Just Another Thursday

Last night, the Txxxx administration asked the Supreme Court to abolish the Affordable Care Act, even though “Obamacare” has allowed millions of us to get health insurance  and even though, according to the internet, we’re in the midst of a pandemic.

From NBC News:

The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to wipe out Obamacare, arguing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law must be struck down with it.

The late-night brief, filed Thursday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, carries major implications for the presidential election. If the justices agree, it would cost an estimated 20 million Americans their insurance coverage and nullify protections for pre-existing conditions.

The Trump administration’s brief comes as the U.S. has recorded more than 120,000 deaths from COVID-19, with nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases. On Wednesday, the nation hit a new record for the highest daily total of new infections reported with more than 45,500.

In a similar vein, the McSWeeney’s site has a list of 759 offenses committed by the president. It’s called:

LEST WE FORGET THE HORRORS: A CATALOG OF TRUMP’S WORST CRUELTIES, COLLUSIONS, CORRUPTIONS, AND CRIMES.

They’ve color-coded the list:

 – Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, & Bullying
 – White Supremacy, Racism, & Xenophobia
 – Public Statements / Tweets
 – Collusion with Russia & Obstruction of Justice
 – Trump Staff & Administration
 – Trump Family Business Dealings
 – Policy
 – Environment

It doesn’t appear you can search the list by clicking a category. More importantly, the list doesn’t include many cruelties, collusions, corruptions and crimes perpetrated by the terrific people who work for the president. (There have been many crimes, etc.)

But they do offer a link where you can get help registering to vote. It’s a government site, so it’s odd that the administration hasn’t shut it down. Their voter suppression task force must be asleep.

Finally, way back in 1979, Senator Edward Kennedy had trouble answering an interview question: “Why do you want to be president?” His stumbling performance was one of the factors that ended his campaign to replace President Jimmy Carter as the Democratic nominee. (YouTube has a brief history lesson.) Carter subsequently lost to Ronald Reagan, who began ruining the country shortly thereafter.

I bring this up because our president was asked a similar question last night: “What are your top priority items for a second term?” Here’s what he said:

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What a guy! What a president!

Remember to register and vote. You can see if you’re registered here and start getting registered if you’re not.

The Primaries Are Just Dumb

I tend to skip newspaper editorials. They’re usually bland, as if written by a committee. Probably because that’s partly true. The New York Times editorial board and the Washington Post editorial board are responsible for the editorials in those papers.

But the Times got one right the other day. The seventeen journalists on their editorial board pointed out that “the primaries are just dumb”.

Quote:

As the country learned in 2016 with Republicans, the primaries and caucuses are a mess, giving the illusion of a choice in a situation where in fact voters have just the opposite — no clear choice. This year, Bernie Sanders won close to a majority in Nevada, but in the two earlier contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, no candidate won more than 26 percent of the vote. This fragmentation helps those candidates with passionate followings, like Mr. Sanders, as it helped D—- T—- in 2016, but it produces nothing like a consensus candidate. Mr. Sanders has won only 2.3 percent of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination, yet he’s widely considered the front-runner.

Single-winner elections do a poor job of winnowing a large field of candidates down to one who reflects majority agreement, and encourage the type of nastiness we’re seeing now, because it’s all-or-nothing for each candidate. And the winner of this process can be the choice of as little as 25 or 30 percent of the electorate, which is another way of saying that he or she was not the choice of up to three-quarters of voters.

This is no way to pick the person who will challenge a president — one who was himself nominated first by a minority within his party, then elected by a minority nationwide.

There is a straightforward and elegant solution: ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting. Already in use all over the world and in cities and towns across the United States, it’s a popular and proven way of electing leaders who are — what a radical notion! — actually supported by most voters. It is effective in any multi-candidate race, but it’s ideal for making sense of a large and fractured pool of candidates.

Ranked-choice voting works on a simple premise: Instead of being forced to choose a single candidate, voters rank some or all of the candidates in order of preference — they rank their favorite candidate first, their next-favorite candidate second, and so on. If one candidate wins a majority of the vote outright, he or she is the winner. If not, the ballots are tallied in a series of rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. Each ballot ranking that candidate first is then transferred to the candidate whom it ranked second. The process repeats, eliminating the lowest-scoring candidate and redistributing his or her ballots, until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote.

How would ranked-choice voting work in primaries with many candidates? We’ll find out this year, when four states are using it for the first time: Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii and Kansas. As in all other Democratic primaries, they will award delegates proportionally to candidates who win at least 15 percent of the vote. But rather than simply eliminate any candidates who don’t reach that threshold, the ballots listing those candidates first will be transferred to their second-place choices, a process that will be repeated until all remaining candidates have at least 15 percent support.

Say a Wyoming voter is partial to Elizabeth Warren, but feels she doesn’t have much of a chance at hitting 15 percent. He could list Ms. Warren first and, perhaps, Mr. Sanders second. If Ms. Warren fails to get 15 percent of first-place votes in the first round, but Mr. Sanders does, that voter’s ballot would be transferred to him. Millions of votes in the Democratic primaries this year will be cast for candidates who don’t reach the 15-percent cutoff; adopting ranked-choice nationwide would make those votes count for delegates, and thus include those voters in the Democrats’ choice of their nominee.

Polls consistently show high voter satisfaction with ranked-choice voting, and it’s no surprise. By allowing voters to express their support for more than one candidate, ranked-choice voting makes more votes count. By allowing voters to rank a personal favorite first, even if that candidate is unlikely to win, it eliminates the risk of “spoiler” candidates. And by encouraging voters to find something they like in multiple candidates, it fosters consensus.

The candidates respond in turn, by behaving more civilly and reaching out to voters beyond their own base. Running a negative, divisive campaign may pay off in a head-to-head (-to-head-to-head, etc.) election, but not in a ranked-choice one, where victory can depend on appealing not just to a core of supporters, but also to voters who might not be inclined to pick the civil candidate first.

Consider what happened in Maine’s Second Congressional District in the 2018 midterms. Maine first adopted ranked-choice voting in 2016 for its statewide and congressional primaries and elections, and it was popular enough that the Legislature expanded it in 2019 to include presidential elections.

The Second District race featured the Republican incumbent, Bruce Poliquin; his Democratic challenger, Jared Golden; and two independent candidates. After the first round of ballot counting, Mr. Poliquin held a small lead over Mr. Golden, 46.3 percent to 45.6 percent. The independent candidates combined to win about 8 percent, and when they were eliminated in the second and third rounds, more of their votes transferred to Mr. Golden, who ultimately won with more than 50 percent of the vote — even though he won fewer first-choice rankings than Mr. Poliquin. In contrast to Mr. Poliquin, who had publicly dismissed the independent candidates, Mr. Golden reached out to them, and thus won over their supporters. Republicans cried foul, but the voters ended up with a congressional representative who was actually representative.

Maine is the only state to have used ranked-choice statewide, but the reform has been catching on everywhere, from California, Minnesota and Colorado to Utah, Massachusetts and Maryland. Last year, voters in New York City overwhelmingly approved ranked-choice voting for their mayoral, City Council and special elections and primaries starting in 2021 — the largest jurisdiction in the country, by far, to try it….

How voters cast their primary ballots is one big area for reform. When they do so is another.

Right now, the primary calendar is cracking under the weight of its own anachronisms. Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the smallest and least diverse states, get outsize attention every presidential election year from the candidates, and therefore have power in determining the arc of the race, long before a vast majority of voters have weighed in. A better system would group state primaries in bunches, making sure to include a diversity of size, geography and demographics in each group, and rotating which group goes first every four years.

No democracy can long maintain its legitimacy with open-ended minority rule. Neither can political parties.

Unquote.

One thing the Times didn’t mention is that ranked-choice voting would address a problem that affects voting before election day (as in voting by mail) in primary elections, when there are a number of candidates. A major Democratic candidate, Pete Buttigieg, dropped out of the race today. Other candidates have dropped out in the past week or so. If voters had been able to name their second and third choices, their votes could have gone to someone still in the race. Now their votes will be wasted.

Also, we have to get rid of caucuses. Voting out in the open in front of everyone makes no sense. Secret ballots are a foundation of democracy. Making that change should be an easy one, even in America.

These Caucuses Suck

Bernie Sanders won big in Nevada, so hardly any members of the news media herd are focused on how bad the caucus process was (just like in Iowa earlier this month). How about using secret ballots instead?

From Stephen Stromberg of The Washington Post:

Unlike in Iowa, it did not take long to declare a winner in Saturday’s Nevada Democratic caucuses. That doesn’t mean the system worked well — it didn’t. Nevada looked orderly only because Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s victory was so lopsided, the networks could call the race with hardly any results.

Some 18 hours after the caucuses wrapped up, results were in from only about half of the state’s precincts — the consequence of cumbersome rules, a jammed reporting hotline and extensive data collection requirements. This mess is what happens when [political] parties insist on running their own private caucuses rather than allowing states to hold primary elections. Indeed, even if the caucuses had worked more smoothly, they would still have been an embarrassing spectacle. They are a terrible way to choose a presidential nominee.

The process I don’t like at all,” said Paul Anthony, a food server attending a caucus Saturday at the Bellagio resort. “I think sometimes this room might intimidate people into not wanting to come vote.”

The Nevada Democratic Party might be surprised at Anthony’s dissatisfaction, given that it tried hard this year to fix its caucus system, offering people more ways to participate. But the party instead proved that the caucus system is fundamentally flawed. One major reason: Peer pressure should have no place in voting.

For all their effort, Nevada Democrats could not fix this inherent problem: There was no secret ballot. At the Bellagio caucus, hotel shift workers had to walk to one side of a large, open conference room, amid a crowd of coworkers, to express their presidential preference. After an initial count, those favoring candidates who had garnered little support could move to a different group. These realigning caucus-goers had to walk to another part of the room with all eyes trained on them, colleagues beckoning them to their side.

It is tempting to make nice with your coworkers, stay with the crowd and avoid sticking out. It is only human to want to satisfy the campaign organizers who may have chatted with you on your way in, who are now observing from the wings. It is all too easy to note the presence of the Culinary Workers Union official attending the caucus…. It is natural to be a little freaked out by television cameras recording your every alignment and realignment.

The campaigns were allowed to have observers on site as long as they were few and quiet, so as to minimize pressure on caucus participants. The Sanders observers were instead many and loud. They packed the corner reserved for caucus observers, cheering, waving at caucus-goers, pumping their fists into the air. After the first count showed strong support for the Vermont senator, one Sanders campaign staffer cried. During the realignment, when it was perhaps most important for them to let the caucus participants make their choices absent outside urging, they chanted “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” and pointed toward the Sanders side of the room… Sanders surrogate Gilbert Cedillo interrupted a caucus-goer’s speech when he clapped abruptly at the mention of Medicare-for-all.

Don’t scorn Cedillo or any of the other Sanders supporters. They showed up because they are passionate. Blame a system that allowed them into a room where everyday people were just trying to express their preference for who should be the Democratic presidential nominee — a room that did not have a single ballot booth.

The only sensible defense of caucuses is that they allow people to shift their support to a second-choice candidate if their first choice is not viable. But Nevada — and every other caucus state — could offer voters this flexibility through a ranked-choice voting system like the one that Maine has used, without accepting all the built-in problems of caucusing. Let people — in secret — submit a shortlist of candidates in the order of their preference. In fact, the Nevada Democratic Party introduced this year a version of ranked-choice voting for people who wanted to caucus early, the results of which were meshed with the live caucus results obtained Saturday. The party could simply ditch the old system and move entirely to the new one. It would be much fairer….

Voting should not be a performance. No one should feel intimidated, as Anthony rightly worried. Everyone should be able to lie to their coworkers about who they support — or decline to say — and save their authentic opinion for the seclusion of the ballot booth. Anything else is indefensible.

Unquote.

Twenty-four hours after the caucuses began, the Post has results from 50% of the precincts. At least one campaign is questioning how the early voting results were integrated into the caucus results. This is a mess that the national Democratic Party needs to fix. They have two years before the next national election. That is enough time to get it right and eliminate these stupid, undemocratic caucuses.

Loving Elizabeth Warren Means Having a Plan If America Breaks Your Heart

That’s not exactly the title of Monica Hesse’s article in The Washington Post. The Post’s title is “Loving Elizabeth Warren Means Having a Plan For When America Breaks Your Heart”. I’m not ready for the “when” yet.

Quote:

Within three minutes of getting in line for an Elizabeth Warren rally, I’ve been handed a business card for a woman-empowerment organization called Brass Ovaries, and the founder, my linemate, has drawn me into a conversation about Warren that has begun to feel like the only conversation to have about Warren: the kind that’s about hope, and despair, and how it’s possible to love America and also want to throw it out the window.

“I went to one of her events before and I gave her one of my Brass Ovaries pins,” Michelle Johnson says. “And I started to explain how it’s about fed-up women — but she said, ‘Oh, I get it,’ and I said, ‘I knew you would,’ because Elizabeth always gets it, doesn’t she?”

This is the first part of the Warren conversation. It involves dreaming of a version of the country where leaders are excellent at explaining certain things, like the current shortcomings of health care and child care; and where they don’t need other things explained to them at all, like what it feels like to be an exasperated woman.

But Michelle, who plans to vote for Warren in her state’s Tuesday primary, also finds herself having a second, more maddening part of the Warren conversation. When she told her mother that she thought Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) would be a good running mate, her mother blanched. “America isn’t ready for two women on the ticket,” she said, then added that America might not even be ready for one.

That part is about fear. It’s about fearing a version of America that was certified as the real version four Novembers ago, when Hillary Clinton lost to D—- T—-. Or so people keep saying.

It’s a conversation that isn’t really about Elizabeth Warren at all; it’s about the rest of us.

There we were in New Hampshire, in the exhaust fumes of Iowa’s caucuses, which had been such a spectacular fiasco that Warren’s supporters in Keene now believed it was up to them to sort things out and, ideally, to sort things out for Warren. For all the chaos in Des Moines, one thing was clear: Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg wrestling through a tie with a quarter of the votes apiece.

And Warren, who had topped polls in October, had finished a distant third.

This alone didn’t faze her New Hampshire supporters. She’d outpaced the erstwhile front-runner Joe Biden, after all, who took his fourth-place finish as a “gut punch.” Plus, while Iowa was “a bunch of people running around in a gymnasium,” as one voter here put it, their state’s election was a civilized primary, and was also in the Massachusetts senator’s backyard.

But then a Boston Globe New Hampshire prediction came out. It had Warren polling at 13 percent in the Granite State. Behind Sanders. Behind a rising Buttigieg. In the loam with Biden.

Then Warren’s campaign announced that it was pulling ad dollars in Nevada and South Carolina.

Then it was time to really think about Elizabeth Warren. Which really means sorting through what version of America you believe in — the one where we are ready to vote a woman into the Oval Office, or the one where we aren’t — and whether it’s the believing, one way or another, that makes your version true.

“The thing is, I can picture her up there on the debate stage with T—-, and she’s debating him to pieces,” says Deb Wilson, a retired New Hampshire educator. “To pieces.”

“We need her,” says Wendy Keith, a social worker. “We need her so badly. We need someone that strong and that smart.”

“I think having a woman in the White House — I think she’ll care for us,” adds Esther Scheidel, standing next to Wendy.

“Of course, I’m not voting for her because she’s a woman …” another supporter chimes in a few minutes later, having overheard the earlier conversation…“Of course, I’m not voting for her because she’s a woman; I don’t even think of her as a woman,” another supporter chimes in a few minutes later, having overheard the earlier conversation…

It’s a preposterous, relatable, vexing statement. It’s impossible not to see Warren as a woman. Many of her policies were explicitly shaped by that identity, as she readily acknowledges. Is “not thinking of Warren as a woman” supposed to be a compliment?

What I think this man means is that ever since 2016, we have been trapped in a vague debate about electability, and whether it’s only men have who have it. In the fog of uncertainty over Hillary Clinton’s complicated defeat (she neglected Wisconsin, she used a private email server, she was a “nasty woman” slain by weaponized misogyny, she still won the popular vote), the debate has mutated into an abstract panic about whether any woman can get elected in 2020.

Trying to ignore Elizabeth Warren’s femaleness is an attempt to neatly sidestep the whole problem. To pretend that we have the capacity to vote entirely on merits. To behave as if each election can happen in a vacuum, uninformed by the elections and the hundreds of years of history that came before it.

Can you ignore that while Pete Buttigieg might be a millennial wunderkind, a female 38-year-old mayor of a midsize town would have a hard time being taken as seriously if she up and ran for president? Can you ignore that Bernie Sanders’s shouting is seen as righteous but if Kamala Harris ever raised her voice, it was seen as anger? How did Joe Biden automatically get to wear the cloak of electability for nearly a full year before Iowa tore it off?

…. These days, of course, people don’t say, “I won’t vote for a woman”; they say, “I’m scared my moderate father-in-law needs a man on the ballot to motivate him to the polls.”

This isn’t progress. This is treating the election as a psychic reading.

“I’m leaning toward Warren,” says Frank Brownell, a retired editor who relocated to Keene from Upstate New York. “I’m not a big Buttigieg fan. But I want to pick someone to win.” He sighed, deeply troubled. “Women have such a burden. I actually wish women ran the world.”

If he wished women ran things, I asked him, was there a reason he was still merely leaning toward Warren? Here was a woman he liked who was offering to run the country, and he literally had the chance to give her the job.

“I’m going to vote for her,” he decided, then waffled. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

His qualms weren’t with Warren. He loved Warren. His qualms were about everyone else, everyone else who might not be ready to vote for a woman. “I’m hopeful but I’m not hopeful. I don’t think America is what I always hoped it was.”

Here are some things that happen at Elizabeth Warren events: Warren sprints onstage, much tinier and slighter than she appears on television, to Dolly Parton singing “9 to 5.” She shares that she was her parents’ late-in-life baby, and her mother never stopped referring to her as “the surprise.” She talks about her first marriage, and then she jokes that it’s never good when you have to number your marriages. She tells a story about a toaster, and the toaster becomes a metaphor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she helped create, and the CFBP becomes a metaphor for how things can change, but only if you are willing to believe they can change.

You have to believe; that’s the key. You have to jump into the void of possibility. Ready or not.

She is optimistic and upbeat, almost comically so, as if she is Elizabeth Warren playing SNL’s Kate McKinnon playing Elizabeth Warren. She is empathetic in a way that could feel phony if you’re not accustomed to that sort of thing in a politician.

At one event in New Hampshire, a little girl approaches the microphone, accompanied by her mother.

“My name is Elizabeth,” she says.

“Your name is Elizabeth?” Warren reels back. “Oh wow! Double Elizabeths! I feel the power.”

“I’m seven years old.”

Warren pauses, deadpan. “I’m . . . not.”

“I want to know if you will close the camps,” the 7-year-old Elizabeth asks.

Here, Warren’s response grows impossibly soft and intimate, so soft that it feels almost indecent to listen to, like this has become a private conversation. The camps in Texas where they are holding children? Warren asks. The 7-year-old nods. Those camps.

“Yes,” Warren says. “Yes.”

And then people in the audience tear up because in that moment they did seem to believe things could change, that Warren was the best candidate, that others thought so too and just needed to be convinced that it’s safe to vote for her. That there’s nothing to fear in nominating this woman but fear itself.

“If everyone is trying to play that [electability] game,” offers Nancy Loschiavo, a Warren supporter, “then what has our country come to?”

But, Loschiavo hastens to add, she’ll absolutely vote for whoever the nominee is.

Everyone at the Warren events hastens to add that.

A survey had come out a few days before, asking each candidate’s supporters whether, assuming their own first choice dropped out, they would vote for whoever was the Democratic nominee. Some supporters professed a my-guy-or-bust attitude… But Warren’s supporters, more than anyone else, said they’d vote for whomever they needed to vote for.

One way to read this is that Warren doesn’t have crossover appeal: She appeals only to the folks who would have voted Democratic no matter what. Another way to read this is that her supporters are as practical as they are passionate: There’s an outcome they’d prefer, but if it doesn’t happen, they’ll move on to the next best thing. They’ve got a plan for that.

After talking to enough of her fans, I think it’s the second explanation. The second explanation, mixed with something deeper:

Loving Elizabeth Warren means planning for America to break your heart.

It means watching her tweet out an optimistic message after Iowa, and then watching how all of the early replies instruct her to defer to Sanders and drop out…

It means listening to people complain about her schoolmarmishness and quietly wondering what was so wrong, exactly, with sounding like a schoolmarm. What’s so wrong with sounding like a grandmother? What’s so wrong with her animated hand gestures, her cardigans, her preparedness, her laugh, her husband, her brain, her work, her femaleness, her voice?

It means hoping things will break your way, but accepting that they probably wouldn’t, because America never quite seems to work that way, does it?

America doesn’t just render a verdict on the acceptability of women and their clothes and laughs every four years; America does that every day, in a lot of different ways. That’s the reason Michelle Johnson feels moved to make “brass ovaries” pins, and the reason Elizabeth Warren doesn’t have to ask her to explain why.

“The biggest reluctance I hear is ‘Can a woman win?’ ” says Ron Jones, who … has been canvassing for Warren and had come to see her speak in a Nashua community college gym. “I point out that a woman has already won,” he said, referring to Clinton’s popular-vote victory.

“I tell them, look at other countries with successful female leaders,” says Harris. “I tell them, look at successful female CEOs.” … Or just look around you….

Inside the gym, attendees filled the folding plastic chairs, and when those were full, leaned against the walls, parkas draped over their forearms. Seatmates introduced themselves to each other and talked about why they liked Warren, and why there were still reasons to be hopeful, maybe.

“I just want someone to bring energy back,” M.K. Hayes tells the fellow New Hampshirites sitting next to her. “And with her, there’s no cynicism, but there’s urgency. With her, you can say, ‘I’m liberal and I’m proud.’ ”

Her husband likes Warren, too, but he’s not here today. He likes her, she explains, but he might not vote for her; he’s not sure it’s the practical thing to do.

“I am trying to get him to vote with his heart,” Hayes says. “I am trying to get him to have the courage to risk.”

The music in the gym gets a little louder. When “9 to 5” comes on, Warren sprints onstage. She talks about her family. She talks about her toaster. She says she is running a campaign from the heart, because she believes 2020 is “our moment.”

“I believe in that America,” Elizabeth Warren says, and then she tries to convince the audience that they believe in that America, too.

Unquote.

There Will Be No Excuses in November

Yesterday, from Hillary Clinton:

With their votes to make the American president accountable to no one, Republican senators have put the interests of one president over the interests of all Americans.

The only remedy now is for us all to vote in overwhelming numbers to replace them—and him—in November.

Amen.