Category Archives: US Government

Voter Suppression – Part 6

Rather than spend my time going over details of suppression efforts, I’ll summarize. The efforts themselves are “rinse and repeat” methods that I’ve already called out in earlier essays and, frankly, the all hearken back to Jim Crow methods. What I’m searching for is any exception to the general rule that I see of Republican Party politicians and organizations pushing for Jim Crow racist legislation. They call it whatever they want to call it, but underneath the window dressing is hardcore Jim Crow legislation.

Iowa: Republicans throw up barriers to voting… Missouri: Republicans look to reinstate a voter restriction law that was shot down by the Missouri Supreme Court… Arkansas: The Republican-majority Supreme Court ruled a voter suppression measure was fine by them… Louisiana: considered one of the four worst states in the USA for voter suppression of minorities… Mississippi: another one of those “four worst states” – the blood of Medgar Evers still cries unto heaven for justice.

Indiana: Gerrymandering, restrictive registration laws, and a purge of 500,000 mostly minority voters… Kentucky: voter suppression so bad, the Black Republicans there complained that there was hardly anyone in their precincts that could vote for them! Yet, the state continued to pull out Black poll workers and put in Whites from outside those neighborhoods and post police at polling places to intimidate voters… Tennessee: just passed a law that would strip protesters of their voting rights, and guess what skin color a LOT of recent protesters happen to have… Michigan: Republican-backed robocallers are spreading lies to discourage absentee voting and the Republicans are fighting hard in the legislature to preserve the suppression measures implemented there when they were in power… West Virginia: large-scale purge, intimidation, and other suppression tactics are in place under that state’s Republican leadership.

New Jersey: this is a state where the Republican National Party was sued twice for violating voting rights laws. It is no surprise that the Republican Party is fighting against Democratic Party efforts there to reinstate the many thousands of minority voters that lost their franchise under Republican rule… Virginia: Democratic Party politicians are dismantling Jim Crow laws over Republican opposition… North Carolina: This state’s Republicans are so bad, they committed massive election fraud in the NC-9 election and never batted an eye… South Carolina: Republicans there maintain and extend Jim Crow laws to keep Blacks from voting… Florida: Republican leaders there *admitted* that voter suppression laws were targeting minority voters.

From an article about the Florida admission: A GOP consultant who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution said Black voters were a concern. “I know that the cutting out of the Sunday before Election Day was one of their targets only because that’s a big day when the Black churches organize themselves,” he said.

So here I am… out of 50 states, only one state Republican Party organization – Utah – that is not actively seeking to deprive Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans of their votes.

The only way to convince me that the Republican Party is not a racist, white supremacist hate group is for the other 49 state party organizations to not just step away from voter suppression efforts, but to vote for their repeal.

Voter Suppression – Part 5

I’ll do another survey of states in this essay, where I’ll take in the Western states that I haven’t looked at already. Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and my home state of Texas. That’s 14 states and will bring my survey to 34 states, with heavily-Republican Midwest and Deep South states making up most of the remaining 16.

I start with Republican-held Alaska. Going into my check, I thought that there might not be enough minorities in Alaska to suppress, but I thought wrong. Alaska goes hard against Native American voters, with all kinds of additional complications brought into play because of their tribal affiliations. The law of the USA stipulates that tribal members living on reservations *can* vote in federal elections, but the Republicans in Alaska choose instead to pass laws that suppress their votes and then carry the fights into courts, where the state enjoys better access and legal resources than their suppressed plaintiffs.

Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota have similar arrangements as Alaska: Republican-dominated governments that block Native American access to the polls. It doesn’t matter if the laws stipulate forms of ID while blocking others, or if it’s a poll purging posing as an address update, or if it’s closing polls where the people can reach them without a massive drive – all of those and more get used to keep the Native Americans out of the polling places.

The same things that target hyper-rural Native American voters also work against Hispanic voters in Idaho. Idaho counties also do not uniformly offer Spanish-language ballots, even though they are required to by federal law.

Nevada is now mostly in Democratic hands, so the voter suppression stories coming out of that state are about how Republicans are trying to push through voter suppression measures such as restricting mail-in voting. It’s really breaking my heart to see, time and time again, the Republican Party acting to either reduce voting rights or to hold the line on Jim Crow laws that keep voting rights suppressed. Time and time again. I’ve got good friends who fight fires, heal the sick, teach in classrooms, defend our nation, and serve on police forces who are good, honest people… and then they vote Republican and extend the shadow of racial discrimination in our nation. It’s like watching alcoholics destroy their lives and the lives of others through occasional indiscretions.

And that brings me to Arizona, which has been suppressing Black, Hispanic, and Native American votes for over a century. The Republican Party there pushed for voter suppression measures in 1958, well before the national party adopted such strategies in 1964. Eyewitnesses recall how Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist once served as a major part of the Republican Party’s Operation Eagle Eye, challenging Black and Hispanic voters in South Phoenix. Arizona’s history reads like that of Alabama’s, which breaks my heart even more, as I have family history that hearkens back to that state.

I also have family history that reaches back to Utah. That state shows some hope in that the Republican-dominated government has started to roll back restrictions and open up other possibilities for voters. There are still laws that the Republicans put in that need to come out – remember that it was Republicans that took away rights for women to vote in Utah in the late 1800s – but it is good to see that change *is* possible.

But the Republicans revert to form in New Mexico, where out-of-state Republican groups have joined forces with in-state groups to file court cases to suppress minority voters there. Nebraska doesn’t need out-of-state groups to suppress votes, as the Republican Party there is strong enough to do the job themselves.

Kansas has been ruled by Republicans for most of its history, so it was no surprise to me that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach created multiple barriers to voting for the state’s current Black voters and the increasing number of Hispanic voters there.

Oklahoma’s party history pattern lets me know that I’m out of the West and into the Deep South – the Democratic Party white supremacists migrated over to the Republican Party when the national Democratic Party made that group unfriendly to white supremacists… and the national Republican Party made that group a home for them. But Oklahoma is nothing when compared to Texas.

Texas’ Republican leadership is keeping Jim Crow alive and well in the Lone Star State, with aggressive voter ID laws, voter roll purges, closure of polling places in minority neighborhoods, complicated registration practices, voter intimidation, and blocking of an expansion of mail-in voting. It’s sickening, and it’s pervasive.

I’ve looked at 34 states so far. In all but one, Utah, Republican Party politicians and affiliated groups are working to suppress minority voting rights. In Utah, Republicans are starting to roll back some restrictions, but they have a long way to go.

I’ve got 16 states to go: Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. Looking at those states, I know already of several with particularly egregious examples of Republican-led voter suppression efforts. By the time I’m done with this, I’ll no longer wonder about how closely-aligned the Republican Party is with white supremacist views. I’ll know, and it will be deeply disturbing.

Voter Suppression – Part 4

I’m taking a look at states that have been both Democrat strongholds of late as well as states that have had a history of being at the front of voter rights movements. I’m doing this just to be thorough and to see if any states are expanding their voter rolls by large numbers.

As it turns out, there is good news, especially from Massachusetts. But I’ll start in California. That state does have problems, but it’s in the area of bureaucracy and minor areas that affect tens of thousands, as opposed to the millions I’ve chronicled Republican Parties in Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio disenfranchising. And while I will agree with criticisms that polling places need to be opened, not closed and that election dates should not be moved to accommodate interest groups AND that mail-in ballots need to not be rejected because the signature and the ballot are not in English, those are nowhere near the level of deliberately targeting hundreds of thousands of Blacks and depriving them of their votes.

When I look up voter suppression in California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Illinois, those are the stories I see: basically, “we can and SHOULD do better!” I agree wholeheartedly.

Voter suppression searches for Washington State turned up how their system of mail-in ballots has worked extremely well. A search for “voter suppression Vermont” unearths a host of articles written by Vermonters about how awful voter suppression is in other states. Same for Connecticut. Maine, which has a mixed-party situtation, is similar. Rhode Island has a variation on the above states in that Republicans are trying to sue the state for being too permissive with its mail-in voting. Delaware has a story similar to Rhode Island: while the state is very progressive with voting rights, Republicans are trying to challenge those rights in court.

“Voter suppression Colorado” gives articles about their anger over postal system interference from Trump’s cronies and how upset they are over Trump telling people in North Carolina to vote twice.

“Voter suppression Maryland” does bring up a set of articles protesting Republican governor Hogan’s policy to make it more restrictive on mail-in voting this year. While not a concerted voter purge campaign, I do wonder if this is the thin end of the wedge. If so, it should be beaten back, especially in this year of pandemic.

Back to happier news, “voter suppression Minnesota” shows a state that’s vibrant in its efforts to expand the franchise, with particular barbs for backsliding Wisconsin. SPOILER: Wisconsin is called “The Alabama of the North”, as I’ll discuss in a future article in this series.

“Voter suppression New Hampshire” was a bit of a shock – but then I see that that state is more Republican-dominated than the rest of the Northeast. Ah, I thought, that explains all the articles about unreasonable NH voter registration laws being struck down, along with Republican-led efforts to suppress student and youth voters. Here I am, trying to do a survey of states where I think voter suppression isn’t as horrific as elsewhere in the USA, and this one stands out like a sore thumb – and I see the Republican Party dominance in the legislature. This is a national thing for Republicans, no question about it in my mind. I had a strong suspicion as I started this series, but the data give me a deep pit in my stomach about whether or not I think there’s any salvaging that party from its pro-white supremacist impact.

New York shows a state in conflict with itself, as upstate Republicans push measures to limit the voting strength of urban Democrats – and the targets are pretty much the usual group of young voters, Black voters, and Hispanic voters. The laws get passed when the Republicans are in power and are blocked from repeal when the Republicans are in opposition, with strength enough in at least one legislative house.

When I looked at a mixed-to-Republican chart of Pennsylvania state political control, I thought to myself, “I bet there’s some voter suppression going on there!” Sure enough, I see articles about Republicans pushing to purge 800,000 names from the rolls. That disgusts me, because I know which voters they will be. Reading denials makes my disgust stronger, because everywhere else the Republican Party launches a voter purge, since they started doing those nationally in 1964, has targeted Black, Hispanic, and youth voters. There’s zero reason to think Pennsylvania would be any different.

Whereas, in the Democratic-run stronghold of liberty Massachusetts, the news is about how they’ve got 700,000 MORE voters. That’s just awesome, and shows what can be done when we encourage the spirit of voting rights in the nation. I want to savor that moment before I tally up my findings from today…

… OK, ready for the total. Of the 17 states I surveyed, expecting to see fair-to-good news about voter suppression, 13 of them had either suppression issues in the tens of thousands or less – with Massachusetts standing out with its registration efforts. 4 of the states had bad news. In all of those 4 states, it was the Republican Party that was pushing to strip voters of their rights. The voter suppression issue isn’t one of “everyone is doing it”. It’s a story of the Republican Party taking states that used to have strong voting rights and attacking those very rights, particularly for Blacks and Hispanics.

And if Blacks and Hispanics can’t vote, that leaves the Whites… with supremacy. That is not the nation I want to live in, but that’s the nation the Republican Party is dead-set on delivering.

Voter Suppression – Part 3

For this part of the series, I’m moving north to look at Ohio. Ohio has been a stronghold for Republicans since before the Civil War, with only infrequent periods of Democratic state leadership. So, unlike the states south of the Ohio River, the Jim Crow Laws in Ohio were enacted by Republicans and overturned under a period of Democratic state leadership, followed by further overturns with a Republican state leadership. When Ohio passed laws in 1953 that marked a move towards segregation and racial inequality, it was under a predominantly Republican administration.

To be fair, Civil Rights leaders like B.W. Arnett were members of the Ohio Republican Party and were very vocal in the fight for rights. I don’t want to lose sight of that. But I also don’t want to lose sight of the fight within the party over Civil Rights and how that has shaped over time. Arnett’s day was back when McKinley was president. How have things changed in the 120 intervening years?

If you’re Black in Ohio, generally for the worse. Especially recently, after the Husted v APRI ruling.

Husted came down in 2018. The defendant in the case was one Jon Husted, the Republican Secretary of State for Ohio. He had removed about half a million voters from the rolls in 2016, using methods that went directly against the NVRA of 1993. That is to say, his criteria for removing a voter included failure to vote in an election.

The APRI, plaintiff in the case, is the A. Philip Randolph Institute, named for one of the most effective crusaders for civil rights in the USA. Randolph was the organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, who were able to cross the nation and coordinate civil rights efforts. They’re the ones who organized and paid for the 1963 March on Washington.

APRI’s lawsuit was over Husted’s removal of 426,781 voters in 2016, following a larger purge of voters after Obama’s re-election in 2012, totaling over 1,000,000 voters in Ohio. All of these, Husted claimed had moved out of Ohio, in spite of demographic evidence much to the contrary of such a mass exodus. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the APRI because Husted’s move was a clear violation of the NVRA – and that it nakedly targeted Blacks made it all the more egregious.

But, states are allowed to appeal up to the Supreme Court automatically, and the Republican-dominated Court found a way to rule in favor of Husted. This being the same court that gave us Citizens United and the Shelby ruling that dismantled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Republicans returned a verdict that struck to the core of the NVRA.

The dissenting opinions called out that 1 million voters was 13% of Ohio’s voting population and that the way that those voters ere from Black-majority neighborhoods was particularly troubling to them. 10% of Black voters were removed, but only 4% of Whites lost their votes.

Alito’s majority opinion simply argued that the APRI had failed to demonstrate concretely that the removed voters had *not* moved.

With a ruling that defied logic and Civil Rights, the Husted case opened up a legal route for other Republican governors to disenfranchise Black voters. Kemp in Georgia was the first to take advantage, followed by Arizona, Michigan, Florida, and other Republican-dominated states. Millions of Black voters have lost their vote because the Republican Party sees to it that enemies of Civil Rights get put on the federal bench, when they get a chance to make appointments.

Even though methods of address list hygiene used by the mass-mail industry are available and highly accurate, the Republicans continue to use inaccurate methods that disproportionately target Black voters when they are applied.

And when a story ran in The New York Times in 2019 about how 40,000 voters had had their votes restored in Ohio, the article failed to do a demographic summary of those voters whose votes were *not* restored: two of every three of those were Democrats. I’ll add that the story itself was wrong to focus on voters that hadn’t been purged – the story should have been that a purge was going on in the first place!

This is the third of three states I’ve looked at with a Republican-dominated state government that has systematically suppressed African-American voting rights. It may not have as rich and deep a Jim Crow past as the Deep South states, but it has one. Sadly, rather than embrace the ideals of the great B.W. Arnett, the Ohio Republican Party has copied George Wallace, as evidenced in Ohio State Senator Steve Huffman, who tried to put a racist framework around COVID-19 infection rates.

I’ll look to another Northern Republican state for my next article in this series, because Ohio is by no means isolated.

Voter Suppression – Part 2

Today, I want to look at Alabama. That state had full Democrat control up through 1986, and only in 1996 did that state’s Democratic Party remove the racist rooster symbol. It didn’t have full Republican control of all major state offices until 2010… but that doesn’t mean the Alabama Democrats were pushing a progressive agenda up until 2010.

The key was George Wallace’s control of the party up until the end of his last governor’s term in 1986. Even when the national party structure pressed Alabama’s state party to become desegregationist, Wallace kept it in that camp. Alabama has had a history of being one of the toughest states to both successfully register to vote and then to actually use that vote. From 1969 to 2013, over 100 proposed changes to Alabama voting law were challenged over violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But in 2013, the Roberts Supreme Court heard Shelby County v Holder and made a ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The VRA required states with a history of voter discrimination to pre-clear any changes in voting law with the federal government. The Shelby County ruling dismantled that preclearance provision. Since 2013, Alabama has introduced measures that absolutely target Black voters, even though it’s possible to make pie-in-the-sky comments about the possible virtues of such measures. The impact of stronger voter ID laws, closure of drivers’s license offices in predominantly Black counties, requiring proof of citizenship to vote, closure of polling places, voter purge measures, and making an unpublicized change to the felony disenfranchisement law all combine to apply massive pressures on Black voters in Alabama. These measures both raise barriers to registration along with nullifying those very registrations through underhanded means.

In short, when the politicians of Alabama could no longer deny the vote to Blacks over poll taxes and literacy tests, they came up with new methods to deny those voters their rights. When the pressure from the national Democratic Party became too strong for the segregationists in the Alabama Democrats to resist, they joined the Republican Party and carried on with their work to further segregationism. Wallace’s famous quote, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” is still their byword. Although Wallace declined to align with any party in his later years, his son switched to the Republican Party in 1992.

Please note that while it was Democrat politicians that put the structure of Jim Crow into place, it is the Alabama Republican Party that is fighting to keep it in place. Because of the challenge in the Shelby County case, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is essentially shelved for the whole of the South. Just as the Republicans made the Corrupt Bargain of 1877 to receive national power at the cost of civil rights for Blacks, the Shelby County ruling was a gift from the Republican-majority Supreme Court to the segregationists not just in the South, but in the nation as a whole. In exchange for gifts like that, white supremacists have a vested interest in preserving Republican power. Because the Republican Party has either failed or struggled to get a majority of the popular vote in the last 3 presidential elections, it *needs* those white supremacists, both their votes and their tactics, in order to hold that power.

The lack of pre-clearance means that restrictive voting measures can be put into place and then inflict their effects on minority voters as the court challenges continue. Having pre-clearance meant that minority voters could continue to cast votes as court challenges over proposed laws proceeded apace. Moreover, states with a history of voter suppression may now continue that history without any regard for legal impact.

So let’s go through that history…

The 1901 Alabama law that included a long list of offences that stripped a voter for life included pretty much all felonies, but also crimes involving “moral turpitude” and then left that term undefined. Basically, an undefined term means just about anything can be made to match that requirement – so people guilty of being in an interracial relationship could be stripped of their votes for life. That law was challenged in 1980 by two potential voters – excluded because they had misdemeanor convictions for bouncing checks – and the Rehnquist Court upheld the challenge, noting that the law was targeting Blacks.

In 1996, Alabama changed its law and re-introduced that vague term. Because of that, and that it has been inconsistently applied to be disproportional in its effects on Black voters, 7% of Alabama’s voting age population can’t vote. That translates to 15% of all the Black voters in the state. Even though Alabama passed a law in 2017 to define “moral turpitude” – because of yet another court challenge – the Alabama Secretary of State so far has not taken steps to notify people affected by that change.

Combined with a history of discriminatory law enforcement, laws that disenfranchise as a result of contact with a racially-biased justice system are in no way race-neutral in their intent or application. Add to it a complicated system that requires a person to petition to be reinstated to vote under the 2017 law, and you have a situation where a normal person living paycheck to paycheck is not going to be able to afford the legal advice necessary to navigate the process. What do you put down as the offense you were convicted of if you have to be specific as to the degree? What if the offense definition/title has changed in its legal definition since you were convicted? What do you do when there’s a clerical error in processing the reinstatement? When other states restore the right to vote automatically, Alabama’s maintenance of a law that keeps Blacks from voting is definitely part of fulfilling Wallace’s declaration.

Alabama also has vague laws on how polling places operate, with further vagueness about training and supervising election officials, which allows for various officials to easily dodge responsibility when things go wrong – so that means things can and will go wrong without punishment, like when a registrar in Russell County in 2019 told people it was OK to register using a business address. Alabama got sued in 2012 for failure to provide ballots to overseas residents – a violation of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. In that case, the state argued that it was a *county* responsibility to get those ballots out… but there are different processes for handling elections in each of Alabama’s 67 counties, so would that argument really be the best one to make?

And if you want to look at public records of voting in Alabama, good luck with that. Its Open Records Act is one of the most tightly written in all the Deep South states – Alabama wants to keep its public matters secret, it seems. And, yes, this all has a Democratic legacy, but remember that those segregationists are now registered as Republicans, by and large, and it’s the current Republican administration that’s holding the line on segregation forever. If a public official fails to hand over a record as required by law, the challenger must then sue and bear the costs of the court in the process. Alabama also has fewer public meetings than other states, so those minutes and records from the board of elections are non-existent as public records go. And because one of those public records is the State Voter File, this is a big deal.

One needs that State Voter File to check against discrimination. In Georgia, it can be had for $250. In North Carolina, it is free. In Alabama, it costs $35,008.94 for a printed copy and a digital copy costs 2.5% more. Alabama charges by the name, hence the cost. Arizona used to do the same thing, but changed after a court challenge. Alabama is not so easily swayed: it will make access to that file as close to impossible as it can, so that it can preserve a segregationist set of policies.

Alabama also violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act by purging voters that do not respond to postcards, which I detailed in Part 1 when I discussed Georgia. That the purges meant that US Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) was unable to vote for himself pales against the majority of the other nearly 70,000 voters purged – mostly Black.

A note about these postcards that I hadn’t mentioned before – a simple clerical error like leaving a “North” or a “Road” off an address can result in a non-delivery status that leads to a voter being purged. Leaving off an apartment number can have similar drastic effects, and you’ll never guess what racial group *that* hits disproportionately.

Even though a comprehensive study of in-person voting of 1 billion votes cast in the USA from 2000 to 2014 only found 31 credible instances of voter fraud, Alabama joins in with the rest of the Republican Party in clamoring that voter fraud is a major issue to protect ourselves against – and that protection involves measures that effectively disenfranchise Black voters. That voter fraud rate is one case of fraud for every 34 million votes cast, which would mean, at most, 4 cases in the 2016 election. Compared to Republican voter suppression efforts, that is hardly a focus worth having.

Why promote a fear of in-person fraud? It’s to generate support for segregationist voter suppression laws. Plain and simple. This fear of the Black vote is widespread in the Republican Party: when Republican governor of Florida Charlie Crist extended early voting hours in 2008, Republicans flat-out told him that he had handed over the state to Barack Obama. After Crist left office, the following Republican governor rolled back the early voting law. A 2016 North Carolina law was shot down because it would “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Again, it was Republicans behind *that* measure.

Alabama’s laws for reporting voter fraud do not require any proof on the part of the accuser. The accuser doesn’t even have to self-identify. Of the 928 submissions of voter fraud accusations – which, unlike voter registration, can be done online and easily – only 6 resulted in fraud convictions. This led to two elections being overturned – and if we recall how the Alabama Secretary of State doesn’t properly train county elections officials, this should be no surprise that there were problems. And yet, the 6 cases of fraud and two small-town elections are used as justification for laws that target Blacks in Alabama.

The elections in question were the Brighton Mayor election, with the election changing from 376 to 330 to 330 votes each for the candidates, resulting in a runoff. Next was the Gordon Mayor election – the mayor there had illegally notarized two of the absentee ballots. That was two of the fraud convictions and the mayor was removed from office after being convicted. This Gordon election was originally cited as a third election overturned due to voter fraud, but the overturning was due to the fraud conviction itself, not because the outcome was changed. The second overturning that still counted was the Wetumpka city council election: the 168-165 result became 165-160 after 8 absentee ballots were thrown out.

A note on absentee ballots – they are very easy to throw out for governments that want to suppress voters, so more on that in a later essay, no doubt.

But, yes, Alabama has a deep-rooted history of suppressing Black votes, and it is the state’s Republican Party doing the most to preserve George Wallace’s “segregation forever” vision.

Voter Suppression – Part 1

I’m starting a series in which I focus on voter suppression in the USA. I want to focus on actual registration for elective offices and not primary elections. I will preface my comments by saying that both parties have a need to clean up their primary and caucus rules to open up those processes to additional voters. Closed primaries and selective invites are on the wrong side of history – it’s time to open things up. It’s also time to consolidate elections. Voting outside the federal election cycle – that big day in November – depresses voter turnout and typically benefits an interest group’s interests at the cost of hearing a fuller response to the measure on the ballot. As much as I may sympathize with an interest group that benefits from low voter turnout, I would rather see high turnout and that interest group find a way to inspire more people to vote for it than just its core consittuency.

That being said, I want to talk about voter suppression as part of a national or state party move to retain power by preventing opposition voters from being able to vote.

I start at the Democratic Party. Searching for Democratic Party voter suppression turned up the above criticisms of closed primaries in some states and off-cycle elections and how some Democratic Party-allied interest groups support them. I did not find any recent articles on statewide or national efforts to suppress or turn away voters. I did find an article on a recent case in Georgia about the removal of over 500,000 voters from the rolls in that state and how it was based on a law passed by Democrats.

Now, to read about that case at the webpage of the Georgia Secretary of State, there is zero context on *when* the Democrats passed that law. Neither is there any context on how long Republicans have been in power and themselves made no effort to remove the law. The National Review article criticizing the Democrats’ challenge to the voter suppression in Georgia pointed out that the daughter of then-Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp was herself not able to vote because of the Georgia election laws. The argument is that Georgia has a tight process, there is no racial bias in it, and that such a process works for the state of Georgia.

So let’s look at the history of that law as well as how it violates the 1993 National Voting Rights Act and how a Republican-dominated Supreme Court is able to back up the state law over the national one.

We’ll start with party history in Georgia. When looking at party control of the legislature and governor’s office, Republicans have been in control of the legislature since 2003 and the governor’s office since 2005. Democratic Party control extends back all the way to before the Civil War, with an exception for Reconstruction. But the state’s party allegiance on a national level shifted in 1964 as they backed the Goldwater campaign over LBJ. Although Goldwater himself was a member of the NAACP, he had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that’s the key in this puzzle. The same political cliques that had controlled the state of Georgia since before the Civil War with the exception of Reconstruction did not want to see Reconstruction happen again. Their power derived from controlling access to the ballot and they were prepared to fight in court to keep their Jim Crow laws on the books.

In 1968, Georgia went even further down the segregationist path to support George Wallace for president. In 1972, the state went for Nixon. In 1976 and 1980, it was the home state for Jimmy Carter, but from 1984 on with the exception of Clinton’s run in 1992, Georgia has gone Republican in national voting, even while supporting Democrats in most state offices. Starting in the 1990s, however, Republicans start to arrive more and more in state offices until 2005, when they ran things across the board.

So what kind of Democrats were in power until 2002/2005 and why did they vanish from state offices? You can see evidence in the state flag of Georgia. In 1956, in the wake of the Brown school desegregation ruling, Georgia State Senator Jefferson Lee Davis co-sponsored a bill to change the state flag from one that featured blue, white, and red bars to one that had the state seal of Georgia on a blue bar on the left and the Confederate Battle Flag of the Army of Virginia where the red and white bars used to be. I bring up the name of the legislator because the name itself is documentation of the mindset of the time. The change in the flag was symbolic and part and parcel of a campaign to preserve segregation in the state. The segregationists were digging in for a protracted fight against federal requirements to end discrimination on racial lines.

After 1956, as segregation became a dirtier and dirtier word in national discussions, people tried to paper over the reasoning behind the flag, saying it was to honor Confederate soldiers. Even that reasoning is weak in light of how the Confederacy was militarily opposed to the United States and fought to preserve the institution of slavery. Honor that movement? Respect for soldiers and their memories can be done in museums and cemeteries – and if you think that this ties into Confederate statues, you are correct. These things came up to rally opposition to desegregation and racial equality.

Those Democrats that passed voter purging laws, referenced by the Secretary of State of Georgia? Those were segregationists. All through the 1970s, the segregationists kept a hold on the state party organs in and through the Democratic Party while supporting Republicans in national party politics. This was part of the Republican “Southern Strategy”, to court pro-segregationist voters in Southern states in order to capture the highest national office, that of the Presidency, with an eye towards how that office influences the makeup of the Supreme Court. To be sure, that’s the goal of the Democratic Party, as well, but the Democratic Party is trying to capture that office without appealing to pro-segregationist voters.

Keep in mind that ending segregation was never a matter of segregationists shrugging their shoulders and going home after LBJ saw through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Ending segregation was a matter of using those federal laws to challenge state laws in order to provide true freedom and equality for people historically suppressed because of their race. The Dallas school district was still segregated in 1972, when they claimed to have ended segregation by allowing students from a single Blacks-only elementary school to apply to attend classes in a distant Whites-only elementary. Georgia was no different. Anyone who thinks that the Civil Rights movement ended in the 1960s is gravely mistaken. The fight continues.

As the Georgia Democratic Party started to catch up with the rest of the nation in putting forward Black candidates such as Andrew Young and starting to take an active interest in repealing Jim Crow legislation in the state starting in the 1970s, we can see the erosion of that party’s control in the state houses. Keep in mind that this is still a state where Whites are the dominant political force. They became that way because of laws that made it difficult for Blacks to vote, strengthened by laws that then removed voters for failing to vote. When the Democrats started to challenge the laws of their political legacy, the segregationists defected to the Republican Party, which was welcoming to the idea of continuing those segregationist laws.

There was a sharp cutover after 1993 – that’s when the US Congress passed the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) that made it illegal to purge voters for not voting, among other things. After 1993, Georgia’s state offices and senate representation looks much, much redder. The Whites who depended upon suppressing Black votes to retain segregation-friendly power dug in to protect those laws, and it was the Republican Party that afforded them that redoubt.

I’ll note that I see a similar seismic shift in Texas politics around the same time. It’s all red, all the time, after 1993 in Texas.

When the Georgia legislature finally removed the Confederate battle flag in 2001, that ties in directly with the final shift in state politics: Republicans took the legislature in 2003 and the governorship in 2005 and have held all three for the last 15 years. Basically, the segregationists washed away all their connections to the Democratic Party and ensconced themselves in the Republican Party. They were the same opponents of civil rights and racial equality, but they were no longer welcome in the Democratic Party.

And that’s why the law passed by the Democrats back in Jim Crow days was never taken from the books – the segregationists were able to block those efforts. When they could no longer do so as Democrats, they did so as Republicans.

There is zero mention in the National Review article or the Georgia Secretary of State page about how the voting purge law in Georgia violates the NVRA. Nor is there mention of how the State of Georgia fought to retain that voter purge law in the face of a legal challenge.

And yes, the voter purge law is so wide-reaching that it does take in some Whites in that dragnet. But when the targets of the purges are over 90% Black, one has to question if the law is truly race-neutral in its impact. Moreover, the methods used to establish the targets of the voter purges are themselves racially biased.

The State of Georgia has the following rules for voter purging:

How a registration becomes subject to cancellation:

Step 1:
A registered voter files a change of address request with the U.S. Postal Service or
Official election mail is returned undeliverable or
A person has no contact with elections officials for three years. Contact can be in the form of voting in any election or primary, signing a petition, updating voter registration, or renewing or changing a driver’s license.

Step 2:
Not responding to a confirmation letter mailed by the county voter registrar.

Step 3:
Having no contact with voter registration for two additional general elections, meaning not voting in any election or primary, signing a petition, updating voter registration or renewing or changing a driver’s license.

Step 4:
Failing to respond within 30 days of the notice which they are being sent by either
a.  returning the attached postage-paid postcard they will receive or
b.  updating their registration
1.  on registertovote.sos.ga.gov
2.  smartphone app, or
3.  visiting their county voter registrar’s office.

Now, federal law stipulates that re-registration is NOT required if a person moves within the county. It also stipulates that failure to vote may NOT be used as a criteria to maintain voter databases. So that “a person has no contact with elections officials for three years” is itself a violation of the NVRA. It’s also timed to not include the last presidential election cycle, which guarantees a huge number of potential candidates for purging.

Step 2 is “not responding to a confirmation letter.” Politicians know how to send letters that can’t be ignored: our mailboxes are full of oversized, colored cardstocks plastered with slick advertising in simple language. The Georgia confirmation letter violates every one of those principles of mass marketing, like it’s designed to be thrown away or not noticed.

Step 3 is an extension of the illegal “they didn’t vote” criteria.

Step 4 is another postcard designed to be ignored.

So when these postcards go out to an overwhelmingly Black population, it’s setting them up for failure. Because of the multiple steps, defenders of the measures will argue the virtues of each step individually, rather than take the steps in their totality and attempt to defend a process that targeted over 500,000 mostly-Black voters and stripped them of their votes, having the nerve to put the blame on the victim in this case.

The fact is that these voters were not lost in terms of tax payments or court summons processes: somehow, the people who had unverifiable addresses for voting purposes were exactly where they needed to be to pay taxes or to get called to court. Getting back to direct mail marketing technology, those people never stopped getting targeted mailings from an industry that has easily-replicable methods of address verification. That industry makes its money off of knowing exactly where everyone is, all the time. The politicians sending out the postcards rely on that targeting when it’s time to send out their election fliers, but they seem to be totally ignorant when it comes to making sure Blacks are able to vote.

It’s sad to state that the Republican Party in Georgia is a refuge for die-hard segregationists and white supremacists. It’s sad to state that the Republican Party in Georgia has targeted Blacks to remove them from the voter rolls. It’s sad to state that the Republican Party in Georgia continues the horrific legacy of racial inequality. It is sad, but true.

And what is sadder still, the Republican Party in Georgia is not “one bad apple”. It is representative of other state Republican Parties and the national party organization as a whole.

I’ll end with a 1981 quote from Georgia native and former national Republican strategist, Lee Atwater. I quote him in full, even when he uses unutterable words.

Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now you don’t have to do that. All that you need to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues that he’s campaigned on since 1964, and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.

Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?

Atwater: Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busingstates’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger”. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back-burner.

Voter Caging

Here is an interesting article on voter caging. “Voter caging” is a term that refers to targeted efforts to suppress or intimidate selected groups of voters. This goes back to 1958… and, sadly, these efforts were directed against minority or Democrat-leaning constituencies by Republican state legislatures. These voter caging efforts would be accompanied by media campaigns alleging massive voter fraud when, in fact, the only evidence was a piece of non-forwardable mail to an old address. The person that would become the target of a voter caging effort may have had already moved and re-registered with the new address, but subtleties like that don’t make for good marketing.
The article itself covers voter caging up to 2004, but it remains a practice that the RNC makes part of the Republican national political strategy. And let’s be clear: these anti-fraud campaigns target minorities and Democrat-leaning constituencies, not Republican ones.
The efforts to disenfranchise minority voters are strengthened when Republicans in Congress vote to dismiss US Attorneys who refuse to pursue weak voter fraud cases brought to them by Republican Party operatives.


An excerpt:

Kentucky 2004

The Jefferson County, Kentucky Republican Party gave an early warning in the summer before the 2004 federal election that it planned a mass challenge program. The GOP announced in July that it would place Republican vote challengers in predominantly African American precincts during the November elections, just as they had done the previous year (in 2003, Jefferson CountyRepublicans placed challengers at 18 polling places in predominantly black districts).
The party went too far for some of its members. In August 2004, about a dozen Republicans gathered outside the Jefferson County Board of Elections to call for the resignation of the JeffersonCounty Republican Chairman, Jack Richardson. About half of the protesting Republicans were African American. An African American Republican candidate objected to the challengers, sayingthey would keep some of his supporters from the polls.
An African American Republican poll worker who had worked the polls for 13 years was angry that she had been replaced in the last election by a white Republican who did not live in the precinct.She reported that she visited several precincts to see who was working the polls and was surprised to find that virtually all of the locations were manned by white Republican poll workers.

http://www.projectvote.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Caging_Democracy_Report.pdf

Republican Racism in Georgia

I just got my copy of “How Trump Stole 2020” (link below) and I’ve just finished the first chapter outlining how Kemp stole the 2018 Georgia election. It was simple, in that he started early. As Secretary of State in 2014, he refused to add minority voter registrations. When registration activists showed him copies of the registrations and demanded to know why they had not been added, he charged them with criminal tampering of voter forms – because they had made copies! He was sent over 86K voter registrations from a drive in 2018 and he refused to enter about 40,000 of them.

Simple math that adds up to a stark truth: in Georgia, where there aren’t enough white voters to put a Republican in office in a fair election, the Republicans in office refuse to register nonwhite voters. Because that is a policy that maintains the power of one racial group over another, that is the definition of racism. One who supports such a party is supporting a party that advances racism.

But wait, there’s more: Kemp also purged the records of over 660,000 nonwhite voters in advance of the 2018 election, including people who had voted in every election at the same polling place since they won the right to vote in 1965.

Now, in that purge, yes, there were 64,446 voters who had died, 14,021 imprisoned for felonies (another Jim Crow racist policy, but we’ll pass over that), but that doesn’t account for the other 534,510 who were purged for the reason of “System Cancels”.

They had not voted in two previous elections and did not respond to a postcard allegedly mailed to their registration address. Kemp claimed they had all moved: but there was zero demographic or U-Haul or any other information to back that claim up.

In some cases, the “move” was simply going from one room in a retirement center to another – they got purged. Others never moved at all – too bad, they’re black or Hispanic or some other group that Kemp couldn’t count on as a solid white Republican voter, so they also got purged.

Military personnel who had moved from overseas deployments back home to Georgia – purged.

This is disgusting, and this is only the first part of the book! I know that there are many other cases, as the Republican Party makes no secret of its hostility towards blacks, Hispanics, and other nonwhites and their votes. It is revolting how closely tied the Republicans are to white supremacism – it is either used directly as a tool or, worse, people who should be outraged and vocal about it choose instead to let it slide and be quiet accomplices in active racial discrimination.

Now I’m in the next chapter, where the author, Greg Palast, discusses the experience of going through Kemp’s purge list – which Kemp refused to give to Palast but was happy to hand over to someone posing as a Fox News editor – with a direct marketing database. Rather, 240 separate databases used by direct marketing firms to keep their address lists up to date.

340,134 Georgians who had been purged for moving were still at their home address, alive, well, unconvicted of a felony, still US citizens. The full summary of the analysis is in the appendix…

This is why I left the Republican Party, and it has only gotten worse under Trump. This Georgia story is not alone, and I am going to read about how Republicans in other states used nakedly racist targeting of voters to steal elections. Remember that Kemp only won by a few hundred votes, and you see why it was so important for him to purge hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters and to refuse to register tens of thousands of other legitimate voters.

Get out of that party before it destroys your soul any further, if you have a soul that you plan to use later on. I’m already disgusted by John Cornyn’s nakedly racist attacks on Royce West, and those ran even before the runoff vote was settled between West and Hegar! Sorry, no. If you support Republicans, you support racism, plain and simple. If you don’t support racism, then you can’t support Republicans. None of them, not a one. They are either actively racist or silent cowards that cannot stand up to evil.

America’s Different Epidemics

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in America, we already had different views of the global event in our public consciousness. As it has spread, those views have multiplied. We have different views based upon regions, income levels, data sets, and whether or not we subscribe to a science-blind political ideology.

Regionally, the pandemic has hit urban areas the hardest. To the people of the major US cities, COVID-19 means overwhelmed hospitals, compromised police, fire, and emergency medical staff, and deeply-felt questions about a federal government that has so far been unresponsive to their pleas. In the cities, it is hardest to maintain the necessary distance required to keep the disease from spreading. The cities are also where the fight against the disease is the hardest, where self-protection measures are strictest and where we see the greatest benefit from those measures.

In rural areas, distancing is already part of the lifestyle. They have questioned the need for a government order to mandate pretty much what they’re already doing. Except… they’re not doing it, not completely. There’s enough contact going on in rural areas to where the disease spreads steadily. Not as rapidly as in the cities, but steadily. Given rural areas’ resistance to being ordered to shelter in place, I’d expect the spread in the countryside to persist longer and to peak higher than in the cities.

The urban/rural divide is further colored by how a governor or mayor may or may not be an ardent supporter of President Trump. Those who are least supportive of Trump are most likely to enact comprehensive measures. As support for Trump increases in a government official, so multiply the loopholes in the comprehensive measures, so increases the slowness in applying measures, and so increases the likelihood that the official not only refuse to apply measures, but may even overrule other officials and mandate that no restrictions be in place. This means that we have a range of pandemics from those experienced in the non-ardent urban areas, the ardent urban areas, the non-ardent rural areas, and the ardent rural areas. While most non-ardent officials are in urban areas and most ardent ones are rural, there are exceptions to those rules. Ardency itself is on a spectrum, but these four major divisions will suffice. Expect the ardent, rural areas to be where the disease lingers longest and where it can hide from view, only to strike again as immunity fades in the general population.

Economically, it is the nation’s poor who suffer the highest infection rates and the highest fatality rates, with Blacks and Hispanics suffering the most among the poor. When politicians such as Texas’ Lt. Governor Dan Patrick – white and rich – exclaimed his willingness to die for the economy in order to justify not placing any restrictions on Texas’ population, he was actually pushing the poor of all ages in front of him. Of course, the poor Blacks and Hispanics of Texas were the vanguard of Mr. Patrick’s meatshield. With his access to not just emergency but life-long health care, Mr. Patrick was in good shape to face COVID-19. He was not volunteering himself, but his state’s poor as an offering to the economy.

So there is an epidemic for the cities, there is an epidemic for the countryside, there is an epidemic for those who live under an ardent Trump supporter, there is an epidemic for those who do not, there is an epidemic for the rich, and there is an epidemic for the poor. Now to look at the epidemics’ portrayal in data.

There are states that have had a high rate of testing of their populations, levels on par with testing heroes South Korea and Japan. There are states that seem to throw up obstacles to testing, for whatever reason that such a strategy may serve. The declared rates of infection in each state are a function of that state’s own definition. With no federally-accepted standard, we do not know the reach of the epidemic in regions where the local or state government prefers such questions not be asked – suppression of uncomfortable information prior to its gathering.

But we also have states where there is a high rate of testing and where the local health care system has also been overwhelmed. At that point, the health care system simply cannot spare the time required to test every patient for COVID-19, and where they certainly have no time to spare for the testing of the dead. And so, the spread of the infection is under-counted in those places. The fatalities are under-counted, as well. We have what numbers we have for the moment, but we also have to know where the numbers are weak in reporting the full view.

At the end of the day, it may not be until the full analysis of vital statistics data for 2020 is completed in 2022 and we can compare the year-on-year increase in mortality between 2019 and 2020 to get an idea about how severe the epidemic has been. How many more patients die of causes attributed to pneumonia, but for whom a COVID-19 test was not administered postmortem? How many cancer patients succumb not to COVID-19, but to the cancers, after being weakened by COVID-19? The same question, this time for those with heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, or other “underlying health conditions”, as we euphemistically lump them all together? How many will be answered in two years’ time, which will be yet another view of the pandemic.

The remaining views belong to the rational on one hand and the science-blind ideologues who are made up of President Trump and his most ardent supporters on the other. Granted, these are two opposing views with many grades in between, but they serve as anchors of the continuum. I use the adjective “science-blind” advisedly. In many cases, the ardent Trumpists are outright hostile to science, as well as reality. The reason has to do with their ideological stance.

Political beliefs are one thing: they color how we view facts, but we still view the same facts as those of opposing political beliefs. One may see an economically-underdeveloped area and decide the solution is to have federal or state funds boost commerce there. Another may see the same economic underdevelopment and argue instead for a suspension of government regulations to allow commerce to flourish. The argument there is not whether or not the area is economically underdeveloped. The argument is how best to improve the area, and the solution may very well wind up being a combination of the two factors. In this case, the solution to the problem is more important than *how* the problem was solved.

But with a political ideology, facts and solutions take second place to the rightfulness of the ideology and the wrongness of anything that competes with it in the public mindspace. To the ideological Nazis, the Will of the German people could have pensioners with rocket grenades defeat armored divisions. To the ideological Stalinists, corn could be made to grow in the frozen wastes of Siberia, provided it was planted with socialist ardor often enough – it would figure out on its own how to take root in permafrost. To the ideological Maoists, steel production could be increased dramatically by melting down iron tools and cookware in backyard forges that produced nothing more than slag. To the ideological Khmer Rouges, Cambodia could be purified by murdering anyone with glasses, soft hands, or knowledge of the French language. This list is long – the Juche philosophy of North Korea, the Baathist ideology of Iraq and Syria, the hardline beliefs of the Iranian Revolution, and so on.

Finally, we come to the Trumpists, whose ideology allows them to stare at two photographs of the same place and state unflinchingly that the one with fewer people in it is actually the one with more people in it. When President Trump stared directly into the sun, his ardent supporter Tucker Carlson of Fox News called it “the most impressive thing a president has ever done” in spite of the fact that scientists globally throughout generations have warned us to never, ever look directly at the sun. The Trumpist ideology places prime importance on their leaders being in power in order to do two things: eradicate legal abortions and to obstruct any limitation of Americans’ ownership of arms. If those leaders stare at the sun like fools – or promote white supremacist groups and their policies – it is of no consequence. The Trumpists do not elect leaders to be sane or sensible or to care about facts. They are elected to eradicate abortion and to obstruct limitations on access to arms. Whatever else they do, the Trumpists either care not or actively support, as in the case of promoting white supremacist movements.

If there is any fact that threatens to unseat their leaders from their abortion-banning, weapon-loving bully pulpits, then the Trumpist will lie, cheat, and shout it down. This is why the photograph with fewer people actually has more in it. This is why staring into the sun is impressive. This is why they refuse to admit that their ranks are shot through with white supremacists, antisemites, and authoritarians. That is why they are proud to the point of public boasting to disobey any law they do not like, but scream in powerful fervor when others debate the wisdom of the laws they wish to impose on others.

And this is why the COVID-19 pandemic is such a threat to them: it threatens to add so much calumny to the pile already accrued by Donald Trump and his most fervent followers so as to make it nearly impossible for them to repeat their hair’s breadth win of 2016. The pandemic threatens to display Trump and his ardent followers for what they are – incompetent, science-blind, and unable to actually govern. Therefore, the pandemic was at first belittled. Then it was completely dealt with via a ban on Chinese travel. Then it was a conspiracy of some Chinese or American Deep State cabal. Then it was not worth shutting down the economy for. Now, Trump and his ardent supporters have the ghoulish chutzpah to claim that, should the USA have *only* 100,000 deaths, that it would be a good thing.

Already, as I write this, the USA has the 11th greatest per-capita loss of life among major nations. With 12,805 deaths out of roughly 330 million people, the USA has 39 known and recorded COVID-19 deaths per 1 million population. Yes, this is much less than Spain’s 300 per 1 million, but I expect the nation to bypass Ireland’s 43, Iran’s 46, and quite possibly most of the others. If we *do* arrive at only 100,000 deaths, that would be a mortality rate in excess of Spain’s 300 per 1 million, and Spain is considered one of the worst of the worst-hit nations.

Trump is presiding over what may be the worst response to COVID-19, and his abject failure as a leader in that capacity threatens the Trumpist agenda’s twin policy pillars. And this is why none of the other ways of viewing the pandemic have any meaning to them. The only way they can see it is through a blindfold.

Market Failure

In Economics, “Market Failure” is a term that refers to when the free market isn’t able to provide a proper allocation of resources necessary to resolve a problem. Neoliberal economists say that there’s no such thing, that a proper market, without government interference, can solve any issue of resource allocation. I disagree. Neoliberal economists are great for when there are no disasters, but their models fail the instant the expected rain turns out to be a hurricane. Or a blizzard. Or a tornado spawns. Or an earthquake hits. Or a war is declared. Or a pandemic enters the scene.

I am living through a pandemic right now. I assume that most of my readers are contemporary and are living through it, as well. We are all witness to how governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have fallen into one of several categories:

  1. Quick response, firm response – nations like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore had experience from SARS and MERS and knew what to do. As soon as the reports started to trickle out of China in January about a possible new coronavirus outbreak, they got their plans together.
  2. Slow response, firm response – Germany did not react as quickly as the nations cited above. As a consequence, the number of per-capita cases in Germany is much higher than in the nations cited above. But because the Germans had a firm response to the pandemic, they have been able to keep the fatality rate remarkably low, relative to other nations that responded late.
  3. Slow response, lax response – Italy was the first, but the USA (so far) is the worst. Both high case numbers as well as high fatality rates, this clearly wasn’t the right way to go.

So, what were factors in the USA’s response being incoherent and uncoordinated? Alas, there are many, including those stemming from a leadership focused more on its own status and media perception than on the actual pandemic, as well as those that originated about that same leadership encouraging talking points that downplayed the severity of the pandemic or which promoted unproven claims of various stripes – all to distract from the failures of that leadership. In a full report on the failure of the USA to deal as appropriately with COVID-19 as did South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore – or even Germany – those reasons must be explored in greater detail. For this article, I want to focus on the market failures.

As it became clear that we were entering into a public health emergency, stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection, began to move sharply up in price. In a pure market, this is to be expected. Demand for the widget is higher and supply is at present inelastic, so the price of the widget must go up. Simple exercise, time to move on to the next textbook section… except, in this case, the widget is needed to save lives and the limits on production of said widgets means that the producers can engage in competition against the customers, in this case, the states and their hospitals.

Competition against a customer is when the makers of a product all raise their prices, one after the other. They need not communicate such a plan in so many words. That would be illegal collusion if they did. Rather, all one has to do is raise prices and the others follow that “price leadership” to match. The customer has nowhere else to turn and has to pay a profiteer’s premium in order to purchase that good. Competition against customers also takes the form of a bidding war. In that, a producer doesn’t treat each transaction as contractually binding, but makes a deal with one state that is conditional that no other state offers a higher price. When a higher price is offered, the original deal is off the table. When the federal government shows up to bid, it invariably offers the highest price and the states are left in a quandry. Not only do they not have their desired goods, but the market-clearing price is now magnitudes above what it once was.

So far, the federal government has yet to truly put the provisions of the Defense Provisioning Act (DPA) into motion in order to provide for more PPE at cheaper, fixed prices to the state and federal buyers. The federal government has also not been transparent about how it plans to use its stockpile – but that is for another, more in-depth analysis of the USA’s failures in responding to COVID-19. The DPA exists precisely for conditions such as we are experiencing, where price leadership and bidding wars are driving up prices for scarce goods. We could have a federal response that dictates a fixed price and that also instructs manufacturers of PPE to expand capacity.

Had the DPA been invoked in January – right around the time we could all sense this was going to be a huge thing – capacity would be expanded as of now and we would not be dealing with PPE shortages of the sort we see now. We see far too many cases of medical professionals unable to procure their own PPE, let alone get it issued from their hospital, so they have to make do with second-rate supplies that go against all best practices for proper use and disposal. This places their lives in needless jeopardy and, by extension, the lives of their patients.

The next market failure is the matter of the USA’s health system being dependent upon employer-provided private insurance, with zero transparency or consistency regarding pricing. While the President has declared that certain areas of care will be either covered by insurers or paid for by the federal government, we have only those declarations and no actual, actionable law or executive order to point to as a reference when dealing with insurance companies. Consequently, as a matter of corporate survival in a pandemic, insurance companies are invoking every loophole possible in a rearguard action to avoid breaking themselves over COVID-19 claims.

At which point, we must all ask, why do we have health insurance companies in the first place if they’re unable to properly lay out in times of catastrophe? We’re depending upon them to pay the bills – that’s why we pay our premiums – but if they up sticks and disappear when things are really, REALLY bad, then what use are they?

Given that many insurance companies already have a massive deductible and next to zero coverage only underlines my question – what use are they? The properly-funded public health systems in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Germany provided and continue to provide life-saving care for all their citizens. Meanwhile, the morgues and even cemeteries are overwhelmed in New York City, where some of America’s finest hospitals are overwhelmed. And, at those overwhelmed hospitals, there are patients who are going to be told that the care they thought was going to be 100% covered actually won’t be covered to that extent… and they will be looking at bankruptcy-inducing expenses as a consequence.

Maybe a policy here requires two positive test results to confirm COVID-19 and a patient received only one or none and was a presumed COVID-19 patient. Maybe the patient died before being tested and the cause of death was just “pneumonia” and not actually connected to COVID-19. Maybe the treatment specific to COVID-19 is covered, but not the ambulance, anesthesia, X-ray or other imaging analysis, or the final care arrangements. There are all kinds of ways to think of loopholes, and I’m sure the experts have already come up with others.

Back to the employer-provided insurance. What of the mounting wave of unemployed Americans? While possibly a huge save for insurance companies that no longer have to pay out for people they *used* to cover, who pays for the care they receive? Do they even go in to get tested or treated, out of fear over how much it will cost? Maybe something comes along to guarantee the federal payment for COVID-19 treatments other than the words of a pathological liar, but until then, there’s nothing to promise a free treatment for COVID-19 victims that don’t have insurance. And even with that federal guarantee, should it materialize, what happens when a person is brought to the emergency room for trouble breathing, but it’s only common-or-garden emphysema? We’re back to the bankruptcy gamble.

We can’t even post a price list for treatments because such a list does not exist. That’s why it’s a bankruptcy gamble. What if you have COVID-19, your insurer promises to cover it 100%, and you go to an in-network hospital and see an in-network physician? So far, so good. Now enter a specialist who assists that physician who’s not in-network. All bets are off, now, and it’s likely this patient is going to pay dearly for the fact that nobody knows exactly what combination of specialists is going to be in-network or out.

The President and his most ardent supporters have made much noise about “getting America back to work again.” Their fears are real – if Americans can’t pay the rent, then they go bankrupt when they can’t service their loans that depend upon those rent payments. But sick Americans can’t work and dead Americans can’t pay the rent, so they’re really unable to get America back to work again in the midst of a pandemic and come out all right. Without some sort of government fiat ruling, they face the market’s failure to accommodate some slack for times of extreme duress. On a side note, bankrupt Americans also don’t pay the rent and are more likely to try and fight out their squatters’ rights in costly court proceedings, so maybe those ardent supporters might want to take a look at actually fixing the health care system and not breaking out in a rash whenever the topic comes up. But a president empowered with the DPA can also take it upon the nation’s best interests to suspend loans, mortgages, and rents for the duration of the crisis. Other nations have done so, but the USA lacks a leader with the fortitude or foresight to enact such a policy – and the banking system hangs all the more precariously without such a policy to support it.

The markets have failed. PPE, health coverage, and rents/mortgages/loans are all in a quandry in the USA and the President and his most ardent supporters have failed to address these issues in a timely or realistic fashion. There have been multiple calls to address the issues from a very early date, but the President and his most ardent supporters rejected those calls. Because of the failures of the President and his most ardent supporters, the USA faces a disproportionate toll in terms of persons infected with COVID-19, with persons who died because of COVID-19, and with economic impact from the COVID-19 outbreak.