‘Election denier playbook’: Trump supporters seeking state office raise fears of 2nd insurrection

Yahoo! News

‘Election denier playbook’: Trump supporters seeking state office raise fears of 2nd insurrection

Tom LoBianco, Reporter – September 21, 2022

Supporters of former President Donald Trump seeking to control elections across the country have raised the specter of a second insurrection, akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and fears that they will help try to rig the election results for Trump if he seeks the presidency again.

But experts tracking an array of races for positions with control over elections — from governor to county election clerk — say it’s unclear what form a second insurrection could take.

The threat is clouded in part by uncertainty over how much lawmakers will clarify about the previously obscure Electoral Count Act (ECA) and what the Supreme Court will do regarding the “independent legislature” theory, which could block courts from intervening in how elections are run.

A rally attendee holds a banner reading: Trump Won, Save America.
An attendee at a rally with former President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3. (Michelle Gustafson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Changes to the ECA being debated in the Senate and House would clarify that a vice president cannot replace authentic electors with fake ones; would set a quicker timeline for judicial review of election challenges and a higher bar for objections from Congress; and would establish the governor of each state as the lone person who can submit certified electors to Congress.

But bipartisan groups tracking the threat of another insurrection have consistently warned that Trump supporters running to control state elections — from Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — could take the reins and attempt to certify whatever results they want.

“The problem is, the coup did not actually end on Jan. 6. It simply went into a brief hibernation and almost immediately began gathering energy to succeed next time,” said Norm Eisen, founder of the bipartisan group States United Democracy Center and a former top official in the Obama administration.

“They saw that the election refs applied the existing rules to produce the right result,” Eisen said of the 2020 election. “So now they’re going to replace the refs, and they’re going to replace the rules so they can change the results. It’s the election denier playbook, and you see this in state after state.”

Attorney Norm Eisen.
Attorney Norm Eisen speaking before the House Judiciary Committee in 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The man at the center of the continued threat, Trump, has said repeatedly that he plans to run for president a third time. He has also taken a darker turn in his campaign rallies recently, eschewing the scripted approach of his return to Washington two months ago for wild conspiracy theories, some of which helped fuel his supporters to attack the Capitol. He has also been hinting at more violence from his supporters if he’s indicted for taking highly sensitive classified intelligence from the White House after his term.

Election director races used to be staid affairs, the rare white noise behind the unchecked turmoil of campaign politics. But like so many other things in politics, that flipped on its head after Trump descended the golden-colored escalator in Trump Tower seven years ago. The 2020 election and Trump’s subsequent efforts to deny his loss elevated these races to top-tier battles for the control of elections themselves.

Terrified election workers testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack about the rampant death threats they received after being targeted by Trump. And many local election workers have resigned or refused to run again in the face of ongoing threats from Trump supporters.

In Arizona and Pennsylvania, two epicenters of efforts by Trump-backed candidates to wrest control of the election process, Republican nominees have proposed a mix of power grabs and more standard conservative election proposals.

Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state.
Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, at a conference on Sept. 10 promoting conspiracy theories about voting machines and discredited claims about the 2020 election. (Jim Rassol/AP Photo)

Finchem, the Arizona secretary of state nominee — who recently had a performer sing the QAnon theme song at one of his fundraisers — has proposed ending electronic vote counting and mandating paper ballots (a proposal that Democrats pushed almost two decades ago). But Finchem has also proposed giving the Republican-controlled Arizona state Legislature the power to overturn election results.

Asked by Time magazine if he would certify a hypothetical Biden win, he said he would if the law is followed, but then implied he would never certify a Biden win in 2024 because such a thing would be a “fantasy.”

Across the country, Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, has pushed for voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, both long-standing Republican election policies.

But Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has also said he would have his handpicked secretary of state invalidate all Pennsylvania voters and force them to re-register. Mastriano submitted a measure that would expand the number of partisans who can challenge votes and vote counting potentially intimidating poll workers further.

Finchem and Mastriano, like dozens of other Trump supporters looking to take control of their states’ elections, have repeated the baseless claim that voter fraud was rampant through the 2020 election and that Trump never lost. But the stances of Trump-backed Republicans vary widely.

Couy Griffin speaks to reporters as he arrives at federal court in Washington.
Otero County, N.M., Commissioner Couy Griffin arrives at federal court in Washington on June 17. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo)

At one extreme sit Trump supporters like Couy Griffin, the New Mexico local official who invalidated an election result he didn’t like and later was removed from office for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection. At the other end are those like New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, who campaigned in the primary repeating Trump’s election lie but promptly disavowed that lie after winning the Republican nomination last week.

In between are a slew of Trump supporters who have dressed up long-standing conservative election priorities, like requiring identification to vote, in Trumpian rhetoric, but have not repeated some of the wackier claims of voter fraud that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection, like allegations of Italian satellites or Chinese thermostats.

Still, it’s not clear exactly what Trump supporters in election offices could do to rig an election for the former president. The Electoral Count Act fix being debated in the Senate would close most of the loopholes that Trump and his allies, led by Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, tried to exploit in their fake elector scheme.

“The worrisome thing about these election deniers is that they would have, in those positions of power, they would have some real power. Maybe not to singlehandedly overturn the results, but they could try, and it could create a real chaos crisis and undermine confidence in our election systems and possibly lead to more violence like the Jan. 6 attack,” said Ben Berwick, general counsel for Protect Democracy, a group staffed with top former Democratic officials that tracks election director races across the country.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Trump’s former White House aides at the America First Policy Institute, dubbed the “White House in waiting” for the large number of former Cabinet secretaries and top advisers who took refuge there after Jan. 6, are calling for strict limits on who can vote and how, but are stopping well short of Trump’s most ardent loyalists who are pushing to flat-out change election results they don’t like, according to a report from the group published in August.

Former Trump White House aides Stephen Miller and Hogan Gidley speak to each other with smiles on their faces.
Former Trump White House aides Stephen Miller and Hogan Gidley at an America First Policy Institute summit in July. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

The co-chairs of AFPI’s election integrity center, former Trump White House spokesman Hogan Gidley and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, cast their proposals in terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, saying that accurate voting data is needed to instill faith in election results.

The group hinted at the election lies that led to Jan. 6, writing, “After the last presidential election, there were concerns that ballots may have been counted multiple times (so that there could be more ballots cast than voters who voted) or that ballots were destroyed (so that there could be more voters who voted than ballots cast).”

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Republican candidates are either saying they do not accept their own primary losses or refusing to say whether they’ll acknowledge reality if they lose in November.

“We’re in a situation where one of the two major parties in this country has been captured in whole or in part by antidemocratic forces, and that’s a real challenge in a system where the whole thing is built on the idea that the losers of an election, while they may not like it, they respect the outcome,” Berwick said. “If we lose that, then we’re headed down a path we can’t come back from.”

Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Jon Ward contributed to this report.

Climate change could wipe $108 billion from U.S. property market, study finds

NBC News

Climate change could wipe $108 billion from U.S. property market, study finds

Alex Lubben – September 20, 2022

Sea level rise will flood huge swaths of the country and submerge billions of dollars’ worth of land, according to a new report.

An analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit research group, put a price tag on just how much all that land is worth — and how much local governments stand to lose when it goes underwater. The report found that nearly 650,000 privately owned parcels of land over more than 4 million acres will fall below tide lines within the next 30 years. The analysis indicates that sea level rise could reduce the value of that private land by more than $108 billion by the end of the century.

Because all land below the tide line is, by law, state-owned, the encroachment of the tides could essentially vaporize huge amounts of private, taxable wealth. That, in turn, will decrease property tax revenue substantially in coastal areas, which experts caution could ultimately bankrupt local governments.

For millennia, tide lines haven’t really budged. Nor has the notion that any land under water is public, which is an “idea that goes way back to Roman times,” said Peter Byrne, the director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program. “The tidelands, the sea, they’re open to the public because they’re navigable. They’re inherently public.”

But as the planet heats, the old tide lines are climbing uphill. The study found that an area the size of the state of New Jersey that is now above water will be submerged at high tide in 2050.

“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”

Losing such a huge amount of private land over a few years could have far-reaching consequences. Insurance companies have already started to pull out of coastal markets or are raising their premiums substantially. Banks and other financial institutions are starting to look at whether it makes sense to lend to homeowners and businesses along the coastline.

All told, places that are currently livable will become increasingly hard to live in. Here’s what this might mean for local governments.

Risk isn’t evenly distributed

Climate Central found that, unsurprisingly, the effects of sea level rise aren’t evenly distributed across the U.S. The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts will feel its effects more than other parts of the country. In many areas along the coast, sea levels will rise significantly faster because land is sinking as sea levels rise.

By 2050, Climate Central estimates that about 75% of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be underwater. In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of taxable property will be submerged. In Galveston County, Texas, more than 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be at least partially underwater.

Kyle Harner kayaks along a flooded street in Friendswood, Texas, on Sept. 22, 2020.  (Stuart Villanueva / The Galveston County Daily News via AP file)
Kyle Harner kayaks along a flooded street in Friendswood, Texas, on Sept. 22, 2020. (Stuart Villanueva / The Galveston County Daily News via AP file)

“Climate impacts are not going to happen far off into the future, but within the life of the mortgage on your house,” said Anna Weber, a policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council.

While sea level rise is one of the major impacts of the climate crisis, it’s not the only one. Supercharged hurricanes and wildfires will also cause displacement and will contribute to the erosion of local tax bases as people move to safer areas. More frequent intense rainstorms are expected to cause more inland flooding in many parts of the U.S. Coastal counties won’t be the only places affected.

“These numbers are relatively conservative,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable architecture at Tulane University, who was not involved with the Climate Central study. “That’s what should scare people.”

Doing more with less

In many places, coastal property is the most valuable real estate — and a major source of property taxes for local governments. Without it, municipalities could see a huge loss of revenue at a time when the costs of adapting to climate change are expected to skyrocket. The costly measures that municipalities will need to undertake to adapt to rising sea levels, like building seawalls or elevating roads, could become more difficult to fund.

“When that property tax revenue base shrinks, it’s a compounding problem for adaptation,” said A.R. Siders, a climate adaptation researcher at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. That could create a vicious cycle: “Not being able to protect those homes reduces their value and so you have fewer resources to protect those homes.”

That won’t just affect the owners of beachfront property. Municipalities rely on property taxes to fund roads, schools, trash pickup — all the basic services that residents rely on.

“It seems probable to me that over time we’re going to have to figure out a different funding model for really flood-prone communities, or communities along the coastline,” Siders added. “They’ve been relying on the perpetual growth of the housing market and that just doesn’t deem realistic in places that are going to experience the effects of climate change.”

One tool that municipalities use to raise money to fund projects that make them more resilient to climate change is municipal bonds — to do things like build a new bridge, fund the construction of a school, or, maybe, to pay for flood control so a city doesn’t get submerged by the next big storm.

Huge Snow Storm Slams Into Mid Atlantic States (Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images file)
Huge Snow Storm Slams Into Mid Atlantic States (Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images file)

Flooding poses threats to crops, commuting routes, utilities, wastewater treatment plants and buildings, the report noted. How local governments react to these economic hits will have implications for their ability to repay debt and keep their credit ratings afloat.

“Before they even reach bankruptcy, stress is going to reverberate through the muni bond market,” Keenan said. “What we’ll begin to see is a more explicit [climate] premium and a higher cost of borrowing for these counties.”

‘Choices to be made’

There are parts of the country that are exacerbating their exposure to the climate risks by continuing to build in coastal areas that will soon be underwater. Climate Central’s report calls for stricter restrictions on new developments and for building new housing outside of risk zones.

Buyouts, in which the government offers to purchase flood-prone buildings, could help create a natural “buffer zone” along the coasts, other experts suggest.

“This issue of losing tax base is something that comes up a lot when we talk about home buyouts because in that case, you are deliberately converting a property from private ownership to public ownership,” Weber said. “What this report shows is that, in some cases, that process is going to happen whether you do it deliberately or not.”

Besides building codes and moving people out of harm’s way, there’s still time to change course on greenhouse gas emissions, Bain emphasized. If the world continues to produce emissions at the current rate, the tides will rise faster; reducing emissions now will allow crucial time to adapt to the rising tides.

“We may not be able to change much between now and 2050, but we can make a large difference going forward from that,” Bain said. “There are still choices to be made — between better outcomes and far worse outcomes.”

8 million ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol slams across Japan: ‘Raining like never before’

USA Today

8 million ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol slams across Japan: ‘Raining like never before’

John Bacon, USA TODAY – September 19, 2022

More than 8 million people in southern and western Japan have been ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol roars across the island nation with historic wind and waves.

Local government officials across Japan told national broadcaster NHK that a level 5 alert, the highest on Japan’s disaster warning scale, was issued to more than 330,000 people in about 160,000 households in Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Oita prefectures.

Nearly 8 million people in about 3.7 million households affected by a level 4 alert were ordered to evacuate in parts of the Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku regions, NHK said.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said it was “raining like never before” in Miyazaki, where some areas saw more than 15 inches of rain in the 24 hours through Sunday afternoon. Power lines tumbled and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were dark as the storm slowly rolled northward over Kyushu.

“To protect your life and the lives of your loved ones, please follow the evacuation information already issued by your local municipality immediately,” the agency said. “Ensure your own safety without waiting for the announcement of a special warning.”

First special typhoon warning

In Kagoshima, thousands took shelter at evacuation centers. Wind speeds of almost 115 mph were reported in parts of the region.

It was the first time the agency has issued a special typhoon warning for an area outside from Okinawa Prefecture. Flights were canceled and train service, the lifeblood of Japanese travel, was suspended in the region.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had mobilized police, firefighters, the Self-Defense Forces and other agencies.

‘ANGRY SEA’: Huge storm floods roads, homes in Alaska as governor declares disaster

“I urge (the public) to avoid going near places posing potential dangers such as rivers and other waterways or places at risk of landslides, and to evacuate without hesitation if they feel in danger in any way,” Kishida said.

Earthquake strikes Taiwan

Less than 900 miles southwest of Japan’s natural disaster, a strong earthquake struck southeastern Taiwan on Saturday evening, collapsing a house and interrupting rail service on the island. Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the 6.4 magnitude shallow quake was centered north of Taitung County on the island’s eastern shore.

STRONG EARTHQUAKE HITS TAIWAN: Rail service disrupted, house topples

Contributing: The Associated Press

Bill Clinton: ‘The world’s on fire,’ but teamwork can help

Associated Press

Bill Clinton: ‘The world’s on fire,’ but teamwork can help

Glenn Gamboa – September 19, 2022

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton is calling on governments, businesses, philanthropies and other prominent institutions to draw together and help a world that is “on fire” as he reconvenes the Clinton Global Initiative, the meeting of international leaders, for the first time since 2016.

“Somebody needs to show up and make something good happen,” he said during the conference’s opening public session Monday. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Interest in the two-day meeting has been so intense that the Clinton Foundation had to turn away more than 1,000 potential attendees. It is convening a spectrum of luminaries, including Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and actor and water access activist Matt Damon.

Clinton, president of the United States from 1993 to 2001, said he has been amazed by the massive response.

“The world’s on fire in a lot of different ways,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “But there are a lot of things that businesses, non-governmental groups and governments working together can do to help with a lot of these problems.”

The Clinton Global Initiative, or CGI, has helped more than 435 million people in more than 180 countries since it was established in 2005. It previously required attendees to create a Commitment to Action, a measurable project that addresses a global issue, though for this first year, everyone will be expected to announce or develop a partnership. Those commitments often unite new partners and encourage cooperation between the public and private sectors.

“I think there is a longing for people to get together and meet with an end in mind,” Clinton said in an interview. “Not just talk about it, but knowing that when they walk away, they will have committed to doing something.”

Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton calls that “a bias toward action,” which she says is part of what makes CGI special and a catalyst for global change. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has energized interest in public health and addressing health disparities because people outside of the field could see the impact.

“Health is interconnected to anything and everything that anyone may care about,” Chelsea Clinton said. “There are a lot of people who now are mobilized to do something with what they have come to newly understand and which they now feel responsible for helping to solve.”

Dr. David Fajgenbaum received a standing ovation as he announced plans for his new nonprofit Every Cure, which seeks to find new uses for generic drugs to treat rare diseases. The idea came from his own research to find a treatment for his own Castleman’s Disease, a rare ailment where the immune system attacks vital organs.

He said his new nonprofit would work on using generic drugs to treat 106 rare disease initially, a process that would cost 500 times less than developing a new drug. “There would be no greater impact in terms of saving lives,” he said. “As long as I’m alive, we’re going to continue to chase them.”

In other commitments, Andrew Kuper, founder and CEO of impact investing firm LeapFrog Investments, announced the firm planned to support 25 million enterprises offering 100 million jobs in developing countries by 2030. Israeli global venture firm OurCrowd announced a partnership with the WHO Foundation to launch a $200 million Global Health Equity Fund that focuses on breakthrough technology solutions in health care.

Peter Sands, executive director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said CGI has always introduced his group to new potential partners, something even more valuable after two challenging pandemic years that made access to new donors difficult. “There’s only so much you can do with PowerPoints and Zooms,” Sands said.

He is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign of his own. President Joe Biden will host The Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York on Wednesday, delayed two days so that Biden can attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday.

However, he now plans to attend CGI and said the gathering has been missed during its hiatus, even though the Clinton Foundation itself has remained active. The initiative convened annually until 2016 during former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, when questions were raised about the appearance of potential conflicts of interests if donors then had business before her administration.

Bill Clinton said the initiative is counting on the special energy of its participants to tackle a growing number of issues.

“We’ve got the largest number of migrants since World War II,” he said. “And the most publicity they get in America is when one governor or two turns it into some political issue and tries to make problems for other people. Sensible countries work together and try to figure out the best way to deal with it.”

Clinton also hopes CGI can spotlight various solutions that need more support. He points to a study from Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes the use of clean energy. Its research shows some rural schools have installed solar panels to reduce their carbon emissions and their electric bills. The schools then used the savings to give raises to teachers.

“The energy is here. The jobs are here. The benefits are here. The kids win,” Clinton said. “That shouldn’t be a political issue.”

He says philanthropy can help bust through political and cultural gridlock by showing what can be done. For example, he said that when President Barack Obama proposed hiring 100,000 new STEM teachers and Congress turned him down, philanthropy stepped in to make it happen.

“We got the Carnegie Corporation and the American Federation of Teachers and more than 20 other partners together and they said, ‘We will raise the money,'” Clinton said. “Nobody ever thought of that as being a purpose of philanthropy. But it got the job done, and it demonstrated why Republicans and Democrats should cooperate on such things.”

Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

Massachusetts seeks human trafficking probe targeting Florida Gov. DeSantis over migrants

USA Today

Massachusetts seeks human trafficking probe targeting Florida Gov. DeSantis over migrants

John Bacon and Rachael Devaney, USA TODAY – September 18, 2022

Authorities in Massachusetts said Sunday that they have requested a federal human trafficking probe after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted of sending about 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard to shine a national spotlight on immigration issues.

“We are requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation to hold DeSantis and others accountable for these inhumane acts,” state Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted Sunday. “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”

Fernandes said he had spoken with Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachel Rollins and was “grateful to hear she is pushing for a response from the DOJ.”

The migrants were picked up in Texas, but DeSantis said the flights were part of a $12 million Florida program to transport undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary destinations. DeSantis denied claims that the migrants were duped into taking the flights with promises of jobs that did not exist. And he said he was “perplexed” to hear that President Joe Biden was “surging resources” to the Texas border in response to the flights.

“It’s only when you have 50 illegal aliens end up in a wealthy rich enclave that he (Biden) decides to scramble at this,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott have also sent migrants to other sanctuary cities, including New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., where some were dropped off outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris.

‘I SIMPLY FEEL MISLED’:Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard speak out; DeSantis vows to keep relocating migrants

Massachusetts response: America at its best?

Gov. Charlie Baker ordered shelter and humanitarian support be provided at Joint Base Cape Cod in cooperation with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and other officials. And 125 National Guard Members are aiding the effort.

Fernandes said the welcoming response being provided the migrants by his state reflects the best of what America can be.

“There is nothing tough about using women and children and families as your political tools,” Fernandes said on MSNBC. “Ron DeSantis is a coward.”

Surge of Venezuelan migrants at border

The Venezuelan migrants are among a global diaspora of millions of people who left the country to escape a depressed economy and a dictatorial regime amid power outages, lack of access to reliable water, rampant inflation and political turmoil. El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the biggest surge of migrants in his Texas border city are Venezuelans. He said in recent days as many as 2,000 migrants have arrived in his city and he estimates 80% are Venezuelan.

Leeser, in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” said the biggest challenge facing him, city officials and the U.S. Border Patrol is that up to half the Venezuelans arriving have no “sponsor,” a family member or friend who can arrange for their transportation and housing beyond the border. He said the vast majority of previous migrants had a sponsor to help them get to their next destination.

“So, we’re helping them working to get them to where they want to go,” he said. “So that’s been really important – that we don’t send anyone where they don’t want to go.”

Cuellar: Crime cartels exploiting weak border control

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Face the Nation that the Border Patrol, Homeland Security and other agencies must be provided equipment and personnel they need to enforce the law. Otherwise, he said, the U.S. will continue to see 8,000 people crossing the border a day. He said the border area he represents includes some of the poorest counties in the nation.

SOLUTIONS URGED:Rep. Henry Cuellar calls for more resources for migrants: ‘need solutions and not theater’

Cuellar said says sophisticated crime cartels are exploiting weak checkpoints to move people across the U.S.-Mexico border. He estimated they might make $8,000 a person – and about 4 million people over the last two years.

“That shows you how much these bad guys are being enriched,” he said. “Everybody that comes across is somehow controlled by the bad guys.”

A man, who is part of a group of migrants that had just arrived, flashes a thumbs-upy Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard.
A man, who is part of a group of migrants that had just arrived, flashes a thumbs-upy Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha’s Vineyard.

Hazardous ‘forever chemicals’ are in our water, food, and air. Here are 6 simple ways to reduce exposure at home.

Business Insider

Hazardous ‘forever chemicals’ are in our water, food, and air. Here are 6 simple ways to reduce exposure at home.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen – September 17, 2022

toddler child drinks bottled water
A child drinks bottled water in Reynosa, Mexico, on June 9, 2021.Daniel Becerril/Reuters
  • Hazardous “forever chemicals” called PFAS are contaminating drinking water, food, and air.
  • It may be impossible to completely avoid PFAS, but there are a few simple ways to reduce your exposure.
  • Eating at home, ditching nonstick pans and unnecessary carpets, and filtering your water can help.

Hazardous, long-lasting “forever chemicals” are all over the news lately, and they’re all over our day-to-day environments too.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, is a class of thousands of man-made substances that are common in everyday objects, but research is making it increasingly clear that they may be harmful to human health. Peer-reviewed studies have linked them to some cancers, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, and developmental delays.

That’s bad news since PFAS last for decades without breaking down, earning them the “forever chemicals” nickname. Researchers have found them in drinking water and household dust across the planet, in the oceans, at both poles, and drifting through the atmosphere.

In a paper published last month, leading researchers at the University of Stockholm concluded that all the planet’s rainwater, and probably all of its soil, are contaminated with unsafe levels of PFAS. Ian Cousins, who spearheaded that research, fears it’s impossible to avoid the chemicals.

“I don’t bother,” Cousins told Insider, adding, “It’s almost mission impossible. You can’t really do it.”

Even if you can’t completely dodge PFAS, there are a few easy ways to reduce exposure in your daily life.

Eat at home, with minimal grease-resistant packaging
two adults one child eat dinner at a table with paper plates and bouquet of flowers
A family eats dinner at their home in Calumet Park, Illinois, on December 8, 2020.Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

PFAS were developed in the 1940s to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. That means they’ve ended up in a lot of food packaging. That includes pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, some wrappers, and grease-resistant paper.

Restaurants and fast-food chains may use such packaging more than grocery stores do. A 2019 study found that people had lower PFAS levels in their blood after eating at home, and higher levels after eating fast food or at restaurants.

Throw out scratched nonstick pans
red onion slices cooking in a black pan
Red onion slices cooking in a black pan.Erin McDowell/Insider

The coating used in nonstick cookware usually contains PFAS, and they can easily leach into your food at high heat and once the coating gets scratched.

The Washington Department of Ecology advises against heating nonstick cookware above 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and recommends throwing it out once the nonstick coating scratches. Cast-iron pans are a safe alternative.

Ditch your carpet and stain-resistant fabrics

Other household items like carpeting, water-resistant clothing, and stain-resistant treatments for fabrics can also contain PFAS. Researchers don’t think the chemicals can easily absorb into your body through your skin, but those fabrics shed fibers that can travel through the house as dust, eventually getting ingested or inhaled.

Vacuum, dust, and open the windows
man opens sliding glass door window in living room
A property manager opens the window of a vacant house in the town Kamakura outside Tokyo, on November 15, 2014.Thomas Peter/Reuters

PFAS accumulate in dust, which lingers in the air and allows humans to breathe the chemicals into their lungs. By dusting and vacuuming regularly, along with opening windows to allow for airflow and ventilation, you can keep dust levels low in your home and reduce the amount of PFAS you inhale.

Test and maybe treat your drinking water

You can test your water for PFAS through a laboratory certified by your state. If the water exceeds guidelines, you may want to consider doing something about it, especially if you have children.

Person filling water bottle from sink faucet
A person fills a bottle with tap water.Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Even at very low levels, exposure to two of the most common PFAS — called PFOA and PFOS — has been linked to decreased vaccine response in children. That research prompted the US Environmental Protection Agency to revise its drinking-water guidelines, decreasing the safe levels of those substances by a factor of 17,000. In August, the agency issued a proposal to classify those two PFAS as hazardous substances.

A few types of water filters can diminish PFAS levels, though they may not completely remove the chemicals from the water. State environmental departments recommend filtration systems that use reverse osmosis for tap water. They also recommend filter systems that use granular activated carbon (aka charcoal), which can be installed on faucets house-wide or used in a tabletop pitcher, but a 2020 study found mixed results from those systems.

If you get your drinking water from a well, the EPA recommends testing it regularly and contacting your state environmental or health agency for certified labs and safety standards.

Check before you buy cosmetics
woman applies eyeliner to another womans eye
A woman applies makeup to her friend in Nashville, Tennessee, on December 20, 2013.Harrison McClary/Reuters

Last year, a group of researchers published the results of testing 231 cosmetic products in the US and Canada for PFAS. More than half the products contained indicators of the chemicals.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a public, searchable database of cosmetics and personal-care products, highlighting ingredients with potential risks to human health, such as PFAS like Teflon. They also maintain a map where you can check if you live near a PFAS contamination site.

The Green Science Policy Institute also keeps a list of PFAS-free products, including a guide to cosmetics.

Ultimately, Cousins said, people don’t need to be “super worried” about low-level exposure, since there’s no strong evidence of major health impacts across the population. Still, reducing PFAS use in consumer products could keep the problem from getting worse in the future.

“I think we should use this to get a bit angry about what’s happened and try and make change, so that we don’t keep doing this,” Cousins said. “Maybe we have to use [PFAS] in some cases, but only when they’re absolutely essential. And then we should also try to innovate, to try and replace them in the longer term.”

Alaska towns flooded, residents evacuated as massive storm batters state

CBS News

Alaska towns flooded, residents evacuated as massive storm batters state

Sophie Reardon – September 17, 2022

A massive, potentially record-breaking storm brought major flooding and damage to coastal towns in Alaska Saturday, and some residents were evacuated. Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he “verbally declared” a disaster for communities impacted by the storm.

The center of the storm was making its way up the Bering Strait Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

On Alaska’s western coast, the towns of Nome, Hooper Bay, Skaktoolik, Kotlik and Nunam Iqua were all hit hard by the storm, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF).

The governor said on Twitter that there had been no reported injuries as of Saturday morning. “We will continue to monitor the storm and update Alaskans as much as possible,” he tweeted. A news briefing was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. local time Saturday night.

The state had also established an emergency operations center.

Rep. Mary Peltola also tweeted Saturday afternoon, asking that Alaskans “please be safe and seek shelter. It’s imperative we all look out for each other and keep each other safe. We will get through this, but stay safe.”

Flooding is seen in Golovin, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. / Credit: Heidi Varga
Flooding is seen in Golovin, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. / Credit: Heidi Varga

In the town of Golovin, major flooding was reported early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, and forecasters warned it would only get worse. The town could see an additional 1 to 2 feet of water by the day’s end. The Old Golovin Airport was under water, according to ADOT&PF.

“Water is surrounding the school, homes and structures are flooded, at least a couple homes floating off the foundation, some older fuel tanks are tilted over,” the weather service’s office in Fairbanks tweeted.

Photos from the weather service showed the high water levels there.

Wales – the westernmost town in both Alaska and the U.S., located on the Bering Strait coast – was seeing flooding in “low lying areas,” the weather service reported.

“Water levels will peak this afternoon with the high tide, then gradually fall through Sunday,” the weather service tweeted.

Another town, Shaktoolik, reported coastal flooding, with water “entering the community and getting close to some homes,” according to the weather service. Residents there were evacuated to a school and clinic. Shaktoolik was also expected to see the worst of the storm later in the day.

According to the weather service, the water level in Nome rose above 10 feet Saturday, and is expected to continue to rise.

The weather service also shared footage from a webcam in Unalakleet, comparing an average day in the town against the scene there Saturday morning.

As of Saturday afternoon, large swaths of the state’s western coast were under coastal flooding and high wind warnings. The weather service said flood warnings would remain in effect for several areas through Sunday night, while the wind warnings were expected to expire by Saturday night.

The weather service said the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta would see a “smaller surge” during high tide in the afternoon and evening hours Saturday.

The “highest water levels are expected from Kipnuk north to Newtok,” the NWS tweeted. A coastal flood warning was extended for that region through 10 p.m. Saturday.

A massive storm hits Gambell, Alaska. Sept. 16, 2022.  / Credit: Clarence Irrigoo Jr.
A massive storm hits Gambell, Alaska. Sept. 16, 2022. / Credit: Clarence Irrigoo Jr.

Other portions of the state are under gale warnings, according to the weather service.

The weather service shared peak reported wind gusts as of 8 a.m. local time — the highest recorded was 91 mph in Cape Romanzof. Several other towns, including Golovin, saw winds topping 60 mph.

The storm is the remnants of Typhoon Merbok, and forecasters predicted this week it could bring “potentially historical” flooding, with some coastal areas seeing water levels up to 11 feet higher than the normal high tide.

‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy

The New York Times

‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy

David Leonhardt – September 17, 2022

The United States faces two distinct challenges, the movement by Republicans who refuse to accept defeat in an election and a growing disconnect between political power and public opinion. (Matt Chase/The New York Times)
The United States faces two distinct challenges, the movement by Republicans who refuse to accept defeat in an election and a growing disconnect between political power and public opinion. (Matt Chase/The New York Times)

The United States has experienced deep political turmoil several times before over the past century. The Great Depression caused Americans to doubt the country’s economic system. World War II and the Cold War presented threats from global totalitarian movements. The 1960s and ’70s were marred by assassinations, riots, a losing war and a disgraced president.

These earlier periods were each more alarming in some ways than anything that has happened in the United States recently. Yet during each of those previous times of tumult, the basic dynamics of American democracy held firm. Candidates who won the most votes were able to take power and attempt to address the country’s problems.

The current period is different. As a result, the United States today finds itself in a situation with little historical precedent. American democracy is facing two distinct threats, which together represent the most serious challenge to the country’s governing ideals in decades.

The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.

The violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, meant to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election, was the clearest manifestation of this movement, but it has continued since then. Hundreds of elected Republican officials around the country falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged. Some of them are running for statewide offices that would oversee future elections, potentially putting them in position to overturn an election in 2024 or beyond.

“There is the possibility, for the first time in American history, that a legitimately elected president will not be able to take office,” said Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University who studies democracy.

The second threat to democracy is chronic but also growing: The power to set government policy is becoming increasingly disconnected from public opinion.

The run of recent Supreme Court decisions — both sweeping and, according to polls, unpopular — highlights this disconnect. Although the Democratic Party has won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees seems poised to shape American politics for years, if not decades. And the court is only one of the means through which policy outcomes are becoming less closely tied to the popular will.

Two of the past four presidents have taken office despite losing the popular vote. Senators representing a majority of Americans are often unable to pass bills, partly because of the increasing use of the filibuster. Even the House, intended as the branch of the government that most reflects the popular will, does not always do so because of the way districts are drawn.

“We are far and away the most countermajoritarian democracy in the world,” said Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University and a co-author of the book “How Democracies Die,” with Daniel Ziblatt.

The causes of the twin threats to democracy are complex and debated among scholars.

The chronic threats to democracy generally spring from enduring features of American government, some written into the Constitution. But they did not conflict with majority opinion to the same degree in past decades. One reason is that more populous states, whose residents receive less power because of the Senate and the Electoral College, have grown so much larger than small states.

The acute threats to democracy — and the rise of authoritarian sentiment, or at least the acceptance of it, among many voters — have different causes. They partly reflect frustration over nearly a half-century of slow-growing living standards for the American working class and middle class. They also reflect cultural fears, especially among white people, that the United States is being transformed into a new country, more racially diverse and less religious, with rapidly changing attitudes toward gender, language and more.

The economic frustrations and cultural fears have combined to create a chasm in American political life between prosperous, diverse major metropolitan areas and more traditional, religious and economically struggling smaller cities and rural areas. The first category is increasingly liberal and Democratic, the second increasingly conservative and Republican.

The political contest between the two can feel existential to people in both camps, with disagreements over nearly every prominent issue. “When we’re voting, we’re not just voting for a set of policies but for what we think makes us Americans and who we are as a people,” said Lilliana Mason, a political scientist and the author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity.” “If our party loses the election, then all of these parts of us feel like losers.”

These sharp disagreements have led many Americans to doubt the country’s system of government. In a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, 69% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans said that democracy was “in danger of collapse.” Of course, the two sides have very different opinions about the nature of the threat.

Many Democrats share the concerns of historians and scholars who study democracy, pointing to the possibility of overturned election results and the deterioration of majority rule. “Equality and democracy are under assault,” Biden said in a speech this month in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.”

Many Republicans have defended their increasingly aggressive tactics by saying they are trying to protect American values. In some cases, these claims rely on falsehoods — about election fraud, Biden’s supposed “socialism,” Barack Obama’s birthplace and more.

In others, they are rooted in anxiety over real developments, including illegal immigration and “cancel culture.” Some on the left now consider widely held opinions among conservative and moderate Americans — on abortion, policing, affirmative action, COVID-19 and other subjects — to be so objectionable that they cannot be debated. In the view of many conservatives and some experts, this intolerance is stifling open debate at the heart of the American political system.

The divergent sense of crisis on left and right can itself weaken democracy, and it has been exacerbated by technology.

Conspiracy theories and outright lies have a long American history, dating to the personal attacks that were a staple of the partisan press during the 18th century. In the mid-20th century, tens of thousands of Americans joined the John Birch Society, a far-right group that claimed Dwight Eisenhower was a secret communist.

Today, however, falsehoods can spread much more easily, through social media and a fractured news environment. In the 1950s, no major television network spread the lies about Eisenhower. In recent years, the country’s most watched cable channel, Fox News, regularly promoted falsehoods about election results, Obama’s birthplace and other subjects.

These same forces — digital media, cultural change and economic stagnation in affluent countries — help explain why democracy is also struggling in other parts of the world. Only two decades ago, at the turn of the 21st century, democracy was the triumphant form of government around the world, with autocracy in retreat in the former Soviet empire, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, South Korea and elsewhere. Today, the global trend is moving in the other direction.

In the late 1990s, 72 countries were democratizing, and only three were growing more authoritarian, according to data from V-Dem, a Swedish institute that monitors democracy. Last year, only 15 countries grew more democratic, while 33 slid toward authoritarianism.

Some experts remain hopeful that the growing attention in the United States to democracy’s problems can help avert a constitutional crisis here. Already, Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election failed, partly because of the refusal of many Republican officials to participate, and both federal and state prosecutors are investigating his actions. And while the chronic decline of majority rule will not change anytime soon, it is also part of a larger historical struggle to create a more inclusive American democracy.

Still, many experts point out that it still not clear how the country will escape a larger crisis, such as an overturned election, at some point in the coming decade. “This is not politics as usual,” said Carol Anderson, a professor at Emory University and the author of the book, “One Person, No Vote,” about voter suppression. “Be afraid.”

The Will of the Majority

The founders did not design the United States to be a pure democracy.

They distrusted the classical notion of direct democracy, in which a community came together to vote on each important issue, and believed it would be impractical for a large country. They did not consider many residents of the new country to be citizens who deserved a voice in political affairs, including Natives, enslaved Africans and women. The founders also wanted to constrain the national government from being too powerful, as they believed was the case in Britain. And they had the practical problem of needing to persuade 13 states to forfeit some of their power to a new federal government.

Instead of a direct democracy, the founders created a republic, with elected representatives to make decisions, and a multilayered government in which different branches checked one another. The Constitution also created the Senate, where every state had an equal say regardless of population.

Pointing to this history, some Republican politicians and conservative activists have argued that the founders were comfortable with minority rule. “Of course we’re not a democracy,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has written.

But the historical evidence suggests that the founders believed that majority will — defined as the prevailing view of enfranchised citizens — should generally dictate national policy, as George Thomas of Claremont McKenna College and other constitutional scholars have explained.

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison equated “a coalition of a majority of the whole society” with “justice and the general good.” Alexander Hamilton made similar points, describing “representative democracy” as “happy, regular and durable.” It was a radical idea at the time.

For most of American history, the idea has prevailed. Even with the existence of the Senate, the Electoral College and the Supreme Court, political power has reflected the views of people who had the right to vote. “To say we’re a republic not a democracy ignores the past 250 years of history,” Ziblatt, a political scientist at Harvard University, said.

Before 2000, only three candidates won the presidency while losing the popular vote (John Quincy Adams, Rutherford Hayes and Benjamin Harrison), and each served only a single term. During the same period, parties that won repeated elections were able to govern, including the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson’s time, the New Deal Democrats and the Reagan Republicans.

The situation has changed in the 21st century. The Democratic Party is in the midst of a historic winning streak. In seven of the past eight presidential elections, stretching back to Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, the Democratic nominee has won the popular vote. Over more than two centuries of American democracy, no party has previously fared so well over such an extended period.

Yet the current period is hardly a dominant Democratic age.

What changed? One crucial factor is that, in the past, the parts of the country granted outsize power by the Constitution — less populated states, which tend to be more rural — voted in broadly similar ways as large states and urban areas.

This similarity meant that the small-state bonus in the Senate and Electoral College had only a limited effect on national results. Both Democrats and Republicans benefited and suffered from the Constitution’s undemocratic features.

Democrats sometimes won small states like Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming in the mid-20th century. And California was long a swing state: Between the Great Depression and 2000, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates won it an equal number of times. That the Constitution conferred advantages on residents of small states and disadvantages on Californians did not reliably boost either party.

In recent decades, Americans have increasingly sorted themselves along ideological lines. Liberals have flocked to large metropolitan areas, which are heavily concentrated in big states like California, while residents of smaller cities and more rural areas have become more conservative.

This combination — the Constitution’s structure and the country’s geographic sorting — has created a disconnect between public opinion and election outcomes. It has affected every branch of the federal government: the presidency, Congress and even the Supreme Court.

In the past, “the system was still anti-democratic, but it didn’t have a partisan effect,” Levitsky said. “Now it’s undemocratic and has a partisan effect. It tilts the playing field toward the Republican Party. That’s new in the 21st century.”

In presidential elections, the small-state bias is important, but it is not even the main issue. A subtler factor — the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College in most states — is. Candidates have never received extra credit for winning state-level landslides. But this feature did not used to matter very much, because landslides were rare in larger states, meaning that relatively few votes were “wasted,” as political scientists say.

Today, Democrats dominate a handful of large states, wasting many votes. In 2020, Biden won California by 29 percentage points; New York by 23 points; and Illinois by 17 points. Four years earlier, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s margins were similar.

This shift means that millions of voters in large metropolitan areas have moved away from the Republican Party without having any impact on presidential outcomes. That’s a central reason that both George W. Bush and Trump were able to win the presidency while losing the popular vote.

“We’re in a very different world today than when the system was designed,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California. “The dynamic of being pushed aside is more obvious and I think more frustrating.”

Republicans sometimes point out that the system prevents a few highly populated states from dominating the country’s politics, which is true. But the flip is also true: The Constitution gives special privileges to the residents of small states. In presidential elections, many voters in large states have become irrelevant in a way that has no historical antecedent.

The Curse of Geographic Sorting

The country’s changing population patterns may have had an even bigger effect on Congress — especially the Senate — and the Supreme Court than the presidency.

The sorting of liberals into large metropolitan areas and conservatives into more rural areas is only one reason. Another is that large states have grown much more quickly than small states. In 1790, the largest state (Virginia) had about 13 times as many residents as the smallest (Delaware). Today, California has 68 times as many residents as Wyoming, 53 times as many as Alaska and at least 20 times as many as another 11 states.

Together, these trends mean that the Senate has a heavily pro-Republican bias that will last for the foreseeable future.

The Senate today is split 50-50 between the two parties. But the 50 Democratic senators effectively represent 186 million Americans, while the 50 Republican senators effectively represent 145 million. To win Senate control, Democrats need to win substantially more than half of the nationwide votes in Senate elections.

This situation has led to racial inequality in political representation. The residents of small states, granted extra influence by the Constitution, are disproportionately white, while large states are home to many more Asian American, Black and Latino voters.

In addition, two parts of the country that are disproportionately Black or Latino — Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico — have no Senate representation. Washington has more residents than Vermont or Wyoming, and Puerto Rico has more residents than 20 states. As a result, the Senate gives a political voice to white Americans that is greater than their numbers.

The House of Representatives has a more equitable system for allocating political power. It divides the country into 435 districts, each with a broadly similar number of people (currently about 760,000). Still, House districts have two features that can cause the chamber’s makeup not to reflect national opinion, and both of them have become more significant in recent years.

The first is well known: gerrymandering. State legislatures often draw district boundaries and in recent years have become more aggressive about drawing them in partisan ways. In Illinois, for example, the Democrats who control the state government have packed Republican voters into a small number of House districts, allowing most other districts to lean Democratic. In Wisconsin, Republicans have done the opposite.

Because Republicans have been more forceful about gerrymandering than Democrats, the current House map slightly favors Republicans, likely by a few seats. At the state level, Republicans have been even bolder. Gerrymandering has helped them dominate the state legislatures in Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, even though the states are closely divided.

Still, gerrymandering is not the only reason that House membership has become less reflective of national opinion in recent years. It may not even be the biggest reason, according to Jonathan A. Rodden, a political scientist at Stanford University. Geographic sorting is.

“Without a doubt, gerrymandering makes things worse for the Democrats,” Rodden has written, “but their underlying problem can be summed up with the old real estate maxim: location, location, location.” The increasing concentration of Democratic voters into large metro areas means that even a neutral system would have a hard time distributing these tightly packed Democratic voters across districts in a way that would allow the party to win more elections.

Instead, Democrats now win many House elections in urban areas by landslides, wasting many votes. In 2020, only 21 Republican House candidates won their elections by at least 50 percentage points; 47 Democrats did.

Looking at where many of these elections occurred helps make Rodden’s point. The landslide winners included Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver; Rep. Jerry Nadler in New York City; Rep. Jesús García in Chicago; Rep. Donald Payne Jr. in northern New Jersey; and Rep. Barbara Lee in Oakland, California. None of those districts are in states where Republicans have controlled the legislative boundaries, which means that they were not the result of Republican gerrymandering.

Again and again, geographic sorting has helped cause a growing disconnect between public opinion and election results, and this disconnect has shaped the Supreme Court as well. The court’s membership at any given time is dictated by the outcomes of presidential and Senate elections over the previous few decades. And if elections reflected popular opinion, Democratic appointees would dominate the court.

Every current justice has been appointed during one of the past nine presidential terms, and a Democrat has won the popular vote in seven of those nine and the presidency in five of the nine. Yet the court is now dominated by a conservative, six-member majority.

There are multiple reasons (including Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision not to retire in 2014 when a Democratic president and Senate could have replaced her). But the increasingly undemocratic nature of both the Electoral College and Senate play crucial roles.

Trump was able to appoint three justices despite losing the popular vote. (Bush is a more complex case, having made his court appointments after he won reelection and the popular vote in 2004.) Similarly, if Senate seats were based on population, none of Trump’s nominees — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — would likely have been confirmed, said Michael J. Klarman, a law professor at Harvard. Senate Republicans also would not have been able to block Obama from filling a court seat during his final year in office.

Even Justice Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation relied on the Senate’s structure: The 52 senators who voted to confirm him represented a minority of Americans.

The current court’s approach has magnified the disconnect between public opinion and government policy, because Republican-appointed justices have overruled Congress on some major issues. The list includes bills on voting rights and campaign finance that earlier Congresses passed along bipartisan lines. This term, the court issued rulings on abortion, climate policy and gun laws that seemed to be inconsistent with majority opinion, based on polls.

“The Republican justices wouldn’t say this and may not believe it,” Klarman said, “but everything they’ve done translates into a direct advantage for the Republican Party.”

In response to the voting rights decision, in 2013, Republican legislators in several states have passed laws making it more difficult to vote, especially in heavily Democratic areas. They have done so citing the need to protect election security, even though there has been no widespread fraud in recent years.

For now, the electoral effect of these decisions remains uncertain. Some analysts point out that the restrictions have not yet been onerous enough to hold down turnout. In the 2020 presidential election, the percentage of eligible Americans who voted reached the highest level in at least a century.

Other experts remain concerned that the new laws could ultimately swing a close election in a swing state. “When you have one side gearing up to say, ‘How do we stop the enemy from voting?’ that is dangerous to a democracy,” Anderson, the Emory professor, said.

An upcoming Supreme Court case may also allow state legislatures to impose even more voting restrictions. The court has agreed to hear a case in which Republican legislators in North Carolina argue that the Constitution gives them, and not state courts, the authority to oversee federal elections.

In recent years, state courts played an important role in constraining both Republican and Democratic legislators who tried to draw gerrymandered districts that strongly benefited one party. If the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina legislature, gerrymandering might increase, as might laws establishing new barriers to voting.

Amplifying the Election Lies

If the only challenges to democracy involved these chronic, long-developing forces, many experts would be less concerned than they are. American democracy has always been flawed, after all.

But the slow-building ways in which majority rule is being undermined are happening at the same time that the country faces an immediate threat that has little precedent. A growing number of Republican officials are questioning a basic premise of democracy: that the losers of an election are willing to accept defeat.

The roots of the modern election-denier movement stretch back to 2008. When Obama was running for president and after he won, some of his critics falsely claimed that his victory was illegitimate because he was born in Kenya rather than Hawaii. This movement became known as birtherism, and Trump was among its proponents. By making the claims on Fox News and elsewhere, he helped transform himself from a reality television star into a political figure.

When he ran for president himself in 2016, Trump made false claims about election fraud central to his campaign. In the Republican primaries, he accused his closest competitor for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz, of cheating. In the general election against Hillary Clinton, Trump said he would accept the outcome only if he won. In 2020, after Biden won, the election lies became Trump’s dominant political message.

His embrace of these lies was starkly different from the approach of past leaders from both parties. In the 1960s, Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater ultimately isolated the conspiracists of the John Birch Society. In 2000, Al Gore urged his supporters to accept George W. Bush’s razor-thin victory, much as Richard Nixon had encouraged his supporters to do so after he narrowly lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960. In 2008, when a Republican voter at a rally described Obama as an Arab, Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee and Obama’s opponent, corrected her.

Trump’s promotion of the falsehoods, by contrast, turned them into a central part of the Republican Party’s message. About two-thirds of Republican voters say that Biden did not win the 2020 election legitimately, according to polls. Among Republican candidates running for statewide office this year, 47% have refused to accept the 2020 result, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis.

Most Republican politicians who have confronted Trump, on the other hand, have since lost their jobs or soon will. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, for example, eight have since decided to retire or lost Republican primaries, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

“By any indication, the Republican Party — upper-level, midlevel and grassroots — is a party that can only be described as not committed to democracy,” Levitsky said. He added that he was significantly more concerned about American democracy than when his and Ziblatt’s book, “How Democracies Die,” came out in 2018.

Juan José Linz, a political scientist who died in 2013, coined the term “semi-loyal actors” to describe political officials who typically do not initiate attacks on democratic rules or institutions but who also do not attempt to stop these attacks. Through their complicity, these semi-loyal actors can cause a party and a country to slide toward authoritarianism.

That’s what happened in Europe in the 1930s and in Latin America in the 1960s and ’70s. More recently, it has happened in Hungary. Now there are similar signs in the United States.

Often, even Republicans who cast themselves as different from Trump include winking references to his conspiracy theories in their campaigns, saying that they, too, believe “election integrity” is a major problem. Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, for example, have both recently campaigned on behalf of election deniers.

In Congress, Republican leaders have largely stopped criticizing the violent attack on the Capitol. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader, has gone so far as to signal his support for colleagues — like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. — who have used violent imagery in public comments. Greene, before being elected to Congress, said that she supported the idea of executing prominent Democrats.

“When mainstream parties tolerate these guys, make excuses for them, protect them, that’s when democracy gets in trouble,” Levitsky said. “There have always been Marjorie Taylor Greenes. What I pay closer attention to is the behavior of the Kevin McCarthys.”

The party’s growing acceptance of election lies raises the question of what would happen if Trump or another future presidential nominee tried to replay his 2016 attempt to overturn the result.

In 11 states this year, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, a position that typically oversees election administration, qualifies as an “election denier,” according to States United Action, a research group. In 15 states, the nominee for governor is a denier, and in 10 states, the attorney general nominee is.

The growth of the election-denier movement has created a possibility that would have seemed unthinkable not so long ago. It remains unclear whether the loser of the next presidential election will concede or will instead try to overturn the outcome.

‘There Is a Crisis Coming’

There are still many scenarios in which the United States will avoid a democratic crisis.

In 2024, Biden could win reelection by a wide margin — or a Republican other than Trump could win by a wide margin. Trump might then fade from the political scene, and his successors might choose not to embrace election falsehoods. The era of Republican election denial could prove to be brief.

It is also possible that Trump or another Republican nominee will try to reverse a close defeat in 2024 but will fail, as happened in 2020. Then, Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, rebuffed Trump after he directed him to “find 11,780 votes,” and the Supreme Court refused to intervene as well. More broadly, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, recently said that the United States had “very little voter fraud.”

If a Republican were again to try to overturn the election and to fail, the movement might also begin to fade. But many democracy experts worry that these scenarios may be wishful thinking.

Trump’s most likely successors as party leader also make or tolerate false claims about election fraud. The movement is bigger than one person and arguably always has been; some of the efforts to make voting more onerous, which are generally justified with false suggestions of widespread voter fraud, predated Trump’s 2016 candidacy.

To believe that Republicans will not overturn a close presidential loss in coming years seems to depend on ignoring the public positions of many Republican politicians. “The scenarios by which we don’t have a major democracy crisis by the end of the decade seem rather narrow,” Mounk of Johns Hopkins said.

And Levitsky said, “It’s not clear how the crisis is going to manifest itself, but there is a crisis coming.” He added, “We should be very worried.”

The most promising strategy for avoiding an overturned election, many scholars say, involves a broad ideological coalition that isolates election deniers. But it remains unclear how many Republican politicians would be willing to join such a coalition.

It is also unclear whether Democratic politicians and voters are interested in making the compromises that would help them attract more voters. Many Democrats have instead embraced a purer version of liberalism in recent years, especially on social issues. This shift to the left has not prevented the party from winning the popular vote in presidential elections, but it has hurt Democrats outside of major metropolitan areas and, by extension, in the Electoral College and congressional elections.

If Democrats did control both the White House and Congress — and by more than a single vote, as they now do in the Senate — they have signaled that they would attempt to pass legislation to address both the chronic and acute threats to democracy.

The House last year passed a bill to protect voting rights and restrict gerrymandering. It died in the Senate partly because it included measures that even some moderate Democrats believed went too far, such as restrictions on voter identification laws, which many other democracies around the world have.

The House also passed a bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C., which would reduce the Senate’s current bias against metropolitan areas and Black Americans. The United States is currently in its longest stretch without having admitted a new state.

Democracy experts have also pointed to other possible solutions to the growing disconnect between public opinion and government policy. Among them is an expansion of the number of members in the House of Representatives, which the Constitution allows Congress to do — and which it regularly did until the early 20th century. A larger House would create smaller districts, which in turn could reduce the share of uncompetitive districts.

Other scholars favor proposals to limit the Supreme Court’s authority, which the Constitution also allows and which previous presidents and Congresses have done.

In the short term, these proposals would generally help the Democratic Party, because the current threats to majority rule have mostly benefited the Republican Party. In the long term, however, the partisan effects of such changes are less clear.

The history of new states makes this point: In the 1950s, Republicans initially supported making Hawaii a state because it seemed to lean Republican, while Democrats said that Alaska had to be included, too, also for partisan reasons. Today, Hawaii is a strongly Democratic state, and Alaska is a strongly Republican one. Either way, the fact that both are states has made the country more democratic.

Over the sweep of history, the American government has tended to become more democratic, through women’s suffrage, civil rights laws, the direct election of senators and more. The exceptions, like the post-Reconstruction period, when Black Southerners lost rights, have been rare. The current period is so striking partly because it is one of those exceptions.

“The point is not that American democracy is worse than it was in the past,” Mounk said. “Throughout American history, the exclusion of minority groups, and African Americans in particular, was much worse than it is now.

“But the nature of the threat is very different than in the past,” he said.

The makeup of the federal government reflects public opinion less closely than it once did. And the chance of a true constitutional crisis — in which the rightful winner of an election cannot take office — has risen substantially. That combination shows that American democracy has never faced a threat quite like the current one.

Largest Western wildfires burn mostly uncontrolled during above-average season

Fox Weather

Largest Western wildfires burn mostly uncontrolled during above-average season

September 16, 2022

Air Quality Index alerts for areas near the Mosquito Fire.

With more than 6.7 million acres in the U.S. engulfed by wildfires so far this year, the active fire season continues without much relief for Western states plagued by warm and dry weather that has driven explosive fire growth in recent weeks.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the U.S. is 116% above the 10-year average for 2022. Most of that uptick is attributed to the Alaska wildfires earlier this summer. Sufficient rainfall in Alaska over the last several weeks eliminated drought conditions for most of Alaska, improving fire weather overall. After 366 fires to date this year, there are no active wildfires in Alaska, according to the Alaska Wildland Fire database.

For California and much of the Northwest, a record heat wave and dry weather fueled significant wildfire growth in September. More than 140 wildfires greater than 100 acres are burning in the U.S., consuming 1.3 million acres. Nearly all the active fires are in the Northwest.

Smoke from Western wildfires continues to push east, even creating hazy skies as far as the Northeast on Friday.

Air quality in areas near the wildfires will be the poorest in the early hours of the day.

“So many people in the Tahoe area love to hike, they love to be out on the lake and so those activities, honestly, just can’t happen safely for the entire day,” FOX Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin said. “The time frame that you want to avoid is the morning, so we’ve had some stable air move in overnight, and with that stable air it literally traps that smoke down to the ground, and you’re going to breathe that in as you head out for that morning walk.”

As daylight heats the air, it should mix up, and air quality could improve later in the day.

Very unhealthy air quality alerts are in place for areas outside California’s Mosquito Fire in the Tahoe National Forest, including Carson City and Reno in Nevada. Unhealthy air quality extends east to Lovelock.

Hazardous air quality levels above 301 were recorded in Nevada County, California, on Friday.

Now at more than 69,900 acres, the Mosquito Fire continues to burn in the Tahoe National Forest and, until recently, was out of control. Firefighters have gained ground on the explosive fire with 20% containment as of Friday.

The fire began on Sept. 6, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

A front is expected to bring rain and increased winds to the fire area beginning Saturday and into next week.

Earlier in the week, strong southwesterly winds caused the fire behavior to increase, and critically dry fuels drove rapid fire growth toward Foresthill Road, according to CAL Fire.

Nearly 12,000 people have been forced to evacuate as evacuation orders remain in place for areas in Placer and El Dorado counties. According to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, the fire continues to threaten more than 9,000 homes. The Mosquito Fire has destroyed at least 70 structures and damaged 10 others.

HEAT WAVES SAPPING SOIL OF MOISTURE, INCREASING WILDFIRE DANGER, SCIENTISTS SAY

The wildfire continues to send waves of smoke into neighboring states, creating air that is unhealthy to breathe. The school district that includes Reno, Nevada, canceled classes on Wednesday due to poor air quality from wildfire smoke.

According to the Washoe County School District, when a majority of the air quality sensors reach hazardous levels, district officials will work with the National Weather Service to determine if classes will be canceled.

CAL Fire and the U.S. Forest Service have reported more than 6,200 fires have burned over 316,000 acres in the Golden State this year.

Numerous wildfires across Washington and Oregon are blanketing the region in smoke and unhealthy air conditions. Air Quality Alerts are in place for parts of Oregon, Washington and Idaho on Friday due to ongoing wildfires.

More than 2,300 firefighting personnel are working to contain the now more than 93,000-acre Cedar Creek Fire in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, which remains uncontrolled.

Most of the flames are burning inside the National Forest, but private lands are threatened in the western part of the state. An estimated 1,900 homes have been put under some type of evacuation notice as the blaze is out of control.

August lightning is believed to be the cause of the fire. The U.S. Forest Service said about 20 to 30 new fires started because of the storms.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared an emergency last Friday to help mobilize resources for the fire burning in Lane County.

“The Cedar Creek Fire grew rapidly towards Oregon communities this morning, and the fire’s growth potential in the coming days is troubling, requiring additional resources to battle the fire and support the state’s response,” Brown said in a statement.

Also in Oregon is the Double Creek Fire, the Pacific Northwest’s largest fire of the year. As of the latest update, the fire has consumed more than 157,000 acres in eastern Oregon along the Snake River. On Sunday morning alone, the fire grew to more than 42,800 acres. The fire is more than 20% contained.

Officials said that between 100 and 200 homes are threatened, and the fire is burning close to the community of Imnaha.

Like the Cedar Creek Fire, August thunderstorms that produced lightning are blamed for starting the Double Creek Fire.

In Washington state, the Boulder Mountain Fire has been burning in the northeastern corner since late August after being sparked by lightning.

Because of the rural nature of the fire, only 24 structures are threatened, but crews have had some success in controlling the wildfire.

More than 2,300 acres have burned, and official containment has improved to about 60%.

A mixture of state, federal and private land is being impacted, and firefighters have reported difficulty working the fire because of the terrain and heavy timber.

While rain was forecast for earlier in the week in the Cusick, Washington, area, Northeast Washington Fire officials said it would be welcome but only provide momentary aid to firefighting efforts.

“While rain is always welcome, it will provide only a temporary relief to fire behavior until a significant event occurs due to the dry heavy fuels. A wind shift from the southwest has the potential to reduce the potential for spotting on the southern edge of the fire,” fire officials wrote.

Burnin about 37 miles east of Seattle, the Bolt Creek Fire is threatening hundreds of homes and has burned more than 9,400 acres.

According to the Washington State Department of National Resources, firefighters have 5% of the blaze contained.

Evacuations have been ordered around the town of Skykomish by the King County Sheriff’s Office.

First responders said the fire threatened at least 300 homes.

So far, there’s no word on what sparked the initial flames.

Much-needed rainfall has moved over one of the Northwest’s largest wildfires, allowing firefighters to make progress in containing the Moose Fire.

The Moose Fire started north of Salmon, Idaho, and has now burned more than 130,000 acres. It’s one of six new wildfires that sparked in the Salmon-Challis National Forest this week, according to forestry officials.

National Forest officials report the fire area recorded about a quarter to half an inch of rain early in the week.

Cooler temperatures, increased humidity and chances of rain are in the forecast for the weekend. That cooling trend will continue into next week.

About 850 firefighting personnel have gained 50% containment on the Moose Fire as of the last update.

Alaska storm could bring “worst coastal flooding in 50 years”

CBS News

Alaska storm could bring “worst coastal flooding in 50 years”

Li Cohen – September 16, 2022

/ AP

Alaska is bracing for dangerous weather as the remnants of Typhoon Merbok move toward the Bering Sea region. Forecasters predict that the storm, set to hit on Friday, could bring “potentially historical” flooding, with some coastal areas seeing water levels up to 11 feet higher than the normal high tide.

“Latest models show coastal surge higher than the November 2011 storm that brought significant flooding to the area,” the National Weather Service forecasted early Friday morning, adding that the flooding could be “potentially historical.”

“This is a dangerous storm that will produce widespread coastal flooding south of the Bering strait with water levels above those seen in nearly 50 years,” the service said.

The state is expected to see hurricane-force winds with gusts up to 90 mph, according to the service, and wave heights up to 48 feet. Coastal flooding could go beyond 12 feet over the western mainland. Depending on the location, other areas can see gusts between 40 and 80 miles per hour between Friday and Saturday night. The main concern, according to the service, is flooding, structural damage and blown-down power lines.

Much of Alaska’s west coast is already under warning and watches. All areas along the coastline from Quinhagak to Point Hope are under coastal flood and high wind warnings, while Cape Lisburne and northern coastal areas stretching to Teshekpuk Lake are under coastal flooding watches. In Nome, water levels will be up to 11 feet above normal high tide and the city’s mayor said on Thursday that residents of Belmont Point should “prepare for possible evacuation.”

Related video: As Hurricane Kay weakens, parts of West continue to face extreme weather

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In Golovin, water levels could go up to 13 feet above normal. The National Weather Service’s Anchorage office said that the overall moisture content of the storm is “quite extreme” with enough moisture that equates to “200 to 300% of normal.”

Widespread power outages are also expected, the National Weather Service said, and the worst water levels are expected on Saturday.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, said that the situation is “a near worst case coastal flooding scenario” for the Bering Sea coast. The storm extends “roughly 500 miles in all directions from the low center,” the weather service’s Anchorage office reported.

“This is very serious: in some communities there’s the potential for the worst coastal flooding in 50 years,” Thoman said, echoing the National Weather Service’s warning.

Meteorologist Ed Plumb told the Associated Press that the storm will be “the deepest or strongest storm we’ve ever seen in September,” a fact that makes it “quite an unusual storm.”