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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Protect The Post Office

The Daily Escape:

New from the folks at Vicks™.

(It’s nice to be back from the vacation that was extended a few days by the power outage. Wrongo got to play lumberjack, cutting up four trees that fell during the windstorm. The only limbs harmed belonged to the trees)

There isn’t much doubt that Trump wants to end both the Postal Service and voting by mail. It’s become clear that his plan of managed decay of the postal system is designed to undermine the 2020 election, increasing his chances of remaining in power.

Trump has called the Postal Service “a joke.” But, as the Economist points out: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Far from being a joke, the USPS is the nation’s favorite government agency, viewed favorably by 91% of Americans. But it is losing money: $4.5bn from January to March, more than double its losses for the same period last year.”

More from the Economist:

“The USPS’s financial woes have three main causes, one acute and two chronic. The acute one is covid-19. At least 2,400 postal workers have caught the virus and 60 have died. More than 17,000 of its 630,000 employees have been quarantined. Although package volume and revenue has grown along with online shopping, the volume of first-class and marketing mail have both declined.”

Last week, Wrongo and Ms. Right voted by mail, an option this year in Connecticut because of the COVID crisis. We shouldn’t have to worry about whether our votes are counted, but, we know that Trump’s presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee have filed lawsuits in several battleground states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nevada to challenge local vote by mail rules.

And Politico reports that Trump is pondering possible executive actions to curb mail-in voting:

“…everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.”

We’ve all experienced low-level delays in mail service, including packages waylaid in transit. Now, the Postal Service is openly saying that they are no longer able to keep up their level of service.

This is part of the Administration’s game plan. It’s a specific assault by the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega donor, who has millions invested in competing delivery services. DeJoy and his wife own between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, including XPO Logistics, UPS and JB Hunt.

DeJoy started by implementing the cost-cutting directives that have created days-long backlogs in mail delivery we’re all experiencing. He’s also reorganized the Postal Service. His actions could motivate the Postal Service’s biggest customers to send their packages through competitors like UPS and FedEx.

This kind of collapse in an essential service would, at one time, have launched Senators and Inspectors General into hearings and investigations about specific post offices or delivery routes. But the outrage is limited to Democrats now.

If the USPS fails, three things will happen very quickly: the cost of sending a letter will go from $0.55 to north of $2.00, and that service will only be available within major cities. Rural areas will see much higher prices, if they get service at all. Prices for shipping small packages will jump. Package delivery service to remote areas will become very expensive. Will FedEx and UPS jump on the opportunity? You bet.

Delaying delivery of prescription medications can’t become a victim of Trump’s election strategy.

There is a legal concept called criminal negligence. It is defined as the failure on the part of a person on whom a duty is placed to take reasonable steps to prevent a certain bad outcome from happening.

You may not have explicitly known that you have that duty. For instance, as an operator of an automobile, you have a duty not to hurt others with your vehicle, even if you didn’t know that’s your duty.

Let’s extend the idea to Trump, DeJoy and the Republicans. When you have authority, if you do something a reasonable person should know would cause harm, you are responsible for causing that harm. Dismantling the Postal Service is broadly harmful to the people and potentially, to the Constitution.

Presidential power comes with duties to the country. He’s broadly responsible for the welfare of the American people, and for the consequences of his actions. We will look at other examples of Trump’s negligence in future columns.

Slowdowns of the US mail could mean thousands of ballots don’t get to voters in time to be returned for Election Day or that they don’t get to election officials in time to be counted. With the threat of coronavirus hanging over in-person voters, the election could hang in the balance.

Trump is abdicating his Constitutional responsibility. Let’s give the last words to Charlie Pierce:

“Destroying the USPS is the most Republican thing this administration has done, except for trying to gut Social Security and Medicare. These always have been in the game plan.”

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The Looming Census Problem

The Daily Escape:

Breckinridge, CO – July 2020 photo by doughboyme

(The Wrongologist is taking a summer vacation starting today. We will return on August 9th. Wrongo urges all readers to also take a break. Got to get ready for the silly season that starts soon.)

Time to talk 2020 census. The Census Bureau’s follow-up visits to non-responding households were originally scheduled to begin in early May, but they were delayed by a freeze on census field operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, the Trump administration asked Congress to extend the deadlines for the Census Bureau to turn in their head count data. The Census Bureau independently postponed finishing field operations for the census from the end of July to the end of October.

The House agreed to the extensions, but the Senate hasn’t. Senate Republicans on Monday instead proposed additional funding as part of their HEAL bill to help conclude the census on time, without extending the deadline.

The Census Bureau is required to turn over numbers for apportioning Congressional seats by Dec. 31, and the numbers to be used for redrawing state and local legislative districts by March 30. The requested deadline extensions would push back the apportionment deadline to April 30 for Congress, and to July 31 for state and local districts.

The politics of these decisions are clear. Trump no longer wants a deadline extension, and he doesn’t want undocumented residents counted at all.

The timing of Trump’s memorandum excluding the undocumented and his abandonment of the request to push back the reporting deadlines suggests that the White House wants to ensure that the numbers are undercounted. Also, that Trump  receives the apportionment numbers while he’s still in office so they can be fixed if necessary.

House Democrats are wary of what they see as Trump’s attempts to politicize the 2020 census, and want the Senate Republicans to approve the request for deadline extensions. That would mean there’s a chance the final months of the data-crunching would take place under a Biden administration, assuming Biden defeats Trump in November.

Staying on the usual deadline probably means that many people, documented or not, won’t be counted. Only about 63% of Americans have been counted so far. That means about 55 million households haven’t responded, and will require visits by census takers.

The Census Bureau is about to send its 500,000 door-knockers out to begin surveying households that haven’t yet answered the questionnaire, and Pew Research says it will be difficult to get them to open their doors:

“Among those who say they have not participated in the census, 40% say they would not be willing to talk to a census worker who came to the door…”

The 40% breaks down into 16% who say they’re unwilling to talk to the Census people at all, and 24% say they are not very willing to speak with them.

So, what does it all mean for apportioning Congressional seats?

The job is to use the census data to equitably assign the House’s 435 seats to the 50 states. The first 50 seats are automatically assigned, one per state. A series of formulas called the method of Equal Proportions is used to divide up the remaining 385 seats among the states on the basis of their populations. The method of Equal Proportions was first used to apportion House seats in 1940 and has been used ever since.

The apportionment population of a state is defined as all persons residing in the state as of April 1, plus all American military and civilian personnel of the federal government and their dependents from that state who were residing abroad.

At the last census in 2010, the states receiving the largest number of seats were California with 53; Texas with 36 seats, and then Florida and New York with 27 apiece. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each received only one seat, the one they are granted automatically.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia did a preliminary estimate of how the House seats will be distributed once the 2020 census is in. It obviously is a projection, but the results are shown on this map:

Of the 10 states projected to lose one House seat each in 2020, only two are red states. Of the seven states projected to gain House seats in 2020, six are red states.

If the 2020 apportionment followed Trump’s plan to exclude undocumented immigrants, this would be the outcome:

Eight states will lose nine seats with California leading the way. Seven of the eight seats lost would be in blue states.

Seven states would gain nine seats: Texas and Florida would gain two each. Six of the gains would be in red states.

Remember that a state’s votes in the Electoral College are equal to its seats in Congress. It’s not hard to see why Trump wants an undercount that favors Texas and Florida.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 19, 2020

RIP Rep. John Lewis. He was Wrongo’s contemporary. On our bookshelves, we have Lewis’s memoir, “Walking with the Wind”, autographed to Ms. Right, with Lewis saying to her, “Keep the faith”. And we’ve tried to do just that.

There was no fight for Black civil rights in which John Lewis was not on the front lines. How it must have pained him to witness the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act by the John Roberts-led Supreme Court.

He was among the first Freedom Riders. A leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington.

Lewis was drawn to Dr. King’s theme of “redemptive suffering” to describe his willingness to sacrifice life and well-being for the sake of justice, described by MLK as a suffering that “opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”

At the March on Washington, the-then 23 year old Lewis read a speech that had been heavily revised by Dr. King, Jr. and others who thought it too pugnacious. After editing, Lewis said:

“By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them together in the image of God and democracy. We must say: ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient.”

Lewis had his skull fractured at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma in 1965. That bridge became a touchstone in Lewis’s life. He returned there often during his decades in Congress, bringing lawmakers from both parties to see where “Bloody Sunday” happened. He spent 34 years representing Atlanta and the state of Georgia in the US Congress, and as of now, remains on the ballot in Georgia’s 5th district.

John Lewis is the last of the March on Washington organizers to die, and as Charlie Pierce says:

“…he died at a time when the Voting Rights Act lies in ruins, and when Florida has found a clever way to bring back a poll tax. He died at a time of bad trouble, when the country is desperately in need of the “good trouble” he always recommended to his fellow citizens. He boycotted the inauguration of this president….”

Speaking of good trouble, a phrase that is irrevocably tied to Lewis, he tweeted this recently:

On to cartoons. Let’s hope he causes as much trouble as heaven allows:

Lewis crosses the bridge:

Finally, the school reopening debate continues. 71% of Americans say reopening the schools is risky:

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Monday Wake Up Call – Voter Registration Edition, July 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The comet Neowise, as seen from Heart Lake over Mt. Shasta, CA – 4:10am July 10 photo by smi77y_OG.

Democrats need to slow their victory lap according to Politico, who reports that Democrats are lagging Republicans in new voter registrations in swing states since the start of the pandemic.

A report from the Democratic-leaning data firm TargetSmart found people who are registering are older, whiter, and less Democratic:

“The study from TargetSmart was especially alarming for Democrats because it spotlighted not only falling registrations, but which party was damaged most in battleground states. In a majority of 10 states TargetSmart studied, registrations skewed older and whiter than before the pandemic.

TargetSmart finds Republican registrations edging Democrats’ in Florida, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. All of which adds another uncertainty to an election cycle that already is loaded with them.

The pandemic closures and stay-at-home orders have been a perfect storm for reducing voter registrations. Voter registration is normally a face-to-face, person-to-person activity. In this summer of COVID-19, there are no voter registration volunteers with clipboards registering voters at outdoor events because they have been cancelled. No one is camped out at downtown street corners on the weekends. DMV closures, stay-at-home orders and restrictions on large gatherings limit opportunities for new registrations.

In a report on the decline last month, the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research (ERIC) concluded that:

“…the steep decline in new registrations may prove to be a sizable obstacle to what was set, pre-pandemic, to be a record election for turnout.”

People of color and other marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and that’s undercutting registration efforts, and undercutting people’s ability to get registered, despite the energy that was created in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.

Tom Bonier, TargetSmart’s CEO, says overall new registration numbers have been so low during the pandemic that Republican gains during the period have been too small to offset the pre-pandemic Democratic advances. He thinks that Republicans although still behind, “got a couple of extra steps” closer to the Democrats.

But Politico says Republicans are pointing to their improved standing in registrations compared to 2016 in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, all states Trump won that year, despite Democrats holding a wider registration advantage than they do now. So, that’s a worry for Democrats.

OTOH, this is the first year that Republicans have fallen behind both Democrats and independent voters in registration in the 32 states and the District of Columbia that register voters by party, according to Ballot Access News, which tracks voter registrations.

If Trump has any chance of catching Biden by November 3, it will likely take registering and turning out more white, noncollege-educated voters, than in 2016. It’s a real question if they exist in large enough numbers to make a difference.

An interesting and positive (for Democrats) report from the Bulwark concludes that Trump has stopped trying to win the presidency. By analyzing his current direct marketing campaign, they conclude that he is instead focusing on building his list of followers for his post-presidency:

“My working theory is that Trump’s ads are telling us what that next scheme is. He’s tying himself more completely to the base of his base so that he can integrate them into Trump TV or Trumpstagram or whatever venture he’s planning for January 21, 2021.

After all, he’s got an installed user base of probably 30 million people he can start milking the minute he’s out of office. That puts him halfway to Disney Plus. At say, $9.95 a month, you’re talking about very real money.”

So there seems to be real questions about whether Democrats should be worried about Trump being re-elected. Democratic registrations should be the true measure of concern, not some media pundit’s speculation about Trump TV.

So, wake up America! There are less than four months to register more Democratic voters. Help out if you can. To help you wake up, here’s a throwback tune from 1983, “Vamos a la Playa(Let’s go to the beach) by the Italian disco group, Righeira. This was a huge hit in Europe in 1983. Despite its innocuous beach theme, the song actually talks about the explosion of an atomic bomb. And they’re singing in Spanish, but they’re Italians. And they appear to be wearing the Apple watch before it was invented:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 21, 2020

Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 20, 2020: Come because you love Trump. Leave with the Trump virus. Wrongo isn’t a futurist, but as this is written on Saturday, there’s reason to be concerned that there may be an increase in COVID-19 infections in Tulsa:

“Six of President Trump’s staffers, who were part of the campaign’s advance team for the president’s Saturday rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have been quarantined after testing positive for the novel coronavirus…”

Wrongo has a bad feeling about the aftermath:

  • People are coming from several states, some with rapidly-rising hospitalizations
  • It’s indoors, with no way to effectively distance
  • There will be cheering, singing, and chanting
  • Some attendees will have spent hours, possibly days interacting with each other outside the venue, and will spend an hour or two in line just to get in
  • These aren’t people who have a belief in masking and distancing

Speaking of bad feelings, the Guardian reports that armed militia members and bikers are gathering outside Trump’s venue. The National Guard has been activated in Tulsa. What could go wrong?

On to cartoons. Bolton’s book inspires the rest of Trump’s team:

Trump says Bolton’s book is all lies, and they are state secrets:

They knew it and did nothing:

GOP complains about demonstrators:

LGBTQ ruling angers the elephant:

Chart shows COVID in the US, based on which presidential candidate won in 2016. Notice anything?

The cure:

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Could Trump’s Anti Vote-by-Mail Stance Cost Him the Election?

The Daily Escape:

Genesee River, Letchworth State Park, 60 miles southeast of Buffalo NY – photo by Donnelly585

Trump’s crusade against Vote by Mail is hard to explain. He of course, votes by mail. And, there’s every reason to believe that in the battleground states, he might benefit from it. From the Washington Monthly: (brackets by Wrongo)

“According to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections, [in 2016] 1,080,808 Republicans cast their votes by mail compared to 1,053,254 Democrats– a net advantage of 27,554.”

Trump ultimately won Florida by about 113,000 votes, not a truly significant margin going into 2020.

Trump world is taking what their leader says about vote by mail very seriously. The Detroit News reported that this happened last Friday:

“People burned letters informing them that they can vote by absentee ballot in future elections during a protest near Grand Rapids. The applications were burned…during an event called Operation Incinerator….Many people had flags, shirts and signs showing support for President Donald Trump and Republicans.”

The protestors were offended that Michigan’s Secretary of State mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. They may have been misled by Trump’s false claim that actual ballots were mailed instead of what was mailed: applications for ballots.

But, it’s widely believed on the Right that making voting easier benefits Democrats.

Many Republicans also believe it will make it easy for the Democrats to commit voter fraud. This belief has also been stoked by Trump. And yet, Pennsylvania voters got mailers from the Republican National Committee encouraging them to apply to vote by mail. The flyers described the option as “convenient and secure.”

At stake for both Parties is what an expansion of mail-in voting this summer means for the November election. If more people vote by mail now, they will likely prefer to vote the same way in the fall. Trump has said:

“Mail ballots, they cheat. People cheat.… Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters.”

Nonpartisan voting experts have found that states that conduct entirely mail-in ballot elections report very little fraud.

Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are all vital to Trump’s reelection, and he is sabotaging himself in each of them. It’s important to remember that Trump won those states by a total of just 77,000 votes. Those states all have subsequently amended their election laws to be more permissive for absentee ballots.

Floridians may be less influenced because so many there are already used to voting by mail.

It seems to be an article of faith on the Right that voter suppression is a key to victory, but that seems to have backfired in Georgia. Urban polling stations were subject to serious problems. So you’d think that making urban voters wait several hours to vote would discourage them, that many would give up and leave.

But it didn’t work out that way: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Democratic turnout in Georgia’s primaries skyrocketed — with three times as many votes cast in the Senate primary as in 2016. With 91 percent of the vote in as of Friday, nearly 960,000 voters had cast ballots in the Democratic Senate primary race won by Jon Ossoff, compared to 310,000 who voted in the Senate primary in 2016.”

It appears that for every Georgia vote the Republicans tried to suppress through active and passive means, they somehow created several more actual votes! This result doesn’t make their tactics any less odious, but it calls into question whether as constituted, they actually will work in November.

Still, Republicans are spending $10 million this year on legal battles against attempts to expand voter access in Michigan, Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota.

It’s hard to see a scenario where Trump’s campaign against vote-by-mail won’t make it harder for him to win, particularly since he seems at cross-purposes with many local Republican organizations.

If his lying messaging helps to limit him to one term, please proceed Mr. Trump.

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Georgia’s Voting Fiasco Shows We May Lose Election Legitimacy in November

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji from the shore of Lake Motosu, Japan – 2020 photo by wash7112

From the AP:

“The long-standing wrangle over voting rights and election security came to a head in Georgia, where a messy primary and partisan finger-pointing offered an unsettling preview of a November contest when battleground states could face potentially record turnout.

There were hours-long lines, voting machine malfunctions, provisional ballot shortages and absentee ballots failing to arrive in time for Tuesday’s elections. Many of the problems were in predominantly black neighborhoods in and around Atlanta.

Both Republicans and Democrats finger-pointed at the other. The AP says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“That kind of back-and-forth, with white Republicans and black Democrats from big cities trading barbs over voting issues, isn’t new. And it’s one that could easily repeat in November in battleground states where Democrats and minorities figure prominently in the most populous cities and counties: Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), Florida; Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Philadelphia PA; and Milwaukee WI.”

This raises the specter of a worst-case November scenario: a swing state, like Florida remaining in dispute long after polls close. Meanwhile, Trump, Biden and their supporters each offer competing claims of victory or questions about the election’s legitimacy.

These legitimacy questions arise because there’s a real possibility of election theft. Here’s a few for your consideration: Florida 2000, Ohio 2004, Democratic primaries in 2016 and 2020. Georgia’s governor’s race in 2018. It’s always the same tactics. Here are three:

  • Game the voting locations
  • Game the voting machines
  • Game the ballots

Voting locations: Changing voting locations is often combined with reducing the number of voting locations. Both happened in Georgia. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“County election officials have closed 214 precincts across the state since 2012, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That figure means nearly 8% of the state’s polling places…have shut their doors over the past six years.

One-third of Georgia’s counties — 53 of 159 — have fewer precincts today than they did in 2012, according to the AJC’s count.

Of the counties that have closed voting locations, 39 have poverty rates that are higher than the state average. Thirty have significant African-American populations…”

Voting Machines: The NYT reports that Georgia’s voting fiasco stemmed primarily from the 30,000 new voting machines the state bought last year for $107 million from Denver, CO’s Dominion Voting Systems.

The problems ran the gamut from too few machines, to no printer paper for the machines:

And non-working machines:

Many were against buying these voting machines, including FreedomWorks, the conservative nonprofit backed by Charles Koch, who cited several concerns, including that the machines were difficult to set up before elections.

And so they were.

The ballots: Absentee and Vote-by-Mail Ballots may not arrive on time, if at all. Provisional ballots may not be available in sufficient numbers at polling places. In Georgia, for example:

“The individuals had requested absentee ballots, but they didn’t arrive in time to send in, but when they showed up to try and vote in person, they were blocked because the system had indicated they already had an absentee ballot, which, again, they said they never received…”

That wasn’t all. Poll workers couldn’t get voting machines to work. They didn’t know how to encode voter access cards, enter PIN numbers correctly or even plug machines into power supplies. Poll workers said they couldn’t log into voter check-in tablets, and ballots didn’t always display on touchscreens.

Some precincts opened late. Very few stayed open late. Some voters gave up and went home.

People who work at polling places skew older, and are unfamiliar with technology. They must be trained and equipped to do the job, and it seems that fewer than expected showed up. These volunteers did not sign up to train voters how to use touchscreens, or to disinfect touchscreens, or to deal with irate crowds who have been waiting for hours.

The problem is not the volunteers, but the voting machines themselves, which introduce complexity without adding security.

We’re facing a crisis of election legitimacy.

Despite federalism, it is imperative that America comes up with a standard voting system. And in this age of technology it is ridiculous to have to still vote in person. But of course the Republicans oppose other methods of voting such as vote by mail.

This current chaos, along with voter disenfranchisement is in the best interests of the GOP, and it is by design.

They will dither and fuss and spew platitudes laced with false concern, while trying to rob us of democracy.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 12, 2020

It was supposed to be all over by Easter. But this weekend, the time that we were supposed to get back to work, brings us 2000 COVID-19 deaths on a single day, and a mass grave on NYC’s Hart Island. One thing we’ve learned is that Trump isn’t a clairvoyant:

When you leave late, you get there late:

It takes a team:

Wearing a red hat doesn’t make America great. What DOES make our country great is the dedication and drive to serve that’s demonstrated by so many of us. The American spirit doesn’t require fondling the flag, or bloviating in front of the media. Our first responders and our service workers make us proud to be Americans.

Vote by mail should be the answer:

In Washington State when you vote by mail, you retain a paper copy. The state can call the voter and ask them what their vote was, if necessary. You get a few weeks to decide on the issues and which candidate you prefer.

It’s not socialism if it helps you. If your check was passed by Republicans, it’s a STIMULUS:

Real life has become a scary movie:

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Supreme Court Voting Remotely, Denies Wisconsin Voters the Right to Vote Remotely

The Daily Escape:

Super moon, Crested Butte, CO – 2020 photo by itsaberglund

First, here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/7):

  • The good news is that the daily rate of increase in new infections is now in single digits (see green above).
  • Deaths have again spiked, and the percentage of deaths to total cases is rising steadily.
  • Daily testing has stalled (again) at about 150,000/day. Growth in testing is again lagging growth in new infections.

Next: The Wisconsin primary debacle: Wisconsin held its presidential primary on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Unifying the Party will be much easier than in 2016. The stakes are different, the mood is different, and Bernie seems to like Biden more than he liked Hillary.

But that was far from the most surprising thing about the Wisconsin primary. The big Wisconsin news was that the US Supreme Court decided a case called “Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee along political lines. The symbolism is glaring.

The issue before the Court was whether to stay a lower court’s decision that would have extended absentee balloting for a week due to the Coronavirus. And the most notable race wasn’t the Democrat’s primary. It was a conservative Republican’s battle to keep his seat on Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The scant, 10-page opinion issued Monday night highlighted the [US Supreme] court’s ideological and partisan divide. The justices’ inability to speak with one voice on matters as serious as the coronavirus pandemic and voting rights raised concerns about the legal battles bound to proliferate before the fall elections.”

The great irony in the SCOTUS decision is that the justices didn’t meet together. They are practicing social distancing, because of the Coronavirus, conducting their business via teleconferences. They have also suspended all public Court proceedings for the current term, because, you know, public safety.

But the Supreme Court’s Republican majority felt it was proper to insist that Wisconsin’s normal rules about elections be followed, and hold the primary as if there was no pandemic, no public health threat.

The best comment on the ideological divide in America today came from Tom Sullivan’s column, where he quotes a 2018 observation about conservatism by Frank Wilhoit: (emphasis in the original)

“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect….So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.”

More on Wisconsin from Sullivan:

“This morning’s online headline at the Washington Post reads, ‘The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate.’ Wisconsin Republicans on Tuesday made them stand on line in Milwaukee for hours to vote during a deadly pandemic. That will show them.”

And this tweet from Sen. Cory Booker underlines the evil intent:

“Milwaukee is home to the largest African-American community in Wisconsin. Don’t tell me that forcing people to choose between their health and their right to vote today is anything but an appalling act of voter suppression. https://t.co/4Leq1CtMHZ

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 7, 2020

Chief Justice Roberts may claim that he is only calling balls and strikes, but he’s using a different strike zone for his friends.

Finally, let’s spend a moment remembering that both John Prine and Bill Withers died this week, Prine from the Coronavirus.

Both released their debut albums in 1971. Both were among the true greats. Here’s a Prine song that shows his social consciousness. Written in 2005, it was prescient. He wrote about the kinds of people who would eventually lead the nation in 2020 in his “Some Humans Ain’t Human”:

Sample Lyric:

Have you ever noticed When you’re feeling really good There’s always a pigeon  That’ll come shit on your hood Or you’re feeling your freedom And the world’s off your back  Some cowboy from Texas Starts his own war in Iraq

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

And this Withers song about Vietnam has always hit Wrongo hard. “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Facebook Could Destroy Democracy

The Daily Escape:

Pond, Greenville County SC – February 2020 photo by Ninjiteex. It’s rare to see snow in SC

On Facebook, Wrongo mostly reads the posts of friends who are involved in showing dogs at AKC events. People who show dogs skew older and female, and thus, so do Wrongo’s Facebook friends. Many share a constant amount of pro-Trump (dis)information.

So, Wrongo tried a week-long experiment, letting some of those posters know that their posts were factually incorrect. Let’s focus on one, a picture of a very young Bernie Sanders being hauled away by police:

The photo’s caption says:

“In 1963 Bernie Sanders was arrested for throwing eggs at black civil rights protestors. This is the side of Bernie that CNN and the fake news media don’t want you to know”

The picture is real, the caption is false. Sanders was actually protesting police brutality and segregation, and was arrested for “resisting arrest”. Facebook has now taken down the post, but it was up for over a week.

When Wrongo told friends that their posts were false, everyone deflected, and minimized their intent. One, a fervent Trumper, said, “I just wanted to post a picture of him when he was young”. Never mind that this photo is available all over the internet with the simplest of searches, all with the correct reference.

Despite a week’s worth of trying, no one was willing to delete a false post. Many of these people post disinformation six or more times a day, so it was an exercise in futility to try and make these “friends” admit the truth about their posts, much less show any awareness about their biases.

This is a small example of what McKay Coppins wrote in his Atlantic article, “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President.” As an experiment, Coppins signed up at many pro-Trump social media sites, and soon was deluged with alternative facts: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.”

All of this is helped by Facebook’s excellent micro-targeting tools. They allow an advertiser to slice the electorate into narrow and distinct niches and then reach them with precisely tailored digital messages. More from Coppins:

“An ad that calls for defunding Planned Parenthood might get a mixed response from a large national audience, but serve it directly via Facebook to 800 Roman Catholic women in Dubuque, Iowa, and its reception will be much more positive.”

The results can be overwhelming. The Trump campaign runs hundreds of iterations of ads. In the 10 weeks after the House of Representatives began its impeachment inquiry, the Trump campaign ran roughly 14,000 different ads containing the word impeachment.

No one has the bandwidth to sift through all of them, and then call them out.

It gets worse. Coppins says that the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have compiled an average of 3,000 data points on every voter in America. They have spent years experimenting with ways to tweak their messages based not just on gender and geography, but on whether the recipient owns a dog or, a gun.

Raw Story quotes former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) saying that Donald Trump intentionally wants America to be anxious: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“I had a colleague that was in a meeting in the Roosevelt Room and….he heard Trump say, ‘Have you ever seen the nation so divided?’ My colleagues and others said, ‘No, we haven’t.’ Trump said, ‘I love it that way.’’

He thinks this how he’ll be re-elected!

Last Sunday, Walter Schaub, former director of the US Office of Government Ethics had a remarkable tweet thread on this, saying: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…we’re in a dangerous new phase of Trump’s war on democracy. What do we do now?

….the greatest threat we face is despondency. The enemies of democracy…want you drowning in hopelessness. A hopeless populace is a helpless one. To that end, a hostile foreign power set up an infrastructure to weaponize social media against you.

Compounding the assault on your senses, he [Trump] also wields a corrupted government, which follows his lead in disseminating lies to sow confusion…

In the face of this psychological warfare, our most urgent mission—our civic duty—is to reject despondency. Everyone has a bad day, so we may need to take turns leading the charge. But our job as citizens is to resist the temptation to spread defeatism on social media.”

You said it, Walter!

We gotta keep hope alive.

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