News You May Have Missed: November 15, 2020

“Piss Off the GOP and Vote” by Overpass Light Brigade is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

While Americans did heed the exhortations to vote–a higher percentage of the population voted than at any time in the last hundred years–false claims of voter fraud are rampant. While these are being systematically struck down in the courts, and by government elections officials, what these claims tell us is that we live in two different worlds, as Hank Williams so vividly explains: “That’s why we’re so far apart.” Whenever–or whether–Trump acknowledges that Biden won, these differences are likely to pervade the next four years.


1. A world of “alternative facts”

The alternate reality in which Donald Trump won the election is being sketched by officials on leave from their government positions, among them the chief information security officer, Camilo Sandoval, according to the Washington Post. And it is being loudly proclaimed by right-wing militia groups, among them the Oath Keepers, which has tens of thousands of members, reports the Independent, many of them emerging from the military or police forces. As founder Stewart Rhodes told the Independent, ““I think about half this country won’t recognize Biden as legitimate. They won’t recognize this election. What that means is that everything that comes out of his mouth will be considered not of any force or effect, anything he signs into law we won’t recognize as legitimate.”

Right-wingers who believe the election was somehow fraudulent have been massing on Parler, a Facebook-like social media site, where their assertions won’t be flagged as false. Parler, which now has 10 million members, is funded by Rebekah Mercer and her father Robert Mercer, long-time Trump supporters and funders of Breitbart, NPR notes. Parler has welcomed Steve Bannon, who is energetically promoting the claims of fraud.

Gab is another Facebook look-alike; its followers are notoriously anti-Semitic and white nationalist. Donald Trump or someone posting in his name continually posts on Gab alleging the theft of the election; a frequent motif that Trump himself has repeated is that that Dominion’s electoral software was hacked to throw the election to Democrats, an allegation that Snopes has carefully refuted. As Reuters points out, the claim that Dominion software was only used in the five states (Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia) whose results Trump is challenging is demonstrably false; it is used in 24 states. The Times reports some glitches in Dominion software, none which would have changed the outcome.

Some of these fraud claims have been constructed by Dennis Montgomery, the same guy who persuaded the Bush administration that he could discern that Al Jazeera was broadcasting terrorist code, according to the Daily Beast. He claims that “a deep-state supercomputer named ‘Hammer’ and a computer program named ‘Scorecard’ were used to change the ballot count.” (Keep track of these claims–once you know what to look for, you will see them repeated everywhere.) One of the more alarming outlets for invented news is “Distributed News,” which insists that because Trump declared a national emergency in 2018 to address the potential of foreign interference in the election, we are still in that emergency, and because Dominion was designed in Canada, their involvement in the election constitutes foreign interference. Therefore, Distributed says that “all top Democrats and deep-state traitors” can be arrested and their assets seized, while “all the Big Tech corporations and left-wing media propaganda” can also have their assets, including their domain names, seized.

There’s no way to know how many of the 73,125,600 people who voted for Donald Trump believe this stuff. But we must contend with the world they have invented. RLS

One way to preserve the reality you know is to donate to the Democratic candidates in the Georgia run-off elections, which will determine the fate of the Senate–and in significant ways, the Biden administration. Fair Fight Action--founded by Stacey Abrams–is good organization to follow. NPR has an informative piece on it.

See the Americans of Conscience checklist for quick, focused actions you can take to ensure the smooth transfer of power, insist on the factual accuracy of the election results, and engage in the Georgia run-off elections.

2. Charges of election fraud refuted by Trump’s own DHS

Politico reports that one of the voices raised in opposition to Trump’s claims of election fraud belongs to the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency (CISA)—an agency overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CISA’s “Protect 2020 Rumor vs. Reality” website, which is still being updating regularly, is debunking election-fraud rumors as they arise, explaining that large numbers of dead people are not voting, that differing numbers of votes cast in down-ballot races are not an indication of election fraud, and that changing vote tallies after election night does not mean the final vote count cannot be trusted. S-HP

You might thank the Director of CISA for the agency’s provision of real-time factchecks in response to election rumors: Chris Krebs, Director, Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency, Stop 0380, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Lane, Washington DC 20528-0380, (888) 282-0870

3. Election challenges for Black voters

In a piece in Slate, the NAACP’s Sharrilyn Ifill points out that, while many major news organizations reported that the November 3 election went smoothly, this was not the case, particularly for Black voters. Among the problems Ifill notes:

◉Hours-long lines at early voting locations and election day polling places;

◉Acts of voter intimidation in all of the ten states NAACP was closely monitoring;

◉Over 31,000 calls to a civil rights Election Protection hotline;

◉Armed Trump supporters at polling places on election day in Florida, North Carolina, and Louisiana;

◉A non-partisan poll watcher evaluating accessibility at Georgia polling places being threatened with arrest by a sheriff’s deputy if she continued in her work;

◉State barriers to mail voting that affected primarily Black voters;

◉A USPS refusal to honor a federal judge’s order that twelve mail centers be “swept” for ballots on election day after 300,000 ballots were found untraceable’

◉Robocalls to primarily Black voters in Flint, Michigan, telling them they should vote on Wednesday, November 4, by which time the election would have ended.

In other words, the U.S. is facing a voting rights crisis that can continue to disenfranchise voters unless Congress enacts new voting rights legislation. S-HP

If you want to insist that all Americans should be able to exercise the right to vote safely and simply and demand stronger voting rights protections, appropriate addresses are here.

4. In waning days, Trump shakes up the Pentagon and other departments

Since the November 3 election, a high-speed version of musical chairs has been taking place in the U.S. government under the direction of Donald Trump.

◉Most significantly, the Washington Post and many other sources have reported on a major shake-up at the Pentagon that unnamed sources are calling a takeover of the Pentagon by Trump’s Nation Security Administration staffers. The changes follow the replacement of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper by Christopher C. Miller. Follow-up reporting in the Washington Post notes that, while he has extensive experience in special operations, Miller has never served in the Pentagon’s upper ranks and had only just become the director of the National Counter Terrorism Center. Anthony J. Tata, a retired one-star general has taken over as acting undersecretary for policy—he had previously been nominated for, but not confirmed as, Undersecretary of Defense because of frequent tweets supporting conspiracy theories and claiming President Barak Obama is a terrorist. Speculation is that Trump has multiple motives for shaking up the Pentagon. First, he continues to consider withdrawing all U.S. troops currently serving in conflict areas overseas, a move seen as unwise and potentially dangerous by Pentagon leaders. Next he has made clear his resentment at not being allowed to use military equipment in parades and other public displays. Finally, the appointment of Trump loyalists will almost certainly make the transition to the Biden presidency more difficult.

As we pointed out last week, a number of significant heads of agency were fired or asked to resign by the outgoing president. Defense News reports that Lisa Gordon-Hagerty resigned (the New York Post claims she was fired) from her position as head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Both Defense News and Bloomberg say she resigned because of ongoing struggles with Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette over issues of budget and the independence of the NNSA, which is only under nominal control by the Department of Energy. The Las Vegas Review-Journal claims that Brouilette told Gordon-Hagerty that Trump has “lost confidence in her.” Gordon-Hagerty was the first woman to lead the NNSA.

◉CNN reports on the ouster of Bonnie Glick from her position as Deputy Administrator (the #2 position) at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Glick received a note from the White House demanding that she resign from her position or be “terminated without cause at the pleasure of the U.S. President.” Glick refused to resign and was subsequently fired. CNN sources suggest that Glick’s firing was designed to allow Acting Administrator of USAID John Barsa to continue directing the agency. Barsa had reached the end of his legal term as acting head of USAID under the Federal Vacancies and Reform Act. Now that Glick has been removed, Barsa has been appointed to her position. As long as no one is named to Barsa’s former post as USAID head, this will allow Barsa to continue directing the agency from his new, number two spot.

Inside Climate News reports on the demotion of Neil Chatterjee, former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), who will now serve as a commissioner, with the Commission’s other Republican member, James Danly. Chatterjee, who has generally been viewed as fossil fuel-friendly had voted in favor of two actions by the FERC that were opposed by the White House: a September order making it easier for small groups of solar and solar storage owners to sell electricity to the grid, potentially increasing the profitability of solar energy, and an October statement encouraging states and regional grid operators to explore the benefits of carbon pricing, under which energy producers are charged fees based on the amount of CO2 they release. Daly voted against both of these actions.

◉The Washington Post reports that climate scientist Michael Kuperberg had been demoted from his position as executive director of the US Global Change Research Program (USGRP), a program established by Congress to provide a regular National Climate Assessment looking at current and potential future harms caused by greenhouse gases. The Washington Post described USGCRP’s latest report as “detail[ing] the potentially dire consequences for Americans should the country take little action to cut emissions and prepare for climate change’s effects, such as sea-level rise, droughts and hotter, longer-lasting heat waves.” Speculation is that leadership of USGCRP will now go to meteorologist David Legates, who is a climate change denier.

◉NBC News reports that Richard Polger resigned from his position as Director of the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) Election Crimes Branch in response to Attorney General William Barr’s authorization for federal prosecutors to investigated claims of election fraud. DoJ policy in the past has been to avoid any overt investigation until all recounts are completed and final election results are certified. Polger saw Barr’s decision to break from this policy as politically motivated. In his letter of resignation, Polger explained, “Having familiarized myself with the new policy [to begin investigation before certification]… I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch.” Polger will remain at the D-J in another capacity. S-HP

Given everything, you might want to raise your concerns about these rapid turnovers, the politicization of what should be neutral agencies, and the effect this may have on the transition to a Biden Presidency with your Congressmembers.


5. New hope for DACA recipients

As we have been noting, the appointment of Chad Wolf–the acting secretary of Homeland Security–was not legal, as has now been affirmed by a second federal judge, according to the Washington Post. Thus, the memo he issued reducing the length of residence permits for those immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) from two years to one was also illegal. The judge has ordered both sides into a conference on the issue, so permits will not immediately be restored. RLS


6. Following removal of Pentagon leadership, US sells $23 billion in weapons to the UAE

Following U.S.-brokered negotiations leading to the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) recognition of the state of Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced administration plans to sell over $23 billion in advanced weaponry to the UAE, including $10.4 billion worth of F-35 aircraft, $3 billion worth of drones, and $10 billion worth of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions according to reporting by CNN. Foreign Policy points out that this sale is inadvisable for several reasons. The UAE has been accused of committing war crimes in Libya, including the bombing of a refugee detention center, and of running a torture center in Yemen. In addition, the UAE has close ties to Russia, and Foreign Policy calls for a “tangible decoupling” of the UAE from Russia before any advanced weaponry sales proceed. CNN quoted House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY), who said Congress would not rush approval of the sale, explaining “The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform…. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all ramifications.” S-HP

You might thank Engel for his cautious approach to this sale and urge that the House Foreign Affairs Committee take all the time it needs to study this sale and related issues before considering approval: Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 2170 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-5021


7. Turkish immigrants developed Pfizer’s vaccine without funds from Trump

The promising vaccine developed by Pfizer, according to Trump, was developed under his “Warp Speed” program. This is not true. While Pfizer has a contract to deliver doses to the US, it took no US money at all to develop its vaccine, as the AP notes, instead using its own money and relying on a partnership with BioNTech, a company in Germany. In fact, as Bloomberg explains, BioNTech was founded by Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, spouses who were immigrants from Turkey to Germany, where they weathered discrimination against immigrants to become scientific innovators. RLS

8. Very bad news about the pandemic

Some hospitals (in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee) are almost at capacity and mobile morgues are being set up in El Paso. As we explained last week (Story 5), we don’t tend to know this because there is no requirement that this data be reported except to a small circle of people in the Trump administration. Among the news that is being withheld is that hospitals in 43 states are nearing capacity, Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer-prize science journalist, told WBUR. Because so many states are affected, states can’t ask for staff, PPE and ventilators from other states. Even the coronavirus task force, whose reports the Center for Public Integrity has gathered, says that all but eight states are in the red zone.

In addition to the lack of administrative leadership, this surge is partly caused by the way the coronavirus manifests; as much as 60 per cent of the transmission, she says, is coming from people with no symptoms. While, as Garrett points out, Canada has been much more protected than the US because of strict controls, the virus is likely to start leaking across the border. By Christmas, Garrett says, the US “could well have 400,000 cumulatively dead Americans, be seeing death rates at about 2,000 or more daily, and have such an out of control situation that when Joe Biden steps in, he’ll inherit the sort of disease equivalent of what Barack Obama inherited from George Bush in the financial sector.” RLS


◉The care that people who work with ballots at any stage demonstrate is evident in the New York Times Magazine’s photo essay this week; it is packed with “who knew” information and stunning photographs.

◉Keep reading Heather Cox Richardson for insights into the present moment and how we got here.