When I was a child, world maps in American school classrooms showed the United States at the center of the world. It always confused me, as I couldn't figure out why those land masses on the far right and left edges of the map were cut off. For better or for worse, the days of centering the United States are over. We are living through the end of the American Century.
The New York Times has a lot to answer for regarding how it covered the 2016 presidential election. Its coverage of Benghazi, and especially of Hillary’s frigging emails, did a lot to sour voters on Hillary Clinton. (Case in point: according to the Columbia Journalism Review, “In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”) If this weekend’s editorial extravaganza is a bit too late as a mea culpa, at least the NYT editorial board gave it the old college try.
The New York Times of Sunday, October 19, 2020 included a special editorial section consisting of thirteen separate essays explaining why Trump “is unfit to lead the nation.” Even if you don’t take the time to read every essay, the introductory editorial itself — which begins by saying, “Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II” — is worth reading in its entirety. It concludes with this: “Mr. Trump is a man of no integrity. He has repeatedly violated his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…. Now, in this moment of peril, it falls to the American people — even those who would prefer a Republican president — to preserve, protect and defend the United States by voting.”
Of course, those among his “base” who could learn the most from this won’t ever read it. Indeed, they have been thoroughly brainwashed into thinking that the press is the enemy of the people, and that the New York Times in particular is some kind of radical, left-wing propaganda machine (spoiler alert: it’s not), run by Antifa, Inc. (which doesn’t exist) or by satanic pedophiles and cannibals (no parenthetical disclaimer needed here, methinks). These are the same people who believed the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was running a child-trafficking ring out of the back room of a pizza shop.
But the Republican elites are probably ready to accept the truth of what the Times lays out here. They got their tax cuts and their federal judges, but the rest of what Trump has to offer isn’t good for them, either, if it brings down the entire American experiment.
Here’s hoping that many Republicans, when they get into the privacy of the voting booth, will fill in the little bubble next to JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.
Last night, a neighbor called to say that she had received her absentee ballot in the mail—but when she opened up the envelope, the name on the return envelope was my husband’s, not hers. Hubby and I immediately opened up the ballots we had also received in yesterday’s mail, hoping it was a simple mix-up and that he had received her ballot. No such luck, however. He received the ballot for someone a couple of blocks away from us. I received the ballot for a neighbor living five doors up the block.
It turns out, of course, that we are not the only ones to whom this has happened. There are reports of this happening widely in Brooklyn, though it is not yet clear if it has affected literally all of the absentee ballots sent out in the borough of Brooklyn, or only some of them. Unfortunately, the New York City Board of Elections has a history of mismanaging elections. For example, in 2016 over 100,000 voters were illegally purged from the voter rolls.
The NYC Board of Elections blames the snafu on the Board’s vendor, Phoenix Graphics, a commercial printing company that was hired to send out absentee ballots in Brooklyn and Queens. However, today a BOE executive said the problem was isolated to Brooklyn alone. There is no word yet on whether the vendor is also to blame for the typo that labeled the ballots “Absentee Military Ballot” (instead of Absentee/Military), which is also causing confusion among voters.
The Daily News is reporting that the 99,477 voters in Brooklyn who received flawed ballots will get a second mailing with the correct ballot, inner envelope and return envelope. That seems like an awfully precise number: how does the DOE know the number?
Possible Impact on the Election
I have been spending a lot of time volunteering to help get out the vote. Among other things, I have been sending out texts on behalf of various nonprofits around the country urging people who are concerned about in-person voting during a pandemic to apply for absentee ballots and to return them promptly.
Many people have expressed skepticism about using absentee ballots, although the grounds for skepticism have tended to differ based on party: Republicans have said voting by mail is inherently fraudulent (“as opposed to voting by absentee ballot” I’ve heard from more people than you’d think, even though voting by mail is the same thing as voting via absentee ballot), while Democrats have been disturbed by reports about how the U.S. Postal Service may be deliberately slowing down mail delivery in an effort to prevent absentee ballots from being counted. But I have tried to allay those fears. Postal Service issues aside, mail-in voting is actually more secure than in-person voting, since there is a paper trail (and bar codes on the ballot or return envelope) that would prevent people from voting twice.
However, in the Brooklyn scenario I see several dangers. The most obvious one, of course, is that people who did not receive their absentee ballots will simply not vote. In the midst of a dangerous pandemic, many people will decide (not unreasonably) that it is not worth putting their lives—or the lives of family members—at risk by voting in person.
But what if someone sends in an absentee ballot without noticing the wrong name on the return envelope? Presumably if that person tries to vote in person, their vote will be invalidated. Moreover, in theory, I could vote twice: once using the absentee ballot in someone else’s name (preventing them from voting later), and once in person in my own name.
This almost looks like a Russian-funded Republican plot to disrupt voting in the largest Democratic city in America, doesn’t it?
I voted via absentee ballot in the primary this year, and obviously was planning to do so in the general election as well. Due to our age and underlying health conditions, both my husband and I would be at risk of an ugly death were we to contract COVID-19. Waiting in line for hours with other humans inside the gym in our local elementary school just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. There will be early voting available in New York starting on October 24, but even so there are likely to be large crowds.
Even with mail-in voting, I have been concerned about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver completed ballots in time, and I was planning on walking my completed ballot to the Board of Elections and submitting it personally (assuming the BOE has a secure process for receiving ballots). As a Democrat, I also know that my vote is unlikely to change Biden’s inevitable victory in New York. However, I refuse to be disenfranchised! I also think that even in New York, every vote counts in case there are Electoral College shenanigans—it needs to be clear and beyond doubt that Biden won the popular vote (by a landslide, I hope).
What Can You Do?
If you live in Brooklyn and you have also received the incorrect absentee ballot, there are a few things you can do:
Contact the Kings County Board of Elections at Apply4Absentee@boe.nyc, or call 718-797-8800, option 2, and they will send you a new ballot. (Email is better; nobody ever answered when I called the phone number.)
Please also contact Election Protection at (866-OUR-VOTE) and report that you received the wrong ballot. The more reports received, the clearer it will be that this is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed globally by the BOE. Election Protection is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.
Both my husband and I were able to deliver the ballots we received to their rightful owners. And just after I initially posted this, a neighbor came by with my ballot. We have heard of other neighbors running around the neighborhood delivering misdirected ballots. How nice that people care enough to do this! It’s a bit of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy election season.
I don’t have to tell my vast reading public (all five of you!) that Dictator Donny is trying to destroy the U.S. Postal Service in order to keep Democrats from voting. After all, he has said so publicly. The USPS even wrote to 46 states in July to warn that mail-in ballots for the presidential election may not be delivered in time to be counted.
The attempt to destroy the ability of the Post Office to function on the eve of the presidential election is just one of Trump’s many blatant, destructive and unconstitutional attempts to destroy democracy and rig the election. (As my 82-year-old mother said to me the other day, there is at least one thing Donny has said that is actually true: that the 2020 presidential election will be the most riggedelection in history—except of course he is the one rigging it.)
There is a lot of information floating around about what people can do to help save the Post Office, and preserve the right to vote by mail, but the information is scattered and difficult to find and to vet. So I am bringing together in one place a list of actions you can take if you think it’s wrong that our own government is deliberately slowing down the mail; deactivating, removing, and disassembling multimillion-dollar mail sorting machines (and perhaps even destroying them, as Rachel Maddow reported on August 14, though I have not been able to confirm that anywhere else); and even removing mailboxes from street corners to keep you from being able to safely vote by mail in the midst of a deadly pandemic (though of course the Trump Administration denies this is the reason, and says that removing underused mailboxes or those in need of repair or subject to theft is simply business as usual).
BREAKING NEWS: Before I could finish this blog post, the Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, announced on August 18 that he would suspend the Postal Service’s so-called “cost-cutting measures” until after the November election. This shows that pressure works! (It doesn’t hurt that a coalition of states was getting ready to file a lawsuit charging that the changes could undermine the election.) Nonetheless, you may still want to let your government representatives know where you stand. After all, this doesn’t mean that DeJoy is going to reverse the damage that has already been done. And there is still the issue of providing governmental funding for the Post Office—which the House is coming out of recess to address, but which the Republican-led Senate and the President are loathe to do.
If you have other information about concrete steps people can take to help save the Post Office or ensure the right to vote, please provide them in the comments. I’ll keep updating this blog as I am made aware of additional relevant resources.
ACTIONS TO TAKE TO SAVE THE POST OFFICE
Contact Your Representative and Senators
Write to your member of the House of Representatives and to your U.S. Senators to register your complaint about what has been happening to the Post Office. This is important even if your Representative or Senator agrees with you. They keep track of constituent messages, and it helps if they are able to say that they have heard from x number of a constituents. If they don’t hear from you, they won’t know you care about this issue.
You can find your Representative here. (When I put in my address, it actually pulled up three possibilities, so the search engine isn’t perfect. If the same thing happens to you, you can look at this Congressional Districts Map to get a more accurate result.) When you get to your Representative’s home page, there should be a contact link. If you prefer to call (also very effective!), you can find phone numbers of every member of the House of Representatives here.
You can find your Senators here. If you click on the link for a Senator’s name, you’ll arrive at their home page, where there should be a contact link. You can also find contact details for all U.S. Senators here.
Don’t want to call or write? Go to this link and you can easily make a video, post it to social media and tag your representative.
Update: Here is a really easy way to contact your representatives. Text USPS to 50409 (which will put you in touch with RESISTBOT), and it will help you generate a letter to your representatives to demand protection for the US Postal Service. Just follow the prompts! It took me less than two minutes (including some waiting time at the outset—I guess they’re seeing a lot of interest!). Note that you can also use RESISTBOT to contact your representatives about any other issue you like.
Send an Email to the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service.
The U.S. Postal Service is governed by a Board of Governors. Members of the Board are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Governors, in turn, select the Postmaster General (at least in theory—does anyone think Trump had nothing to do with installing DeJoy, who was a major donor to his campaign?).
Let’s flood their email boxes with messages asking them to save the Post Office. This really shouldn’t be a partisan issue—Republicans and Democrats alike should be aghast at what is happening. One acquaintance of mine sent the following message:
Here are the relevant addresses that you can cut and paste into an email:
For several months, as the financial crisis facing the Postal Service has become all the more dire, there have been many calls for people to buy stamps as a way of injecting funds into the USPS. It’s a nice idea, but financially it won’t make a dent in the need.
Part of why the USPS is in such bad shape is that in 2006, Congress passed a law requiring the agency to fund 75 years of retiree health benefits—in essence funding benefits for people who have not yet even been born. However, buying stamps isn’t enough to bail out the Post Office. As one expert has explained, “If Americans were to buy 1 billion first class stamps — about 4 per household — it would constitute a resounding vote of confidence and support. On the other hand, it would generate only about $500 million [in revenue]. Most observers believe the post office needs an immediate injection of $25 billion. Only Congress can make that happen.”
Still, it’s a nice idea, and if nothing else it’s a way to show your support. And precisely because most of us rarely use stamps anymore, it’s nice to have some around the house when you suddenly need one on an urgent basis. You can buy stamps online at USPS.com.
ACTIONS TO TAKE TO ENSURE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE
Join a Phone Bank or a Texting Platform to Help Get Out The Vote
Texting is an effective way to reach voters these days and there are many organizations that provide platforms that let you send texts from your computer. Phone banks are still around, too, and you can participate from home (though personally I never answer calls anymore unless I recognize the number, and I think that’s true of a lot of people nowadays). There are also organizations that can guide you in engaging in social media campaigns, provide the technology for you to make your own video, or use volunteers in other capacities.
These online and phone “campaigns” aren’t necessarily partisan. In some cases, you may simply be contacting people with neutral reminders to, for example, respond to the census, or register to vote.
Here are just a few organizations to check out:
When We All Vote (nonpartisan organization with a mission to increase participation in voting)
In her speech on the first night of the Democratic convention, Michelle Obama advised people going to the polls on November 3 to plan ahead: wear comfortable shoes, bring a bottle of water, bring a brown bag dinner and maybe even a breakfast.
In other words, whether you vote in person or by mail, voting is not going to be easy this year. Polling places may be closed, understaffed or disorganized; the Postal Service may not deliver ballots in time; and all manner of voter suppression efforts will be in full swing. If you plan to vote by mail, it will be critical to mail in your ballot (or take it to a drop box or to the Board of Elections office) as soon as you possibly can.
For all of these reasons, it will be important to plan how you are going to vote. Will you vote in person? Will you depend on the mail? Will you attempt to drop off your absentee ballot at your local Board of Elections office (and if so, will they be prepared to accept your ballot)?
If You’re Young, Consider Becoming a Poll Worker on November 3.
Approximately 60 percent of the people who work in the polls on Election Day are over 60 years old, which means they are in the highest-risk group for COVID-19. So this year, there are efforts to recruit young people, who are not as susceptible to the virus, to take their place.
If you or a friend or family member are young and would like to help by becoming a poll worker, go to this link to get started. You will be helping to ensure that the polls are well-staffed, and safe for voters.
Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his prospective Vice President has Republicans all in a tizzy because they clearly fear that she will be a very effective running mate. Harris checks so many diversity boxes—female, African American, South Asian, Jamaican, child of immigrants and more—that Republicans are right to be scared of how successfully she is likely to appeal to multiple demographic groups who will identify with her personal story. And this is not even to mention that she is whip-smart, an experienced campaigner, and a skilled former prosecutor who will clearly and effectively lay out the case against four more years of Whiney Donny and Sycophanty Mikey.
So naturally, Republicans are questioning both the legitimacy of Harris’ claim to be African American, and even whether she is a “natural-born citizen” (or even a citizen at all!) who is eligible to be Vice President. Because after all … what else they got besides racism?
So let’s set the record straight.
Is Kamala Harris African American?
In immediate response to the announcement of her selection as Biden’s running mate, the right-wing blogosphere went crazy with suggestions that Harris is somehow falsely assuming the identity of African American because her Black father was born in Jamaica, not in the United States.
Nowhere has it been decreed to my knowledge that to be African American you must be a direct descendant of persons held in chattel slavery in the United States. (Okay, there is an American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement that advocates for a narrower, lineage-based identity based on the experience of having descended from Africans who were enslaved in the United States, but Harris has never claimed to be ADOS.) You may recall that Barack Obama, too, was sometimes criticized (by both Blacks and whites) for not being “black enough.” But let’s get real. We still operate under the “one-drop rule” in the United States. Harris is at least partially descended on her father’s side from people who originated in Africa, and she is an American. If she herself has decided that this makes her an African American, then that’s the end of the story.
Interestingly, Harris wrote in her autobiography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, that her Indian mother (who basically raised Kamala and her sister alone after her parents divorced when Kamala was eight years old) “understood very well she was raising two black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls, and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident black women.”
For this reason, her mother made a point of embedding herself and her daughters in the Black community in the East Bay area of California where they lived in the 1960s and early 1970s, including participating in civil rights marches, attending a Black Baptist church in Oakland, and being active members in local community organizations in the predominantly Black neighborhood where they lived. When it came time to choose a college, Harris decided to attend Howard University, the famous historically Black university in Washington, D.C. So to the extent that being African American is also a cultural identity, there is no doubt that this is where Harris has always lived. According to an article in the Washington Post, “Harris grew up embracing her Indian culture, but living a proudly African American life.”
What if Harris is a Descendant of Slave Owners?
Critics have also sought to undercut Harris’ African American bona fides by claiming that she is a descendent of “Jamaican slave owners.” Specifically, the infamous Dinesh D’Souza, an Indian-born, far-right political provocateur, said on Fox News on August 11, 2020 that “Kamala Harris seems to be descended less from the legacy of, let’s say, Frederick Douglass, than she is from the legacy of the plantation itself.”
Seriously? Let’s take a closer look.
In 2018, Harris’ father, Donald J. Harris, wrote an article in 2018 for Jamaica Global (a website for the global Jamaican diaspora) in which he disclosed that he was descended from a prominent slave owner in Jamaica. Though it has not been definitively confirmed, there is indeed evidence to suggest that Kamala Harris had an Irish great-great-great-great-great grandfather named Hamilton Brown who owned slaves in Jamaica. Harris’ father wrote about his roots going back, in his lifetime, to his paternal grandmother, Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown) and his maternal grandmother, Miss Iris (née Iris Finegan).
It is bitterly ironic that anyone could believe that this somehow “discredits” Harris’ claim to self-identify as African American. (Whose permission does she need, anyway?) I’m not sure what the Irishman Hamilton Brown looked like, but I’m guessing his complexion was somewhat fairer than those of Harris’ two great-grandmothers on her father’s side, who both appear to be of mixed African and European ancestry. Did Republicans miss the memo about white slave owners routinely fathering mixed race children through coerced sex with enslaved African women? Have they not heard of Sally Hemings?
This ridiculous argument doesn’t deserve another second’s attention.
Birtherism Again? Really?
As an immigration lawyer whose day job is spent interpreting, arguing and applying U.S. immigration and nationality laws, the “birtherism” argument waged against Barack Obama (largely by none other than Donald Trump) would get me especially incensed. Well, birtherism is raising its ugly head again, this time wielded against Kamala Harris.
In an opinion piece published in Newsweek on August 12, 2020, John C. Eastman, a California law professor who really should know better, raised the question of whether Kamala Harris is a “natural born citizen” (a requirement for holding the position of either President or Vice President) since her parents were both immigrants, and it was unclear whether they had naturalized as U.S. citizens before she was born. For the record: their immigration status at the time she was born on U.S. soil is irrelevant, unless they were diplomats who were not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the U.S. government. (Spoiler alert: they were not diplomats. Her mother was a cancer researcher and her father is an economist.)
Newsweek subsequently published an “Editor’s Note” in response to readers having complained about this apparent attempt to ignite a racist conspiracy theory, writing, “Dr. Eastman was focusing on a long-standing, somewhat arcane legal debate about the precise meaning of the phrase ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ in the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment. His essay has no connection whatsoever to so-called ‘birther-ism,’ the racist 2008 conspiracy theory aimed at delegitimizing then-candidate Barack Obama by claiming, baselessly, that he was born not in Hawaii but in Kenya.” No, of course it doesn’t.
In any case, the damage was done. In fact, a few days earlier, a Facebook post along the same lines had already gone viral.
Facebook did not take the false claim down, but it did add links to a number of fact-checking articles to clarify that there is no truth to the claim that the fact of having foreign-born parents disqualifies Harris from serving as Vice President or President (since the VP’s first job is to be ready to serve as President if the President dies or is incapacitated).
To be clear: the United States recognizes two forms of birthright citizenship: jus soli (Latin for “right of the land”), meaning citizenship by right conferred on anyone born on U.S. soil, and jus sanguinis (“right of the blood”), or citizenship by descent, i.e., by virtue of the U.S. citizenship of one’s mother or father, regardless of one’s place of birth. Even if Harris’ parents were not yet naturalized citizens at the time of her birth, she was born on U.S. soil—in Oakland, California on October 20, 1964—and was thus a U.S. citizen at birth.
Barack Obama, of course, was relentlessly attacked by the right wing on “birtherism” grounds, even though he, too, was born in the United States and was therefore a U.S. citizen at birth, end of story. (See the Fourteenth Amendment.) The idea was to suggest that our first Black president was somehow an “illegitimate” president—and these similar attacks against Harris reveal a similar discomfort (no, a better word is rage) among some white people at the fact that a person who is not white can ascend to the highest office in the land. It’s despicable and it’s racist.
On a final note, I’ll just mention that the closer call when Obama was running against John McCain in 2008 was always McCain himself, who due to an odd gap in the law was actually not a U.S. citizen at birth, but acquired U.S. citizenship retroactively thanks to Congressional action granting citizenship to certain children born of U.S. citizen parents in the unincorporated Panama Canal Zone before it was an official U.S. territory. I actually think this was part of the genesis of the birther movement against Obama: it was a deliberate attempt to deflect attention from McCain’s potential ineligibility for the presidency by pointing to the Black guy with the Muslim middle name and the Kenyan father.