New York Attorney General Files Fraud Lawsuit Against Donald Trump, His Children And Trump Organization
Ted Johnson – September 21, 2022
New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a fraud lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, three of his children and his businesses, claiming that he falsely inflated the value of his net worth to secure more favorable loan and insurance terms.
The lawsuit follows an investigation that stretched more than three years into the Trump Organization finances, as his former attorney Michael Cohen alleged that he routinely inflated the value of his assets.
“These acts of fraud and misrepresentation grossly inflated Mr. Trump’s personal net worth as reported in the Statements by billions of dollars and conveyed false and misleading impressions to financial counterparties about how the Statements were prepared,” the suit stated. “Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization used these false and misleading Statements repeatedly and persistently to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, and to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums.”
The lawsuit — read it here — was filed shortly before James announced the civil fraud allegations at a press conference, carried on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The latter network cut away as James went into greater detail about the litigation.
James also referred potential criminal charges to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and to the Internal Revenue Service.
At the press conference, she alleged a scheme over 10 years to engage in fraudulent practices that benefited the Trumps and the company to the tune of $250 million.
The lawsuit centers on statements of financial condition for Trump from 2011 to 2021 that asserted his net worth. They were personally certified as accurate by Trump or one of his trustees.
“Mr. Trump made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year, and the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” James said.
She said that “each statement represented that the values were prepared by Mr. Trump and others at the Trump Organization in consultation with ‘professionals,’ however, no outside professionals were retained to prepare any of the asset valuations for the statements.”
Among the examples cited was Mar-a-Lago. James claimed that the property was valued as high as $739 million, based on the premise that the property could be developed and sold for residential use. In fact, she said, “Trump himself signed deeds donating his residential development rights, sharply restricting changes to the property, and limiting the permissible use of the property to a social club.” She said that the club generated annual revenues of less than $25 million and should be valued closer $75 million.
In addition to Trump’s business and trusts, the lawsuit names Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump.
Also named in the lawsuit was Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer. He pleaded guilty last month to 15 criminal charges related to tax fraud and evasion.
James also alleged fraud surrounding Trump’s development of the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit claims that a $170 million loan was obtained from Deutsche Bank using inflated valuations. A recent sale of the lease netted Trump’s business a $100 million profit, James said.
She said that all told, her office’s investigation showed more than 200 instances of false and misleading valuations on his statements.
Alina Habba, an attorney representing Trump, said in a statement that the lawsuit “is neither focused on the facts nor the law — rather it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda.” She accused James’ office of exceeding its authority “by prying into transactions where absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place.”
James is seeking to permanently bar Trump, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation or similar business, and to prevent the former president and the Trump organization from entering into any real estate acquisitions in the state for five years. She also is seeking payment of the benefits the Trump family accrued from the alleged scheme.
Column: California’s water usage was built on a historic lie. The cost is now apparent
Michael Hiltzik – September 21, 2022
It’s human nature to mark big-number anniversaries, but there’s a centennial looming just ahead that Californians — and other Westerners — might not want to celebrate.
It’s the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement that was signed Nov. 24, 1922.
That evening, in the Ben Hur Room of Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, using the lapboard on which Gen. Lew Wallace had written his biblical epic 40 years earlier while serving as New Mexico’s territorial governor, representatives of six of the seven states of the Colorado River Basin applied their signatures to the compact with a gold pen.
If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability … the crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.
Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute co-founder
The compact — essentially an interstate treaty — set the rules for apportioning the waters of the river. It was a crucial step in construction of Hoover Dam, which could not have been built without the states’ assent.
The compact stands as a landmark in the development of Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and other Western metropolises. But it is also a symbol of the folly of unwarranted expectations.
That’s because the compact was built on a lie about the capacity of the Colorado River to serve the interests of the Western states — a lie that Westerners will be grappling with for decades to come.
The crisis of water supply from the Colorado is vividly represented by the so-called bathtub ring around Lake Mead, the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam, showing how far below normal the water level has fallen.
As my colleague Ian James has reported, federal projections show that the risk is growing that both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam, are approaching “dead pool” levels, below which water would no longer pass downstream through the dams.
The prospect has led to pressure from the federal government on water agencies in California and the six other basin states to drastically cut back on water use. So far, however, no agreements on cutbacks have emerged.
The ultimate danger is that Lake Mead reaches the “dead pool” stage. At the end of last month, Lake Mead was at 1,044.28 feet of surface elevation above sea level. That’s about 100 feet below its level in August 2003 and about 180 feet below its record elevation of 1,225 feet, reached in July 1983. When the level falls to 950 feet, the lake can no longer generate hydroelectricity. At 895 feet, the dam can’t release water downstream.
The long-term decline in Lake Mead’s capacity has been blamed mostly on global warming. But as I’ve reported before, the river’s enemies are both natural and man-made. It’s true that nature has placed the basin in a long-term drought. But human demands for water from the Colorado have far outstripped what it can provide — indeed, what it ever could provide.
That brings us back to the compact negotiations. The impulse for a high dam on the lower Colorado came largely from California — principally from growers in the Imperial Valley. They depended on the river for irrigation and desired a more reliable supply as well as flood control that could only be provided by a major dam.
Congress resisted approving the project unless the seven basin states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming could agree on how to apportion the river among themselves.
The task of supervising the negotiations fell to Herbert Hoover, who was President Harding’s Commerce secretary. The process was contentious. The upstream states were painfully aware that California was the most voracious user of the river’s water even though it had the smallest acreage within the basin.
All were convinced that California, the most-developed state of the seven, was plotting to appropriate more than its share of the water to stoke its continued development at their expense. They were suspicious of Hoover, who though born in Iowa had made his home in California since becoming a member of the first graduating class at Stanford University in 1895.
Working with his deputy, Arthur Powell Davis — director of the U.S. Reclamation Bureau and a nephew of John Wesley Powell, the pioneering explorer of the Colorado and the Grand Canyon — Hoover overcame the states’ disagreements by promising that they all would receive enough water to provide for all their future economic growth.
They did this through connivance. Davis provided an estimate that the river’s annual volume averaged 16.4 million acre-feet. (One acre-foot, the equivalent of 325,851 gallons, is enough water to serve one or two average households today.)
That allowed the compact to be concluded with a guarantee that the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico could pass 7.5 million acre feet a year — measured as 10-year averages of 75 million acre-feet — to the lower states of California, Nevada and Arizona without sacrificing their own needs. All the states agreed on this formula except Arizona, which didn’t sign the compact until 1944.
(By then the state had all but gone to war with California over water rights on the river, dispatching a squad of National Guard troops to the river on a ferryboat to block construction of Parker Dam in 1934. The ferry was derisively dubbed the “Arizona navy” by a Times correspondent assigned to cover the skirmish. After the federal government imposed a truce, the guardsmen were reported to have returned home from the “war zone” as “conquering heroes.”)
The real flaw in the compact was no joke, however: Davis’ figure was a flagrant overestimate — as he certainly knew, having studied the Colorado for decades.
The 1899-1921 time span on which his figure was based was one of the wettest periods in the basin’s known history. Indeed, only four times since construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931 has the 10-year average reached 16.4 million acre-feet.
Current estimates place the average annual volume of the Colorado since 1906 at 14.7 million acre-feet; since 1991, the annual average is closer to 13.5 million.
Yet the portions of California and the West dependent on the river for their sustenance have grown as if its bounty is effectively limitless.
In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the dam from a podium overlooking the project, declaring that it had turned the willful river into “a great national possession.” Since that time, the population of the seven basin states has grown by more than 52 million, much of the growth fueled by the water and electricity the dam has provided.
For several decades, however, climate and hydrological experts have warned that there can be no soft landing from the restrictions that global warming are forcing upon the Colorado River’s historical beneficiaries.
Hard choices are becoming imperative. The federal government is effectively ordering that the basin states cut their water usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet a year.
The draconian cutbacks signaled by the federal government have been made necessary by inadequate action in the recent past.
As water and climate expert Peter Gleick told James recently, “If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability, there would be more water in the reservoirs today,” Gleick said. “The crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.”
The reckoning may have been long in coming, but it was inevitable. As long ago as 1893, John Wesley Powell — the uncle of Arthur Powell Davis, who perpetrated the foundational lie allowing the construction of Hoover Dam — foresaw the basin’s destiny.
Attending an irrigation congress in Los Angeles at which the coming paradise of water-driven growth was being proclaimed, Powell stood to deliver a hard truth. “I tell you, gentlemen,” he said, “you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”
He was driven from the hall by a chorus of catcalls and boos, but time has proved him right.
‘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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
‘A Crisis Coming’: The Twin Threats to American Democracy
David Leonhardt – September 17, 2022
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.
Democrats Buoyed by Abortion and Trump, Times/Siena Poll Finds
Lisa Lerer and Nate Cohn – September 16, 2022
Even as they struggle to persuade voters that they should be trusted on the economy, Democrats remain unexpectedly competitive in the battle for Congress as the sprint to November’s midterm election begins, a New York Times/Siena College poll has found.
The surprising Democratic strength has been bolstered by falling gas prices and President Joe Biden’s success at breaking through legislative gridlock in Washington to pass his agenda. That shift in political momentum has helped boost, in just two months, the president’s approval rating by 9 percentage points and doubled the share of Americans who believe the country is on the right track.
But Democrats are also benefiting from factors over which they had little control: the public outcry in response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion rights and the return of former President Donald Trump to an attention-commanding presence on the national stage.
Overall, 46% of registered voters say they back the Democratic candidate for Congress in their district, compared with 44% for Republicans — a difference well within the survey’s margin of error. The findings are similar to those from the last Times/Siena poll in July, when voters preferred, by just 1 percentage point, Democratic to Republican control of Congress.
Yet the fundamentals of the race — high inflation, an uncertain economy and an unpopular president — remain challenging for Democrats. The national mood, while brighter than earlier in the summer, remains gloomy. Republicans still score higher on some social issues, including illegal immigration. And the president’s approval rating is still just 42%— as weak as or weaker than the ratings of every president whose party went on to lose control of Congress in midterm elections, going back to 1978.
For now, the fury over abortion and the renewed spotlight on Trump have helped mask deep Democratic vulnerabilities that might ultimately make Republicans favored to retake Congress — if Republicans could refocus the electorate on the economy and inflation. Republicans would lead by 6 percentage points in the race for Congress, if they could merely win over voters who say they agree with the GOP most on the economy.
Marvin Mirsch, 64, a self-identified independent from suburban Minneapolis, said he agreed with the Republicans on economic issues but still planned to back Democrats in November. A biomedical engineer, he attributed his vote largely to one man: Trump.
“I think that every person in the nation should work hard to purge Donald Trump from the Republican Party in one way or another,” Mirsch said. “Because we need a healthy Republican Party, and it’s not right now — it’s sick.”
The survey underscored how Republicans have been weakened by Trump’s decision to play a vocal role in his party’s primaries. Voters said that the word “extreme” described the Republicans better than the Democrats by a 6-point margin, 43% to 37%. And, although they deemed economic issues most important, more voters said that Democrats were focused on the most important issues than those who said that Republicans were, by 40% to 38%.
While the poll did not directly ask voters how Trump weighed on their midterm vote, it found Biden leading Trump by 3 percentage points, 45% to 42%, in a hypothetical 2024 matchup — nearly identical to voter preferences in the race for Congress.
In contrast, voters trust the Republicans more on the economy by a 14-point margin, 52% to 38%. And they say that economic issues will matter more to their vote than do societal issues by an 18-point margin.
Yet 9% of the voters who trust Republicans more on economic issues and say that those issues are most important are voting for Democrats, anyway.
Jeanine Spanjers, 44, from Racine, Wisconsin, said that rising inflation had caused her to change her lifestyle, including driving less, skipping vacations and even abstaining from popcorn when she goes to the movies. A state employee, she also said she believed that Democrats were handing out too many government subsidies, pointing to relief payments distributed during the pandemic.
“What’s getting on my nerves is all this free stuff,” she said, criticizing how all the children at her son’s school received food stamp cards, including families who could afford to pay for lunch. “Republicans would never do something like that. It disincentivizes people to go out and do something. I’m starting to feel like people are being rewarded for not doing anything.”
Still, Spanjers said she planned to vote only for Democrats, saying abortion is her top issue. “I had made that choice once, and I have two sons,” she said. “There’s people who can’t afford kids and shouldn’t have kids, or just maybe it isn’t the right time in their life.”
The poll’s findings also suggest that Biden’s legislative successes have done relatively little to boost his or his party’s credibility on economic issues.
Only 36% of voters said they approved of a centerpiece of Biden’s legislative agenda, the health and climate spending bill passed by Congress last month known as the Inflation Reduction Act. More than one-quarter said they had never even heard of it. The country was divided over the administration’s student debt plan, with 49% saying they supported the cancellation of up to $20,000 worth of federal student loans, compared with 45% who say they opposed it.
Just 15% of voters said that Biden’s policies had helped them personally, while 37% said that his policies had hurt them. Nearly half said the president had not made much of a difference either way — including 59% of voters younger than 30.
“I’ve been working since I was 16, and I don’t have a high school diploma, so the costs of inflation are really affecting me,” said Mykie Bush, 19, who works at an auto dealership in rural Oregon. “I can barely leave my house right now because of inflation.”
Still, Bush said she planned to vote Democratic, saying her views on issues like abortion, immigration and LGBTQ rights outweighed her economic worries: “At the end of the day, we’re not fighting over politics. We’re fighting over our human rights.”
Democrats held an overwhelming 73%-18% lead among voters who said that “societal issues” like abortion or threats to democracy would be most important in their vote this November, rather than economic issues like jobs and the cost of living.
But on issues like immigration, crime and even gun policy that had appeared likely to dominate the midterm campaign before the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Republicans appear to hold important advantages. Despite a summer of mass shootings, voters by a narrow margin said they opposed a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Republican strength extends even to one of the most divisive elements of Trump’s agenda, with voters narrowly supporting a border wall. And, by a 14-point margin, voters said they agreed more with the Republican Party’s stance on illegal immigration.
The electorate remains deeply divided along the demographic fault lines of the last election, with Democrats leading among white college graduates, young voters and nonwhite voters; Republicans hold a commanding lead among white voters without a college degree. As in the July Times/Siena survey, Republicans show even greater strength among white voters without a degree than they did in 2020, with an overwhelming 61%-29% lead among that group.
Jason Anzaldua, a Republican from Jefferson County, Arkansas, who is a police lieutenant in rural Redfield, said that he could not afford the gas to transport his children to compete in rodeo events and had to sell some of his horses because the price of feed was too high. But he said he was equally frustrated with what he saw as Biden’s disrespect of those who supported Trump and the MAGA movement.
“I swore an oath to the Constitution to uphold it, to protect it, to protect the citizens here on America’s front lines,” Anzaldua said. “So for him to stand up and tell me that I’m part of the problem is a slap in the face as an American.”
Democrats and Republicans were nearly equally likely to say they intended to turn out this November, with 52% of Republicans and 51% of Democrats saying they were “almost certain” to vote.
Voters continue to believe that abortion should be mostly or always legal by around a 2-1 margin. However, the supporters of legal abortion rights enjoy an even larger enthusiasm edge: 52% of voters said they strongly opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade; just 19% said they strongly supported it.
“What has taken place is unacceptable to me,” said James Moran, 82, a registered Republican from New Rochelle, New York, who said that he planned to vote Democratic this year. “They’ve denied women the ability to control their own bodies. Should there be some limit on that? There’s limits on everything but everything within reason.”
Vindman: Trump’s “corrupt scheme” had direct tie-in to Russian invasion of Ukraine
Elizabeth Regan, The Day, New London, Conn. – September 16, 2022
Sep. 16—NEW LONDON — Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman on Thursday evening told a receptive audience at Connecticut College that the “corrupt scheme” precipitating the first impeachment of then- President Donald Trump had a “direct tie-in” to the invasion of Ukraine.
Touted by the college as a preeminent expert on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and its impact on the global economy, Vindman took the stage to a standing ovation from the roughly 500 people in attendance.
The decorated officer’s appearance was part of a series bringing national figures to Connecticut College each fall. It was sponsored by the Sound Lab Foundation and Friends of the Connecticut College Library.
Vindman, who gained prominence for bringing attention to Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Joe Biden and his family, said the plan showed Russian President Vladimir Putin the vulnerabilities in the relationship between the US and Ukraine.
“The president was offering a clear signal that personal interests were to be placed above national security interests,’ he said. “And there was an opportunity to take care of something that Putin has been wanting to solve for a very very long time, which is deal with a Ukraine that was instrumental in the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
He said Ukraine’s vote for independence in 1991 “put the nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union.”
Vindman, who was born in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and came to the U.S. as a 3-year-old, is an Iraq War combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He served in the U.S. embassies in Kyiv and Moscow before accepting an assignment in 2018 with the National Security Council.
Vindman walked into international spotlight the following year amid the allegations Trump was trying to influence Zelenskyy. He testified at Trump’s first impeachment inquiry that he was concerned by Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with Zelenskyy and reported his concerns to the NSC’s legal counsel, saying he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen.”
Trump ousted Vindman in February 2020, and Vindman retired from the Army that July with 21 years of military service.
The retired lieutenant colonel in February filed a federal lawsuit against Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and two former White House staff members for allegedly intimidating and retaliating against him for testifying in the first impeachment of Trump.
Vindman said Biden’s administration has also made mistakes in its messaging to Russia. He said Biden’s public announcement that there would not be any American boots on the ground in Ukraine further emboldened a president who’d been enabled for more than two decades by global inaction.
“To Putin, it was a green light,” he said.
Vindman suggested Biden should have employed “strategic ambiguity” instead. Just because a principal is right doesn’t mean it needs to be stated, he said; it’s better to leave the opponent wondering what the plan is.
Asked during a question-and-answer session if he has any plans to run for elected office, Vindman was strategically ambiguous.
He is now a senior advisor for VoteVets, a Ph.D. student and fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a board member of the nonprofit Renew Democracy Initiative.