Wednesday, September 09, 2020

TRUMP FUEL - The Promotion of Violent Imagery

"Trump employs images of violence as political fuel for reelection fight" by Michael Scherer, The Washington Post 9/8/2020

President Trump has reverted to using graphic depictions of violence as a centerpiece of his reelection campaign strategy, using his Twitter account, his stump speech and even the White House podium as platforms for amplifying domestic conflict.

His 2016 focus on radical Islamist terrorism and undocumented-immigrant crime, which he credited with helping him win the Republican nomination, has been replaced by warnings of new threats as he elevates gruesome images of Black-on-White crime, street fights involving his supporters and police-misconduct unrest nationwide.

The pattern continued over the holiday weekend, when he tweeted video of a melee in Texas between protesters and security officers during an event for a Trump-affiliated group and two celebratory videos of a protester in Portland, Ore., with his feet on fire.  One of the videos was scored to the Kenny Loggins song “Footloose,” and the second featured mocking play-by-play commentary by a mixed-martial-arts announcer.

“These are the Democrats ‘peaceful protests,’?” Trump wrote.  “Sick!”  On Monday, he retweeted a prediction that political unrest “could lead to ‘rise of citizen militias around the country.’?”

The strategy echoes the approach that fueled his climb in politics as he shocked the political world with graphic warnings about “rapists” crossing the border illegally from Mexico, welcomed the families of crime victims to speak at his events and said he favored instructing the military to target the families of Islamist extremists, a probable war crime.  He also repeatedly encouraged assaults on protesters at his events.

In each case, the unprecedented focus on violence by a high-profile American politician allowed Trump to attract attention, turning his rallies into unpredictable and raucous affairs that were widely viewed.  It also set the stage for Trump to establish his political persona as a strongman itching to dominate threats foreign and domestic.

Nearly four years after winning that race, Trump is making the same argument, albeit about different dangers, using the specter of violence amid Black Lives Matter protests to claim superior toughness and promising forceful resolution if given the chance.

“These people only know one thing, and that is strength,” he said Wednesday in Wilmington, N.C., of violent street protests in Oregon and Wisconsin.  “That’s all they know — strength.  And we have strength.”

On Monday, Trump retweeted footage of Black protesters in Pittsburgh screaming at White outdoor diners, drinking from their glasses and knocking over their dishes during a protest over the weekend.

“Disgraceful.  Never seen anything like it.  Thugs!” Trump wrote.  “And because of weak and pathetic Democrat leadership, this thuggery is happening in other Democrat run cities and states.  Must shut them down fast.”

Amid a pandemic that has killed more than 186,000 Americans, the jarring political gambit has shifted the focus of the Presidential campaign, forcing Trump’s Democratic opponent, former vice President Joe Biden, to air an ad, titled “Be Not Afraid,” [video link] focused on his own opposition to the recent violence in Oregon and Wisconsin.

“The President is on offense, and that is always a good thing,” said Roger Stone, a former Trump political adviser who received a presidential commutation after seven felony convictions this summer.  “The law-and-order issue really motivates the President’s base, and it also appeals to independents.”

Although Trump has received no big boosts in polling, he unapologetically promoted a video last week of his supporters attacking protesters in Portland, later arguing at the White House that their firing of paintball guns and pepper spray in city streets from the back of pickup trucks was “defensive.”  On Twitter, he said the conflict was a logical response to provocation by liberals.

“The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected,” Trump wrote in a tweet that included a video of the incident.

He also has returned to using his Twitter account to broadcast falsehoods that perpetuate racial conflict.  For the third time this summer, on Aug. 30 he retweeted a video of a Black man brutally attacking a White person, this time with a caption falsely suggesting that the assailant in a New York subway assault in 2019 was connected to Black Lives Matter or antifa.

The posts echo a 2015 Trump retweet that showed a picture of a Black man with a gun and falsely claimed that Black people commit a majority of homicides against White people, a racist trope for which he never apologized.  The White House argued this month, as Trump did in 2015, that he was not responsible for the accuracy of his retweets.

Politically motivated street fights have become more common during his presidency.  Conflicts at protests have led to injuries in recent weeks in places such as Kalamazoo, Mich.; Bloomington, Ind.; and Weatherford, Tex., as protesters of police misconduct have clashed with counterprotesters who are sometimes dressed in Trump-branded apparel and claim to be helping to keep the peace.  In one case, a gun-wielding Trump supporter in Kenosha, Wis., was charged with murder after allegedly killing two protesters and injuring a third.  (A supporter of a far-right group was fatally shot during a counterprotest by Trump backers in Portland last month.  The suspect, a backer of the far-left antifa movement, was killed by law enforcement Thursday.)

In the face of this violence, Trump has condemned the actions of left-wing rioters but declined to condemn violence by his supporters, even as he falsely claims that Biden is refusing to denounce violence on the left.

“I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point,” Trump said last year in an interview with Breitbart News when asked about fights over free speech on college campuses.  “And then it would be very bad, very bad.”

From his start in politics, Trump has brushed aside the idea that he has a responsibility for any violence that results from his campaign style.  When a reporter asked in 2015 whether he was concerned that his rhetoric against protesters and immigrants might lead to additional violence in American streets, he recoiled at the question.

“People are getting hurt.  People are being decimated by illegal immigrants.  The crime is unbelievable,” he said, an argument belied by statistics.  “Now in my way, I don’t want anybody hurt.  But people are being hurt.  So when you ask that question, it’s very unfair.”

His answer was notable for its zero-sum view: Suffering in the country was inevitable — the question was who suffered more.

Trump’s return to focusing on violent threats and conflict follows summer months in which he appeared politically adrift as the coronavirus pandemic overtook the nation, infecting at least 6.2 million people and dampening the economy.

He initially wavered about whether to focus campaign advertising on touting his pandemic response or on attacking his opponent, before eventually launching attacks on Biden’s ties to China, his mental acuity and his policy positions.  Biden’s polling advantage widened.

When nationwide protests against police misconduct led to violence this summer, Trump’s strategy shifted again.  A July 9 set of talking points distributed around the White House by Stephen Miller, an adviser who wrote Trump’s 2016 nomination speech, previewed the message that Trump would settle on for the final push to the Republican National Convention.

The solution Miller described, which Trump soon incorporated into his rhetoric and advertising, was to portray Biden as a fundamental threat to public safety.  “No one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” the document read.  The Democratic nominee, Miller’s document continued, “will surrender America and its citizens to the violent left-wing mob” and “abolish the American Way of Life.”

The shift sought to rehabilitate Trump’s political message of dominance and turn the discussion away from the pandemic, which public polling showed had become a drag on the President’s support.

“You can’t really tell people that there is no COVID crisis, because they are surrounded by it.  The only thing you can do is make something else louder,” said Matthew Baum, a political scientist at Harvard University who studies political persuasion and misinformation.  “You don’t have to persuade people.  All you have to do is say: ‘Don’t look over there.  Look over here.’?”

Biden has argued that Trump is trying to distract Americans from his inability to better address the health, economic and race-relations crises facing the nation.

Trump’s message is, “?‘The whole country is up in flames.  Everything is burning.  Law and order,’ ” Biden said Friday at a news conference in Wilmington, Del., “because he doesn’t want to talk about anything, anything at all, about the job he hasn’t done.

Biden has mocked Trump’s effort to cast him as responsible for any street violence, no matter the alleged perpetrator.

“Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” Biden asked during a speech on Aug. 31 in Pittsburgh.  “I want a safe America — safe from COVID, safe from crime and looting, safe from racially motivated violence, safe from bad cops.  Let me be crystal clear — safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said the President is focused on helping communities affected by the violence.  “These riots are destroying the life’s work of Black, Hispanic and Asian business owners, and they have to stop,” he said.

Expressions advocating violence were central to Trump’s early political endeavors.

“I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you,” Trump said about a protester at an event in Las Vegas.  When a nonviolent Black protester was beaten at a rally in Birmingham, Ala., by a White crowd, Trump responded the next day, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

He argued repeatedly at rallies for the extrajudicial abuse or even killing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had left his post in Afghanistan.  “Thirty years ago, he would have been shot,” Trump said.  At another event, he said of Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban, “They beat the crap out of him, which is fine.”

Rather than recoil, his crowds embraced the tough talk, and Trump has delivered more as President.  After Greg Gianforte, then a Montana congressional candidate, physically attacked a reporter in 2017, Trump turned the incident into an applause line.  “Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!” the President said.

When Trump addressed a law enforcement group in 2017 on Long Island he urged incaution in policing.

“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon,” he said, “you just see them thrown in, rough.  I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice.’?”

The new threat Trump has focused on is depicted as no less ominous than his previous targets — and it is similarly inflated with rhetoric that mixes descriptions of actual events with conspiracy theories for which he offers no evidence.  In recent days, he has described “rioters, anarchists, agitators and looters” who he claimed in a Fox News interview, without evidence, have been traveling the country in commercial planes to create havoc, funded by “people you have never heard of” who operate in “dark shadows.”

He also has tried to adjust the historical record by claiming federal actions he instigated have proved that his solution of physical toughness and law enforcement domination is responsible for clearing streets of violent protesters.  On a visit to Kenosha, he claimed that his push to deploy the National Guard saved the city from further rioting after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man.

“If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now,” Trump tweeted last week.  Federal officials did work with local law enforcement in quelling the protests, but Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) had ordered the Guard to the city a day before Trump’s public call for their deployment.

Pollsters have noted a shift in polling around the Black Lives Matter movement, which was initially broad and bipartisan in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.  Support for the movement in Wisconsin, according to a Marquette University Law School poll, fell from 59 percent to 49 percent between June and August.

But national polls continue to show that Biden leads Trump on questions of which candidate would make the country safer.  A recent national Quinnipiac University poll found that 50 percent of likely voters said Trump made them feel less safe, compared with 35 percent who said he made them feel more safe.

By contrast, 42 percent of voters said Biden would make them feel more safe as President, compared with 40 percent who said they would feel less safe.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

DEPLORABLE - The GOP's Even Worst Behavior



"I speak with a computerized voice.  Republicans used it to put words in my mouth." by Ady Barkan, The Washington Post 10/2/2020
Ady Barkan is a lawyer and co-founder of the Be A Hero PAC.

I speak with a computerized voice — think Stephen Hawking.  It’s a result of ALS, the neurological disease I’ve had since 2016.  And of all the painful parts of this entire ordeal, which has now almost completely paralyzed me, one of the worst is the way the disease has robbed me of my natural voice.

Last week, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise tried to use my computer-assisted voice to rob me of my agency, too.  In a video aimed at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, shared his team’s manipulated footage of an interview I conducted with Biden to make it appear I had said words that I never uttered, in an effort to distort Biden’s views and harm his electoral prospects.

Scalise eventually scrubbed the video from his Twitter feed after being criticized for the manipulation, but the ominous lessons of the episode remain: the ability to use technology not only for good but to mislead and manipulate; the willingness of those with political agendas to resort to such disinformation and propaganda; and the way in which America has cleaved into two separate information universes, with a conservative media ecosystem amplifying falsehoods that then take root.

The entirety of the Scalise video painted a bleak picture of the country, with cleverly spliced scenes designed to make major cities look like places of anarchy and violent chaos.  That’s already disingenuous; protesters demanding an end to centuries of racial violence have largely been peaceful.  But what made it so remarkable wasn’t just that Scalise twisted the truth about Black Lives MatterHis video went a step further, altering a question I had asked Biden about law enforcement to make it sound as though Biden had agreed to defund the police.  I’m in favor of defunding the police, so I wish that were the case.  But Biden has been clear that isn’t his position.

Now, I am of course grateful I can still speak, even if very slowly, using eye-gaze technology: A camera tracks the movements of my eyes on a screen-based keyboard, and then the resulting text is converted into speech by a synthetic voice generator.  But because of my Hawking-esque voice, it’s particularly easy for others to manipulate what I say.  Scalise’s team just went the extra mile in seeming to find the exact voice generator I use when they whipped up the extra words meant to damn Biden.  (Scalise’s team denies this.)

Scalise has since conceded the video “shouldn’t have been edited” in an interview on Fox News — even as he attempted to claim there was an underlying truthfulness to the message.  That isn’t the same as an apology to me, or, more important, the more than 2 million people in this country who communicate using assistive technology like I do.

It’s specifically insulting to witness actors with the worst intentions hijack the technology that has allowed me to speak to try to speak for me, but this duplicity also exposes the broader information crisis in our society.  When President Trump claimed, as he did in the run-up to the 2018 election, that a “migrant caravan” threatened the safety of the United States, he was bolstered by a vast conservative media that runs coverage amplifying his claims from morning to midnight.  The inauguration crowd size, the repeated lies about voter fraud, claims about wiretapping, all of it is part of an attempt to shear one half of America away from the other by creating an alternate reality for Trump’s supporters.

That reality isn’t based on facts, but on polarized partisanship.  Trump, like many other leaders around the world with authoritarian aspirations, understands that shaping reality is the most powerful tool at an autocrat’s disposal.  His goal is a society in which it doesn’t matter whether what you say is true as long as your side loves it.

In that context, “deepfakes” such as the one Scalise posted aren’t missteps.  They’re disinformation test balloons that should put every single one of us on alert.  If they can without consequence make it seem as though I said something I didn’t, what else can they do?  What else will they do?  What fearmongering words can they put in Biden’s mouth in a video doctored to tip the election?

I’m not sure I know how to solve this problem.  The collective outrage that got the video stricken from Twitter is a good place to start; that must not let up.  Another might be looking at the polarizing effects of FacebookScalise took it off his page, but elsewhere on the site, the video remains, gathering views.

That’s just the beginning, though.  We need far more aggressive action across the board to identify and stop the spread of false information, because more is coming.  But I can’t do that on my own.  Every letter I’m typing here is difficult, each sentence its own hurdle, and my words aren’t enough.  What we desperately need is others ready to speak their own — not speak false ones for me.

Friday, August 28, 2020

FACT CHECK - Trump's Acceptance Speech

President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

"Fact-checking Donald Trump's 2020 RNC speech" by PolitiFact Staff, PolitiFact 9/27/2020

President Donald Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for President in a speech from the South Lawn of the White House on Aug. 27, the first President to do so since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1940, Roosevelt accepted the nomination for a third term with a late night radio address.  "It is with a very full heart that I speak tonight.  I must confess that I do so with mixed feelings — because I find myself, as almost everyone does sooner or later in his lifetime, in a conflict between deep personal desire for retirement on the one hand, and that quiet, invisible thing called ‘conscience’ on the other."

Eighty years later, Trump spoke to a crowd in a different moment, striking a different tone.

"I say very modestly that I have done more for the African American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president," Trump said.  "I have done more in three years for the black community than Joe Biden has done in 47 years—and when I’m reelected, the best is yet to come."

The claim overstates Trump’s own standing within history, historians say.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, a skilled legislator from his years in the Senate, deliberately crafted his civil rights agenda and pushed it through Congress with personal persuasion.  President Harry Truman moved to desegregate the military, and even President Richard Nixon, who was captured on tape making racist remarks, advanced the desegregation of schools and affirmative action in employment.

It’s one of several examples where Trump was wrong or misleading about Democratic nominee Joe Biden or Trump’s own record.

"Joe Biden claims he has empathy for the vulnerable, yet the party he leads supports the extreme late-term abortion of defenseless babies right up to the moment of birth."

This mischaracterizes the Democratic Party’s stance on abortion and Biden’s position.

Biden has said he would codify the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v Wade and related precedents.  This would generally limit abortions to the first 20 to 24 weeks of gestation.  States are allowed under court rulings to ban abortion after the point at which the fetus can sustain life, usually considered to be between 24 and 28 weeks from the mother’s last menstrual period — and 43 states do.  But the rulings require states to make exceptions "to preserve the life or health of the mother." Late-term abortions are very rare, about 1%.

The Democratic Party platform holds that "every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured." It does not address late-term abortion.

Our work gives people the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy.  You can explore our database of over 18,000 fact-checks, as well as our promise tracking for elected officials.

"When asked if he supports cutting police funding, Joe Biden replied, ‘Yes, absolutely.’"

Amid discussions of defunding the police, this claim is missing contextBiden has said he would redirect some social-services responsibilities away from police departments and roll back investments in military gear, but he also wants to increase federal funding for community policing.

During an interview [video] with Biden, liberal activist Ady Barkan said deadly police encounters with citizens could be reduced if some police funding were redirected to mental health counseling and other priorities.  Biden said he supported that approach.

Biden’s "absolutely" remark came during a discussion of the police using military equipment in their communities.  Barkan interjected as Biden was talking about the military equipment: "But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?"  Biden replied: "Yes.  Absolutely."

Biden has also called for linking federal law-enforcement funding to policing reforms.

"Biden has promised to abolish the production of American oil, coal, shale, and natural gas – laying waste to the economies of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico."

This is misleading.  Biden’s climate plan aims to wean the country off oil, coal and natural gas, not abolish it outright.

Biden’s plan calls for a transition to clean energy over several years, with the U.S. reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.  The plan includes energy efficient infrastructure investments and the creation of clean energy jobs.

"Biden also vowed to oppose school choice and close down charter schools, ripping away the ladder of opportunity for Black and Hispanic children."

This is Mostly False.  Biden’s policy platform backs several forms of school choice, including nonprofit charter schools, public magnet schools, and choice within school districts.

He opposes using public dollars to pay for private school tuition, and he opposes for-profit charter schools.

"Joe Biden recently raised his hand on the debate stage and promised he was going to give it away, your health care dollars to illegal immigrants, which is going to bring massive number of immigrants into our country."

This is misleading.  During a June 2019 Democratic primary debate, candidates were asked: "Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants."  All candidates on stage, including Biden, raised their hands.  They were not asked if that coverage would be free or subsidized.

Biden supports extending health care access to all immigrants, regardless of immigration status.  A task force recommended that he allow immigrants illegally in the country to buy health insurance, without federal subsidies. 

Biden "has pledged a $4 trillion tax hike on almost all American families."

Yes and no.  That’s an accurate estimate for Biden’s tax revenues over a decade, according to the Tax Policy Center.  (Other groups have come up with slightly lower estimates.)

But tax analysts say the impact on most American families would be small and largely due to the indirect effects of Biden’s raising the corporate tax rate.  Biden’s proposed increases are heavily concentrated on corporations and the nation’s biggest earners.  The Tax Policy Center estimated that more than 90% of the tax increases would be borne by the top 20% of earners.

Biden has vowed not to directly raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 per year.

"Biden voted for the NAFTA disaster, the single worst trade deal ever enacted; he supported China's entry into the World Trade Organization, one of the greatest economic disasters of all time.  After those Biden calamities, the United States lost 1 in 4 manufacturing jobs."

The accuracy here is mixed.  Biden did vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 and for normalized trade relations with China in 2000.  Both led to a fall in American manufacturing jobs.

Of the two agreements, the one with China was responsible for nearly all of the manufacturing job losses, which were one out five, a bit smaller than Trump said.

Beyond manufacturing, researchers disagree on the effect of both trade agreements on employment in general.  Some find net job losses, while others find neither net gains nor losses.

The Obama-Biden administration "spied on my campaign and they got caught."

False.  Multiple independent investigations, including a series of bipartisan Senate reports, found no influence by the Obama administration over the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.

The FBI targeted four people with greater or lesser roles in the Trump campaign, but conducted that independently of the White House, a review by the Justice Department found.

Democrats "will demolish the suburbs."

This is a False interpretation of Biden’s proposal to reinstate an Obama administration rule change related to discrimination in housing.  The change required certain localities to work with Washington to identify barriers to fair housing and come up with strategies to fix them.

Experts said restoring that regulation would not force those jurisdictions to make zoning changes or build low-income housing.  It certainly wouldn’t spell the end for the suburbs.

"The top 10 most dangerous cities in the country are run by Democrats, and have been for many decades."

This is misleadingLarge cities do have more crime, and they do have more Democrats — both in terms of general voting and local leadership.  But the connection to crime is a classic example of correlation without evidence of causality.

FBI data shows that the top 10 cities for violent crime have Democrats as mayors, according to a Washington Post analysis in June.

Multiple local socioeconomic and cultural factors play a role in which areas yield that concentrated crime.  The FBI explicitly warns against simplistic readings of the "rough rankings" for those reasons.

"Somehow arguing that Democrats cause crime or something of that sort just doesn’t fit the history of crime prevention in the U.S.,"  David Weisburd, executive director of the Center for Evidence Based Crime Policy at George Mason University, previously told us.

"During the Democrat Convention, the words ‘under God’ were removed from the Pledge of Allegiance — not once, but twice."

The phrase "under God" was not excluded from the televised Democratic National Convention.  Delegates at two of 30 caucus and council meetings that took place during the convention week omitted "under God" during the Pledge of Allegiance.

"We have already built 300 miles of border wall."

This is wrong.  Before Trump took office, the nearly 2,000-mile southern border had 654 miles of primary barriers (the first physical impediment a migrant may face).

More than three years into Trump’s presidency, that has increased by 5 miles.

Trump’s boast refers to the replacement of older barriers with new fences.

"By the end of my first term, we will have approved more than 300 federal judges, including two great new Supreme Court justices."

The 300 number is optimistic.  So far, about 200 federal judges have been appointed by Trump and confirmed by the U.S Senate, according to records from the Federal Judicial Center.  This number refers to "Article III judges" — U.S. Supreme Court justices, federal circuit and district judges — who serve a lifetime appointment after nomination by the President and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

"When the anarchists started ripping down our statues and monuments, right outside, I signed an order immediately, 10 years in prison."

This is overstating the law.  The 10-year penalty for damaging federal property is a maximum punishment, meaning it doesn’t apply to every violation.

The penalty also isn’t new.  It was contained in a previous piece of U.S. Code.

"We have spent nearly $2.5 trillion on completely rebuilding our military, which was very badly depleted when I took office."

This is Mostly False.  The $2.5 trillion comes from the total defense budgets for the last four fiscal years.  The Pentagon spent or appropriated about $562.5 billion on buying or upgrading equipment, which can take years to build and develop.  The rest went to research and development, military personnel, and operation and maintenance costs, among other things.

Experts say most weapons are the same as before, and there is more continuity than change in defense policy from President Barack Obama to Trump.

"Last month, I took on Big Pharma.  You think that is easy? I signed orders that would massively lower the cost of your prescription drugs."

Misleading.  Trump signed four executive orders on July 24, 2020, that are aimed at lowering prescription drug prices.  But those orders haven’t been put into effect yet — the text of one hasn’t even been made publicly available — and experts told us that if implemented, it’s unlikely they would result in significant drug price reductions for the majority of Americans.

"We will always and very strongly protect patients with preexisting conditions, and that is a pledge from the entire Republican Party."

Trump’s pledge is undermined by his efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, the only law that guarantees people with preexisting conditions both receive health coverage and do not have to pay more for it.  In 2017, Trump supported congressional efforts to repeal the ACA.  The Trump administration is now backing the GOP-led efforts to overturn the ACA through a court case.  And Trump has also expanded short-term health plans that don’t have to comply with the ACA.

"Over the past three months, we have gained over 9 million jobs, a new record."

The 9 million gain in jobs was preceded by a loss of 22 million jobs due to the shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.  In February, before the pandemic was declared, the United States had 152.4 million people employed in non-farm jobs.  That number bottomed out at 130.3 million in April.  By July, the number rose to 139.6 million.  In other words, only about 40% of the jobs lost due to the downturn had been gained back

"The United States has among the lowest (COVID-19) case fatality rates of any major country in the world.  The European Union's case fatality rate is nearly three times higher than ours."

The case fatality rate measures the known number of cases compared to the known number of deaths.  The European Union has a rate that’s about two and a half times larger than the United States.

But the source of that data, Oxford University’s Our World in Data project, says that "during an outbreak of a pandemic the case fatality rate is a poor measure of the mortality risk of the disease."

A better way to measure the threat of the virus, experts say, is to look at the number of deaths per 100,000 residents.  Viewed that way, the U.S. has the 10th-highest death rate in the world.

"We will produce a vaccine before the end of the year, or maybe even sooner."

It’s far from guaranteed that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready before the end of the year.

While researchers are making rapid strides, it’s not yet known precisely when the vaccine will be available to the public.  Six vaccines are in the third phase of testing that involves thousands of patients.  Like earlier phases, this one looks at the safety of a vaccine, but it also examines effectiveness and collects more data on side effects.  Results of the third phase will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

The website of Operation Warp Speed is less optimistic than Trump, saying that it "aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021."

And federal health officials and other experts have generally predicted that the vaccine will be available in early 2021.  Federal committees are working on recommendations about vaccine distribution, including which groups should get it first.  "From everything we’ve seen now — in the animal data, as well as the human data — we feel cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.  "I don’t think it’s dreaming."

"We developed, from scratch, the largest and most advanced testing system in the world."

This is partially right, but it needs context.

It’s accurate that the U.S. developed its COVID-19 testing system from scratch, because the government didn’t accept the World Health Organization’s testing recipe.  Whether the system is the "largest" or "most advanced" is subject to debate.

The U.S. has tested more individuals than any other country in the world.  But experts told us a more meaningful metric would be the percentage of positive tests out of all tests, indicating that not only sick people were getting tested.  Another useful metric would be the percentage of the population that has been tested.  The U.S. is one of the most populous countries in the world, but has tested a lower percentage of its population than other countries.

The U.S. was also slower than other countries in rolling out tests and amping up testing capacity.  Even now, many states are still experiencing delays in reporting test results to positive individuals.

As for "the most advanced," Trump may be referring to new testing investments and systems, like Abbott’s recently announced $5,15-minute rapid antigen test that the company says will be about the size of a credit card, needs no instrumentation and comes with a phone app where people can view their results.

But Trump’s comment makes it sound as if these testing systems are already in place, when they haven’t been distributed to the public.

Daniel Funke, Jon Greenberg, Louis Jacobson, Noah Y.  Kim, Bill McCarthy, Samantha Putterman, Amy Sherman, Miriam Valverde and Kaiser Health News reporter Victoria Knight contributed to this report.  Photos from the Associated Press.


Monday, August 24, 2020

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 8/21/2020

"Shields and Brooks on Biden’s DNC performance, Trump’s RNC approachPBS NewsHour 8/21/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including reaction to the Democratic National Convention and Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, what to expect from President Trump at the Republican National Convention next week and concerns about delays in U.S. mail service ahead of the election.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  The Democrats spent this week making their case for a Joe Biden presidency.  Next week, it's the Republicans' turn to argue for four more years for President Trump.

But, tonight, it's the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

It is so good to see both of you.  We have seen you — you have seen us too much for the last four nights, but we're so glad to have you back.

David, the Biden campaign is putting out positive vibes tonight.  They're saying:  We think we did really well.  We raised $70 million over four days.  A lot of people were watching.

How do you think they did?  What stays with you?

David Brooks, New York Times:  What is that Beach Boys song, "Good Vibrations?"

Yes, they have earned them.  They had a convention that vastly exceeded expectations, certainly my expectations.  They had a candidate who delivered an address with a fierce urgency that you can't fake, actually.

And they had Barack Obama, Michelle Obama.  They had a series of remarkable performances that I think, for the first time in this campaign, not only generated opposition to Donald Trump, but generated some general and genuine enthusiasm for Joe Biden.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, what do you — what's your takeaway?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  I couldn't disagree more.

No, Judy, it was a…

(LAUGHTER)

It was a very, very positive convention, make no mistake about it.

Barack Obama being the big surprise.  After four years of Democrats waiting for him, his being circumspect and restrained, he arrived with a full-throated indictment of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump's failure to lead, and Donald Trump's failure to protect the country in its great crisis, and basically made the case that Donald Trump did not devote the time, energy, effort, and probably did not have the capacity to be President.

But I think — and I agree with David about Joe Biden.  It was — in many respects, it was a great advantage to have the remote convention, because Joe's tendency often is to win everybody in the room, and which he tries to do and does when he's speaking.

But, here, he had 24 minutes.  It was — he stayed within himself.  He made the case, I thought, compellingly.

But, more than anything else about the convention, to me, I was reminded of the words of the poet Maya Angelou, who said, people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will not forget how you made them feel.

And the vignettes about Joe Biden from Greg Weaver of Amtrak, who suffered a heart attack, a conductor.  Joe Biden knew his children, his grandchildren.  Joe Biden, as Vice President, reached out and contacted him in a barbershop in New York City to be sure how he was doing, that Joe Biden, the way he treated the elevator operator at The New York Times.

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

Mark Shields:  He didn't get the endorsement of The New York TimesHe got her endorsement.  She nominated him and said that there's more than room in his heart for himself.  There's room for me and so many others.

And, finally, as you commented, Brayden Harrington, the 13-year-old, brave, courageous young man from New Hampshire, who revealed that Joe Biden had told him:  We're in the same club, we're stutterers, and helped him and gave him the courage.

And I think that came through probably more strongly than anything else, and I think to Joe Biden's advantage.

Judy Woodruff:  So, David Brooks, did they do what they needed to do?  And did they miss the mark on anything?

David Brooks:  Yes, they did three-quarters of what they needed to do.

What's impressive about the Biden campaign is that they had a theory about two years ago, and they have stuck with the theory.  The theory is that the country is exhausted and wants a uniter.  And they ignore Twitter.  They ignored a lot of the left-right thing.  They just pursued that theory.

What they did not do is go to the heart of this electorate, which is working-class voters in the Upper Midwest.  It's sort of mind-boggling to me.  In 2016, Hillary Clinton made a colossal error by ignoring those voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and such places.

And if the Democrats lose those states again, the indictment — and a correct indictment — will be that they made the exact same mistake in 2020 as they made in 2016.

And I think it's just because they don't have the vocabulary or the cultural knowledge to know how to talk to those voters.  I just think there are not enough people in the Democratic Party who emerge from those communities and know what concerns them and know how to talk to them.

And it could just be an inherent error and shortage in the party.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, do you agree?  They failed to reach these voters in the heartland, many of them white working-class voters?

Mark Shields:  Well, I think Joe Biden has an enormous advantage over Hillary Clinton in that respect, just in his natural rapport and his record in dealing with working people and working issues.

But the Democrats have to be wary of becoming a party that — where people shower before work, instead of after work, who don't work by the hour, who don't pack a lunch.  And I think that remains a problem.

But Donald Trump's doing everything he can, as he did with Goodyear, in trying to boycott Goodyear tires in Akron, Ohio, and a great American company, to lose — to win back for Joe Biden and the Democrats this group.

I thought the biggest mistake of the night, Judy, of the entire four week — week was your coming to us when John Legend and Common were singing…

(LAUGHTER)

… and asking us…

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, I have heard nothing but unmitigated criticism of what the hell we were saying, when people wanted to hear them.

And what was David — what was David Brooks' bestselling album, they wanted to know.

Judy Woodruff:  Well, we have heard some of that as well.  And we apologize to anybody who thought we made bad decisions.  But we try our best to get it right.

Mark Shields:  OK.

Judy Woodruff:  But, David, OK, now it's the Republicans' turn.  It's President Trump's turn.

What does he need to do next week?

David Brooks:  Well, first, scare people.

(LAUGHTER)

Show that this is a country in disorder, crime is rising, violence in Portland.

Talk about China, which the Democrats did not do enough.  Talk about the threat and say, hey, I might not be as nice as Joe Biden, but you need me.

And I think that's the key thing.  And the second way Trump will say you need me is, they didn't talk about their policies at their convention.  But what they really stand for is the Green New Deal and opening the border and all that.

I expect the Republican Convention, weirdly, to be weirdly more policy-oriented.

The final odd thing about the Republican Convention this year, which is unprecedented in my lifetime, in all our lifetimes, is that the 2012 nominee would be not welcome there.  Mitt Romney would be not welcome thereJohn McCain, if he were alive, would be not welcome thereGeorge W. Bush, the last Republican President, would be not welcome thereGeorge H.W. Bush, the previous Republican President, would be not welcome there.

This is a party that's utterly transformed, and the previous nominees will just be not welcome at the party as it currently exists.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, as you look ahead to what the Republicans need to do next week, what are you thinking?

Mark Shields:  I think it's fair to say, Judy, not only would they not be welcome, but not one of the four would want to be there at that convention, which also speaks volumes about the change in the Republican Party.

I think that they have got a tough, uphill fight.  I mean, Donald Trump has spent 40 — four years concentrating on his base.  And, Judy, this is going to be a different election from 2016.

Forty-six percent, regardless of how acutely it's distributed electorally, is not going to be enough to win the White House back.  And he's got to expand.  And I don't know where he goes to expand.  All he does is drill down on his own side.

And I really feel, if anybody has any extra empathy, they ought to extend some to the people who are trying to put together this Republican Convention, because I think his whims are changing it from hour to hour, and the direction it's going to take, and the message it's going to deliver.

And I just — I really think it's an uphill — it's an uphill struggle from here, politically, to make a theme, to develop a theme.

What are you going to run, on sleepy Joe, after Joe Biden just ran — gave a 24-minute speech that was the equal of any given?

Fox News, before the convention, asked, do you think Joe Biden has the mental acuity to be President, in a poll, and 47 percent said yes, and 39 percent no.  They also made the mistake of asking it about Donald Trump, and 51 percent said, no, they didn't think he had the mental acuity.

So, there's two themes that have kind of gone by the board, sleepy and mental acuity.

Judy Woodruff:  Well, one of the things the President has been talking about — and we heard about it earlier in the program and just now from viewers, David — is what's going on with the Postal Service.

The postmaster general went before the Congress, a bunch of senators today, got grilled over that.  He assured them that everything's going to be fine.  But a lot of Democrats are saying, this is something they need to — we need to watch.

How serious an issue is this?  How much do you think it's going to play a role in this election?

David Brooks:  Well, Donald Trump's comments are a serious issue, because they will serve to proactively delegitimize the election if it comes out in the way his followers don't like.

And so they will have an excuse.  And they will say, see, Donald Trump said this all along.  It was those mail-in ballots, a system that we know is honest.

As for what's actually happening in the post office, I think much — vastly too much is being made out of this.  The Postal Service is a service in financial trouble.  The amount of mail is down sharply.  The nature of the mail has shifted from letters to packages.

So, shifting over from some of the sorting machines for letters to other things, and making room for packages processing machinery seems to be just the normal thing you do.  There's no evidence that I have seen that any of this is done with bad motives, other than try to save the Postal Service.

We get 160 million voters maybe or so, probably less.  The Postal Service delivers 430 (sic) pieces of mail every day.  There should be some expectation, as there has been all these centuries, that they can do this job and that they're going to do this job.

And if we — it's worth watching.  But, so far, I don't see any evidence that the Postal Service has become some sort of corrupt and untrustworthy institution.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark Shields, only about 30 seconds on the Postal Service.

Mark Shields:  I don't think — Judy, I don't think that anybody is suggesting the Postal Service is.

We're talking about the leadership.  And the old line, you don't talk to the monkey, when you can talk to the monkey grinder — Donald Trump has made quite clear what his intentions are.  He does not want millions of Americans voting by mail in the middle of a pandemic, in which the United States has paid a greater price in personal lives and suffering than any industrialized nation and many non-industrialized nations in the world.

And this is obviously a priority of his that far exceeds the pandemic itself.  He [Trump] keeps talking about it, and says on the record that, if people vote by mail, the Republicans — if everybody votes by mail, the Republicans will never win another election.

I think we need all the light, all the sunshine, all the antiseptic and dyspeptic we can keep on this story.  And I look forward to the hearings on Monday.

Judy Woodruff:  We will keep covering it.

And we thank you both after really an extraordinary week.

David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you.



DNC CONVENTION - Biden's Acceptance Speech

"Biden casts election as battle for nation’s soul as GOP prepares for conventionPBS NewsHour 8/21/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  On Thursday, Joe Biden formally accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.  He slammed President Trump for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the U.S. economy is “in tatters” and characterizing the election as a battle for America's soul.  Meanwhile, President Trump and the Republicans fired back criticism as they prepared for their own convention.  Amna Nawaz reports.




Joe Biden’s full speech at DNC Convention



COVID-19 PANDEMIC - Memoriam to Victims

"Remembering 5 more victims of the coronavirus pandemicPBS NewsHour 8/21/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  As we are every Friday during this pandemic, we take a moment to honor individuals lost to the Coronavirus.  Here are stories of five more, including a 22-year-old musician and a 48-year-old Marine Corps reservist.



FLINT, MICHIGAN - 6 Years Later

"6 years after water crisis began, what has changed in Flint — and what hasn’tPBS NewsHour 8/20/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, exposed major health and environmental concerns for residents and prompted new scrutiny of access to clean drinking water in the U.S.  But Flint is still grappling with the consequences of its crisis, including financial and legal liability.  John Yang reports and talks to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who helped sound the alarm about Flint’s water.



VOTE 2020 - DNC Convention Night 4

"How Biden will close out an unprecedented DNCPBS NewsHour 8/20/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Thursday marks the final day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, after a week of speakers, discussions and celebrations.  To conclude the event, the party’s presidential candidate, Joe Biden, will formally accept his nomination.  But President Trump is wasting no time in criticizing Biden's policies.  Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest campaign news.



VOTE 2020 - Uniting Democrats

A personal plea to Bernie supporters:  Please, PLEASE, do not make the same mistake some of you made in 2016 of not voting, that put Trump in the White House.  Please VOTE.

"How Sanders worked with Biden on Democratic policy proposalsPBS NewsHour 8/20/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  One of the goals of this year’s Democratic National Convention is to unite a divided party.  Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was former Vice President Joe Biden’s biggest challenger during the Democratic primaries, and some of his supporters have vowed not to support Biden.  Sanders joins Judy Woodruff to discuss working with Biden on policy proposals and progressive representation at the DNC.



VOTE 2020 - Biden's Long Path

"Biden’s long and painful path to Democratic presidential nominationPBS NewsHour 8/20/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Former Vice President Joe Biden has spent decades in public office.  On Thursday night, he will finally accept the Democratic Party’s nomination for President.  We look back at Biden’s personal story, fraught with tragedy and resilience, and his long political career as he arrives at this professional milestone.  Lisa Desjardins reports.



BRIEF BUT SPECTACULAR - Tara Rynders (RN)

"A Brief But Spectacular take on caring for those who care for us"  PBS NewsHour 8/19/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The pressure on doctors, nurses and other health care professionals has been constant throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  Tara Rynders, a registered nurse in Colorado, has created an arts-based workshop designed to alleviate the stress and compassion fatigue that many medical providers experience.  Rynders shares her Brief But Spectacular take on caring for those who care for us.



VOTE 2020 - House Democrats' Outlook

"Congressional Democrats on the party’s outlook in their battleground statesPBS NewsHour 8/19/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Donald Trump won the White House in 2016 by taking several key swing states that former President Barack Obama had won in 2008 and 2012, including Michigan, Ohio, and FloridaEach of these is expected to be a [political] battleground again this year.  Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Val Demings of Florida, join Judy Woodruff to discuss their states’ political landscapes.



VOTE 2020 - DNC Convention 3rd Night

"Night 3 of DNC to feature Barack Obama, Harris making historyPBS NewsHour 8/19/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The Democratic National Convention will hear Wednesday night from two figures critically important to Joe Biden, the party’s newly minted presidential nominee.  One chose Biden to be his Vice President, and the other is now Biden’s selection for that job.  Amna Nawaz looks back at Tuesday’s DNC highlights and ahead to appearances by former President Barack Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris.



VOTE 2020 - DNC Convention, Klobuchar

"Klobuchar: Americans ‘are different, but they don’t want to be divided’PBS NewsHour 8/19/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Throughout the week, we have heard from a number of Joe Biden’s former rivals who have now come to support him in his bid for the White House.  One of them, Sen. Amy Klobuchar [D] of Minnesota, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how she thinks the Democratic National Convention is going so far, why this is a “personal” election, the challenges of virtual campaigning and Biden's chance of winning Minnesota.



U.S. CONSTITUTION - 19th Amendment 100 Years Later

"A century after 19th Amendment, Gloria Steinem on what challenges remainPBS NewsHour 8/18/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Tuesday marks a full century since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which says that the right to vote “should not be denied or abridged” on the basis of sex.  We look back to the path to that milestone, and Judy Woodruff talks to longtime activist and scholar Gloria Steinem about what challenges remain.


New York Times - 19th Amendment


MIDDLE EAST - Lebanon Reckoning

"Conviction in Hariri case increases pressure on HezbollahPBS NewsHour 8/18/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A special international tribunal has found a Hezbollah agent guilty of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in a deadly blast 15 years ago.  Although the decision doesn’t implicate Hezbollah explicitly, it comes at a tense moment for the U.S.-designated terror group, on whom political and financial pressure is growing.  Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Beirut.



VOTE 2020 - Democrat Convention, Elephant in the Room

"How anti-Trump Republicans are working to defeat himPBS NewsHour 8/18/2020

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The opening night of the Democratic National Convention featured several Republicans who plan to vote for Joe Biden in the November election, including John Kasich, former governor of Ohio and a 2016 Republican presidential candidate himself.  But some Republican groups, such as the Lincoln Project, are going farther to support a Democratic candidate in ways never before seen.  John Yang reports.



VOTE 2020 - Trump Voting Intimidation?

"Trump’s suggestion of deploying law enforcement officials to monitor polls raises specter of voting intimidation" by Rosalind S. Helderman, Josh Dawsey, Matt Zapotosky - The Washington Post 8/21/2020

More than 30 years ago, a Republican Party program that dispatched off-duty police officers to patrol polling places in heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods in New Jersey triggered accusations of voter intimidation, resulting in a federal agreement that restricted for decades how the national GOP could observe voting.

Now, two years after those limits were lifted, President Trump has revived the idea of using law enforcement officers to patrol polling places, invoking tactics historically used to scare voters of color.

In an interview Thursday with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump described law enforcement officers as part of a phalanx of authorities he hopes will monitor voting in November.

“We’re going to have everything,” the President said.  “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to hopefully have U.S. attorneys and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals.  But it’s very hard.”

Trump’s remarks are part of a pattern of comments in which he has suggested he is willing to take actions to impede how people cast their ballots this fall.  He has repeatedly sought to undermine confidence in the November vote, making false claims about the integrity of mail-in balloting and raising the specter of widespread electoral fraud.  Earlier this month, he floated the idea of withholding election money from states and refusing funding for the U.S. Postal Service so as to curtail the use of voting by mail.

The President has limited authority to order law enforcement to patrol polling places.  Sheriff’s deputies and police officers are commanded at the local level, and a federal law bars U.S. government officials from sending “armed men” to the vicinity of polling places.

But civil rights advocates said they feared Trump’s words could inspire local officials to act on his behalf.  And they said even the threat of encountering police officers at the polls could be frightening to some voters, particularly in communities of color where residents are distrustful of the police.

“This is just such an old, dirty voter suppression tactic,” said Kristen Clarke, who leads the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “There is no doubt that this is about instilling fear and depressing participation in communities of color.”

Clarke said her group was researching how the President’s comments could be used in lawsuits intended to protect the vote.

Attorney Marc Elias, who is leading the Democratic Party’s voting litigation efforts, said he will rush to court if he sees any evidence of the actions Trump described.

“The reason why the Republican Party was under a consent decree for 40 years was for precisely this kind of behavior in 1981,” he said.  “It would be unfortunate if, having come out from under that consent decree, they now try to repeat those tactics.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Mike Reed, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said that law enforcement officers are not part of the RNC’s new poll-watching program.  “Our program consists of volunteers and attorneys,” he said.

Other Republican officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal strategy said they were unaware of plans to deploy law enforcement officers to polling places, adding that the President’s comments were inaccurate and unhelpful to the party’s efforts to expand its poll-watching program through appropriate and legal measures.

Matthew Morgan, general counsel for Trump’s reelection campaign, said in a statement that “Republicans will be ready to make sure the polls are being run correctly, securely, and transparently as we work to deliver the free and fair election Americans deserve.”

The Voting Rights Act outlaws the intimidation or coercion of voters, a provision adopted to combat long-standing tactics that were used in the Jim Crow South to prevent Black people from participating in elections.  The tactics included deploying sheriff’s deputies and police officers to the polls.

Accusations of voter intimidation continued long past the end of Jim Crow.  Black voters in Florida complained about police traffic stops on Election Day as recently as 2000, according to a report on the 2000 Presidential election by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  In 2010, advocates accused North Carolina police of voter suppression after they set up traffic checkpoints between primarily Black apartment complexes and polling locations.

The RNC came under scrutiny for allegedly violating the Voting Rights Act in New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial race, when the party was accused of creating a “National Ballot Security Task Force” made up of off-duty deputy sheriffs and local police officers who wore armbands and patrolled the polls in largely Black and Latino neighborhoods.  Some allegedly displayed their firearms.  Official-looking signs were posted at some precincts warning that voter fraud is a crime and that the task force was watching.

After the Democratic Party sued, the RNC entered into a federal consent decree in 1982 in which it admitted no wrongdoing but promised it would not take efforts to suppress the minority vote and would allow courts to review and approve future ballot security efforts.

In practice, that meant that for decades, the RNC largely ceded poll-watching activities to a candidate’s campaign operations.

In 2016, the Democratic Party alleged that the RNC had violated the consent decree by supporting the Trump campaign’s ballot security efforts.

But a federal judge ruled in 2018 that the Democrats had not proved that the agreement had been violated, allowing the consent decree to expire.

As a result, the RNC this year will be able to conduct poll-watching activities without restrictions for the first time in decades.

In response, party officials have said they hope to recruit at least 30,000 poll watchers in 15 battleground states, part of a program that will also deploy lawyers around the country to fight Democrats in court over election laws and ballots.

Justin Riemer, the RNC’s chief counsel, said volunteers will be trained on local rules and on looking for potential voting problems or fraud.  At times, he said, the ballot watchers may confront issues directly with poll workers or may call their problems in to a team of election lawyers back at state headquarters.  He said volunteers also will be trained to observe local officials as they count mail-in votes.

Some GOP poll watchers will be stationed in communities that have traditionally seen long lines or other voting day problems, which Riemer acknowledged would be likely to include some Democratic-leaning urban polling sites with many voters of color.

“Where do you see those lines wrapped around the block on Election Day?” he said.  “Those are the kinds of places we are going to be.  There is usually something wrong.”

Riemer said other poll watchers would focus on GOP-leaning areas, where they can monitor who has not yet voted as the day progresses to help the party better target its get-out-the-vote efforts.

RNC officials say they have developed training programs for poll watchers, though they declined to provide details or copies of the materials.

The consent decree significantly hampered the party’s political activities for years, Riemer said, and, as a result, the RNC plans to be extremely careful not to run afoul of laws against intimidation.

“People here are so vigilant that we are not put under another consent decree,” he said.  “Our volunteers will be beaten over the head that they need to be compliant with all applicable laws, and they need to be respectful and courteous when they are engaging in their operations.”

He added: “They are not there to stop people from voting.  We want people to vote.  If they don’t believe us, they don’t believe us.  That’s the God’s honest truth.”

Such assertions are viewed with skepticism by voting rights activists, particularly since the RNC has amplified Trump’s unfounded claims that voting by mail could lead to rampant fraud.

Many activists think long lines are driven in part by GOP-backed efforts to limit early voting or reduce the number of polling sites.

They also note that Republicans have said that they are open to recruiting former military service members and law enforcement officers as poll watchers — a proposal not far removed from the President’s suggestion to send sheriffs to the polls.

“We would be foolish not to be vigilant,” said Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, noting the country’s history of voter intimidation and the President’s misleading rhetoric.

Gupta, who is President of the nonprofit Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said she expected that Trump would threaten to deploy law enforcement officials to the polls.

“The danger is whether the threat alone or the posturing dissuades voters,” she said.  “That’s where voters really need to be empowered and educated — the best way to fight back is to do the opposite and register and vote.”

Still, she noted that the country has “long-standing laws” prohibiting law enforcement intimidation of voters.  Several states have their own statutes severely restricting police activity near polls.

But in the current fraught political atmosphere, the President’s call for a robust poll-watching effort could lead to unpredictable results.

Earlier this year, a conservative organization called True the Vote was recruiting former members of the military to go to polling places, according to Ed Hiner, a retired Navy SEAL who said he started the group’s “Continue to Serve” program.

Hiner said in an interview that he used the email lists from veterans associations to invite 2 million former military personnel to participate.  He said he thought the program would be a bipartisan effort that would pair Democratic and Republican veterans to encourage voting, and stopped working with the group this summer after realizing how partisan the issues related to voting have become.

A representative of True the Vote, which alleges on its website that “radicalized leftist organizations are hard at work exploiting the weaknesses of our elector process,” did not respond to questions about the program’s status.

According to guidelines distributed by the Justice Department, the states — rather than the federal government — are to ensure the voting process is conducted fairly.  The guidelines instruct federal prosecutors to minimize their public presence around elections, even if they suspect crimes, such as voter fraud, are occurring.

In a 2017 election crimes guide, the department stated that prosecutors and the FBI need approval before they can take any action that requires “intrusion by federal investigators into the area immediately surrounding an open polling place.”

Because federal law also does not allow federal officials to station “armed men” in the vicinity of polling places, the Justice Department has determined that this means a U.S. attorney cannot order FBI agents or U.S. marshals to the polls.

The Justice Department does, however, deploy unarmed, specially trained observers and poll monitors — though the number of those people has declined because of a 2013 Supreme Court decision limiting the federal government’s role inside polling places on Election Day.

“Law enforcement’s first obligation around elections is to do no harm,” Elias said.  “So there is an appropriate role of law enforcement to ensure other people’s conduct isn’t preventing people from voting.  It is not to engage in conduct themselves that could prevent people from voting.”

Correction:  An earlier version of this story misstated how many years it has been since the Republican Party was accused of voter intimidation in New Jersey.  It was more than 30 years ago, not nearly 30 years ago.  This story has been updated.