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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Partisan Divide on Opening the Economy
      •  Wisconsin to Reopen...Today?
      •  Trump May Close the Borders Indefinitely
      •  Supreme Court Hears Case about Faithless Electors
      •  Bright Has a Dim View of Trump
      •  If a Vaccine Is Available, Will People Get It?
      •  Biden Wins the Nebraska Primary
      •  Smith Concedes in CA-25
      •  Can We Trust the State Polls?
      •  Florida Is Not Hot to Improve Election Security
      •  Will Young Progressives Back Biden?

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Partisan Divide on Opening the Economy

Morning Consult ran a poll that asked about various current issues. It shows that the Republican base is moving in sync with Donald Trump and wants to reopen the economy now. Among Democrats, 68% think Trump is moving too fast to reopen the economy and only 6% think he is going too slow. Among Republicans, 31% think he is going too fast and 27% think he is going too slow. A month ago Republicans were much more worried about the coronavirus, but now that Donald Trump has announced that the health issues are behind us, they want to open things up.

The only possible problem here for Trump is that the country as a whole is with the Democrats, with 51% thinking he is going too fast and only 15% thinking he is going too slow. But this wouldn't be the first time Trump either led his base or was led by his base, without regard to what everyone else wanted.

Another ominous sign for him is that 34% of the registered voters queried think the country is moving in the right direction while 66% say it is on the wrong track. Asking the voters to accept more of the same when two-thirds of them don't like what they are seeing now is always a bit tricky.

The poll also asked the voters which party they trusted more on various issues. The Democrats win on the coronavirus, healthcare, the environment, energy, education, sexual misconduct in the workplace, and protecting Medicare and Social Security. The Republicans win on the economy, jobs, immigration, and national security. When asked what issues Congress should focus on now, stopping the coronavirus is a top priority of 73%, closely followed by stimulating the economy (67%), and far outdistancing reducing the deficit (36%), climate change (32%), infrastructure (30%), immigration (30%), gun control (29%), inequality (28%), or building a wall on the Mexican border (23%). (V)

Wisconsin to Reopen...Today?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has become so nakedly partisan that nobody really even bothers to pretend anymore that the seven justices are just calling balls and strikes. So, when the Republican legislators in the Badger State became unhappy with the stay-at-home order imposed by Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI), they knew exactly where to go. On Wednesday, the court made its ruling, striking down the Governor's dictum. The only surprise is that the vote was 4-3, as opposed to the usual 5-2.

That means that, consistent with the wishes of (some) Republican voters, the state will officially be wide open as the sun rises this morning. Or, to use Evers' description, it will be the "wild west." By all indications, "throw the doors open" is a minority position, so we will see how the majority feels about the political party that is willing to take risks with citizens' health. In particular, it will be interesting to see how older voters, who broke pretty heavily for the GOP in 2016, and who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, feel.

Of course, if the Wisconsin economy gets roaring again, maybe folks will think it was all worth it. That's a big "if," though. The Southern states that have "reopened" are already discovering that it's not quite so easy as just snapping your fingers, particularly if people fear that going out for shopping, dinner, etc. could be, you know, fatal. It's also worth noting that Wisconsin's top three industries all involve the export of agricultural products (fruits/vegetables, dairy, and leather). If the rest of the country remains shut down, and there's no market for these exports, then it won't matter whether or not Wisconsinites are willing to risk their lives to save the state's economy. (Z)

Trump May Close the Borders Indefinitely

Rahm Emanuel once said: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste." What he meant was that if you can use a crisis as an excuse to do what you wanted to do before the crisis, then just do it. Donald Trump clearly agrees. He has always been strongly anti-immigrant (except as cheap and hardworking laborers for his businesses) and he took advantage of the coronavirus crisis to close the borders for 30 days. Now he wants to keep them closed until the health crisis is over. In practice, that means as long as he is president.

Since March 21, only two immigrants seeking asylum have been accepted into the United States. Their identities are secret, for obvious reasons, but we have a pretty good guess as to their ethnicity (Hint: They probably didn't come from sh**hole countries). Three others have cases that are pending. More than 20,000 others have been refused entry into the U.S.

Presidential aide Stephen Miller's fingerprints are all over this plan. Miller has long considered using health laws to stem immigration. He also knows that restricting immigration is very popular with Trump's base, so extending it at least through the election is clearly a winner with them. However, that policy is not at all popular with Democrats and especially not with Latinos, so it could easily backfire. Joe Biden is looking to generate some enthusiasm among Latino voters, so he might just bring up the President's border policy once or twice during the campaign. (V)

Supreme Court Hears Case about Faithless Electors

As if the Supreme Court didn't have enough on its plate with Donald Trump's taxes, it got another hot potato thrown at it yesterday with a case asking whether presidential electors are basically free agents who can vote for any candidate they like, without taking any guidance from the voters in their state. Specifically, it is about electors from Colorado and Washington who didn't vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 even though she carried their respective states. The legal issue here is whether states have the power to punish them with fines, prison terms, or removal as electors.

Thirty-two states and D.C. have laws ordering the electors to vote as their state did. In the hearing, Justice Samuel Alito asked whether allowing the electors' free rein might lead to candidates bribing electors or electors extorting candidates. Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that when judges have two positions to pick from, and one leads to chaos and the other doesn't, the general preference is the latter.

The plaintiffs are represented by Harvard Law Prof. Lawrence Lessig who is a strong opponent of the Electoral College. He wants the Court to rule that electors can do whatever damn thing they please in order to rouse public opinion against the Electoral College. The plaintiffs are pleased to have such distinguished and experienced counsel on their side, even if he has ulterior motives. However, the justices are not stupid. They know exactly what game Lessig is playing and will take that into consideration when they make a decision.

In 2016, there were 10 faithless electors. Their defections didn't change the election results, but in five of the 58 previous presidential elections, changing 10 electoral votes would have changed the outcome. The states said that allowing the electors free rein would end democracy. Their lawyers countered with the notion that the founding parents didn't trust the voters, which is why they created the Electoral College in the first place—to allow wise men to overrule the stupid masses.

If the Court rules that electors can vote for anyone they want to, possibly including people who were not on the ballot, that will have two effects. First, it will greatly increase the hue and cry for a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College once and for all. Second, it will focus much more attention on how the electors are chosen. To the extent that they are free agents, the state parties, which usually pick the slates of electors, will become much more careful about picking only electors with a very long history of party loyalty, or who can be effectively punished by the party for going rogue. For example, a state senator who voted the wrong way could lose all of his or her committee positions, staff, budget, and office space and face unified party opposition at the next primary. (V)

Bright Has a Dim View of Trump

Rick Bright, the former director of BARDA, the government agency that oversees vaccines, was fired by Donald Trump for not toeing the party line on the coronavirus. Today he gets to tell his side of the story to Congress, specifically to the House Subcommittee on Health. CNN has obtained his opening statement (presumably because Bright sent it to them). He is expected to say that the administration was unprepared for the pandemic and "Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history." Not quite a "nuclear winter," but not far off.

Bright will also say that Trump fired him specifically because he opposed the use of chloroquine, which Trump has promoted as a wonder drug in the fight against the virus, but which doctors think is useless and possibly even dangerous. After being fired, Bright filed a whistleblower complaint.

Bright is also going to say that he warned his superiors about upcoming shortages of critical medical supplies, but he faced hostility and marginalization from HHS officials.

Trump is not going to like what Bright has to say, since the good doctor clearly blames Trump and his underlings for not being prepared for the pandemic and, when it hit, not doing very much to stop it back when they could have. The President will undoubtedly call Bright a Democrat and a Trump hater and try to dismiss everything he has to say. After all, he has a Ph.D. in immunology and virology, and what do those people know? Will it move the needle? Not by itself, but as more and more experts testify before Congress, some voters who are on the fence may come to believe that Trump botched the response to COVID-19. (V)

If a Vaccine Is Available, Will People Get It?

Many research groups are racing to discover a vaccine for COVID-19. Hopefully, one or more will succeed. However, that is only the first step. The second step is to test it thoroughly. If it passes the tests, the third step is to manufacture and distribute a few billion doses. Those are all the "easy" parts. The hard part will be convincing everyone to get the vaccine, as opposition is far-reaching and growing.

Anti-vaxxers are already campaigning against it by spreading lies all over social media. These include the idea that vaccines will implant microchips in people, that people have died in vaccine trials, and that vaccines would kill millions of people. The anti-vaxxers are also out in force protesting, as this photo by Rich Pedroncelli shows:

Anti-vaxxer protest

One study of the anti-vaxxers found 1,300 pages on Facebook that are followed by 85 million people. It also found that the pro-vaccination groups, which are also present on Facebook, are largely talking to themselves with little outreach to undecideds and anti-vaxxers.

The anti-vaxxers tend to win new converts with emotional messages like: "Do you love your children? Then protect them from those harmful vaccines." Pro-vaccine pages tend to be more factual and less emotional. In the end, though, the pro-vaccine camp has one silver bullet that the anti-vaxxers don't: They will all get the vaccine when it is available and won't die from COVID-19. The anti-vaxxers won't get the vaccine and some of them will get the disease and die from it. That is not great PR for their position. It also reduces their ranks. Paging Charles Darwin.

Anti-vax protesters don't break cleanly along partisan lines. They come from both the left and the right, which makes them extra hard to battle. Left-wing protesters don't want toxic chemicals made by evil money-grubbing pharmaceutical corporations injected into their bodies because they are not pure. Right-wing protesters have no problem with the evil money-grubbing pharmaceutical corporations, but they refuse to submit to the government's authority to tell them what to do. So far, Donald Trump has said that he hopes there will be a vaccine soon. If he sticks to this position, it could convince some right-wing pro-Trumpers to get it just because their dear leader tells them to do it. Also, it tastes better than fish-tank cleaner. However, if Trump says "get one," that will be yet another reason why anti-vaxxers on the left will refuse. (V)

Biden Wins the Nebraska Primary

Nebraska held its primary on Tuesday and Joe Biden got 77% of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got just 13%. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) got 6% and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) got 3%. Biden won every county in the state. The 29 delegates haven't been allocated yet, but Biden will surely get the lion's share. In 2016, Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the Cornhusker State's caucuses, 57% to 43%.

The election went smoothly. Almost 400,000 people voted by absentee ballot, a record for the state. Voters who showed up in person were given masks if they didn't bring their own and generally stayed 6 feet apart. After each person voted, the voting booth was wiped down with disinfectant. Hand sanitizer was available in many places. In some precincts, young people volunteered to be poll workers, replacing the typically much older poll workers who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. In short, it is possible to have an election run well, even with the coronavirus raging, but it takes care and planning. (V)

Smith Concedes in CA-25

CA-25, a district that was represented by Republicans for 25 years before former representative Katie Hill (D) wrested the seat away from the party, is back in GOP hands again. Mike Garcia (R) appeared to have an insurmountable lead on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday, even though not all the ballots are counted, Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D) reached that conclusion as well and conceded the race.

Once all the ballots are tallied, Garcia is going to win the district, which has a PVI of even, by about 12 points. There is absolutely no way that the country, the state, or this particular subsection of the state shifted 12 points rightward in two (or four) years. That means this result is inherently wonky. The only question is: How wonky, a little or a lot? Garcia ran a strong campaign in which he emphasized his military record and also hugged Donald Trump very close. That plays well with folks in the northern portion of his district (more exurban/rural), but not so well with folks in the southern portion (more suburban/urban). How much will a general election electorate, particularly one where each voter is armed with a mail-in ballot, change things? And what will happen if Trumpism takes a hit, thanks to COVID-19? These are questions we should get an answer to in November, since Smith and Garcia will both be back for another go-round.

At least part of the discrepancy between 2020 and 2018 might be explained by turnout. In 2018, 245,000 people voted in the general election. So far in the special election, 149,000 ballots have been counted. There are some ballots remaining, but nowhere near 100,000. It is common that Republicans are more patriotic and vote whenever there is an election, but Democrats have to be cajoled and badgered into voting. If that is the explanation for the wonky result, Smith could yet win in November. (Z)

Can We Trust the State Polls?

The final national 2016 presidential polls were very accurate, but in three Midwestern states the polls picked the wrong horse (although technically, in two of them—Michigan and Pennsylvania—the final state results were within the polls' margin of error). The New York Times' data guru, Nate Cohn, is now wondering if that could happen again. So are we. Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. Some problems that occurred then have been solved, but others are nearly impossible to solve. Here are some of the issues:

  • Better: Fewer undecided voters: In 2016, 20% of the voters said they hadn't decided or would vote for a minor party. Somewhat surprisingly, in the end, they broke strongly for Trump. The country is so polarized now because with Donald Trump in the White House it's love him or hate him, such that the number of voters in these categories is now only about 10%.

  • Better: Education weighting: In 2016, pollsters weighted for gender, race, income, partisanship, and some other factors to make sure wealthy Latina vegetarian lesbian libertarians were weighted correctly. What they didn't correct for was education. As it turns out, that was a key differentiator, with college-educated voters going strongly for Clinton and noncollege voters going strongly for Trump. College-educated voters were much more likely to cooperate with the pollsters, so they were oversampled. Consequently, there were too many Clinton voters in the sample. Pollsters know this now and will definitely normalize it to weigh each educational level correctly.

  • Worse: More online polls: Online polls are becoming more common, because they are easy and cheap to carry out, but the gold standard is still random-sample telephone polls done by a live interviewer. Selecting people to ask from a large online panel is inherently less random than random digit dialing because Internet users are not typical of the electorate. Corrections are always made for this, but online polls are still a step down from live interviewer polls. Another problem is that it's much easier to mis-represent oneself online. In fact, the very first contact between (V) and (Z) was about 6 years ago, when (Z) successfully persuaded an online pollster that he was a 78-year-old black woman living in Denver, and then reported the results of his little experiment to (V). This problem is not so easy to correct for.

  • Worse: Recalled vote weighting: Some pollsters are asking respondents: "Who did you vote for in 2016?" and normalizing their data to fit the actual vote. Unfortunately, people don't always remember who they voted for, and some people refuse to say. Studies show that people tend to remember their vote better when they voted for the winner. This effect might bias the polls toward the Democrats. Also, some respondents were too young to vote in 2016, which introduces bias. Finally, some voters have moved to a new state.

All in all, the pollsters are well aware of what happened in 2016, but when an election in a state is decided by less than 1 point, as it was in the three Midwestern states, no poll with a 4-point margin of error is going to capture that correctly. (V)

Florida Is Not Hot to Improve Election Security

The big coronavirus relief bill that passed in March (v3.0, for those who are keeping track) appropriated $400 million for election security. Florida is entitled to $20 million of it, but the governor hasn't decided if he will take it, because the bill requires the state to pony up $4 million of its own money for security to get the $20 million from the feds. The Sunshine State is the only one that doesn't seem to think that election security is worth the trouble. And remember, Florida is the land of the hanging chads (that is, it has a miserable record when it comes to elections). Oh, and Russian hackers almost certainly compromised the voter records of two Florida counties in 2016.

This year, election costs may be higher than usual due to a greater-than-normal number of people who are likely to request absentee ballots and the large number of disposable pens, masks, and disinfectant wipes needed for in-person voters. States will need to begin ordering supplies soon, and if Florida hesitates too long, it may not be able to get what it needs on time. Florida could yet decide to take the money, but the clock is ticking. (V)

Will Young Progressives Back Biden?

The Nation recently published a letter from some 1960 radicals who have mellowed considerably over the years. It is entitled: "To the New New Left from the Old New Left" and makes the case that the reelection of Donald Trump could end America's experiment with democracy. Whether the letter has any impact remains to be seen, but the old left's fears are not imaginary.

The Democratic Socialists of America have already said that they will not back Joe Biden, nor will Jacobin magazine, which is popular among young progressives. Jacobin's editor, Bhaskar Sunkara, has said that he will vote for the Green Party candidate (probably Howie Hawkins) and told the old left to buzz off because the new left doesn't want to choose between the left wing or the right wing of the Capitalist Party. No real difference there, as they see it.

The old left remembers well that in 1968, many of them refused to vote for Capitalist Richard Nixon or Capitalist Hubert Humphrey and so voted for the Peace and Freedom Party's candidate, Eldridge Cleaver, who was a convicted felon and also only 33 at the time. Others voted for the Yippie Party's candidate, a pig named "Pigasus." That showed the Capitalists! Hah!

The reason the DSA and Jacobin will not back Biden is the same reason the Students for a Democratic Society did not back Humphrey in 1968, despite his years of being one of the most progressive politicians in America: doctrinal purity. Voting for the lesser of two evils didn't cut it with the kids then and doesn't cut it with the kids now. Only the then-kids are today's seniors and they have learned the lesson that sometimes the lesser of two evils is better than the greater of two evils. Keep an eye out to see if Sunkara writes a letter to The Nation just before the 2072 election urging the new new new left to take some bitterly acquired advice from the old new new left. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May13 Flynn Not in the Clear Yet
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