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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

“You can’t make this stuff up!” is an all-purpose punch line to point out something in reality that’s so absurd that a punch line would shrivel in comparison. And it’s become a sort of a mantra for observers of the Trump Administration who are having trouble coming up with a punch line as ridiculous as the Secret Service spending $35,000 on golf carts to babysit the 70-year old president in about three months as Trump’s budget would gut federal funding for hungry seniors on Meals on Wheels.

Of course, all of this was not only predictable, it was predicted.

We were told that Trump could be baited, possibly into a nuclear war, with a tweet. We’d been warned that his campaign’s strange ties and allegiances with Russia, already codified with a change to the GOP platform in Putin’s favor, likely indicated something more nefarious. His policies always read like a George W. Bush-redux but with extra strength racism, misogyny and Islamophobia. And Trump’s rank incompetence and ability to dance from failure to failure sucking in gains while ripping off everyone in his wake was obvious in his business record, which included a class action lawsuit he settled for $25 million right before taking office.

But nothing prepared me for Trump’s schtick about his first 100 days.

Yes, a president’s first 100 days is an arbitrary marker we’ve inherited from Franklin D. Roosevelt, who swept into office after years of the Great Depression determined to make his personal optimism manifest in legislation and executive action.

It was “unlike anything known to American history,” historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote.

Lyndon Johnson’s 100 days intentionally summoned FDR’s spirit to similar effect and in his first 100 days, Barack Obama took steps to prevent a Greater Depression, to rescue and renew the American auto industry, and to create a green energy revolution that will pay dividends in Teslas and better solar panels for generations. (Obama, unlike Trump, also played no golf in his first 100 days.)

In that spirit, as his campaign floundered last October, Trump went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to lay out “Donald Trump’s Contract With The American Voter,” which stated his “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.”.

Anyone who knows Donald Trump’s record expects him to welch on any contract he makes, but — hey — at that point, before James Comey got his closeup, did even Don expect Don to win?

And Trump’s first 100 days have gone even worse, legislatively at least, than anyone expected.

He hasn’t jammed Democrats on any significant issues and his only “victories” are a series of reversals of Obama policies that include enabling oil companies to take money from foreign governments, coal companies to pollute rivers, and Internet service providers to track and sell your browsing history. These bills only required Republican votes in both Houses of Congress and were often signed in private because they would have shown the public that he stands entirely “with the Republican establishment he lampooned during his campaign,” as Politico Magazine‘s Mike Grunwald explains.

Yes, Trump is doing untold damage to our environment and the climate while assailing our tourism industry and terrorizing law-abiding undocumented immigrants who, unlike him, would love to pay taxes. And yes, he’s put together a cabinet that is simultaneously the richest and least qualified for public service in American history.

But there isn’t one promise in his 100-day contract he’s fulfilled.

In fact, his only accomplishments worth boasting about were some good jobs numbers and a Supreme Court appointment. Accomplishments, as the Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel pointed out, he inherited from Barack Obama.

Trump’s only talent, it seems, is inheriting things he doesn’t deserve, which makes him apoplectic when it’s time for his success to be compared against people who actually earned theirs.

Yes, there’s a Trump tweet that contradicts everything Trump says or does. The Daily Show‘s Dan Amira noted that “if Trump randomly, like, tripped on a squirrel or something we’d find an old tweet of his saying only fat losers trip on squirrels.”

But I have to say that Trump’s sudden whining about “the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days” was precious beyond my ability to hold water in my mouth, provoking the first unintentional spit take of my life.

This happened when CNN showed a clip of Trump introducing his 100-day plan in Gettysburg by saying, “It is a contract between myself and the American voter — and begins with restoring honesty, accountability, and change to Washington.”

Talk about a ridiculous standard. And never forget how that very speech began with him promising to sue all the women who had accused him of harassment and/or assault after the emergence of the Access Hollywood tape — another promise he flaked on.

All of this is beyond parody. And it’s beyond parody’s power to stop it.

If pointing out Trump’s rank ridiculousness, contradictory tweets, and the hypocrisy of Bible-theme slot machine had sufficient effect on withering Trump’s core support or compelling Republicans into doing even basic oversight, he would never have gotten past his failed Reform Party run for president in 2000.

Alec Baldwin has called Trump “the first satire-resistant president.” If this is true it’s because Trump is far more effective at bending reality, as With Friends Like These‘s Ana Marie Cox keeps saying, than any American politician that has come before him. This comes from his unrelenting combination of the dog-whistle racist demagoguery combined with the subliminal salesman schtick Trump mastered from decades of learning how to rip off people who should know better

No, satire and parody won’t be enough to stop this guy. Our only option is to take the risks he poses to our democracy seriously, deadly seriously. We overestimated the immune system of our society and suppressed the knowledge that the land of the free only truly began extending its full freedoms to minorities, women, and LGBTQ people in the last few decades.

Only by taking Trump absolutely seriously — by contesting every step of his agenda in marches, in town halls, in our reps offices, on the phones, and everywhere we can — have we kept him somewhat in check. Resisting Trump’s agenda relentlessly must be followed by proposing a better one that frame how division weakens us all and strengthens the ruling class. Still, the powers of the presidency are awesome and he likely has at least a baker’s dozen more 100 days left for him to undo the progress we’ve taken for granted here, and in other democracies.

Only an unrelenting, positive resistance will do, because that’s something you can’t just make up.

 

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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