Sep 5, 2019

Are our elections safe in 2020?

Are our elections safe in 2020?

Plus, the crazy climate change battle is on.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Climate change town hall, are our elections protected, and some very good reads.

What D.C. is talking about.

The climate change town halls. Last night, CNN hosted a “marathon town hall” that featured 10 candidates over the course of seven hours in a nationally televised event. Each of the 10 candidates appearing in the upcoming September 12th debates were featured in the town hall and spoke about how they’d combat climate change. This came after the Democratic National Convention (DNC) refused to hold an official debate devoted solely to climate change, which many on the left had been clamoring for. With seven hours of television time and no pressure to qualm with each other in a debate format, a lot of climate change activists left feeling positive about the outcome.

What Republicans are saying.

Did you hear what he/she said? This was a big night for conservatives who have been warning that far-left climate activists are taking over the party. Each time a radical idea was proposed, it echoed across the conservative media landscape with warning signs and indignation. Joe Biden said he was going to shut down every coal plant left in America. Kamala Harris said Americans need to be “educated about the effect of our eating habits on our environment” and would change dietary guidelines to reduce the amount of red meat you should eat. Several candidates said they were in favor of banning fracking. Nearly every candidate said they would ban offshore drilling. Bernie Sanders conceded that taxes would be raised. Harris said she would ban plastic straws, and the Trump campaign immediately began fundraising off of her comments by selling their Trump straws. Some Republicans, like Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, used the town hall to promote their own ideas for combatting climate change on Twitter. Walden suggested bringing more nuclear power online, saying it “is safe, reliable, emissions free, and which experts agree must be part of our strategy to reduce emissions.” Here is a montage of the night the Trump campaign put out:

What Democrats are saying.

It’s the fossil fuel industry, baby. Elizabeth Warren put it most clearly, and got the most attention, when she said that cheeseburgers, plastic straws and light bulbs are "exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about." Instead, she insisted, Democrats should focus on the three industries that produce 70 percent of the pollution: the oil industry, the electric power industry and the building industry. Warren’s pitch has long been a “cop on the corner” mentality, and she’s proposing regulating those industries to improve efficiency standards across America. In general, Democrats seemed to be on the same page: climate change is an existential threat and caused by humans. America needs to be net-zero carbon emitters by 2050. We need incentives for more sustainable farming practices, to re-join the Paris climate accord, and to stop using public lands to draw oil and gas. Carbon taxing, the idea of pricing out carbon emissions, was supported broadly. Nuclear energy, on the other hand, was divisive. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris seemed to oppose nuclear energy, citing the dangers of nuclear waste. But Cory Booker and Andrew Yang emphasized that new technology would make nuclear plants safer and without nuclear energy we have no way of getting to zero carbon emissions.

My take.

I’m glad the conversation is happening. Climate change is not a simple topic, or at least it’s made murky in the political world, but I’ve had to report on climate change a lot during my career in journalism. That means I’ve sought out just about every perspective on climate change, from “skeptics” to the deniers and the scientists from NASA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who believe we need to make big changes fast. To be frank: the people explaining the destructive path we’re on are a lot more convincing than the skeptics trying to tamper down the fear. And, even more critically, most of the people who consider themselves climate change skeptics have deeply rooted incentives to feel that way; they don’t want their way of life to change, they work in a carbon-emitting industry, etc. Of course, if someone were advocating major federal policies that would make it illegal to write, or would regulate my writing in broad brush ways, I’d be apoplectic. But that doesn’t change the simple reality that our environment is sick and the warning signs are everywhere. It’s getting way hotter than it should be, severe storms are happening more often than they used to, sharks are popping up further north in the ocean than they should be, waters are acidifying, droughts are spreading, sea levels are rising… it’s all right in front of us, and we need some bipartisan legislation to deal with it ASAP (carbon taxing, nuclear energy and expansions of solar and wind power would be my top choices).

A note from inside.

Nat Keohane, the senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, attended the CNN town hall on climate change in person. I wrote to him and asked for his thoughts on the night. Here is some of what he said:

“It felt like a watershed moment. I am one of those who has been saying that what we need most of all is for climate to be a part of every debate, because (as several of the candidates pointed out yesterday) climate is not a single issue: it is central to any discussion of jobs and the economy, foreign policy and American leadership in the world, national security, justice, even immigration. I still think it’s vital that it be included in the debates. And yet I found last night’s event to be much more significant than I expected, just for the fact that you had each of the candidates being asked to talk about climate change one on one for 40 minutes, which in turn meant that they had had to prep for this and get up to speed on the issues. We’ve never had anything close to this level of engagement on climate change.”

He also noted that “we had 10 candidates and 5 news anchors talking intelligently about climate change – not debating the science, or asking whether climate is real, but talking seriously and substantively about what it will take to solve it.”

Your questions, answered.

Remember: Tangle is about giving the full spectrum of views and answering reader questions. If you have an issue you want to know more about, simply reply to this email and send a question  in.

Q: I heard some news around [Mitch] McConnell blocking some election safeguard reforms. What is the reasoning behind that? Are any safeguards being put in place for the 2020 election?

- Chris, New York, NY

Tangle: In general, it’s safe and accurate to say that not much is going to change between the 2020 and 2016 election when it comes to safeguarding elections. Congress did spend $380 million revamping election systems, but the money did little to address disinformation or how to create paper trails of electronic votes in states with vulnerable machines. The reason, though, is not because “Moscow Mitch” is beholden to Russia. It’s simply because the reforms are being pushed by Democrats in an era of partisanship that is so strong and divisive McConnell can’t even appear to concede to Democratic demands. If he did, that’d be a concession that Russia actually played a part in meddling in the 2016 election and that their meddling may have had an impact. It’d also give Democrats a leg up in elections.

The biggest proposal to address that meddling is the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act. A major feature of the SAFE Act is using paper ballots, an idea that has garnered sporadic support from Republicans. Paper ballots are a solution to the chaotic mess that is our federal elections, as they provide hard copy receipts of votes that are then scanned and tallied by computers. In some states, both paper ballots and the computer counted ballots are compared to identify any discrepancies.

Despite some Republican support for paper ballot measures, McConnell has refused to even vote on the SAFE Act. There are lots of theories as to why, from wanting to please Trump to doing Putin’s dirty work. But the most plausible is rather simple: that Republicans fare better in elections where fewer people vote and fewer ballots are counted. McConnell all but admitted this, shooting down the proposal in a Washington Post op-ed by saying, “Their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party. It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.” And while it’s true the SAFE Act would likely benefit Democrats in elections, it’s also true that the thrust of the bill is making it easier to vote and ensuring votes are counted properly. As Alex Pareene, a liberal writer, put it in The New Republic, “McConnell is not acting out of secret allegiance to a foreign despot, but out of the much more traditional, and traditionally American, allegiance to making it difficult for certain classes and communities to vote.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to address the 2016 election meddling here by safeguarding Canada’s future elections. Those plans include transparency rules for political ads on Twitter and Facebook and forcing intelligence services to share information with the public anytime there are foreign threats to the election. Even so, Trudeau has faced blowback. Some of his political opponents note that he’s focused on Russian meddling but hasn’t done anything about the progressive groups who promoted his campaign using money from U.S. donors.

The policies Trudeau passed are the kinds of legislation Democrats are trying to push in America, but it doesn’t seem they will get any traction in the Senate (the House already passed some election reforms). For now, Republicans will keep framing the proposals as federal overreach (“states should handle elections on a local level”) or as a ploy for Democrats to garner more votes. I wouldn’t expect any big changes before 2020.

Shots fired.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Dan Crenshaw, two of the youngest and most popular Democratic and Republican members of Congress, had a testy exchange on Twitter.

Numbers of the day.

Some good reads.

For whatever reason, there were some excellent profiles on the wire yesterday. One, of former Freedom Caucus member Justin Amash, details how one of the most independent thinkers in Congress is handling his exile from the Republican party (and includes some reflection about how he handled Barack Obama’s presidency). Click.

The other is a profile of Candace Owens, the conservative internet star who claims she is leading a “BLEXIT” (black exit) from the Democratic party. Owens, who once blocked me on Twitter for pointing out a lie she was spreading, is notoriously uninformed and seems to have a penchant for grifting. In this exhilirating read, an African-American journalist spends a day with her and writes about how Owens didn’t know the Central Park 5 were exonerated, refused to discuss Anita Hill, and hosted a #BLEXIT rally where the majority of the attendants were white and Hispanic. It’s an incredible read. Click.

A story that matters.

On Wednesday, Michigan became the first state to ban flavored e-cigarettes. The move was pushed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and is a response to the youth vaping epidemic that has potentially harmful outcomes for kids. Gov. Whitmer noted that the e-cigs often have flavors like “bubble game” and “fruit loops” to attract younger users. Some folks were outraged, noting that e-cigs are significantly safer than cigarettes and are saving lives or helping people quit smoking. But there’s also an interesting political story at play that could swing Michigan into Trump’s hands, as political operative Paul Blair noted:

Have a nice day.

A Florida man bought more than 100 generators to ship to the Bahamas for residents without power and reeling from Hurricane Dorian. Alec Sprague, a Jacksonville resident, said he saw the man spending $450 a pop on the generators (that’s a $45,000 buy). The donation was made possible through the Errol Thurston Bahamas Hurricane Relief Fund. Here’s the story.

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