Suckers — Peter Wehner in The Atlantic on how evangelicals were betrayed by Trump.

The closest thing social conservatives and evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump had to a conversation stopper, when pressed about their support for a president who is so manifestly corrupt, cruel, mendacious, and psychologically unwell, was a simple phrase: “But Gorsuch.”

Those two words were shorthand for their belief that their reverential devotion to Trump would result in great advances for their priorities and their policy agenda, and no priority was more important than the Supreme Court.

Donald Trump may be a flawed character, they argued, but at least he appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

And then came Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia.

That is the case decided in mid-June in which the majority opinion, written by Justice Gorsuch, protected gay and transgender individuals from workplace discrimination, handing the LGBTQ movement a historic victory.

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6–3 ruling.

It was a crushing blow for the religious right, and it must have dawned on more than a few of Trump’s evangelical supporters that if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, the outcome of the case would have been the same; the only difference is that the margin probably would have been 7–2.

The Bostock case was not the only major legal setback for social conservatives and evangelical Christians. By a 5–4 margin, the Court—in June Medical Services v. Russo—delivered a significant defeat to the pro-life movement, striking down as unconstitutional a Louisiana law that could have left the state with only a single abortion clinic. This dashed the hopes of those who were counting on Trump’s appointees to lead the Court in overturning Roe v. Wade. (Both of Trump’s Supreme Court choices were in the minority.)

Social conservatives can point to some important religious-liberty victories. But overall, this term was a judicial gut punch for the president’s evangelical supporters. The “but Gorsuch” argument has not been destroyed, but it has been substantially weakened.

“The GOP gives social conservatives little or nothing legislatively, and hasn’t for a very long time,” the conservative blogger Rod Dreher told Vox’s Jane Coaston. “True, they have blocked some bad things over the years. That’s not nothing. But I think we’ve always known that judges are the real deal here.”

“Every institution—the media, academia, corporations, and others—are against us on gay and transgender rights, and GOP lawmakers are gutless. The only hope we had was that federal judges would protect the status quo. Now that’s gone.”

Legislatively, Trump, compared with other presidents, has not achieved all that much for the pro-life cause and religious-liberties protection. For example, George W. Bush’s pro-life record is stronger and Bill Clinton achieved more in the area of religious liberties, signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (Trump has done a fair amount administratively for the pro-life cause.) Trump has also achieved next to nothing in terms of enacting education reforms.

Elsewhere, Trump has engaged in a bromance with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the worst persecutor of Christians in the world, and established more intimate and admiring relationships with many of the world’s despots than with leaders of America’s traditional allies. And on issues that have traditionally concerned conservative evangelicals, such as fiscal responsibility and limited government, Trump has been awful: The deficit and the debt exploded under his watch, even pre-pandemic.

Based strictly on the standard of advancing causes that conservative evangelicals most care about, a fair-minded assessment of the Trump record is that some important things were achieved, especially in appointing federal judges. That clearly would not have happened in a Hillary Clinton presidency. But in virtually every other area, including the outcome of several key Supreme Court decisions, Trump has fallen short of the promises and expectations.

Now think about what the cost has been of the uncritical support given to Trump by evangelical Christians. For now, focus just on this: Christians who are supporters of the president have braided themselves to a man who in just the past few days and weeks tweeted a video of a supporter shouting “white power” (he later deleted it but has yet to denounce it); attacked NASCAR’s only Black driver, Bubba Wallace, while also criticizing the decision by NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from its races; threatened to veto this year’s annual defense bill if an amendment is included that would require the Pentagon to change the names of bases honoring Confederate military leaders; referred to COVID-19 as “kung flu” during a speech at a church in Phoenix; and blasted two sports teams, the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians, for considering name changes because of concerns by supporters of those franchises that those team names give undue offense.

These provocations by the president aren’t anomalous; he’s a man who vaulted to political prominence by peddling a racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States—he later implied that Obama was a secret Muslim and dubbed him the “founder of ISIS”—and whose remarks about an Indiana-born judge with Mexican heritage were described by former House Speaker Paul Ryan as “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

The white supremacist Richard Spencer, describing the neo-Nazi and white-supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, told The Atlantic, “There is no question that Charlottesville wouldn’t have occurred without Trump. It really was because of his campaign and this new potential for a nationalist candidate who was resonating with the public in a very intense way. The alt-right found something in Trump. He changed the paradigm and made this kind of public presence of the alt-right possible.” And David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, called the march a “turning point” for his own movement, which seeks to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

For his whole life, before and since becoming president, Trump has exploited racial divisions and appealed to racial resentments. The president is now doing so more, not less, than in the past, despite the fact—and probably because of the fact—that America is in the grips of a pandemic that he and his administration have badly bungled and that has claimed more than 130,000 American lives.

As The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman pointed out on July 6, “Almost every day in the last two weeks, Mr. Trump has sought to stoke white fear and resentment.”

White evangelicals are the core of Trump’s political support, and while the overwhelming number of the president’s evangelical supporters may not be racist, they are willing to back a man who openly attempts to divide people by race. That would be enough of an indictment, but the situation is actually a good deal worse than that, since Trump’s eagerness to inflame ugly passions is only one thread in his depraved moral tapestry.

My hunch is that at the beginning of this Faustian bargain, most evangelicals didn’t imagine it would come to this, with them defending the indefensible, tarnishing their reputations, and doing incalculable damage to their causes.

This is the worst year for America in more than a half century; a stunning 87 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going and only 17 percent feel proud when thinking about the state of the nation, while 71 percent feel angry and 66 percent are fearful. Donald Trump’s presidency is so polarizing and such a catastrophe that a plurality or outright majority of Americans now oppose much of whatever he supports. The mood of the public is the most progressive it’s been in nearly 70 years. During the Trump era, the nation has moved to the left on a whole series of issues, including those that matter most to evangelical Trump supporters.

The Trump presidency, which has produced few significant legislative or governing achievements, has inflicted gaping wounds on the Republican Party, conservative causes, and the evangelical movement.

IN HIS MARVELOUS book The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Alan Jacobs tells about the theater critic and essayist Kenneth Tynan, who, after reading Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, said, “How thrilling he makes goodness seem—how tangible and radiant!” (At Oxford, Lewis was a tutor to Tynan, who was not himself a believer.)

Tynan perceived something essential about Lewis. One of his most impressive qualities was his ability to present the good life—and his Christian faith, which shaped his understanding of the good—as tangible and radiant, a thrilling and captivating journey, a way to find joy and fulfillment.

That was hardly the whole story. Lewis faced a crisis in faith late in his life, when he was overwhelmed by grief after his wife, Joy Davidman, died of cancer—a crisis he recovered from, but that left its mark. Still, because of his faith, Lewis’s life was more alluring, more captivating, more vivifying. It was said of Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien that they never lost their enchantment with the world.

The greatest cost of the Trump years to evangelical Christianity isn’t in the political sphere, but rather in what Christians refer to as bearing witness—showing how their lives have been transformed by their faith.

Much of the evangelical movement, in aligning itself with Donald Trump, has shown itself to be graceless and joyless, seized by fear, hypocritical, censorious, and filled with grievances. That is not true of all evangelicals, of course, and it’s not true of all evangelicals who are Trump supporters. But it’s true of enough of them, and certainly of the political leadership of the white evangelical movement, to have done deep injury to their public witness.

I know this firsthand, from pastors around the country who have talked about the catastrophic effects of the unholy alliance between evangelicals and Donald Trump. One pastor of a large church on the Pacific Coast told me: “There are many reasons why young people are turning away from the Church, but my observation is, Trump has vastly accelerated that trend. He’s put it into hyperdrive.”

This pastor, a lifelong Republican who declined to be quoted by name because of the position he occupies, wrote that “for decades Hollywood has portrayed conservative Christians as cruel, ignorant, greedy, and hypocritical. For 20 years I have worked, led, and sacrificed to put the lie to that stereotype, and have done so successfully here … Because of how we have served the least of the least, city officials, school officials, and many atheists have formed a respect for Jesus and his church. And I’m watching all that get washed away.”

He added, “Yes, Hollywood and the media created a decidedly unattractive stereotype of Christians. And Donald Trump fits it perfectly. Made it all seem true. And sadly, I now realize that stereotype is more true than I ever knew. It breaks my heart. In volleyball terms, Hollywood did the set, but Trump was the spike that drove the ball home. He’s everything I’ve been trying to say isn’t what the church is all about. But sadly, maybe it is.”

In the midst of the wreckage, Trump’s evangelical supporters will undoubtedly comfort themselves with this thought: They got Gorsuch.

Doonesbury — Tolls for polls.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sunday Reading

Rage and Sorrow — Lizzie Widdicombe in The New Yorker over the end of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign.

There was a forlorn mood the other night inside the headquarters of Brooklyn for Warren, a few sparsely furnished rooms in the Park Slope campaign offices of the New York City councilman Brad Lander, where a group of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign volunteers had assembled for a round of “sad and celebratory drinks.” The walls were still decorated with Warren paraphernalia: a poster that said “The Best Candidate Money Can’t Buy” and a cardboard cutout of the candidate as Superwoman; an enormous map displaying her policy platform (categories: Anti-Corruption, Systemic Reforms, Economic Equality, Climate Change); a “Lil Liberty” lending library; and a list of thoughtful community guidelines—“Use gender-neutral collective nouns. . . . Listen more than you speak. . . . Be generous with each other. . . . No trashing other candidates or their supporters!” A sign taped to the wall in one area said “This Room is for Reflection—Feel Free to Write a Postcard to Liz and the Campaign. We Will Send Them.”

Warren had failed to win any primary contests on Super Tuesday, and had placed third in her home state of Massachusetts. That morning, she’d informed staff on a conference call that she was ending her campaign, adding, “I will carry you in my heart for the rest of my life.” The volunteers drank boxed wine and I.P.A. beer, and nibbled on chocolate cake and tortilla chips. They posed for a picture with a cardboard cutout of Warren, draped in a rainbow feather boa, chanting “Dream big! Fight hard!” instead of “Cheese.” They were mostly female, although trans men, gay men, and sensitive straight, cis men were also represented: the group’s founder, an allergist and immunologist named Milo Vassallo, spoke about the importance of being a man who wears his Warren pin in public, and opined about what he saw as the covert sexism of the “Bernie bros” on his baseball team.

The women seemed especially dejected. “I did a lot of crying today,” Jennie Spector, a social worker, said.

“I feel a lot of rage,” Teresa Mayer, who has worked in nonprofits, said.

Liat Olenick, a teacher, said that she was sad, too. “But I’m getting to the anger stage.”

“It’s just so disappointing,” Mayer said. “This idea of waiting around, wondering, which old white man is she going to endorse?”

All three are members of Indivisible Nation BK, a nonprofit organization that, they pointed out, has leadership that is mostly female. Olenick said, “And after four years of movement-building led almost entirely by women, we’re faced with two almost eighty-year-old white men as supposedly the future of this country.”

Brooklyn for Warren, the largest of several grassroots groups in the borough, had spent hours phone-banking for Warren. Organizers had travelled to Iowa, New Hampshire, and Virginia to knock on doors. “What more could we do?” Sze Chan, a translator who worked with New York City for Warren, said, pointing out that the Warren campaign had outdone the others by almost every metric: “The number of calls we made, texts sent out, doors knocked on.”

“We were everywhere,” Spector said. “Biden just won a bunch of states where he had nobody on the ground.”

The problem was not Warren’s résumé, or her skill set, or her appeal to voters, Olenick said. “Sixty per cent of my conversations were with people saying, ‘I love her! She’s so smart. She’s so tough. She would make the best President. But I’m voting for Biden.’ Or, ‘I’m voting for Bernie. Because I don’t think she can win.’ ” This, they felt, came from a kind of anticipatory sexism—a belief that a woman could never become the President, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. They noted that women were some of the worst offenders. “I think a lot of them were really, truly traumatized by Hillary losing,” Olenick said. She’d spoken to many women who’d volunteered for Clinton or been precinct captains. “The majority of my phone conversations were working to convince women that they shouldn’t vote out of fear for an old white man.”

“On Monday night, I managed to flip one woman,” Mayer recalled. They’d been canvassing in Sterling, Virginia, before Super Tuesday. “Her husband answered the door. He wasn’t on my list, but I started in with my spiel. And his wife yells from the top of the stairs, ‘Who are you here for? Elizabeth? Oh, I love Elizabeth! My girlfriends all love her, too. She’s so great. But we’re going to vote for Biden.’ ” The woman believed that Warren couldn’t win. Mayer spoke with her for twenty minutes—and learned that she didn’t identify with either party and had voted for Republicans in the past. “The thing that made her perk up was when I told her that Elizabeth had beat an incumbent Republican, Scott Brown.” Mayer told the woman to “ ‘Vote with your heart.’ By the end of the conversation, she goes, ‘O.K., I’ll vote for her. It’s the primary, so now’s the time.’ ” Her husband had disappeared. As Mayer was leaving, “She comes outside and she yells ‘Teresa! I talked to my husband. He’s in for Warren, too!’ ” Mayer went on, “The lesson for me was that if everyone answered their door, and we all had twenty minutes to talk, things would be different.”

Instead, voters had watched too much cable news. Olenick said, “The fact that Democrats are obsessing over electability and ending up with probably a pretty weak candidate is the greatest irony I can think of. Versus someone who would have taken down Trump and cut him into little pieces.” Still, they were trying not to get bitter. Warren’s campaign culture is “relentlessly positive,” Olenick noted. Mayer said, “If you were tuned into Elizabeth Warren Twitter, which I’ll admit is a bubble, it was never about bashing another campaign. It was, ‘I’m excited about Elizabeth, and let me share my story!’ ”

Olenick said that she’d developed coping strategies since Trump’s election, in 2016. “Strategy No. 1 is, Don’t be alone. Go be with other people. Strategy No. 2 is, Take action.” They were taking cues from Warren herself, who had told her staff in that morning’s call, “This fight goes on,” and, “We will persist.” Olenick said she was focussing on down-ballot races. “That’s been true of so many people I’ve talked to in the last couple of days. They’ve all been saying, ‘We’ve got to take back the Senate.’ ”

They Really, Really Don’t Want Black People to Vote — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

Six hours is a good, long time. You could do a lot of things in six hours.

You could drive from San Francisco to L.A.

You could finish an audiobook.

Or you could vote.

It took a man named Hervis Rogers that long to do so in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He did not leave his polling place in Houston until 1:30 Wednesday morning — the last person to cast his ballot. “I wanted to get my vote in to voice my opinion,” he told KTRK, a local TV news station. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, so I waited it out.”

And if you’re wondering why Rogers had to go through that ordeal just to vote, the answer is simple: He is a black man in America. More to the point, he’s a black man in a Southern state with a sordid history of disenfranchising voters of color.

From 1965 until 2013, such voters were protected from this kind of thing by the Voting Rights Act. Then the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Act, which required states and localities with histories of voting discrimination to get federal approval before changing election laws. The court acted under the novel — which is to say, asinine — reasoning that the provision was no longer needed because racism is over.

Or as Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, put it: “Our country has changed” since 1965. He seemed insensate to the fact that the change he noted had come about because of the Act he was gutting. Indeed, the ink was barely dry on his opinion when southern states and others began to show what they thought of all this “change.”

In Georgia, they purged tens of thousands of voters, disproportionately people of color, from the rolls for offenses as trivial as a misplaced hyphen in a name. In North Carolina, they enacted a photo ID law designed with what a federal court called “almost surgical precision” to suppress the black vote. And in Texas, according to a report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund, they’ve closed 750 polling places since 2013 — more than any other state — so that now voters like Rogers must pass an endurance test simply to exercise a constitutional right.

Yes, local officials claim the delay was actually due to higher than expected turnout, voting machine breakdowns and a new polling system. Believe that if you wish. The view from this pew is more cynical. As Rogers told KTRK, the long wait felt like it was “set up for me to walk away.”

Isn’t it telling, in this era of white grievance ascendant, that the right wing keeps caterwauling about a fictional epidemic with people of color committing voter fraud, even as people of color are seeing voting rights stolen from them in real time? The right projects its sins upon the rest of us — democracy as funhouse mirror where victimizers reflect as victims.

One hopes that when November comes people of color — and good people of all skin tones — summon the perseverance of Hervis Rogers and bring about a blue wave to protect the voting rights of those who are now being systematically disenfranchised. One hopes they resolve to double check their registration and polling locations ahead of time, to charge their devices, wear comfortable clothing, bring snacks, water, lawn chairs, umbrellas, a good book, whatever the wait requires.

The bottom line: There are more of us than there are of them. So there is no excuse to let the forces of intolerance get away with this act of Grand Theft Freedom.

Six hours is time enough to steal a democracy. But it’s time enough to save one, too.

Doonesbury — You’re a joke.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Not So Fast There, Democracy

One of the stories I missed while I was in the heartland:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Friday blocked lower court rulings ordering Republican legislators in Michigan and Ohio to redraw U.S. congressional maps ahead of the 2020 elections, dealing a blow to Democrats who had argued that the electoral districts were intended to unlawfully diminish their political clout.

The justices granted requests from Republican lawmakers in both states to put those decisions on hold, halting further action in the cases and the need to rework electoral district boundaries. The justices did not provide any explanation for their brief orders.

Which means that in all likelihood the gerrymandered districts that tilt dizzyingly towards the Republicans will stay that way through the 2020 election.

Or, as Ben Alpers tweeted: “Stealing elections has consequences: you get to steal more.”

Monday, May 6, 2019

If You Can’t Win, Cheat

Last November, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 which restored voting rights to felons who had served out their sentences.  There were no qualifiers in the amendment language other than excluding those convicted of murder or violent sex crimes, and when it went into effect in January, it had the desired result: a lot of people who had been denied the right to vote began to register.

Well, the Republican-dominated state legislature couldn’t let that happen, now could they?  After losing challenges to the amendment itself before the election, they decided to come up with qualifiers of their own.

The bill could disenfranchise more than half a million Floridians who have not completed restitution payments. (More than 80 percent of fines levied by courts in Florida from 2014 to 2018 had “minimal collections expectations,” according to the Clerk of Courts association, because defendants were too poor to pay them off.) Those with past felony convictions who have completed probation and parole began registering to vote in January, when Amendment 4 went into effect, and voter registration numbers have more than doubled from the same period four years ago. Now that could all come to a halt. “This is clearly an effort to undermine the will of the voters,” says Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “We are creating a two-tiered system and saying how much money you have can determine whether you can vote.”

The measure passed the Florida House last week, and the Senate approved a similar bill on Thursday.

It’s not just in Florida, either.

The move to gut Amendment 4 is part of a broader effort by Republican-controlled states to restrict access to the ballot after voters approved ballot initiatives in November’s midterm elections to expand voting rights and elected Democrats who supported policies like automatic voter registration and felon reenfranchisement. “There is an uptick in activity around measures to restrict voting access,” the Brennan Center for Justice states in a new report, with 19 bills restricting voting access moving through state legislatures in 10 states.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill on Thursday that could curtail voter registration drives by imposing fines of up to $10,000 on groups that submit incomplete registration forms, even though they’re required by state law to hand in any registration forms they collect. The law imposes additional requirements on registration groups, such as mandatory state training and limited time windows to submit registrations, and failure to meet these requirements is punishable by jail time. Civil rights groups allege that the law is an effort to disenfranchise black voters after the Tennessee Black Voter Project registered 90,000 African Americans ahead of the 2018 election. Shortly after Lee signed the measure into law, the Tennessee chapter of the NAACP and other civil rights groups filed suit against state officials to challenge it.

The Texas state senate passed a similar bill, which would make it a felony—punishable by jail time—for a voter to provide false information on a voter registration form or cast a ballot when the person is ineligible to vote, even if it’s an honest mistake and the ballot is not counted. The Texas House of Representatives is now considering the bill.

I fully expect the Florida law to be challenged in court, but it’s obvious that the Republicans in Tallahassee and other state capitals where they are beginning to find themselves in a bind for their blatant rigging of the system: both Michigan and Ohio’s congressional districts that were gerrymandered within an inch of their lives by GOP legislatures have been tossed out by the courts.  (In a fitting bit of irony, an Ohio legislator who is a defendant in the case complained that this ruling is politically motivated and will only help Democrats win elections.)

This is just more evidence to add to the steaming pile already accumulated on the stable floor that the only way Republicans can truly win an election — even after they lose — is by cheating and changing the rules.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

“That Country”

Vox details the Trump administration’s odd and dangerous vendetta against Puerto Rico.

On the heels of the Senate’s failure to pass a disaster relief bill on Monday, President Donald Trump posted a string of factually inaccurate tweets defending his position that federal government aid to the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico should be limited to food stamp subsidies, and made clear he prioritizes the needs of US citizens living in flood-ravaged Midwestern states above those of US citizens living in Puerto Rico.

In his tweets Monday evening, Trump oddly referred to the US territory as a “place,” accused Puerto Rican politicians of being “incompetent or corrupt” — he referred to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as “crazed” — and framed the question of how much disaster relief funding to provide to the island and flood-affected farmers in the Midwest as a zero-sum game, writing that “the Dems wants to give [Puerto Rico] more, taking dollars away from our Farmers and so many others. Disgraceful!”

[…]

Trump, however, doesn’t seem to accept that Puerto Rico is really part of the United States. As a result, he frames providing emergency aid to the island as “taking dollars away from our farmers.”

And it’s not just him — during an MSNBC interview on Tuesday morning, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley twice mistakenly referred to the US territory as “that country.”

The truth seems to be that Trump doesn’t understand that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and that the people who live there are citizens to the same degree as people who live in Iowa or Ohio, or, more importantly, Florida.  The one exception is that the people of Puerto Rico do not get to vote in the presidential election if they are living on the island.  But if they move to the mainland — and a lot of them did after Hurricane Maria — they can vote.  And they will.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sunday Reading

Meet Sherrod Brown — John Nichols in The Nation.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is exploring a presidential bid that would frame his progressive-populist politics around a “Dignity of Work” message that seeks to unite working-class voters of all backgrounds in the sort of coalition that he had maintained in Republican-leaning Ohio. There’s appeal in the Midwestern Democrat’s overt challenge to President Trump’s claim to the mantle of populism, especially when Brown complains that

Trump has used his phony populism to divide Americans demonize immigrants. He uses his phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich billionaires like himself. Real populism is not racist. Real populism is not anti-Semitic. Real populists don’t engage in hate speech and don’t rip babies from families at the border. Real populists don’t insult people’s intelligence by lying.

There’s skepticism about whether Brown has the name recognition and the base, outside of his native Ohio and perhaps a few other states, to compete in a Democratic race that is likely to be packed with higher-profile contenders, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. There’s also at least some skepticism about whether provoking a wrestling match between progressive populism and right-wing populism makes sense as a 2020 strategy. Brown will explore these questions in visits to caucus and primary states in coming weeks, and pundits will ponder his potential bid.

There is more to Sherrod Brown than the shorthand profile of a Democratic senator who swept to reelection in 2018 in a state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

As a member of the House in the 1990s and 2000s, he was an essential opponent of the North American Trade Agreement and a host of other trade deals that he argued would be disastrous for American manufacturing and the communities it has sustained. With Elizabeth Warren, Brown has for many years been at the forefront of legislative and popular crusades to address the abuses of the big banks and Wall Street. Brown was an early and energetic foe of the Iraq War, and for decades has been an outspoken advocate for diplomacy and enlightened internationalism. He voted in the fall of 2001 against the USA Patriot Act, joining Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, Sanders, and a handful of others in courageous defense of civil liberties. And he was the first member of the Senate to announce opposition to Donald Trump’s nomination of Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general—speaking up because, Brown said, “The U.S. Attorney General’s job is to enforce laws that protect the rights of every American. I have serious concerns that Senator Sessions’ record on civil rights is at direct odds with the task of promoting justice and equality for all, and I cannot support his nomination.”

The Ohioan focused his objection on concerns that Sessions, who had a record of threatening voting rights in Alabama, could not be counted on to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was not a new issue for Brown.

The senator has been one of the country’s most consistent champions of voting rights since he served as Ohio’s elected secretary of state from 1983 to 1991. In that position he earned national headlines for his aggressive efforts to promote high-turnout elections. Still in his late 20s when he was elected, Brown crisscrossed the state as an evangelist for voter registration. He and his team set up voter-registration sites in high schools, food banks, and Bureau of Motor Vehicles facilities.

Brown even convinced McDonald’s to print voter registration forms on the liners of the trays Ohioans used to carry their food from the counter to the table, so that “you could order a Big Mac and fill out a voter registration form.”

“You could see voter registration cards with ketchup and mustard on them,” Brown recalled years later, “and we accepted them.”

As a member of the US House and now as a senator, Brown has regularly used his elections expertise to shred Republican lies about rampant “voter fraud.” When Trump started making claims about “millions of people who voted illegally” in the 2016 election, Brown demanded that the president-elect “retract your false statements.”

In a November, 2016, letter to Trump, Brown wrote:

As Secretary of State of Ohio for eight years, I know there are few things more important than the integrity of our electoral system. Your choice to spread false conspiracy theories and to claim millions of fraudulent votes is not only unbecoming of a gracious winner, it is downright dangerous to our democracy.

There is no evidence—zero—of any large-scale voter fraud in the United States. Not in this election and not in any presidential election in recent memory.

Peddling this nonsense and stoking these fears undermine our system of government—and your own election, damaging the public’s faith in our democracy. You won the Electoral College. That is a fact, and you are the President-elect. It is also a fact, however, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory margin is larger than John Kennedy’s over Richard Nixon, it’s larger than Richard Nixon’s over Hubert Humphrey, and it’s larger than Jimmy Carter’s over Gerald Ford. This was far from a landslide victory, and the only way to bring the country together and move forward is to reach across the aisle and work together.

Two years later, as Georgia’s mangled 2018 election stirred a national outcry, the senator pointed to problems with the counting of votes in the closely contested gubernatorial race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and the Republican who oversaw the election (as Georgia’s secretary of state) and eventually prevailed, Brian Kemp. “If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia,” Brown declared, “they stole it.”

Speaking of Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, Brown employs the confident language of a former top election official in one of the key battleground states in the country. “They can’t win elections fairly; they win elections by redistricting and reapportionment and voter suppression,” he told a recent National Action Network meeting, where he complained about “all the ways that they try to scare people, particularly people of color, how they make it hard for people on college campuses [to vote], especially community colleges where there are more low-income people and more people of color.”

“We know those despicable laws are often aimed that way,” he concluded.

Brown brings a populist commitment to the fight for voting rights. He is not cautious about speaking up, or about stirring things up. The senator’s “bottom line,” which he has stated for a very long time, speaks to that commitment: “We should be making it easier—not harder—to vote.”

I Like Sports — Ethan Kuperberg in The New Yorker.

I like sports! I like the sport where the ball goes in the big hole and the sport where the ball goes in the little hole. My favorite sport is the one where the two groups push each other on the grass—I like to eat snacks while watching that sport.

When I watch sports, I usually make a secret wish for one group to be better at sports than the other group. And I prefer that my friends have the same secret wish as me. If you have a different wish, well, get ready for an argument. It might be a fun argument, and it might not be!

My favorite thing about sports is that they give me an acceptable way to express my feelings in a patriarchal culture that views expressions of male emotion as weak. For example, if my favorite sports group doesn’t put the ball in the hole enough, I’m allowed to be sad in front of my friends. Nobody knows that I’m really thinking about Sarah or my dad.

And if my favorite group puts the ball in the hole a lot, I’m allowed to hug my friends and tell them that I love them! Since I usually feel scared to outwardly display affection toward the people who make me feel safe, it’s sort of a win-win.

I also like the costumes that the sports players wear. Sometimes, when I am watching sports with my friends, we dress up in the same costumes! It’s fun to act like we are the people playing the sports, even though we’re just using our imaginations.

Another thing I like about sports? The people are real. It’s not like when you watch a movie, and the person you’re watching is actually pretending to be someone else. That’s fake. How about you try being yourself for a change, Sarah?

I like talking about sports. It’s fun to decide which players are the best at putting the ball in the hole. I like it when my friends agree with me (“This sports player is the best”). But every once in a while a friend will disagree (“No, that sports player is best!”). It sounds silly, but we get into real fights.

One of my favorite sports players is LeBron James. I like LeBron James because he takes good care of his team—it’s almost like his team is his family. And a dad should never leave his family. That’s just not right.

Did you know that the ancient Greeks also had sports? They called it the Olympics. I wonder what they made the balls out of back then and what their commercials were for. Probably olives.

The last thing I like about sports is that they never end. Sports can’t end, because when the players stop being good, they are replaced by other players who are still good. A lot of other things end, like movies, or regular communication with family members.

So give me a ball, of any size, and a target or a hole, and a group of sports players, and a second group, and a stadium, and cameras, and referees, and broadcast it straight into my living-room television, because I’m a sports guy through and through! But I don’t love sports. Sports aren’t my dad.

[Photo by Getty]

Doonesbury — Celebrity shout-out.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Nerve Of Some People

From the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that a Democratic bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday is a “power grab,” sparking a fierce backlash online.

McConnell was speaking about H.R. 1, legislation that Democrats have made a centerpiece of their agenda since retaking the House earlier this month.

In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell (R-Ky.) said Democrats “want taxpayers on the hook for generous new benefits for federal bureaucrats and government employees,” including making Election Day a “new paid holiday for government workers.”

“So this is the Democrats’ plan to ‘restore democracy,’” McConnell said, describing the legislation as “a political power grab that’s smelling more and more like what it is.”

OMG, those Democrats want to make it easier for more people to vote!  Holy crap!  Do you know what will happen if that actually happens?  The Republicans may lose because there are more Democrats than there are Republicans, and if there were elections that weren’t riddled with all sorts of Jim Crow-style restrictions aimed at minorities and the poor, the GOP would be so screwed — not like they are now.

Charlie Pierce:

There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head. McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.

Remember, he had it in for Barack Obama from Day 1, and of course there’s Merrick Garland.  So yeah, Mitch, go throw yourself and your carapace down a well and rot.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Florida’s Turn

Michigan and Wisconsin Republicans are doing their best to kneecap incoming Democratic governors and state officials with lame-duck laws.  Now Florida Republicans, even though they maintained control of the governorship and state legislature, are trying to subvert a clear election result that they fear could result in bad news for them in future elections.

A month after Florida voters approved a measure to restore the franchise to about 1.4 million former felons—the largest expansion of voting rights in decades—a battle over implementing that change is already beginning.

The state’s Republican elections chief is resisting swift implementation of the measure, which was approved by nearly 65 percent of Florida voters on November 6 and is scheduled to take effect on January 8. He’s asking the state Legislature, dominated by Republicans, to interpret the ballot initiative. As a result, the dismantling of one of the harshest disenfranchisement schemes in the country could be subject to delays, confusion, and lawsuits.

To those who crafted Amendment 4, the ballot language was straightforward. It read, “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” It stipulated an exception for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense.

“On January 8, anybody who has completed the terms of their sentence for an offense other than murder or felony sexual assault had their rights restored by the voters on Election Day,” said Howard Simon, who as director of the Florida ACLU helped craft and shepherd Amendment 4 to passage. But Simon, who retired last week after 21 years leading the Florida ACLU, predicted that there might be trouble ahead. “I’m not naive,” he said in an interview with Mother Jones on the day he stepped down. He predicted that the state Legislature, which does not convene until March 5, might try to muddy the waters. Legislation could bog down rights restoration or sow enough confusion that some ex-felons are deterred from registering.

Gee, what a shock… not that they’re doing this, but that it’s taken them more than a month to rear up on their hind legs and say “Hey, the language in the amendment isn’t clear.”  Which is cynically funny since the Republicans are famous for crafting ballot measures and amendments that read like one of those software user agreements you click through on your way to download an app.

But they know that the majority of people affected by this amendment are minorities who, in their mind, don’t deserve to vote regardless of their record, and that if they are given back their constitutional rights, will vote for the other guys.

So here we go again.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Reading

A Small, Sure Sign of Hope — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on how Lucy McBath’s win in the Georgia 6th is a harbinger.

Three years ago, HBO aired a documentary called “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets,” which examined the tortured aftermath of the death of Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old boy who was shot as he sat in an S.U.V. parked at a Florida gas station. At the start of the film, you see Lucy McBath, Davis’s mother, sitting at a table, depleted, telling how she came to name her son after the Biblical River Jordan. “I wanted to name him something that would symbolize the crossing over and a new beginning,” she says. Later, you see a more resolute McBath seated in a Senate hearing room with Sybrina Fulton—whose son Trayvon Martin was also shot to death at the age of seventeen—giving testimony about Stand Your Ground laws and their impact on her son’s death.

The two moments are as apt an encapsulation as you’ll find of the significance of McBath’s victory last week in the race for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, situated just north of Atlanta. McBath, a Democrat who ran on a platform of growing the economy, funding education, and addressing climate change, was inescapably wed in the public’s mind to the issue of gun reform. Her despair and her resolve are equal parts of her political identity. She narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent, Karen Handel, in a race that remained somewhat low-profile among the prognostications about which districts the Democrats might flip in the midterms. Last year, the Democrat Jon Ossoff gained national attention in his bid to win the seat, which opened after the Republican Tom Price left it for what turned out to be a short stint as the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration. Ossoff lost to Handel in a runoff, by less than four percentage points, with 48.1 per cent of the vote. A measure of the skepticism about McBath’s chances could be seen in the fact that, before last Tuesday, the race was being referred to in some quarters as the “Ossoff race without Ossoff.”

McBath’s victory reflects several trends: the inroads that Democrats are making in Republican suburban districts that Trump’s tax cuts and border-fearmongering were supposed to secure, the record number of women elected to public office in the face of the mainline misogyny that is a feature of the Trump era, and the fading ability of gun-rights appeals to safeguard Republican districts. It is also worth noting that nine new African-American candidates were elected to Congress in the midterms—all of them Democrats, five of them women—and that, once all the outstanding races are called, will likely bring the ranks of the Congressional Black Caucus to a record fifty-six members. All but two of them are in the House, and the majority of those members won election in majority-minority districts. The nine incoming representatives, however, were all elected in largely white districts—a fact that may complicate the calculations of the caucus and the voting behavior of its members. McBath will be the first African-American to represent her district.

There are other, subtler dynamics at play in the Georgia Sixth results. The fight over Georgia’s gubernatorial race, between the Democrat Stacey Abrams and the Republican Brian Kemp, who, until last week, served as Georgia’s secretary of state, focussed on Kemp’s record of voter-roll purges and voter suppression. Many elections come down to turnout; in Georgia, the question was how many potential voters would be turned away. Kemp, however, was just following a playbook pioneered by Handel, who preceded him as secretary of state, serving from 2007 to 2010. Early in the 2008 Presidential campaign, when it was optimistically suggested that Barack Obama’s candidacy might put Georgia in play for the Democrats, Handel engineered a purge in which some four thousand eligible voters were flagged for removal for being “non-citizens.” (At the time, I was teaching at Spelman College, and this happened to one of my students. It took, in part, the intervention of a local CNN station to get her registered; a panel of federal judges overturned Handel’s order.) The gerrymandered redistricting in the Republican-controlled state legislature was also intended to thwart Democrats.

In a sense, the race in Georgia’s Sixth District was a small-scale version of the governor’s race. McBath’s results—she won 50.5 per cent of the vote—are particularly notable, given that black voters make up roughly a third of the electorate in the state but only thirteen per cent in the district. Ossoff ran in 2017 on a platform that was similar to McBath’s on issues such as climate change, the economy, and Medicaid. Ossoff also campaigned against subsidies that made it easier for foreign airlines to compete in the United States, recognizing that Delta Air Lines is headquartered in Atlanta, and that voters employed at the nearby Hartsfield-Jackson airport were affected by the issue. (McBath worked for Delta for thirty years.) The 2017 race became the most expensive House contest ever, costing some fifty-five million dollars. McBath’s campaign spent $1.2 million, but she improved on Ossoff’s margin by more than two points.

There are a number of ways to look at this outcome. The district, despite its history as a home of G.O.P. stalwarts—it was Newt Gingrich’s seat for twenty years—was trending toward the Democrats. In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by thirty-six points there. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s margin of victory was twenty-three points. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just a single point. It is sixteen months further into the Trump era than when Ossoff ran, and it is entirely possible that the President has worn out the grace period that moderate voters were inclined to give him last year. But, crucially, McBath represents a movement. Her son was shot by a white man named Michael Dunn, following a dispute over playing loud music, on November 23, 2012. Trayvon Martin had been shot nine months earlier, as he walked, unarmed, through a gated community where he was staying. Both deaths occurred in Florida and became central to the debate over the so-called Stand Your Ground gun laws in that state. George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin’s death; Dunn, in a second trial, was sentenced to life without parole. The film “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” follows McBath and her ex-husband, Ron Davis, as they pursued justice for their son over two trials. (They requested that the prosecutors not seek the death penalty.)

When I interviewed them after a screening of the film, at the Schomburg Center, in Harlem, McBath emphasized the extent to which she had channelled her sorrow over her son’s death into action with the groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. McBath served as the national spokesperson for both organizations and testified on the dangers of Stand Your Ground laws before the Florida, Georgia, and Nevada state legislatures. In 2016, McBath, with Sybrina Fulton and seven other women who had lost children, most of them to gun violence, appeared in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, under the banner of the Mothers of the Movement. McBath’s campaign Web site carefully noted that she supports “2nd Amendment rights of Georgians,” but she also promised to “push for implementing background checks for all firearm purchases; raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 years of age; working to defeat conceal carry reciprocity measures; and introducing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other criminals.”

McBath was elected nine months after seventeen people were shot to death at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, and a little more than a week after eleven people were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, and two were murdered in a Kentucky supermarket. She was also elected almost exactly six years after her own son died. The plague of gun violence and the intransigence of the gun lobby in the face of it have often seemed like an unbreakable stalemate. McBath’s election is a small, sure sign of hope.

Speaking of Oz — Julia Baird in the New York Times on how hard it is to speak Australian.

SYDNEY, Australia — Running out of gas is one of the most foolish things you can do, but I was guilty of it several times when I was a lean-living university student. That changed, though, when Hugh Jackman was hired as the attendant at my local gas station. He was older than me, clean-cut and hot, an improbably nice star of local high school musicals who was known to date unassuming women. I tried not to stumble over my feet — or, say, into his arms — as he greeted me with a big grin when my Volkswagen Beetle sputtered in: “Jules!”

That year, I never ran out of gas.

Today, Mr. Jackman, the star of films like “Wolverine” and “Les Misérables,” is widely adored in Australia, even by those who never saw him behind a cash register. He holds a special place in Australian hearts because international success has not made him pretentious. Most crucially, his accent is still intact.

Australians have a strong, often irrational suspicion of people who leave the country, succeed and change. Even Paul Hogan, the comedian and actor who played that most iconic Australian caricature, Crocodile Dundee, belied his working-class image after he found global stardom and dumped his wife for his more glamorous — and American — co-star. Occasional grumbling is heard about the model Elle Macpherson or the singer Kylie Minogue, both of whom have acquired “global” accents.

By shifting accents, Australian expatriates are seen to be shifting class and status, indicating a sense of superiority to those who remain in Australia. The quickly acquired faux-British accent in particular has been associated with pretension, or a snootiness that reveals desperation to cover a humble antipodean past, to disown a sunburned, bikini-clad family. Part of our fight against a long-held cultural cringe has been the insistence that we do not need to erase our accents to, say, host a TV show or radio program.

The problem is, sometimes we do need to adapt the way we speak. When I moved to Manhattan in 2006 to work at a newsmagazine, my accent became a hurdle. “We are cursed by a common language,” my editor was fond of telling me, a line he ascribed to some British statesman, who doubtless looked down his pince-nez at his convict-descended cousins. After he told me that he could not understand 80 percent of what I was saying, I began to emphasize my R’s and slow my speech.

We Australians are used to people being rude about the way we talk. Winston Churchill was particularly cruel about our accent. He described it as “the most brutal maltreatment that has ever been inflicted on the mother-tongue of the great English-speaking nations.” At best it’s called cute; at worst it’s dismissed as incomprehensible.

But given that it is so hard to mimic, perhaps we should be proud of its uniqueness.

What Americans — and, to a lesser extent, the British — fail to recognize is that as much as they mock us, they are almost constitutionally incapable of imitating the Australian accent, no matter how often they repeat “G’day, mate!” Even the great Meryl Streep failed to capture it when she portrayed Lindy Chamberlain in the 1988 movie “Evil Angels,” about a woman whose baby is killed in the Australian outback. The line remains famous for its melodrama — “The dingo’s got my bay-bee!” — but in Australia it’s also famous as a reminder that even Hollywood’s greatest stars cannot master our way of speaking.

Foreign media’s inability to capture how Australians really talk has been back in the news recently, thanks to the new season of the American sitcom “The Good Place,” part of which takes place in Sydney. On social media and in newspapers, Australians are baffled — if not outraged — by hearing American actors mock and mangle the way we speak. This has revived a long-held resentment about the fact that we so often appear as caricatures, fools or comic figures onscreen, with failed attempts to capture our accents that make us seem like bigger idiots.

Why are we so hard to imitate? Maybe part of it is that there’s something deeply laid back about the Australian accent. One theory suggests that this is because of our habitat: Given the swarms of flies buzzing around the outback, the legend goes, we developed a pattern of speech that would involve only opening our mouths slightly for fear of letting in insects. That’s probably not true, but we can conduct entire conversations while barely moving our lips.

In recent years, another startling theory emerged: Drunken convicts are to blame. Dean Frenkel, a lecturer in public speaking and communications at Victoria University in Melbourne, wrote in 2015: “Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns. For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.” A horde of linguists dismissed this, but the theory, predictably, got coverage around the world — it’s what people want to think about Australia.

Professor Frenkel is right that our speech is lazy. He thinks we use only two-thirds of our articulator muscles. We replace T with D (“impordant”) and drop I’s (Austraya) or make them into oi’s (roight!). But we also add vowels in surprising places (future becomes fee-yu-cha).

But the people best placed to mock Australian accents are Australians. Self-parody is a national sport. On Twitter, we lampoon our country by calling it #Straya. We shorten “Good on you” to “onya” and we stretch out the greeting “mate” to “maaaaaaaate,” the length depending on the depth of affection and time of day. These kinds of joyous subtleties are lost on outsiders, though. And that’s what American television and movie producers need to understand. Next time, hire Australian actors to do Australian accents. Like, say, my mate Wolverine.

Doonesbury — Phoning it in.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Still Rolling In

The results keep coming in.

Republican Jeff Denham has conceded to Democrat Josh Harder in California’s 10th District.

[…]

Blue America candidate Katie Porter pulled ahead of Mimi Walters in California’s 45th district by 3,797 votes as of the latest update. Dave Wasserman projects her the winner after this latest update.

In California’s 39th district, Gil Cisneros is nipping at Republican Young Kim’s heels, with just 122 votes separating the two. Kim is still leading, but that will probably change tomorrow.

In New Jersey, Democrat Andy Kim has been declared the winner over Tom MacArthur, architect of the Trumpcare efforts in 2017.

Meanwhile, over in Utah, Mia Love is not happy with the way results are coming in for her, so she is doing what Republicans do best: Trying to cheat.. TPM reports:

Republican U.S. Rep. Mia Love sued Wednesday to halt vote counting in the Utah race where she is narrowly trailing her Democratic challenger.

Love’s campaign said in a lawsuit Salt Lake County clerk isn’t allowing poll-watchers to challenge findings during the verification process for mail-in ballots. Voting is done primarily by mail in Utah.

Note that Love is only suing in Salt Lake County, where there are still many outstanding votes and where her challenger, Ben McAdams, is leading by a narrow margin.

Here in Florida, well, things were getting a little overheated.  Literally.

Palm Beach County has managed to recount about 175,000 early votes affected by a machine malfunction, but the county is still far behind schedule to finish recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.

On Wednesday, Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said her staff had worked through the night to recount early votes after ballot-counting machines overheated Tuesday and gave incorrect vote totals. The county brought in mechanics to repair the machines on Tuesday, and Bucher said the equipment had worked well overnight.

But Bucher said she wasn’t sure whether elections staff would be able to finish recounting votes cast in the Senate race between Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline set by the state.

Gov. Scott has recused himself from the final voting results, but it didn’t stop him from going to Washington to participate in freshman orientation.  Counting those chickens, eh, Rick?

Ah, democracy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Slow Going

The recount in Broward County is going to take a while.

Two days after state officials ordered a statewide recount in three key races that ended within razor-thin margins, Broward County elections officials said Monday they have not yet started their recount of more than 700,000 ballots it must tally before Thursday’s deadline.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said she was not concerned that her office would not meet its deadline, even if the start of the recount is delayed until Tuesday morning.

“No, there is not” any concern, said Snipes, whose headquarters in Lauderhill were once again surrounded Monday by a small crowd of protesters critical of the elections chief and her competence to serve.

Broward will conduct three statewide recounts and additional recounts on four municipal races, all of which are on the first page of Broward’s ballots. The machines have to first separate that page from the rest of each ballot before they can then be refed and recounted. (Ballots in Broward county can range from four to seven pages, depending on the city.)

Elections workers had begun that process on 10 machines late Sunday morning, after technical glitches delayed the start for a few hours. Two new machines were delivered to the supervisor’s office on Monday morning, and workers were still separating ballots as of Monday afternoon. About 10 representatives from both parties are overseeing the recount, along with monitors from the state’s Division of Elections.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are in a huge hurry to get it done, the implication being that if it not done RIGHT NOW they will somehow lose, or it will give fraud a chance.

Despite mounting pressure from top Republicans to investigate unfounded claims of voter fraud in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, the top official for Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement remained mum on whether  his agency would start a probe.

A day after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi publicly rebuked FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen for not investigating claims of voter fraud in the state’s midterm election, the two agencies issued a joint press release assuring the public they were watching for “criminal activity.”

But they stopped short of saying whether they’d found any fraud.

Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly gone on TV to complain of “rampant fraud” in Tuesday’s election after witnessing his lead in the U.S. Senate race against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson dwindle as votes continued to be counted after election night.

Like Bondi, he’s offered no evidence of fraud in his call for an investigation. So far, FDLE officials have said they’ve had no evidence to warrant an investigation.

Jim York, who was FDLE commissioner under Gov. Bob Graham in the 1980s, said he was outraged that Scott and Bondi were pressuring Swearingen.

“It’s extraordinary. I don’t know where the attorney general feels she has any jurisdiction here,” York said. “I just appreciate Swearingen, and I hope he continues to stand up to this kind of crap.”

In normal times, it would be the people who are behind in the race who are screaming fraud and carrying on about that kind of crap, but Scott has an apparent lead and it’s very rare for a recount to overturn an election.  But Scott and Biondi and the rest of the banshee delegation are taking their cue from Trump, who’s injecting himself and his nutsery into the recount here.  Andrew Gillum, the candidate for governor who trails Ron DeSantis by less than 0.5%, dealt with Trump’s frothing with the perfect response.

He should win just on that alone.

Stay tuned, folks.  This ain’t over by a long shot.

Friday, November 9, 2018

In Florida, It Ain’t Over

Here we go again.  Via the Tampa Bay Times:

A visibly frustrated Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday accused “unethical liberals” of trying to steal a U.S. Senate seat from him, as his campaign filed a lawsuit against election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties for allegedly refusing to release voting tabulations.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida,” Scott told reporters on the front steps of the stately  Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee.

The targets of Scott’s wrath were Brenda Snipes, the Broward County elections supervisor, and Palm Beach supervisor Susan Bucher. Both officials are Democrats; Scott is a Republican.

Scott unleashed the attack as his slim lead over Democrat Bill Nelson in the Senate race continued to evaporate. It stood at 15,092 votes, or .18 percent, on Thursday night.

“And I would have pulled it off if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” said every villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon.  Nature and barbering choices are what made Mr. Scott look the part, but it goes along with the axiom that Republicans believe that counting every vote is tantamount to fraud

Meanwhile, Andrew Gillum, who had conceded the governors race to Republican Ron DeSantis, is having second thoughts as the count narrows down to the range of an automatic recount.

As of 9 a.m. [Thursday], DeSantis’ lead was just 42,948 votes out of 8,189,305 ballots cast — equal to 0.52 percent of the vote. Concession speech or no, Florida law requires an automatic machine recount in any race where the margin of victory is within one half of one percentage point.

By 2 p.m., Gillum gained on DeSantis by another 4,441 votes, and now trails by only 0.47 percent.

Thousands of ballots still remain uncounted, so it’s too soon to say whether a recount will indeed happen in the race for governor. Florida’s 67 elections supervisors must send their unofficial numbers to the state by 1 p.m. Saturday, and campaign volunteers were scrambled around the state Thursday as supervisors prepared to examine provisional ballots cast by voters with unresolved issues at their polling places.

The Gillum campaign sent out an email to supporters Thursday afternoon urging those with provisional ballots to call their supervisor of elections offices before 5 p.m. to make sure their ballot was counted, and campaign spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said the campaign was prepared for a recount effort.

“It has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” she said in a statement. “Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

There’s good reason for both Scott and DeSantis to be worried.  All of the votes haven’t been counted in Broward County, which is Fort Lauderdale, and that’s the most Democratic county in the state.  If there’s going to be a change in the resumed result of Tuesday night, it’s going to come from those votes.

Might as well get comfortable; we’re going to be here for a while.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

This Is It

You know what to do.

I arrived at the polling place at 7:10 a.m., ten minutes after the polls opened.  I had to drive around the large parking lot to find a place to park.  I drove the Pontiac with the Ontario plates in full display just to freak out any right-wing nutter poll-watcher (Imagined confrontation: “Hey, are you Canadian?” “No, but the car is, and it’s old enough to vote, too!”)  By the time I got to the entrance to the church parish hall, there was a line of sixteen people out the door.

When I finally got in and waited to check in, I stood behind a young guy, and I overheard him tell the clerk his birthday.  He was born in 2000, and I found out later that this was his first election.  I told him, “Welcome to the fight.”  I don’t care who he voted for; if he voted the opposite of me, we cancelled each other out, and if he vote with me, then so much the better.  At least he voted.

The ballot was four pages with two sides to page.  In addition to the state and local races, there were constitutional amendments and county referendums, and a question to increase the local millage to give teachers and instructional support staff a raise.  Not a tough choice on that one.

I finished in about fifteen minutes and the line had shrunk to where everyone was inside the hall, but there was still a line.  As I left I was stopped by a local reporter who asked if I vote in every election.  Yes, I replied, starting in 1972 at the Oak Avenue fire station in Coconut Grove, about ten miles from here, and it won’t be my last.

If you don’t vote, you don’t count.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Peak Freak

So we’re down to the last 24 hours before the polls open for the mid-terms and everyone is in the full-press mode to the end.  My e-mail box is stuffed with pleas from candidates all over the country (that’s because of posting the blog’s e-mail address), the cable channels are filled with warring ads from both parties and PAC’s, and even my phone is getting in on the act with texts urging me to vote early.  I only hope the enthusiasm and urgency was reciprocated by the early voters and will be tomorrow when the polls open.

Meanwhile, Trump is running around the country like his hair was on fire (okay, skip the cheap shot about flammable materials and accelerants) doing his best (or worst) to scare the crap out of the foolish and the weak, going only to places where he knows he’ll get a fawning reception, lying his ass off about what the Democrats will do when they get back in power; lying to the point that reporters aren’t couching their terms in quasi-objective modes but calling him a flat-out liar.

Trump has never been hemmed in by fact, fairness or even logic. The 45th president proudly refuses to apologize and routinely violates the norms of decorum that guided his predecessors. But at one mega-rally after another in the run-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump has taken his no-boundaries political ethos to a new level — demagoguing the Democrats in a whirl of distortion and using the power of the federal government to amplify his fantastical arguments.

In Columbia, Mo., the president suggested that Democrats “run around like antifa” demonstrators in black uniforms and black helmets, but underneath, they have “this weak little face” and “go back home into mommy’s basement.”

In Huntington, W.Va., Trump called predatory immigrants “the worst scum in the world” but alleged that Democrats welcome them by saying, “Fly right in, folks. Come on in. We don’t care who the hell you are, come on in!”

And in Macon, Ga., he charged that if Democrat Stacey Abrams is elected governor, she would take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms — though as a state official, she would not have the power to change the Constitution.

Unmoored from reality, Trump has at times become a false prophet, too. He has been promising a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class, though no such legislation exists. And he has sounded alarms over an imminent “invasion” of dangerous “illegal aliens,” referring to a caravan of Central American migrants that includes many women and children, is traveling by foot and is not expected to reach the U.S.-Mexico border for several weeks, if at all.

This kind of desperation usually presages a humiliation.  Those of us of a certain age remember the mid-terms of 1970 when the Nixon administration unleashed a barrage of lies and fear that backfired spectacularly to the point that when Nixon formed his reelection committee he instituted a mindset that amplified his inborn paranoia to the point that led to felonies and articles of impeachment.

To their credit, most of the Democrats have ignored the outrageous bullshit and focused on the things that matter to the voters such as the assault on healthcare and the grossly unfair tax cuts that left them holding the bag on the deficit.  They know — and hopefully the voters will too — that schoolyard taunts and conspiracy theory fantasies are distractions that work great in the MAGA mindset but are not solutions to the problems that they see everyday: sure, the economy is doing great (thanks, Obama!) but we still have lead in our water, red tide on the beach, crushing tariffs on steel and soybeans, and a promise to repeal the healthcare provisions that everybody needs.

We will know in 48 hours which way worked.  Being the optimist that I am, I think the voters of this country will deliver a resounding defeat to the voices of fear and loathing.  I believe the Democrats will take control of the House, they will win a number of governorships, and, most importantly, make deep inroads in state and local elections to begin to turn back the sea change, both literally and figuratively, that got us to this stage.  If not, we’re witnessing the unraveling of the promise of democracy and this could be one of the last elections where we really had a choice.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Previews Of Coming Attractions

A week from today we’ll know how much trouble Trump and the Republicans are in.  If the House flips to the Democrats, and polls (oh yes, I know) are leaning in that direction, phones will be busy at lawyers’ offices in DC as cabinet members and West Wing hacks find themselves on the receiving end of invitations by the new chairs of various House committees.

Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice has a rundown of what could come to be.

I caught a little flack when I noted on Facebook that I’m waiting until Election Day to vote even though Florida has early voting and I’m getting calls and texts to vote NOW!  But this year the ballot here is really long with state and local races as well as state constitutional issues that range from vaping to dog racing up for a vote.  I will study up on the sample ballot that arrived in the mail yesterday and then be at the polls first thing Tuesday morning and take my time to fill out the ballot.  In fact, I’m taking the whole day off so I’m not rushed.  If we’re going to take back the wheel of sane governing from the whackos, it must be done with the sure steady hand of knowing what’s at stake.

If you want to early vote, go for it with my blessing (as if that matters).

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What About The Polls?

I used to be obsessed with reading polls, and there are certainly a lot of them: FiveThirtyEight, Quinnipiac, NBC/Wall Street Journal, even Fox News, which is surprisingly not the modern version of Der Volkischer Beobachter.  But polls are lagging indicators; they take a while to compile the data and check for accuracy, and this close to the election things shift.  We all thought 2016 would be a landslide.

So forget about them, whether they show your team in the lead or not.  Leading, and people get complacent.  Behind, and people despair and mutter “what’s the use?” and start Googling cheap places to live overseas.

Just vote.  Like I’ve said before, read up, know what’s on the ballot — including your local races because that’s where the insurgency starts — and go vote.

And if you insist on reading the polls, here’s a handy flow chart via Crooks and Liars.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Early Voting

Polls are open in a lot of states already where there are races with big implications such as Texas (Senate) and Florida (Senate and governor).

If you’re in Florida, here’s a link to the state guide of where and how to vote.  If you’re in another state that has early voting, go here and find out.

Oh, and do yourself a favor: bone up on the other races and ballot measures beyond just the big-ticket items.  Here in Florida we’re going through our constitution-revision phase, which happens every twenty years, and there are a whole load of amendments, from restoring voting rights to felons who’ve served their time to banning dog racing, on the ballot.  So, to borrow a phrase from another public service announcement, Know and Go.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Throwing Out The Maps

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has struck down the state’s congressional redistricting map that was drawn up by the GOP-dominated legislature.

In the Democratic-controlled court’s decision, the majority said the boundaries “clearly, plainly and palpably” violate the state’s constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.

The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

The decision comes amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases, including some that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is important for a couple of reasons.  First, since this was a ruling by the state supreme court, not a federal court, appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court is a lot harder; it wasn’t a federal case to begin with.  (That doesn’t mean the Republicans won’t try to make it one, but the odds are against them.)  Second, this could mean that the Democrats start reclaiming districts that were weaseled away from them by a rapacious state legislature and what were once safe GOP districts could be up for grabs.