Thursday, December 31, 2020

Democrats win Georgia? Inconceivable!

 When Georgia first emerged as a battleground state this year, many Republicans thought that the idea that Joe Biden could win the Peach State was inconceivable. Unfortunately for the Republicans, as Inigo Montoya said in the “Princess Bride,” the word did not mean what they thought it meant and the Democratic candidate pulled out a squeaker. A Democratic win turned out to be very conceivable.

Now, in the Senate runoffs, the Democrats are hoping to repeat the feat in two Senate races. Once again, some Republicans, playing the part of Vizzini, are saying that a Democratic victory is inconceivable. But is it?

To determine whether the Democrats can pull off upsets in two more statewide elections, we must first understand how Biden was able to win in the first place. We can start by discarding the conspiracy theories about election misconduct. After multiple recounts, a hand audit of every ballot, a forensic audit of Dominion voting machines, and a signature audit of 15,000 ballots in Cobb County there is no evidence of widespread fraud. If Republicans want to pursue these conspiracy theories, it will only obscure the truth of why Donald Trump lost and possibly set up future Republican defeats.

What really happened is that Democrats worked very hard between 2016 and 2020 to register a lot of new voters. The architect of this campaign was Stacey Abrams, who lost Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election by only 55,000 votes and then, in Trumpy fashion, refused to concede the election. Abrams founded the New Georgia Project in 2014 and by 2020 the group had registered half a million new Georgia voters.

Even though the New Georgia Project is nonpartisan, the majority of these new voters were most likely Democrats. Pew Research found that black voters were the demographic group that increased most between 2016 and 2020. Latinos and whites tied for second.

But wait! There’s more!

It wasn’t just an increase in minority voters, 2020 was a perfect storm that benefitted Democrat Joe Biden. Donald Trump was (and is) a historically unpopular president that shifted many segments of the electorate towards the Democrats.

The Upshot from the New York Times found that even with the influx of new black voters, the black share of Georgia’s electorate declined in 2020. Interestingly, the data analyzed by the Upshot also showed a slight (half a percentage point) shift toward Republicans in areas that were majority Hispanic and more than 80 percent black.

So why did Trump lose? Because these shifts were more than offset by larger shifts toward the Democrats in other areas. These included areas of high-income voters (by seven points), majority college grads (six points), suburbs (six points), 65-and-older voters (five points), and Obama-Trump areas (five points). Rural areas, areas with a majority of lower-educated whites, and majority-black areas also shifted to the Democrats by one point.

So, the bottom line is that a bad president pushed a lot of people towards Joe Biden while, at the same time, Democrats were registering hundreds of thousands of new voters. No systemic fraud was required and the lack of fraud is supported by the fact that many voters split their tickets and voted for down-ballot Republicans.

Now, the big question is whether Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock can repeat the performance. Polling is pretty sparse in the runoffs because, as FiveThirtyEight succinctly put it, the pollsters don’t want to risk being wrong. The average of the polls that we do have from FiveThirtyEight currently shows both Democrats with a slight lead. Real Clear Politics also gives both Ossoff and Warnock a slim advantage.

So yes, it is very conceivable that the Democrats could pull off a 2020 hat trick. Concievable but unlikely in my opinion. Both Ossoff and Warnock underperformed their polls in November, which makes me believe that a one or two-point polling advantage won’t be enough to carry the day.

But there are a lot of variables in the runoff that were not present in the November election. There is the election fraud controversy, which could generate turnout on both sides except that many Republicans are talking about boycotts either because they don’t trust the system or because of a misguided notion that not voting will somehow reveal the pernicious software in the Dominion voting machines when Republican candidates get a negative vote total. (I am not making this up. I couldn’t make this up.) For Democrats, the prospect of Republicans trying to overtly steal the presidential election could motivate many voters who would not normally turn out for a special election. Republicans are being urged to go to the polls to “Stop socialism!”

And what about voters like me? I like the idea of a runoff, but I would prefer one in which I have at least one good candidate to vote for. So far, I have not voted and at this point, I still don’t know who to vote for (or even whether to vote). Voting for Kelly Loeffler, who seems to have affixed herself to Donald Trump’s leg and showed the poor judgment of voluntarily associating with QAnon Cutie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow. A lot of people seem to like Perdue better than Loeffler, which could result in another split decision.

My original plan was to vote Biden and then vote for Republicans in the Senate races. The problem with that strategy now is Donald Trump’s behavior since the election and the lack of Republican attempts to hold him accountable, or more accurately, to uphold the integrity and faith in the US system of elections.

I have repeatedly attempted to contact both Senator Perdue and Senator Loeffler to determine whether they will acknowledge that Joe Biden is the legitimate president-elect and to find out whether they plan to object to the Electoral College tally next week. So far, both senators remind me of my dog when we once put a shock collar on him. They seem afraid to move because they don’t know which motion will get them zapped.

Going back to the “Princess Bride,” my thought process for voting in the runoff is a lot like the battle of the wits between Vizzini and the Man in Black:

Man in Black: Who will you vote for?

Me: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of the candidates. Who are the leftists? Only a great fool would vote for a Big Government leftist. I'm not a great fool, so I can clearly not vote for the Democrats. But the Republicans think I am a great fool; they have counted on it, so I can clearly not vote for the Republicans.

Man in Black: You've made your decision then?

Me: Not remotely! Because Republicans are backing a dishonest president in his corrupt quest to overturn the election, they must be corrupt too. Corrupt liars should not be trusted with public office so I clearly cannot choose the Republicans!

Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Me: Wait till I get going! Where was I?

Man in Black: Corrupt Republicans.

Me: Yes, they must have suspected that I’d be tempted to vote for them anyway to make sure Biden’s government is gridlocked.

Man in Black: Then make your choice.

Me: Maybe the Republicans need to taste another humiliating defeat to get the party back on the conservative track. But, on the other hand, how much damage would progressives do to the country with four years of control of Congress and the White House? But I don’t want Republicans to think I approve of their attempts to overturn the election.

Man in Black: You're just stalling now.

Me: Exactly! I don’t want to vote for any of them!

But, in the end, we’re going to get two of them, whether we like it or not. The outcome will depend on which side can turn out more of its base, and it’s a tossup as to which side that will be.

From the Racket

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Republicans act conservative, Trump supporters hardest hit

 Fairly often I get story ideas from scrolling through social media. That was the case recently when I saw a post by a longtime Republican friend on Facebook. I’ll omit the name to protect the guilty party, but I actually LOLed when I read the status message of the friend, who is now a staunch Trump supporter.

Here is what he wrote, presented verbatim:

Facebook screenshot

Let’s take a moment to dissect this. In the first line, my Trump Train friend actually complains that Senate Republicans are acting in a conservative fashion by opposing the $2,000 relief payments proposed by President Trump and agreed to by the House.

That really caught my eye because Republicans are usually criticized for not being conservative enough rather than for acting too conservative.

But what he’s really complaining about is not that Republicans are acting conservatively, it’s that they are acting in a contradictory manner to Donald Trump’s wishes. I suspect that this is a common theme among many Republicans over the past few days.

A lot of my other Trump-supporting friends have had a field day posting “tiny stimulus” memes. I’ve joined in that fun. You can see some of my favorites on The Racket’s Facebook page or on my Common Sense Conservative page. But the gist of most of the Trumpian critiques of the pandemic bill is not that the relief payments represent socialism, as Rand Paul argued, or that it would add to the national debt, but that they weren’t big enough.

The first two are at least conservative arguments. The third embraces the Democratic proposal and simply raises the ante to an arbitrary round number.

To be clear, I did support the pandemic relief bill. I think aid to American businesses and families is vitally important in getting the country through this COVID winter. I’ve said many times over the past year that the pandemic is the rare problem for which the correct solution is to throw money at it. People need to be able to afford to take time off from their jobs, school, or whatever if they are sick or even just exposed to the virus. That’s how we slow and hopefully stop the spread.

But if we are going to spend trillions on a relief bill, it would be nice to target the effort or have some sort of means-testing. Not every American needs a $2,000 check. Others need several such checks.

I’m chasing a rabbit here, but a good way to start would have been to tie relief money to company payrolls and positive test results. To prevent the moral hazard of people purposely infecting themselves to get the payday and increasing the spread of infection, a phenomenon called “the Cobra effect,” there should also be an enforceable quarantine agreement with electronic monitoring.

But I digress.

If we look at the second half of the sentence, we find another common misconception in linking the “Billions to foreign Governments” [sic] to the pandemic relief payments. He is also incorrect to claim that the American people only get a “measly 600 dollars.”

In reality, the two appropriations are separate pieces of legislation as the Tampa Bay Times pointed out. The foreign aid payments were part of an omnibus budget bill while the relief payments were in a separate bill. The pandemic relief bill totaled about $900 billion and included aid to small businesses, unemployment funding, aid to the airlines and schools, rental and nutritional assistance, and a tax credit for employee retention in addition to the direct payments to taxpayers.

There has been talk of a political realignment and this post is an example of it at the grass roots. My friend tacitly acknowledges that Republicans are still at least somewhat conservative and, by extension, that Donald Trump is not. He openly acknowledges that he prefers Trump to the conservatives.

As I noted yesterday, this is not an isolated point of view. A recent Rasmussen poll found that 72 percent of Republican voters want their party to look more like Trump than other elected Republicans. For that reason, I think that the $2,000 payments will ultimately pass. There is a stark difference between Republican partisans and conservative ideologues.

At this point, it looks as though the Republican Party is dead as a conservative party, having become a populist organization in thrall to Donald Trump.

That brings us to the last line of my friend’s post and I have to agree with him. It is a disgrace.

Bad news for conspiracy theorists is good news for America

 There has been a lot of water under the bridge since November 3. We’ve had a long discussion about election fraud and the president has made his case, both in court and in the court of public opinion, that the election was not free and fair. Almost two months later, the process is about to come to a head when the Electoral College vote is presented to the Senate on January 6. Some Republican senators, such as Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville (who has not yet taken office) and Josh Hawley of Missouri, have said that they will challenge the Electoral College vote. This is a fight that America does not need to have because the allegations of fraud and electoral misconduct have been weighed, measured, and found wanting.

I have detailed before how the president’s legal team has lost more than 59 challenges to the election. These lawsuits were notable both because of how they differed from the media claims made by the president and his lawyers – very few of the cases alleged any sort of fraud – but for their unprecedented request to disenfranchise the voters of entire states. No politician or lawyer has ever had the temerity to make such a request before.

Marcus Winkler/unsplash.com

Most of the lawsuits were laughed out of court by judges of both parties, in some cases by judges appointed by President Trump. This was due to both the thin evidence of their claims and the singular nature of the requested remedy.

Now the icing on the cake, a week before President of the Senate Mike Pence is due to accept the Electoral College results, is that the president and his lawyers had a portion of their request for signature audits of Georgia absentee ballots granted. The verdict was that there was no fraud.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Secretary of State’s office worked together to audit 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County after President Trump and his legal team alleged that the northwest Atlanta county did not properly match signatures. The result of the audit was made public yesterday in a press release by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger titled “3rd Strike Against Voter Fraud Claims Means They’re Out After Signature Audit Finds No Fraud.”

“After a hand recount and a subsequent machine recount requested by the Trump campaign, a signature audit has again affirmed the original outcome of the November 2020 presidential race in Georgia,” the press release states. “A signature match audit in Cobb County found ‘no fraudulent absentee ballots’ and found that the Cobb County Elections Department had ‘a 99.99 percent accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures.’”

If a 99.9 survival rate from COVID-19 is good enough for the president’s supporters then it seems that a 99.99 percent accuracy rate should be good enough in an election.

Coincidentally (or not), the president tweeted an attack on Gov. Brian Kemp and Raffensperger yesterday that, among other things, claimed that the Secretary of State’s brother works for China. This is also not true per a fact-check Georgia Public Broadcasting.

It has been two months now since the election. The president and his legal team have had ample opportunity to find and present evidence of fraud or misconduct that is widespread enough to have affected the outcome of the election and that will stand up in court. They have been unable to do so.

At some point, Republicans need to hold the president and his attorneys accountable for their false and unsupported claims. When we’ve had 59 lawsuits and countless allegations dismissed and disproven over the past two months, the bar for evidence and belief should be set very high for new allegations. Unfortunately, that’s not what I’m seeing either from the Republican base or from many of the party’s elected officials.

There is nothing wrong with investigating allegations of wrongdoing, especially when they involve the integrity of our elections. There is, however, something very wrong with making baseless allegations and filing frivolous lawsuits. That difference is the difference between investigating a possible conspiracy and fueling the flames of a fanciful conspiracy theory.

The good news for America is that the evidence points to a free and fair election. We have a robust election security system and that system worked. There is no evidence of a conspiracy to switch votes for Trump to Biden, a conspiracy which at this point would have to include Republican governors, secretaries of state, county elections officials, the GBI, and Supreme Court justices appointed by Donald Trump himself.

The problem for conspiracy theorists is that this good news is not what they want to hear. One of my favorite sayings is Ben Shapiro’s maxim that “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” but there is another that is even more apropos here. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said through his character, Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

And that’s where we are today. We have eliminated the impossible theory that election fraud was so pervasive that it cost Donald Trump the election yet so undetectable that it left no evidence. The alternative, which is not improbable at all, is that more people voted for Joe Biden than for Donald Trump.

Embrace that truth. Weep over it if you have to. Rebuild the Republican Party in a way that will appeal to more voters than just its own base. Rejoice because it means that our system is not as swampy as we thought. Rejoice because a bitter partisan battle that could lead to civil war is not necessary.

But don’t undermine the Constitution, the rule of law, and the Republic that you claim to love by rejecting the express will of the voters. Hawley, Tuberville, and the rest should stand down and accept the Electoral College results.

From the Racket

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Negativity

 Negativity gets a bad rap. People are accused of being too negative at times. One of my lasting lessons from Trivial Pursuit was Spiro Agnew’s phrase, “nattering nabobs of negativism” to refer to opponents of Nixon’s policies.

Negativity even comes up in one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies, “Kelly’s Heroes,” when a hippie-ish tank commander played by Donald Sutherland complains to one of his crewmen, “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty…

But sometimes, negativity can be a good thing. That’s the case with medical testing.

freestocks/unsplash.com

A few days ago, I described how my family was exposed to COVID-19 by my sister-in-law, who came to a family Christmas party sick. We got tested and have been isolating since we learned of our exposure. This morning, our test results came in and my entire family is negative. For once, that’s a good thing.

I suspected that we had dodged a bullet because none of us had symptoms after our exposure on December 19. By Christmas, we were six days in and it seems that statistically, most people develop symptoms prior to that point. However, I did have to consider the possibility that we might be asymptomatic but still infected.

That possibility seems to be over now that we have four negative tests in hand. If only one of us was tested, I’d consider the possibility of a false negative, but four tests seem to make the possibility of a bad test minute.

I am at a loss to explain why we weren’t infected given the proximity and length of our exposure. I can come up with a few theories such as that the infected family members were showing symptoms before they were infectious or that they were showing symptoms of something else at the party. Neither theory really fits with what we know about COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID show between two and 14 days after exposure, but a COVID patient can be infectious 24 to 48 hours before showing symptoms. If our relatives weren’t suffering from COVID at the party but really had a sinus infection or allergies, it seems unlikely that they would have both tested positive only three days later.

Perhaps there is enough variation in the body’s response to the virus that there was a small window between the appearance of their symptoms and the onset of their infectiousness that is not typical. Maybe their viral load was low enough that it didn’t infect people around them.

Whatever the reason, I have to chalk it up to God’s grace and mercy that my wife and children and our parents are not suffering from the effects of the Coronavirus along with my sister-in-law and niece. So far, no one at the party other than the original two cases has gotten sick.

My family dodged a bullet when we avoided getting infected, but many people are not so lucky. COVID cases in the US have skyrocketed since Thanksgiving and a further surge is expected after Christmas.

There are two possible courses of action for my family now. One is to make the assumption that dodging one bullet means we are bulletproof or that the gun is firing blanks. Alternatively, we can be thankful for our deliverance while not assuming that our good fortune means that we have some special protection from the virus.

As a country, we need to keep up social distancing and mask-wearing until enough of the population can be vaccinated to provide herd immunity. My family has already decided to take the cautious route and not press our luck. I hope that most Americans will adopt the same strategy so that we can get the virus under control.

And for those of you who are praying people, I have another prayer request. My elderly aunt is in an assisted living home. The residents there have been on lockdown for most of the year since March. Over the past few months, they have allowed some family visits at an outside porch, and now they have their first positive case among the residents. At this point, everyone knows what can happen when COVID runs through a nursing home.

Please pray for the residents and staff of the Gables, both for their physical health and their mental wellbeing. Being isolated for almost a year is no picnic, even if it can save your life.

Although let’s not pretend that many nursing home residents weren’t isolated even before the pandemic. If you know someone in a nursing home, give them a call or write them a letter.

Y’all stay safe out there.

Published to the Racket

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Facts and speculation about the Nashville bombing

 Until 2020, the phrase “Christmas bombing” was relegated to the history of the Vietnam War. However, yesterday’s attack in Nashville that left three people injured and may have been related to the death of one person ended that streak. Ever since 2001, I’ve wondered if we would experience a Christmas terror attack, but it took 2020 to pull it off.

Thankfully, there were few injuries from the attack because the perpetrators broadcast a warning on a loudspeaker to clear the area. Here’s was we know so far.

At about 5:30 am on Christmas morning, police were called out to investigate gunshots in the area. When they got there, there was no evidence of a shooting, but they found the white motorhome pictured in the tweet above parked at 166 2nd Avenue North, which houses an AT&T transmission facility. The camper had apparently been sighted in the area as early as 1 am.

CNN reports that residents of the area said that a voice on a loudspeaker said, “This vehicle will explode in 15 minutes” and then counted down the minutes until the detonation. Six police officers who had responded to the call knocked on doors and urged residents to evacuate. A report by the Tennessean says that the message began with, “Evacuate now. There is a bomb. A bomb is in this vehicle and will explode." 

At about 6:30, the message changed to “If you can hear this message, evacuate now,” and the RV exploded, injuring three people, including an officer who had hearing loss.

A surveillance camera recorded the blast:

Another video, taken after the explosion, shows the devastation in the street, which looks like a scene from a war movie:

Later in the day, police reported finding human remains near the blast site. Few details are available about what was originally described as “tissue” and it is not known whether the remains were found in the camper or nearby. It is also not known if the person was killed by the blast or was already dead.

The blast heavily damaged AT&T coverage in Nashville. WKRN reported that the outage affected 911 systems, hospitals, ATMs, and credit card readers in addition to phones. That outage is reportedly ongoing.

So far, police have not announced any suspects in the case, but more than $300,000 in reward money has been announced.

And now for the speculation.

Whenever there is a terrorist attack in the United States, there are always two immediate suspects. The first reaction is to think that Islamic radicals were responsible. The second is to blame the radical wing of the party that you don’t like. At various times, all three answers have been right.

Car bombs are often associated with Islamic radicals and there have been a number of Islamic terror attacks in the US in recent years. Although there have been Islamic car and truck bomb attacks in the US, notably the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010, more recent Islamic attacks have been on a smaller scale and to use readily available weapons, such as the lone gunman who attacked the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi last May or the truck attack that killed eight in New York in 2017.

But Islamic terrorists don’t typically warn their victims to evacuate. They want to inflict as high a death toll as possible. So, why would the Nashville bomber(s) warn people near the blast site?

There are several possibilities. There is precedent for warnings about bombs. In Irish “Troubles,” the IRA often gave warnings before bomb attacks both to limit the loss of innocent life and to target British soldiers and police with secondary bombs.

One is that killing people was never the intent. The target could have been the AT&T building where the RV was parked. There are several reasons that this could be the motive. The bomber may have had a grudge against AT&T or the goal could have been to disrupt communications as part of some larger operation.

There have been suggestions that the bombing was a suicide, perhaps by a former AT&T employee. This theory accounts for the location of the bombing and the human remains but is so far unproven.

The bombing could also have been a warning. It could have been intended as a demonstration of what the bomber was capable of doing. Perhaps the threat is that a similar vehicle will pull up outside of a shopping mall, a hospital, a school, a military base, a media headquarters, or a government building one day soon if demands are not met.

If that is the case, what would be the demand? There are limitless possibilities ranging from money or the release of prisoners to political motives.

2020 provides a long list of possible motives for political violence. The Black Lives Matter protests often turned violent, but that movement has quieted down since the summer. BLM was also about mob violence rather than organized political violence. The most recent high-profile left-wing terror attack was in 2019 when a self-proclaimed Antifa activist attacked an ICE facility in Washington State.

There have been leftist bombings in the US, but right-wing extremism has overtaken left-wing violence since the 1990s. Who says so? The FBI. The Economist also has a useful graphic that compares different ideologies behind terrorist attacks in the US.

2020 has also been a hotbed of right-wing extremism. Among the right-wing plots revealed this year were an attempt to blow up a hospital in Missouri“boogaloo” cop-killings, and a plot to kidnap and try Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for treason. Back in April, a QAnon adherent was arrested in New York carrying 18 knives and trying to board the hospital ship USNS Comfort.

Aside from the normal anti-government motives that led Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City with another truck bomb back in 1995, 2020 has been a powder keg of irresponsible rhetoric based on claims that the pandemic was a hoax intended to institute tyranny and that the election was stolen through widespread fraud. There are also claims that prominent politicians and celebrities are part of a child-sex cult. None of these claims are true, but many people think they are.

And these claims can also inspire violence. In the past few weeks, we’ve had well-known and high-profile figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Allen West broach the idea of secession. Michael Flynn, recently pardoned by the president, is one of several Republicans who have advocated martial law.

We cannot discard the possibility that the Nashville bomb was related to the current political situation in which numerous politicians have been telling Americans for months that their country is being stolen from them and that they are about to be subjected to a socialist or fascist tyranny, depending on who is doing the talking. That is the kind of talk that could inspire a terrorist attack from either side, but how political motives would inspire an attack on the AT&T building is uncertain, assuming that the AT&T was the target.

It is also unknown whether the attack was a one-off or the precursor to a wider bombing campaign. It typically takes bombers a long time to gather materials and build even one truck bomb, but, if the attack was carried out by a group, more people might be able to assemble bombs more quickly. The flip side is that more people would make the conspiracy more vulnerable to law enforcement investigations.

I won’t speculate further on which theory is correct. We just don’t have enough information at this point, but one additional piece to the puzzle broke only a few minutes ago. CBS News reports that authorities have identified a person of interest in the bombing. If this person is still alive, it would seem that the suicide theory is unlikely.

Beyond that, we’ll have to wait for more details.

From the Racket

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The good news about Trump's plethora of pardons

 There’s been a lot of angst regarding President Trump’s use - some would say abuse - of his pardon power. While I agree that the people who the president picked for clemency are, for the most part, a sorry lot, such a move shouldn’t surprise anyone. Personally, I would have been surprised if Trump had not pardoned loyal soldiers like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos.

Similarly, the Constitution gives the president almost unlimited pardon power with the sole limitation being that the president cannot someone who has been impeached. Constitutionally speaking, the president can issue pardons to whomever he wants and for whatever reason he wants. Trump’s pardons are constitutional even if they are unethical and ill-advised.

Tim H├╝fner/unsplash.com

The silver lining is that the fusillade of pardons betrays the fact that President Trump realizes that his time in the White House is rapidly coming to an end. If the president really thought that he had a chance of winning a second term, there would be no reason to rush the pardons of his cronies and the other assorted swamp creatures that are being loosed upon the country.

If Donald Trump thought that he had a prayer of staying in office, he would keep the pardons on ice. The pardons, which are not popular with most of the country, could sway public opinion against the president in his attempts to overturn the election, but Trump knows that public opinion - and the law - is already against him. The pardons are an attempt to both pay off his loyal lieutenants and shore up his base for whatever comes after January 20.

Delay would also make sense because of the Senate runoffs in Georgia. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are both facing tight races in an election that is only two weeks away. The pardons are generating bad press for the Republican Party that could help tip the scales of the race.

President Trump’s pardons are an indication that he knows that his presidency is coming to an end and that he has no loyalty to the Republican Party he leaves behind. Even though the pardons are unethical, they are legal and constitutional. The way to prevent abuse of the presidential pardon power in the future is to elect presidents of good character and to impeach those who abuse their authority.

Posted to The Racket

A quarantine Christmas

 Some of you may remember that I wrote last week about how my family had decided to have small get-togethers this year. We were being careful and isolating before our Christmas celebrations. Many family members, myself and my wife included, were tested for COVID before we got together. A chain, however, is only as strong as its weakest link.

Due to the fact that the family is spread out and work schedules that make Christmas Day gatherings inconvenient, we had our get-togethers last weekend. Last night, my mother-in-law called to tell me that my sister-in-law and her daughter had tested positive for COVID.

Volodymyr Hryshchenko/unsplash.com

Unknown to me when we had our gift exchange on Saturday, my sister-in-law wasn’t feeling well. She told me that she had been mostly isolated since testing negative for COVID a few days earlier. After we were already in contact, she explained away a runny nose and the fact that she didn’t seem to be feeling well as allergies.

So now, to make a long story short (too late!), we are on day five after exposure and waiting to see if any of my family develops symptoms. So far, none of us have. We also have to worry while we wait that we may have inadvertently infected someone else, such as my parents.

Other than being responsible and isolating ourselves, our next course of action is going to be to get tested again. The CDC recommends getting tested 5-7 days after exposure or when symptoms develop. That puts us within the window so we’ll look for testing sites that are open today.

Harvard Health notes that the onset of symptoms is usually between three and 14 days after exposure. People are known to be contagious from 48 to 72 hours prior to experiencing symptoms. That gives me hope that it might not have spread to the rest of the family, but what about my son’s girlfriend who came to see us after we got home and then went to visit her grandmother?

My sister-in-law now feels horrible, not only physically (although her case seems to be somewhat mild) but emotionally. She feels guilty for having put people she loves at risk.

Ironically and tragically, our family get-togethers happened on the same weekend that a family friend passed away from COVID two weeks after being placed on a ventilator. The 47-year-old wife of my childhood neighbor contracted COVID just before Thanksgiving and was placed on a ventilator on December 6, as I mentioned in an article at the time. She was a healthy and vibrant woman until she encountered Coronavirus.

We thought we could do Christmas safely, but a weak link broke the chain. Now, we have to sit around and wait to see who gets sick. If you haven’t had your family Christmas gathering or parties with friends yet, my recommendation would be to cancel your plans. It simply isn’t worth risking the possibility that COVID will spread among your family. If you must get together, try to social distance and/or wear masks.

And for the sake of all that’s good and Holy, if you are having symptoms or have been exposed, stay home and isolate yourself.

From the Racket

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Trump's path to overturning the election just got Barr-ed

 Not that evidence was ever a requirement in President Trump’s quest to overturn the election, but Attorney General-for-a-few-more-days Bill Barr just poured cold water on his boss’s allegations of electoral misconduct. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Barr once again undercut Trump’s narrative of widespread election fraud.

In the press conference, which was scheduled to announce new charges in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, Barr openly and directly contradicted President Trump on three separate subjects.

First, with respect to election fraud, Barr said, “I see no basis now for seizing [voting] machines by the federal government. ... If I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool and was appropriate, I would name one. But I haven't, and I'm not going to."

This means that Barr sees no compelling evidence of widespread fraud in the election. He also does not buy into the rampant conspiracy theories of hacked voting machines.

Barr’s statement comes three weeks after he told Congress that the Department of Justice had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” If such fraud existed, it would be the job of the DOJ, along with state law enforcement, to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, but Barr sees nothing of substance to investigate.

There is a little more to the allegations against Hunter Biden. An investigation into the younger Biden’s taxes is underway, and Barr seems happy with its progress.

Regarding Hunter, Barr told reporters, “I think to the extent that there is an investigation, I think that it's being handled responsibly and professionally, currently within the department. And to this point, I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel. And I have no plan to do so before I leave."

This would indicate that Barr does not see evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter that is connected to his father. There would be no reason to appoint a special counsel to investigate the dealings of a private citizen. A special counsel would indicate that there might be a conflict of interest in prosecution by the DOJ.

Finally, Barr also rebutted the president on the SolarWinds hack. Last week, President Trump attempted to shift the focus away from Russia as a source for the hack by suggesting on Twitter that it “may be China (it may!)”

Again, Barr directly contradicted the president’s claim, saying, “From the information that I have, I agree with Secretary Pompeo's assessment. It certainly appears to be the Russians, but I'm not going to discuss it beyond that."

Barr is not totally averse to special counsels, however. He appointed John Durham as special counsel in order to let the prosecutor finish his investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation. Barr said on Tuesday that Durham was “making good progress” even though he told congressional Republicans in October that further indictments from Durham’s probe were unlikely.

My impression at this point is that the attorney general has reached his limit on covering for the president. As he is on his way out the door, he seems to have little interest in shoring up the president’s conspiracy theories for his base.

The time could not have been better for Barr to show his backbone. The constitutional crisis generated by Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat is coming to a head on January 6 and the president’s supporters are attempting to build support for objections against the Electoral College vote.

Attorney General Barr’s frank words and acceptance of reality won’t deter the dead-enders among the Republican base, but they may have an impact on the congressional Republicans who have not yet lost their senses of decency and ethics. One of Barr’s last acts, telling the truth in the face of President Trump’s lies, may end up helping to preserve the Union.

Photo credit: Gina Neri/unsplash.com

From the Racket

Let them eat $600

 There is an old television commercial that asks “How do you spell relief? For many Americans, the answer is not C-O-N-G-R-E-S-S.

Congress passed the second COVID relief bill yesterday, but in many quarters the response was derision rather than appreciation. One of the main complaints was that the relief offered to Americans was half of the $1,200 per adult appropriated in the previous relief bill in March, inspiring many internet memes mocking the relief such as the one below.

As I’ve said before, I’m a fiscal hawk, but we are in the midst of a legitimate emergency that requires spending money. If we want to stop the spread of the virus, then we need for people to avoid large crowds and stay home when they are sick. People still need to work in order to pay for luxuries like food and shelter. Ergo, if we want people to stay home, they need to be compensated for doing so.

Together with the relief from last spring, the $600 payments that were just authorized work out to $1,800 per adult. Considering that the pandemic has been underway for nine months, that averages out to $200 per month per adult. That math should help to understand why many view the relief as inadequate. Two hundred dollars won’t cover groceries for a month, much less rent. By way of comparison, Time shows what some other countries have done for relief.

The new bill’s payments include $600 per adult up to an income of $75,000 and $1,200 for couples earning up to $150,000. Families will also get $600 for each child under 17.

Some additional potential problems here are that people who earned $75,000 last year might be out of work or earning dramatically less this year. Further, Republican Steve Scalise bragged that the includes “safeguards to prohibit illegal aliens from receiving payment.” Illegal aliens, whose immigration status does not affect their need to eat, often pay taxes and head households that include American citizens.

To be fair, there are other provisions in the bill as well. NBC News reports that the bill also includes:

  • $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit

  • $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program

  • $28 billion to buy and distribute vaccines

  • $15 billion for airline payroll

  • $3 billion to restock the Strategic National Stockpile of medical equipment

Of course, there was pork as well. Nonpandemic-related items include $82 billion for schools, $14 billion for mass transit, $7 billion for broadband internet, and funding for a new Latino museum to be a part of the Smithsonian.

I’m not even mad about the pork. I’ve come to realize that pork and earmarks are the oil that makes Congress run smoothly. When Republicans eliminated earmarks in 2011, it ushered in a period of dysfunction in which the legislature didn’t seem able to get anything done, including passing annual budgets. It seems that Congress needs to be able to scratch one another’s backs in order to get the necessary votes to do pretty much anything.

It’s easier to get upset that representatives were given only two hours to read the 5,000-page bill. It’s passing the bill to find out what’s in it all over again as both Ted Cruz and AOC agree.

The reason for the rush is that Congress spent the last six months doing not much of anything. Democrats passed a relief bill in May that went to the Senate and died. Senate Republicans only started seriously considering a second relief bill shortly before the election.

As I’ve said before, Congress’s usual reaction is to throw money at the problem. The pandemic is the rare problem that throwing money is the correct solution. In order to prevent business failures, foreclosures, evictions, more unemployment, and an increase in deaths from everything from depression to starvation and inability to afford medication (not to mention COVID-19), Congress needs to keep the money flowing until the pandemic is over and the economy can return to normal.

Personally, I blame Republicans for much of the current crisis. Republicans have been almost totally wrong when it comes to the pandemic. That includes everything from masks to hydroxychloroquine to not taking the virus seriously enough and trying to push the country back to normalcy too soon. The much-derided “15-days to flatten the curve” came from the White House, not the CDC. As a result, the US ranks first in Coronavirus cases and seventh per capita. If the pandemic was a test, we have failed it.

The Republican attitude was exemplified by Lindsey Graham’s statement last April that Congress would extend the extra unemployment payments “over our dead bodies.” That was about 260,000 dead bodies ago.

Is the COVID relief bill a boondoggle? Yes, but it is a necessary boondoggle.

Hopefully, the bill will help many Americans and American businesses live through the winter until the vaccine can be widely distributed. Only when COVID is defeated can the country get back to normal.

Photo credit: Meme screenshot from Facebook

From the Racket