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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Wisconsin Primary Is a Fiasco
      •  Congress Prepares to Get Out the Checkbook Again
      •  Navarro Plot Thickens
      •  COVID-19 Death Totals Are Undoubtedly Low
      •  White House Does Some Spring Housecleaning
      •  Let the Investigations Begin
      •  Things Are Getting Interesting in Georgia

Wisconsin Primary Is a Fiasco

There is a rumor that the United States is a democracy. You would have had a hard time confirming that if you visited Wisconsin yesterday, however, as the primary there was an absolute train wreck, and a mockery of free and fair elections. The list of issues is long, and includes some things of recent vintage, and some things that have been years in the making:

  • Wisconsin is one of the most aggressively gerrymandered states in the country

  • It also has one of the nation's most assertive voter ID laws

  • After sitting on the case for two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to reset the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots to yesterday, shortening the time frame by six days at the very last minute. It's getting harder and harder to believe that Chief Justice John Roberts cares about the reputation of the Court at all; he seems to be very willing to sacrifice that reputation in the service of his political goals.

  • For some folks, the Court's decision created much confusion and chaos, as they did not hear the news until mere hours before the deadline to get their ballot in the mail.

  • Many other voters, meanwhile, never got their absentee ballots in the first place, despite requesting them with plenty of time to spare.

  • In many precincts, people waited three or more hours in line in order to vote. Although most wore face masks, and people practiced social distancing, not every building is set up to comfortably accommodate the necessary spacing. Here is a video from Wisconsin's WBAY-TV that shows some of the lines from overhead, and here are interviews with five voters, talking about their experience.

  • The primary reason for the long lines was a lack of polling places, due to a lack of polling place workers. Milwaukee, population 600,000, had just five open polling places (normally there are 180). Green Bay, population 105,000, had just two.

  • In order to keep even those few polling places open, it was necessary to deploy the National Guard to staff them, since nobody else would do it. Despite that, the Wisconsin Republican Party had the temerity to tweet this:

  • Donald Trump, for his part, claimed on Tuesday that the Democrats' bid to delay the primary was an attempt to stick it to him, despite the fact that his assertion makes absolutely no sense. He's going to get Wisconsin's Republican delegates, no matter how many (or how few) people vote. He also said that mail-in ballots are inherently "corrupt." This would be the same Donald Trump who voted mail-in during the last two elections. Which, come to think of it, may actually be evidence in support of his point.

In short, if the Carter Center had been monitoring this election, they would have thrown up their hands and gone home. They don't waste their time if they think the process is hopelessly broken.

Meanwhile, there are no results, and there won't be for a week, as the courts have decreed they will not be released until the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots arrives (ballots had to be mailed by yesterday, but will be accepted as long as they arrive by Apr. 13).

The purpose of much of this chicanery, recall, was to keep one of the seven seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Republican hands, and thus to preserve the Party's 5-2 majority (and its ability to easily put aside any anti-gerrymandering suits, among other things). We'll find out in a week if it worked. And then, we'll find out in six months if there's a price to be paid; a lot of Wisconsin voters are seeing red over the fact that they were compelled to take their very lives into their hands in order to exercise their franchise, and some of them may be voting blue in November as a result, when otherwise they might not have done so. (Z)

Congress Prepares to Get Out the Checkbook Again

It would appear that anyone and everyone in Washington has agreed that the COVID-19 relief bill v3.0 did not set aside nearly enough money to save small businesses. And so, there is already much talk about dumping another pile of money into the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is asking for $250 billion more (in addition to the $350 billion that's already been set aside), and it's likely he'll get it once both houses of Congress are back in session.

Of course, money is just part of the problem. There's also the issue of excessive red tape and maladministration, and folks across the political spectrum are calling for rapid improvement. Hopefully it comes, although the fact that Larry Kudlow, the President's chief economic adviser, and one of the folks who would be responsible for fixing things, spent the day on Tuesday insisting that nobody could have seen the COVID-19 crisis coming, and at the same time declaring that he expects to have the economy up and running again in as few as 4 weeks. This does not sound like a person who is in touch with cold, hard reality, and who is going to be able to come to grips with what's wrong with the PPP. (Z)

Navarro Plot Thickens

Speaking of "nobody could have seen the COVID-19 crisis coming," one person in the White House who can definitively say otherwise is trade adviser Peter Navarro. Recently, he's been the butt of jokes (including some from us) due to his having insinuated himself into the administration's pandemic response team, and his insistence that as a Ph.D. (and thus someone entitled to the honorific 'doctor'), his medical opinion is just as valid as someone with an M.D. (and thus an actual doctor). However, it turns out that there was a time when he was well ahead of the curve on COVID-19, especially by White House standards.

On Tuesday, the website Axios published memos that it obtained, and that were written by Navarro back in late January and early February. He warned, repeatedly, that this thing was going to spiral out of control, and that immediate steps were needed to contain it. In particular, in a Jan. 29 memo titled "Aggressive Containment versus No Containment," he pushed for a ban on travel between China and the United States. Navarro's estimate was that this would cost the U.S. $2.9 billion per month, whereas if COVID-19 spun out of control, the price tag could climb to as much as...$34.6 billion. Ok, so maybe Navarro wasn't 100% prescient on all points.

Navarro's concerns were dismissed, of course. In part, because many folks in the White House assumed that this was just another expression of Navarro's well known Sinophobia. And in part, because nobody wants to believe "doom and gloom" predictions. Perhaps most important, however, is that nobody in this White House wants to be the one to break bad news to Donald Trump. The President, for his part, said on Tuesday that he never saw the memos. That could well be true, or it could be a lie, or it could be that he saw them and forgot. In any case, the memos are evidence that the potential to get out ahead of this thing was certainly there, if only Team Trump had seized it.

It's also another reminder of the dysfunction of this administration. Everyone has their fiefdoms and their biases, and they all look askance at the fiefdoms and the biases of the other members of the administration. This is the way Trump has always run his businesses, it's the way he set up his reality TV show, and now it's the way he runs his White House. Such an approach is not necessarily a recipe for disaster; Franklin D. Roosevelt famously pitted his underlings against on another. However, it doesn't seem to be working too well for the Donald. (Z)

COVID-19 Death Totals Are Undoubtedly Low

This weekend, we had several letters proposing that the official number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. (13,000, as of Tuesday) should be viewed with skepticism. One big reason is that this administration has every reason to be dishonest here, and has a history of being dishonest in virtually all other contexts.

There's no proof, as yet, that Team Trump has deliberately fudged the numbers. However, there's also a second problem (already seen in Italy, per one of our letter-writers): People may die of COVID-19 without being tested before expiring (due to lack of access, or a shortage of tests, or whatever), and they might not be tested afterward (in a desire to preserve scarce testing resources for the living). And so, such folks are not added to the official tally. A report from CNN, which talked to several coroners around the country, confirms that this phenomenon is already in full effect.

Meanwhile, a complementary item from Politico points out how very anemic the U.S. testing program is (no pun intended). Although the administration is bragging that 700,000 people have already been tested, it doesn't take an advanced degree in differential calculus to realize that's a drop in the bucket (about 0.2% of the population). And not only have too few people been tested, but the lab capacity needed to dramatically expand that number doesn't currently exist. Further, the most commonly used tests do not produce especially quick results, and may not be as accurate as they need to be.

When it comes to combating this thing, there are four things that it would be really nice to have right now:

  1. Quick, accurate testing for everyone
  2. An effective treatment
  3. Enough ventilators and other equipment to treat those who have fallen ill
  4. An effective vaccine

If a genie in a bottle were to present himself to Donald Trump and were to grant him exactly one item from the list above, the President would probably choose #2. Certainly, that has been the focus of much of his rhetoric, including his repeated assertions that hydroxychloroquine is a panacea, despite there being very limited evidence in support of that conclusion (television doctors and French quacks don't count).

Meanwhile, #1 would likely be last on Trump's list. If so, it speaks to his lack of vision, since quick, accurate testing might be doable on a short timeline (unlike a vaccine), and would also be invaluable in terms of tracking the course of the disease (and containing outbreaks), and in convincing people to resume normal life when the time comes. Getting back to normal, especially in terms of commerce, is the President's fondest desire right now. And he and folks like Larry Kudlow seem to think they can declare "all is well!" in a month or two and throw a switch, and 300+ million Americans will immediately fall into line. If so, they are setting themselves up for disappointment, because it will take a while for folks to get over their skittishness, particularly if they can't be sure that other folks are not contagious. (Z)

White House Does Some Spring Housecleaning

Normally, this sort of thing waits for Friday nights, but maybe the administration has finally figured out that Dick Nixon's favorite trick for burying unpleasant news doesn't work so well in the Information Age. In any event, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham was removed from her post on Tuesday by newly christened chief of staff Mark Meadows. She managed to last 281 days on the job without holding a single press briefing, which is undoubtedly a record, while at the same time being a monument to non-transparency. Pretty much all Grisham did was TV hits on Fox News. Now she will return to the East Wing, resuming her work with First Lady Melania Trump.

To replace Grisham, the White House managed to dig up yet another utterly shameless shill. It's Kayleigh McEnany, who spent a year or so on CNN as the resident Trump apologist after Jeff Lord got fired for ill-advised Nazi references in his tweets, and who has more recently worked as a spokeswoman for the RNC. All press secretaries are skilled practitioners in the art of spin, of course, but the folks on Team Trump take it to a whole new level. In an apparent demonstration that she's ready for her new duties, she was a regular presence on Fox News in the last month, where she repeatedly pooh-poohed the threat posed by COVID-19 and then, when it became clear that was off the mark, switched to declaring that it was a Democratic plot, and insisting that the blue team is "rooting" for the pandemic to be as bad as possible.

Grisham wasn't the only departure on Tuesday. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly went way over the top with his response to Capt. Brett Crozier, formerly commander of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. Removing the Captain from command because he dared write a memo about the seriousness of COVID-19 was surely an overreaction. However, going on Crozier's former ship and tearing him down in a vitriol-filled speech was beyond the pale. After Modly went on the Roosevelt and did that, it was clear he was in for a rough ride. It wasn't a long ride, though, as he was compelled to resign just over a day after his ill-advised address.

And finally, as long as the pad of pink slips was out anyhow, Donald Trump decided to go ahead and remove Glenn Fine from his post as Acting Dept. of Defense Inspector General, and thus from the panel that will oversee the $2.2 trillion in spending authorized by Congress last week. Everyone knew this was coming, and now it has. To replace Fine, the President tapped EPA IG Sean O'Donnell, who will add the Acting DoD IG post and the oversight panel to his portfolio. The good news is that he's not a yes-man, and he's taken his job as IG seriously in the few months he's been on the job. The bad news is that no person can do all of these jobs and do them well. And so, the President has put himself in the win-win position of inadequate oversight of what's going on at the EPA, or inadequate oversight of the $2.2 trillion in spending, or both. Unless he finds an excuse to remove O'Donnell, that is, and to throw yet another wrench into the IG system. (Z)

Let the Investigations Begin

Donald Trump has shown us that he can do an awful lot when it comes to the executive branch employees who are supposed to be keeping a watchful eye on his administration. AG William Barr isn't so much a watchdog as he is a collaborator, and the game of musical chairs that the President has played with the various IGs (see above) has done much to trim their wings.

What Trump cannot do, at least not with 100% effectiveness, is control the folks at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And on Tuesday, the members of Congress revealed that two new investigations are about to get underway. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, is going to take a close look at the circumstances under which Brett Crozier was removed from command. Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wants to know more about exactly why Trump removed intelligence community IG Michael Atkinson from his post over the weekend.

Thus far, Congressional investigations of Trump haven't produced much in the way of sanctions, or reduced polling numbers. That said, it certainly isn't good news for the President that he's being scrutinized (yet again), especially by a Republican senator. It's doubtful that this will do any direct damage to him, but it may cause him to be a little more cautious about his most egregious anti-democratic impulses. In particular, maybe he won't tinker around with the $2 trillion oversight panel as much as he would like to. (Z)

Things Are Getting Interesting in Georgia

There are a number of politicians, and politicians' staffers, who got briefings about the looming COVID-19 crisis back in January or February, and then who made some very "insightful" stock market investments. Perhaps the most insightful was Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who sold millions of dollars of stock in a dozen companies, including airlines and hotel chains, and purchased shares in a medical supply firm and in a company that makes teleworking software.

Now, her senior colleague, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), appears to have been almost as...insightful. In the month after he was briefed on COVID-19, the number of stock transactions in his portfolio tripled over previous months, and so did his returns. That includes, for example, a $65,000 investment in DuPont de Nemours, which just so happens to make protective equipment for those who are trying to avoid exposure to airborne pathogens. That transaction happened the exact same day that Perdue got his COVID-19 briefing (Jan. 24), and was followed by another $120,000 in investments in DuPont de Nemours over the next month. The Senator has offered the same denials Loeffler did, pointing out that others manage his portfolio, and that some of his recent investments were not profitable.

Assuming these Senators actually did trade on information they received in the course of their official duties, then they would be guilty of a felony. That said, they are undoubtedly smart enough to muddy the waters, making things hard to prove. And the current Dept. of Justice is not terribly likely to go after the President's loyal allies in the Senate. So, any misdeeds are not likely to be punished by the long arm of the law, at least not by this administration.

Punished by voters, on the other hand, is a different matter. Already, the two Senators' fates were tied together by virtue of being on the same ballot in the same year (Perdue because his regular turn is up, Loeffler because she's a replacement senator). Now, they are even more closely intertwined. Whether these transactions were legitimate or not, they certainly have an unpleasant odor to them, and they are most certainly going to come up during the campaign. This won't be limited to Democrats, either; by virtue of Georgia's wonky laws for replacing a vacant Senate seat, the competition between Loeffler and Republican challenger Rep. Doug Collins (GA) will not be resolved until Election Day, and Collins has already been hitting Loeffler hard over this.

In fact, it would not be too much to say that control of the Senate probably goes through Georgia now. To regain the upper chamber, the Democrats need to gain three seats and the presidency, or else four seats. Things are pretty promising for them in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and possibly Montana or North Carolina, but Sen. Doug Jones' (D-AL) seat is a lost cause. So, the blue team really needs one of those Georgia seats, and the odds are that if they get one, they will probably get both. On 56 occasions in U.S. history, two U.S. Senate seats have been up in the same state in the same year, and the seats have gone to the same party 48 times (86%). The last time a double-barreled Senate race resulted in a split was more than half a century ago, in 1966, when South Carolina sent Fritz Hollings (D) and Strom Thurmond (R) to the Senate. And because of the transition from "Southern Democrat" to "Republican" that was underway at that time, that one really shouldn't even count. The last true split was in 1962 in New Hampshire (Thomas McIntyre, D, and Norris Cotton, R). Since those two splits in the 1960s, there have been 12 double-barreled Senate elections, each of them giving both seats to the same party (most recently in Minnesota and Mississippi in 2018).

Point is: Whichever party wins one Senate seat in Georgia probably wins them both, especially now that Loeffler and Perdue are implicated in the same, potentially very damaging, kind of self-serving financial shenanigans. If the Republicans win both, then the Democrats' path to Senate control will be very narrow. And if the Democrats win both, it will be hard for the Republicans to hold on to their majority, especially since a double Democratic win also portends the loss of Georgia's EVs for the Republicans, and with them the White House. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr07 Wisconsin Soap Opera Takes Many Twists and Turns
Apr07 Trump, Biden Chat on Phone
Apr07 White House's Dirty Laundry Gets Aired in Public
Apr07 Small Business Loan Program Stumbles Out of the Gate
Apr07 House COVID-19 Inquiry Is Definitely Happening
Apr07 Trump Sinks in Florida
Apr07 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part VI: The Raid on Harpers Ferry (1859)
Apr06 Republicans Will Try to Block Vote-by-Mail Nationwide...
Apr06 ...And Are Already Trying in Wisconsin
Apr06 Texas' Law Could Disenfranchise Millions
Apr06 States Raid Election Security Funds to Pay Costs Related to COVID-19
Apr06 Trump Pursues Pet Projects in the Middle of a Pandemic
Apr06 Gretchen Whitmer Is Gaining Traction as a Possible Veep Candidate
Apr06 Forty Percent of Trump Voters Unhappy with His Response to the Coronavirus Crisis
Apr06 The "Trump Bump" Is History
Apr06 A 2013 Decision by Rick Scott May Hurt Trump in Florida
Apr06 Georgia Beaches Have Become a Flashpoint
Apr06 Some of Sanders' Top Allies Want Him to Drop Out
Apr05 Sunday Mailbag
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part I
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part II
Apr04 Wisconsin Governor Changes His Mind
Apr04 Saturday Q&A
Apr03 Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Apr03 Unemployment Figures Are Ghastly
Apr03 Democrats Officially Reschedule Convention
Apr03 Vote-by-mail List Grows
Apr03 National Vote-by-mail Is Going to Be Tough
Apr03 Can Trump Postpone the Election?, Part II
Apr03 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part V: California Statehood (1850)
Apr02 Biden: Difficult to Imagine Having Democratic Convention as Scheduled
Apr02 Sanders Wants Wisconsin to Postpone Its Primary
Apr02 Can Trump Postpone the Election?
Apr02 Trump Confronts a New Reality
Apr02 Pentagon Has 2,000 Ventilators, but Doesn't Know Where to Ship Them
Apr02 Pelosi Wants Vote-by-Mail Provision in Next Coronavirus Bill
Apr02 The Coronavirus Is Affecting Different Socioeconomic Groups Differently
Apr02 "Trump Bump" Fizzles
Apr02 Schiff Is Drafting Legislation to Study Why Nation Was Unprepared for Coronavirus
Apr01 Trump Gets Real about COVID-19
Apr01 A Grim Mortality Milestone
Apr01 A Grim Economic Milestone
Apr01 Obama Is Not Happy
Apr01 Maybe Biden Shouldn't Worry about Appeasing Sanders
Apr01 Mike Francesa Slams Trump
Apr01 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part IV: Missouri Statehood (1819-20)
Mar31 Social Distancing Gets Political
Mar31 COVID Relief Bill v4.0 Dance Has Begun
Mar31 Trump Really Hates pro-Biden Commercial
Mar31 About that "Trump Bump"...