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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

There are four plausible interpretations of Donald Trump’s suggestion that we delay the November election over the supposed threat of mail-in voting fraud.

1. He’s an idiot who impulsively farts out whatever thought enters his brain.

2. He was trolling.

3. He was trying to distract from the abysmal economic data that had just been released.

4. He wants to delegitimize an election he’s likely to lose.

These are nonexclusive, of course, and each probably has some degree of merit. But the last is by far the most important—and the most dangerous. Trump is hardly a Machiavellian tactician, but if the stars align just right, such a pernicious effort could not just cause a Bush-Gore redux; it could create a constitutional crisis unlike anything the country has seen since 1876.

Indeed, Trump’s attacks on the election’s integrity, combined with the moral rot that has seized his party, could even present a path for the president to cling to power despite being defeated in November.

Certainly, this isn’t the most likely scenario—but it’s not impossible, either. The stage is being set, and if you put it past Trump and his cronies to try, you haven’t been paying attention.

Let’s begin with the basics: As much as Trump pretends otherwise, voting by mail is the same as absentee voting. And as much as Trump bellows, voting fraud is exceedingly rare; mail-voting fraud is rarer; and conducting a national mail-voting fraud scheme is basically impossible. Five states already use the mail as their primary voting method; in 2018, nearly a quarter of all ballots were cast by mail.

Voting by mail only became controversial during the pandemic, as voting-rights advocates sought its expansion as an alternative to forcing people to stand in long, COVID-friendly lines on Election Day. (See Wisconsin, 2020.) But Republicans have countered that more absentee voting will hurt their chances by, well, increasing turnout, which, as Georgia’s House speaker explained, “will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives.” (Seriously.)

There’s no evidence this assumption is correct, by the way, but it’s become an article of faith nonetheless. And the more Trump complains about against voting by mail, the more it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. A poll last week from Emerson College showed that, among those who plan to vote in person, Trump is winning 65-32. Among those who plan to vote by mail, however, Joe Biden is up 76-20.

There’s another, more insidious self-fulfilling prophecy at work, too. While Trump insists that voting by mail will be disastrous, his postmaster general is making sure that happens. “Cost-saving” measures initiated by Louis DeJoy, the Trump megadonor who now leads the U.S. Postal Service, have led to a massive slowdown in mail delivery that could have huge ramifications for the election.

In 34 states—including most swing states—ballots not received by Election Day are discarded. In the other 16, ballots postmarked on or before Election Day can be received later, though many states leave little room for error. Texas, for instance, requires ballots to come in by 5 p.m. the day after the election. So if the mail gets backed up in early November, hundreds of thousands or even millions of voters could have their ballots invalidated, tipping crucial states into Trump’s column.

Of course, Biden’s camp would sue, and it’s fairly likely that a federal court would order the ballots counted.

Here’s another wrinkle: Because many states are unaccustomed to processing a deluge of mail-in ballots quickly, if there’s anything short of a blowout, we’ll probably go to bed on Nov. 3 without knowing who won. Trump might look like he’s pulled off another shocking upset — until the count of absentee ballots pushes Biden over the top days or even a week or two later.

What follows would make the Brooks Brothers riot of 2000 look like a day at the beach. 

Trump, his supporters and media allies would claim fraud. He’d sue to get mail-in ballots thrown out and block states from certifying electors. William Barr’s Department of Justice could announce a transparently bogus “investigation” intended to support the boss’ baseless allegations. Protests and counterprotests would rage, giving Trump an excuse to deploy his paramilitary goons.

By law, Congress has to accept electors properly certified by states before the so-called safe harbor date in mid-December, though (theoretically) not necessarily after. But states can’t certify their electors so long as legal battles persist. Indeed, the Supreme Court blocked Florida’s manual recount in 2000 by (dubiously) arguing that it would extend beyond the safe-harbor date and thus possibly disenfranchise all Florida voters.

Would an even more-Republican Supreme Court foreclose Trump’s challenges this year on those same grounds? Put another way: Will the fate of the republic hinge on a sickly 87-year-old surviving until January, and John Roberts not wanting an act of antidemocratic partisanship to be the first line of his obituary?

Meanwhile, at Trump’s urging, Republican legislators in battlegrounds Biden won—say, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—would likely allege fraud in their states as well, and submit dueling slates of Trump electors to Congress.

The law tasks Congress with adjudicating Electoral College disputes on Jan. 6, but it’s ambiguous on what happens if the House and Senate disagree. If some states’ electors haven’t been certified, and no candidate garners a majority, the House of Representatives decides the next president, with each state’s delegation getting one vote—California the same as Wyoming—an arrangement that favors Trump.

Should Biden win by seven or eight points, the hand-wringing over Trump defying the voters will probably come to naught. But if Trump refuses to concede or turn over power, and if his supporters conclude that his loss was fraudulent, we’ll find ourselves in menacingly uncharted waters. If Trump’s presidency has shown nothing else, it’s that our institutions are ill-equipped to beat back even clumsy authoritarianism. 

And whatever the result, the United States will be a weaker nation when it’s over. 

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Published in National/International

On this week's Emmy-nomination-snubbed weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles pays tribute to a civil rights great; This Modern World brings us the latest tales of The Unbelievable Trump; Jen Sorensen invites the world to come visit the United States; Red Meat gives a pet some treats; and Apoca Clips admires the genius of Li'L Trumpy.

Published in Comics

On this week's weekly Independent comics page, which can also serve as a very difficult cognitive test: Jen Sorensen examines the GOP's COVID-19 strategy; (Th)ink offers a tip o' the hat to Mary Trump; This Modern World ponders the president's re-election strategy; Red Meat engages in some serious parenting; and Apoca Clips asks Li'l Trumpy about that Chris Wallace interview on Fox News.

Published in Comics

On this week's forced smile of a weekly Independent comica page: Jen Sorensen looks at the Postal Service of the future; (Th)ink watches as Tucker Carlson goes on a fishing vacation; This Modern World uses another parable involving another cliff; Red Meat seeks a large candied nut log; and Apoca Clips introduces Li'l Trumpy to Bizarro Trump.

Published in Comics

On this week's extra-super-toasty weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World invites you to play an exciting game of Spot the Mistakes; Jen Sorenson ponders the cycle of gentrification; (Th)ink figures out why there are such few Black NASCAR drivers; Apoca Clips reveals Li'l Trumpy's plans to stop the protests; and Red Meat takes in a delightful movie.

Published in Comics

On this week's slightly less open weekly Independent comics page: (Th)ink explains Trump's confusion over "bounties"; This Modern World looks yet again at Life in the Stupidverse; Jen Sorensen carefully considers anti-mask arguments; Apoca Clips is horrified as Li'l Trumpy finally agrees to wear a mask; and Red Meat enjoys some delicious peanut butter.

Published in Comics

It’s now the law: Californians must wear face coverings while they’re in public.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the mandate—something this newspaper called on the governor to do two days ago—earlier today, as confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

More people are hospitalized in Riverside County—which rescinded a mask order on May 9—and the Coachella Valley with COVID-19 than ever before. The number of hospitalizations in Riverside County rose by almost 11 percent in one day, to 285, as of yesterday. In the Coachella Valley, also as of yesterday, the three hospitals reported 108 COVID-19 patients, up from a previous all-time high of 103 the day before.

The statewide order replaces a patchwork mess of local orders—some cities and counties required masks, while others didn’t, leading to a lot of confusion. It also takes the pressure off of beleaguered county health officials—at least seven of which have quit their jobs in recent weeks, in part because of angry reactions from the public.

The importance of the order is bolstered by an increasing amount of science indicating that the use of masks can make a huge difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

While some people’s minds won’t be changed by the new state law, others’ minds will be changed. Our partners at CalMatters, reporting on the news of the day, talked to a Sacramento woman, Wendy Valdez, who was not wearing a mask while she shopped at a grocery store. “Her reasoning: It wasn’t required at the time,” CalMatters reported. “But if it were, she said, she’d wear it. ‘I just got my hair done and they required it, so I wore one,’ she said.”

This face-covering order is a big deal. It’ll decrease the amount of time overwhelmed local business owners need to spend acting as the “mask police”—and it’ll save lives. To repeat what we said two days ago: California’s reopening process has a much better chance of succeeding now.

Thank you, Gov. Newsom.

Just a few more items from the day:

• I was on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast today—you can hear me rant about the need for a statewide mask order before Newsom’s announcement—along with hosts John Taylor and Shann Carr, and guests Bryan Gallo, of NBC Palm Springs; Will Dean, of the Desert Healthcare District; LaShawn McGhee, co-founder of Revry TV; and actress Allie McCarthy, who stars in a Palm Springs International ShortFest film.

Airlines are beginning to crack down on the need for face coverings during flights. This has led, alas, to some drama.

• Speaking of face masks: While scientists virtually all agree that they’re effective, they’re arguing about how effective they are. Buzzfeed News looks at a letter more than 40 scientists sent to a journal, asking them to retract a paper written by Nobel Prize-winning chemist regarding their effectiveness.

Facebook today removed advertisements placed by the Trump campaign that, according to The New York Times, “prominently featured a symbol used by Nazis to classify political prisoners during World War II, saying the imagery violated company policy.” Wow.

We’ll be back tomorrow with an expanded Daily Digest. In the meantime, wash your hands; fight injustice; and wear a mask, because it’s the law. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means, and you value the quality local journalism that we do. Thank you.

Published in Daily Digest

In yesterday’s Daily Digest, I mentioned that I’d ask Riverside County officials about the alarmingly high COVID-19 positivity rate, as reported on the county’s latest weekly District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and extends over to Blythe.)

To repeat what I wrote yesterday: “The positivity rate is up to a disturbing 16 percent. However … if you divide the number of positives (345) by the number of tests (4,840), you get the positivity rate—and while the report explains that there’s a lag because tests results can take 3-5 days to come in, the difference between 345 divided by 4,840, or 7.1 percent, and 16 percent is so massive that it doesn’t seem possible for all these numbers to be correct; it’s also entirely possible I am misunderstanding something.”

Today, Jose Arballo Jr., the Riverside University Health System-Public Health’s information officer, responded to my query—and he confirmed that I am misunderstanding something: Arballo said he checked with the county’s epidemiologists, and they confirmed the 16 percent positivity rate was correct.

“They take their information based on the dates the tests are actually performed,” Arballo said.

Arballo asked if that made sense; I said it sort of did, but not really. He then kindly offered to have one of the experts call me; I thanked him, but said that wasn’t necessary.

The reason it wasn’t necessary: While I may be confused about how the positivity-rate number came to be, the larger point is crystal clear—the virus is here, and it’s spreading, and we all need to do what we can to slow the damn thing down.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached a new high in Riverside County. So, too, have Coachella Valley hospitalizations—up to 103, as of the latest numbers reported to the state.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Write the county Board of Supervisors and Gov. Newsom’s office to encourage them to make masks mandatory. Things are heading in the wrong direction—and lives are at stake. 

Today’s news:

• Well, Riverside County is officially on the state’s watch list due to “elevated disease transmission.” Read about what that means here.

• The big Coachella Valley news of the day: The downtown Palm Springs arena is officially on hold, thanks to the pandemic. The plan, apparently, is to get past COVID-19, and then figure things out from there.

• About 1,000 restaurants in Los Angeles County—or half of the restaurants the county health department visited last weekend—were not complying with rules aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, according to NBC4 Los Angeles.

Riverside County has created a mobile testing team. “The team, made up of nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, set(s) up testing locations for one or two days as needed then quickly move(s) on to another site, said Kim Saruwatari, director of Riverside County Public Health.” Read more in the press release

• Tenet—the parent company of the Desert Care Network (aka Desert Regional, JFK Memorial and the Hi Desert Medical Center)—is being sued by four emergency-room nurses who were fired from a Detroit hospital. They claim they were fired because they spoke out about patient-safety matters during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday did an interesting roundup of the latest science regarding COVID-19 transmission. Key quote: “The major culprit is close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods. Crowded events, poorly ventilated areas and places where people are talking loudly—or singing, in one famous case—maximize the risk.”

• If/when a vaccine does come, “vaccine nationalism”—a fight over which countries get the doses first and fastest—could be a real problem. A doctor, writing for The Conversation, explains.

This lede, from a CNN story, just made me sigh and want an adult beverage: “The federal government is stuck with 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine now that the US Food and Drug Administration has revoked permission for the drug to be distributed to treat coronavirus patients.”

• There was talk at one point of moving the U.S. Open tennis tourney to Indian Wells. Well, that’s not gonna happen; instead, the plan for it is to stay in New Yorkand be played sans fans.

• ProPublica yesterday published an extensive piece on the death of Phillip Garcia, a 51-year-old in Riverside County Sheriff’s Department custody. The subheadline “Phillip Garcia was in psychiatric crisis. In jail and in the hospital, guards responded with force and restrained the 51-year-old inmate for almost 20 hours, until he died.” It’s a tough but important read.

• The CNBC headline: “Millions of Health Workers Are Exempt From Coronavirus Paid Sick Leave Law, Study Finds.” The problems: Not only does this create an enormous burden on workers; it means they’re more likely to come to work sick.

• From the Independent: We’re talking to three local protest organizers about their motivations; for the third piece, we talked to Areli Galvez, a member of the Young Justice Advocates who wowed the crowd with her speech at the group’s “Enough Is Enough” protest in Palm Springs. Key quote: “We go through the issues of racism and being racially profiled all the time. We got together, and we were like, ‘We’re tired of this; we need to change. We need to come together. We need to show that we are equal and deserve all the same rights as everyone else.’”

• Donald Trump and other conservative leaders keep talking about the dangers of ANTIFA causing problems during otherwise-peaceful protest. However, authorities say it’s actually a right-wing, white-supremacist movement that’s a threat, sometimes called the “boogaloo bois.” 

• Let’s end with a few tidbits of good news: The Boy Scouts of America are creating a “diversity and inclusion” badge that will be a requirement to reach Eagle Scout status.

• And finally, Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg said users will be able to soon turn off political ads. Can we turn off the Russian bots, too?

That’s enough for today. If you value independent local journalism, and have the means to do so, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’re on print deadline here at Independent World Headquarters, so the Daily Digest may or may not be back tomorrow—but we’ll be back Friday for sure.

Published in Daily Digest

10,000.

That’s the milestone Riverside County reached today—the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. It’s a sad milestone, and it’s not the last sad milestone we’re going to hit before this pandemic is over.

Folks, there are so many things in life we can’t control. However, there’s a lot regarding this pandemic we can control—and you know what those things are: Wearing a mask when around other people. Washing your hands frequently. Staying home if you may be sick.

Do it.

Today’s links:

• Speaking of people not doing what they can control: During Las Vegas’ reopening week, Los Angeles Times writer Arash Markazi saw some people taking precautions … and a whole lot of people not doing so. He said the Cosmopolitan was especially bad: “… as I scanned the casino floor, I was the only non-employee wearing a mask.

• One of the nation’s largest cities is openly discussing re-invoking stay-at-home orders—and reopening a football stadium for use as a possible COVID-19 hospital. Keep your fingers crossed for Houston.

• Oh, and an expert from Harvard says that 200,000 Americans could be dead from COVID-19 by September. And he called out the federal government for not doing enough.

On the I Love Gay Podcast today, Dr. Laura Rush and I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the reopening process. We all agree: Precautions are not only good; they’re downright necessary. But shaming is bad and highly unnecessary.

L.A. County made it official today: Hollywood productions can resume tomorrow. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work left to do before that meaningfully happens.

• Since hotels reopen here tomorrow, it’s worth asking the question: How safe are hotels (and, for that matter, short-term rentals)? One of the experts writing for The Conversation says she feels it’s pretty safe; the other isn’t so sure.

• The Los Angeles Times explains what will have to happen for a vaccine to be available by the end of the year, with a little help from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

California began waiving bail for people arrested for non-violent crimes when the pandemic hit, in an effort to keep jails less crowded, and people safer. Well, that’s coming to an end on June 20—even though COVID-19, alas, is not coming to an end by then.

Tesla doesn’t think its employees need to know when other employees test positive for COVID-19, proving yet again that Elon Musk is a dick.

Voter-registration numbers have plummeted since the pandemic arrived, according to USA Today.

•It’s worth keeping an eye on Seattle, where something truly weird has happened: For the past several days, protesters have taken over a portion of the Capitol Hill area—including a police precinct building—that they’re calling the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. So far, things are peaceful, but Trump’s tweeting about it; there are now-denied rumors that businesses in the area are being extorted by the protesters; and there’s other strangeness surrounding the whole thing.

• Several dozen people protested today in Riverside, demanding the removal of Sheriff Chad Bianco. That’s not going to happen, of course, even though the protesters are making some good points.

• So … Donald Trump has defended white supremacists and defended symbols of white supremacy. Now he’s chosen, as the city for his first rally in three months, the site of the worst episode of racial violence in American history … on a date that marks the emancipation of slaves in the Confederacy. Sen. Kamala Harris doesn’t think this is a coincidence at all.

• A&E’s wildly popular show Live P.D. has been cancelledafter the producers mysteriously erased footage involving the death of a Black man, Javier Ambler, while being arrested in Austin, Texas, last year.

That’s enough for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. If you can spare a few bucks to support quality local journalism, with no paywalls, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's mask-wearing, sign-carrying, protest-filled weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles points out that it's time for white people to pay attention; This Modern World offers some dispatches from this new normal; Jen Sorensen listens to Ivanka Trump whine; Apoca Clips ponders alternative photo ops for Li'l Trumpy; and Red Meat needs to go shopping to finish a science experiment.

Published in Comics

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