Live updates: CDC chief warns that states lack $6 billion in critical funding for vaccine distribution

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also predicted that most Americans would not have access to a vaccine until late spring or summer of 2021.
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How to fix Lebanon’s political crisis
Firefighters work at the scene of a warehouse fire at the Port of Beirut on September 11, 2020, in Lebanon. | Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images The Beirut port explosion exposed Lebanon’s deep political rot. The Beirut port explosion on August 4, which killed more than 170 people, wounded thousands, and made 300,000 homeless, encapsulated all that has gone wrong with Lebanon’s 30-year political experiment. The explosion was an accident resulting from years of buck-passing and negligence in Lebanon’s public institutions, which somehow allowed 2,750 tons of explosive material to lie in a warehouse unsecured for six years. Today, many of these institutions are barely functioning, and neither is Lebanon’s economy. The Lebanese pound is in free fall, banks have blocked people from accessing their accounts, unemployment is above 30 percent, and the import-dependent country is increasingly unable to secure the basic goods it needs. Infrastructure is at a breaking point, with daily power cuts lasting as long as 20 hours. Lebanese people are aware that their country is becoming unlivable. What went wrong? And what can be done to fix it? The answers to both questions — like most things in Lebanon — are complicated. A modern country with a deeply unmodern political system Lebanon’s political system is the product of a decades-old power-sharing arrangement among leaders of Lebanon’s 18 religious sects, the most important being the Sunni and Shia Muslims and Maronite Christians. This system, known as confessionalism, parceled out political power according to sectarian quotas, with each sect usually led by one or several members of prominent political families. Lebanon became a middle-income country with a relatively educated population living under a deeply unmodern political arrangement. The ruling factions preserved their positions by providing their constituents with jobs, financial support, and protection from other factions. In return, people provided their votes and loyalty. That system endured until a convergence of regional and internal divisions plunged Lebanon into a 15-year civil war in 1975. Although the war destroyed much of the country and killed some 120,000 people, the confessional system emerged intact when the war finally ended in 1990. Many of the same people who led militias during the war dominated the postwar order. The confessional system is alive and well today, 30 years later. It would not have lasted so long were it completely useless. It has helped mediate sectarian conflict, forced leaders to build consent among their constituencies, and prevented the heavy centralization of power that plunged much of the Arab world into dictatorship. But this particular medicine has side effects. Political elites have used their positions to bleed the economy dry and monopolize control over public institutions. Parliament and many cabinets have been filled with some of the same faces for decades. The speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, has occupied the post since 1992. As members of the traditional ruling class age or die out, their sons often replace them, meaning politics has become a family business for the Gemayels, Hariris, Aouns, and Jumblatts, to name a few. Many politicians have amassed great wealth by taking cuts of public contracts, facilitating bureaucratic processes, or directly siphoning public funds. Public servants are appointed by sect rather than on merit, and national loyalty competes with and often loses out to sectarian loyalty. This has undermined civic life and turned politics into a zero-sum sectarian competition rather than a policy debate. Questions as mundane as where to build a waste incinerator or how to reform public utilities, for example, take on sectarian dimensions over who gets what. Why, then, do people not simply vote this rotten elite out? For one, they have played on sectarian insecurities to perpetuate distrust among the population, casting themselves as saviors of their community. Attempts to unseat a particular leader are quickly seen as attacks on the sect itself, leading to a rallying effect around said leader regardless of their performance. For example, public pressure on a particular leader to resign leads religious and political figures to rally behind them in the name of defending the sect. Thus, pressure on the Christian president is met with resistance from key Christian politicians and the church, while targeting the Sunni prime minister is cast by political and religious figures as targeting the Sunni sect as a whole. Similarly, attempts to pressure the Shia militia Hezbollah to give up its weapons are quickly framed as attacks on the Shia community. The political class has also skillfully used the state to provide constituents with jobs, financial support, and other privileges. And, of course, where persuasion fails there is always coercion. Parties routinely harass and intimidate those who seek reform or even dare to criticize their leaders. All factions are complicit to some degree, but one in particular presents an altogether more difficult problem: Hezbollah. Hezbollah is not solely responsible for Lebanon’s problems. But it’s a huge part of them. Hezbollah maintains a formidable militia with direct support from Iran. It has turned Lebanon and its Shia community into the base of its “resistance” project of open-ended conflict with Israel and the West. Hezbollah runs a state-within-a-state, complete with a military, security forces, and infrastructure; at the same time, it has penetrated Lebanon’s institutions through politics or by cultivating powerful allies. The Lebanese military lacks the will and ability to disarm Hezbollah. Those who present a serious challenge to its armed status are intimidated or killed. Hezbollah is not single-handedly responsible for the sectarian rot and corruption that has infected Lebanon’s institutions, yet it is deeply implicated in it and its perpetuation. The organization’s decades of undermining the state and acting as a law unto itself has made a mockery of public institutions and state sovereignty. In much of the country, Lebanese security forces operate at the pleasure of Hezbollah. Attempts to constrain its military arm are violently repressed. In May 2008, for example, a cabinet decision to dismantle the militia’s independent telecommunications infrastructure was met with a military takeover of much of Beirut. Hezbollah has also been implicated in a string of assassinations of political rivals, most recently through a United Nations tribunal that convicted Salim Ayyash of complicity in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah is a reminder to all Lebanese that might is right. Its intimidation and killing of rivals have fed the lawlessness and impunity that define Lebanese public life. Hezbollah has also extinguished Shia politics through persuasion and force. Its heavy-handedness antagonizes other sects and strengthens sectarian leaders. Hezbollah is also a chief obstacle to reversing Lebanon’s decline. The group does not want serious political reform, a state of laws accountable to empowered citizens and enjoying a monopoly over violence. It also has no tolerance for political challengers from within the Shia sect. Despite its professed radicalism on the “resistance” matter, in the Lebanese context Hezbollah is a status-quo player. The shift to a genuinely pluralistic, sovereign state of laws therefore faces two formidable obstacles: the dysfunctional, corrupt Lebanese regime and its elites, and a powerful militia that is both part of and separate from this regime and cannot live with a truly reformed Lebanon. Lebanese seeking to reform this regime recognize this and tend to fall into two camps. The first camp believes reform is impossible as long as a heavily armed Hezbollah is a law unto itself. Hezbollah’s military superiority means it can simply bully politicians, the security forces, and civil servants, and start wars at will. Hezbollah is also a stain on Lebanon’s international reputation, preventing Western and Gulf Arab countries from lending the country full support. At the extreme, Hezbollah will harass people lobbying for political change — and even kill its rivals if need be. Members of this camp advocate constant pressure on Hezbollah, domestic and foreign, including practicing civil disobedience, lobbying for policies that undermine Hezbollah’s position, and urging the armed forces to take a more confrontational posture against it. If Hezbollah responds with force, so be it. It cannot control all of Lebanon or kill all of its rivals; forcing confrontations saps its energy, isolating it, demoralizing its supporters, and deepening international hostility. It may well be true that reform is impossible until Hezbollah is disarmed. The problem with this approach is that Hezbollah may well get away with mass violence, even with directly seizing the Lebanese state. No one is in a position to stop it, and its Shia constituency may simply rally around it. As for international hostility, there appears to be no appetite for rescuing Lebanon from Hezbollah. Instead, if Hezbollah retains or expands its strategic dominance of the country, Lebanon may end up viewed as a rogue state. Many Lebanese would then blame the country’s isolation and pariah status on Hezbollah, which would lead to severe Sunni-Shia polarization that could derail any reform efforts. The truth is that liberal reformers are (to their credit) not good at organized violence, while Hezbollah has mastered it. This leaves one potential reform strategy, one that circumvents or “outflanks” Hezbollah, so to speak. Proponents of this strategy believe Lebanon’s opposition movement should put the Hezbollah question on hold and focus on building an effective civil society, organizing politically, and broadening support for the movement. The focus is on practicalities, such as an electoral law that creates room for nonsectarian parties; a robust civil society that holds the government to account for governance failures; educating the citizenry about its rights and the technicalities of Lebanon’s economic crises; and building citizen journalism that can circumvent partisan media, scrutinize political elites and corruption, and so on. The demand for a new electoral law through a transitional cabinet (the last one resigned after the port explosion) is central here, followed by parliamentary elections. This camp does not expect a sweeping reformist victory nor sweeping reforms: The establishment has an enormous head start and a resource advantage, and it can draw on older primordial sentiments and fears to counter the newer, less-tested ideals of the opposition. But even a minor electoral victory that lays the foundation for a substantial parliamentary bloc can demonstrate that the old sectarian game is not the only one around. That would be an unprecedented achievement and a good start. A reform strategy that focuses on creating a new political space and civic culture is a prerequisite for transforming Lebanese public life and creating a state of laws and citizens rather than subjects. This strategy tackles problems that transcend sect and party — and while Hezbollah has already reacted with suspicion and occasional harassment and violence against activists, this is an awkward position for the party that takes it outside its comfort zone of violence and sectarian consolidation. It may attract broader support than a purely anti-Hezbollah drive, or at least prove less divisive. The flanking strategy is Lebanon’s best shot at becoming a real state. The United States should provide enough humanitarian relief to avert catastrophe, as well as maintain pressure on local elites to open up the political system and on the military to exercise restraint in dealing with civil unrest in the context of economic calamity and deep popular alienation. Bankrolling the political class’s broken economic model is pointless and would probably undermine reform. Pushing the opposition to single out Hezbollah is understandable given US strategic interest, but this should not be a precondition to US engagement. After all, successful reform is, by definition, bad news for Hezbollah. Of these two reform strategies, I would classify the first as doomed absent a major geopolitical shift that either destroys Iran’s foothold in Lebanon or goes after Hezbollah directly and decisively. This does not seem to be in the cards, and it would be no panacea anyway. The “flanking” strategy is more promising. It is, however, already facing a great deal of resistance from both Hezbollah and an entrenched political class. The situation is so bleak that the Lebanese are tempted to give up altogether. Who can blame them? But that would be abandoning an improbable mission in favor of certain disaster as Lebanon hurtles down the path of state failure. Faysal Itani is deputy director at the Center for Global Policy’s Non-State Actors and Geopolitics unit. He is also an adjunct professor of Middle East politics at both Georgetown University and George Washington University. He tweets at @faysalitani. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Welcome to The Great Rebuild Issue of The Highlight
Covid-19 exposed fractures in our economy yet also offers an opportunity. From defunding police to fixing housing, this is how we can prepare for future crises. Six months have passed since the nation’s businesses, schools, and government offices shut down as part of a global effort to stymie Covid-19, a virus that would spread despite the lockdowns. Almost instantly, tens of millions of Americans found themselves unemployed; millions of working parents were forced to take on the duties of full-time teachers; shuttering businesses have left city landscapes culturally and spiritually barren; and millions of 20- and 30-somethings are now realizing that the second financial crisis to strike their burgeoning careers could affect their economic security all the way into retirement. The pandemic has exposed the fundamental fractures in the economy: the underfunded unemployment insurance systems, the tenuous state of child care, the underemployment that has only become more entrenched in the years since the Great Recession. But in doing so, the pandemic has also provided the nation an opportunity. Policymakers now have every reason to intervene to stabilize the economy while making the future better for people it has historically left behind. A mobilization this massive has been accomplished before. We only have to look to the past. In 1945, as Britain reached the conclusion of years of war and prepared for the inevitable contraction of its wartime economy, the economist John Maynard Keynes proposed not financial austerity, but its polar opposite: He sought to invest in people on an almost ostentatious scale, designing the new National Health Service and a pension and social support system, even investing in the arts on a grand scale. To Keynes, the economy was less a series of numbers and indicators than a slew of social and cultural issues that must be addressed for the good of the nation. Today, as Covid-19 continues to change the landscape for American workers and the economy at large, could these lessons of Keynes be applied, here and now? Could we federalize unemployment insurance, offering effective aid to the unemployed during times of crisis rather than shorting them because of the myth of personal responsibility? Could we find purpose for underemployed graduates sidelined by the pandemic, save child care as a means of guaranteeing that millions of others might work, fix our broken policing, and solve for housing shortages while addressing the racist barriers in our housing system? We can. This month’s issue of The Highlight surfaces the pervasive issues that have left vast swaths of our economy vulnerable, and looks to economists, policymakers, advocates, historians, even former presidential candidates to answer the difficult question of how we might correct the missteps of the past. The great rebuilding of the economy won’t be easy. But we have the blueprint. We only have to let it guide us. How to build a better American economy A blueprint exists for a more inclusive, successful nation that invests in the well-being of its citizens. We only have to look to the past. by Zachary D. Carter We can end America’s unemployment nightmare The problem with our social safety net is clear. The solution is, too. by Emily Stewart Young people are the new corps of engineers the US has been waiting for We have more than enough work to go around for the next generation if we address one of our nation’s biggest problems: infrastructure. by Andrew Yang The financial case for defunding the police It’s time to ask why we continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on police misconduct lawsuits and billions more on policing that yields poor outcomes. by Sean Collins Building housing — lots of it — will lay the foundation for a new future A massive boom in new construction would create countless jobs and help finally end the legacy of racist housing policies. by Matthew Yglesias The future of the economy hinges on child care We must bail out the industry that allows millions of parents to work. by Anna North Party of One is a collaborative creative studio founded by Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht, based in Brooklyn, New York. Through combined experience in fine arts and traditional design, Party of One creates compelling visuals with an emphasis on unique and often handcrafted prop design, styling, and sets. These stories are part of The Great Rebuild, a project made possible thanks to support from Omidyar Network, a social impact venture that works to reimagine critical systems and the ideas that govern them, and to build more inclusive and equitable societies. All Great Rebuild coverage is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work, and helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Contribute today from as little as $3.
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We can end America’s unemployment nightmare
The problem with our social safety net is clear. The solution is, too. Part of The Great Rebuild Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. Erin Suggs applied for unemployment in March as soon as the California salon she works at shut down. She figured her case would be pretty straightforward — she works on commission, meaning she’s counted as a regular employee, not self-employed. But it took the 50-year-old mother of two more than two months to get her benefits, during which time she estimates she and her husband called California’s Employment Development Department, which administers the state’s unemployment system, upward of 3,000 times. It turned out that in filling out the forms, she checked one box wrong. “It just put me in pending hell for 10 weeks,” she says. “There was no way of fixing it.” Her experience is hardly unique. In California alone, more than 6 million people, or one-third of the state’s workers, have filed for unemployment benefits, and hundreds of thousands of them have been stuck in a weeks- or even months-long backlog. Meanwhile, nearly 1 million people across the United States continue to file new unemployment claims each week, and some 29 million people are receiving some sort of unemployment assistance. And for many of them, navigating the system has been a nightmare. The coronavirus has brought home the many shortcomings of the American unemployment insurance system and revealed it to be fundamentally — and often intentionally — broken, chipped away over time to ensure that the jobless don’t use it toomuch, lest anyone get used to it. Unemployment insurance operates under a hybrid state-federal setup that has resulted in an awkward push-and-pull between the federal government, state governments, and employers. No one quite wants to take full responsibility of it, but everyone wants a say. However, the federal government’s response to the pandemic — namely, the expansions to unemployment put in place under the CARES Act — has demonstrated what a more robust and generous program might be able to do. A reimagined unemployment system would treat the jobless like customers, not criminals, while helping them stay afloat as they find their next gig. “People are right to be upset about the delays and the backlogs and the problems, but I think the promise of unemployment insurance is definitely here, which is, you can stabilize incomes through a very harsh business cycle,” said Mike Konczal, the director of progressive thought at the Roosevelt Institute. “It’s quite remarkable the amount of money that has been able to get out to workers to replace their wages.” Still, the system leaves those workers without much of a voice. Every week, when Suggs certifies that she continues to be unemployed, she says a little prayer. “One mistake and I’m going to get thrown back into that,” she says. It’s been more than 80 years since unemployment insurance was codified in federal law, and it’s worth asking how it became the system we know today, and how it could work better. In order to help employed Americans, we have to help unemployed Americans, too. It’s good for the economy. A reimagined unemployment system would treat the jobless like customers, not criminals, while helping them stay afloat as they find their next gig. It would be easier to navigate, pay people more consistently, regardless of where they live, and take into account the wage stagnation of decades past. It would be easier to ramp up in times of crisis and better serve the modern workforce — groups such as gig workers, short-term employees, and people looking for jobs. As Darrick Hamilton, the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, puts it: “The nature of work has changed in America, and so should unemployment insurance.” Suggs filed for unemployment the first day she didn’t work. In theory, her case is a simple one: She’s held the same full-time job for a long time and will return to work as soon as she gets the go-ahead. She is the type of person the system is supposed to work for in a progressive state where the social safety net is supposed to be pretty robust. But unemployment insurance has never worked super smoothly in the US. The first state in the country to put an unemployment insurance program in place was Wisconsin in 1932, and the federal program became law under the Social Security Act of 1935. It was set up as a mixed federal-state endeavor for reasons that wouldn’t surprise the average political observer today: There was disagreement over what level of government should be in charge of running the program, and proponents of unemployment insurance were nervous it might be undone by the Supreme Court, which had struck down multiple pieces of legislation. The hope was that this model would give it a better chance with the court, and even if the federal component were struck down, the state components could live on. “It was designed to have this very broken and fractured structure,” Konczal said. The point of unemployment insurance is to replace income for people who have lost their jobs and keep them attached to the labor market. It is also a measure to keep the economy going in times of economic downturn and support consumer spending; an unemployed worker being unable to pay their rent isn’t just bad for the tenant, it’s bad for the landlord. In the US, unemployment insurance is meant to work by replacing about half of a worker’s wages (up to a certain cap) for about 26 weeks. It is intended for those who involuntarily lost their jobs, meaning they were laid off or fired, and not people who quit. Those who quit their jobs can wind up collecting benefits, namely if they can explain that they did so for good cause, such as experiencing sexual harassment, but it often winds up being a battle adjudicated by the state. The program is financed through state and federal payroll taxes that are supposed to fund administrative systems and the benefits themselves. Many states have kept those taxes pretty low, resulting in a system that is chronically underfunded. And during periods of stress, the impact of that underfunding really shows. State unemployment trusts can run out of money fast — during the Great Recession, about three dozen states had to borrow federal money to keep payments going. Years of disinvestment in technology and administration led to problems like those now affecting Suggs and millions of unemployed workers across the country. You make one mistake, or your case has one little quirk, and you’re sucked into a bureaucratic black box disaster with no clear end in sight. And then, once the economy gets better, everyone moves on and forgets, and the political impetus to fix these problems fades. The fragmented state-federal system has resulted in an uneven and distorted unemployment insurance system “It’s almost impossible to make repairs during the bad times, but that’s the only time anyone pays attention,” said Sara Flocks, policy coordinator with the California Labor Federation. In 2010, the California state Assembly had a hearing to look into problems with the state’s unemployment technology and backlogs during the recession. “I’m shocked at how bad this situation has become,” then-Assembly member Charles Calderon said at the time. A decade later, it’s California Assembly member David Chiu who is spearheading a charge to overhaul the still broken system. “This is a problem long coming,” he said. “The system broke down during the Great Recession, with many of the dysfunctional elements that we’re seeing today.” “The administrative systems are pretty broken, or at least pretty frayed, or at least not up to this,” said University of California Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein. “We haven’t invested in them over a long time.” The federal government sets the bar for states to design their systems, but the bar is pretty low, and states are largely left to their own devices when it comes to how much they want to tax employers, how generous they want to be with benefits and for how long, and who gets deemed eligible for collecting benefits. The fragmented state-federal system has resulted in an uneven and distorted unemployment insurance system. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average weekly benefits in the country were $333 as of April 2020, but that ranged from $101 in Oklahoma to $531 in Massachusetts. The length of unemployment varies significantly per state, as does the number of unemployed people who collect benefits. Pew Research Center estimates that just 29 percent of unemployed Americans received benefits in March, and in states like Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, less than 10 percent did. At the state level, employers have more control over the unemployment system as well, explained Wayne Vroman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute. Employers want low costs — as in taxes — and they don’t want employees claiming benefits they feel are undeserved. “The balance of power between labor and business has moved in the direction of business, so the programming increasingly reflects business concerns,” Vroman said. Given the recent troubles with unemployment, there has been a lot of attention on the outdated technologies being used. But new technology does not always translate to a more effective system. Some states that have modernized their technology have done so with a focus on fraud and making them harsher on the unemployed, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “Florida is technically a modernized system, but they changed the system with the absolute aim of making it harder for people to get benefits,” she said. While experts acknowledge that fraud exists, they say there’s been too much attention on it, overshadowing concerns about getting money to people in need. “They’re focused on catching the bad guys rather than helping the good guys get through,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. And because the system is so onerous and the benefits often so low, many people don’t even bother applying for unemployment, or they eventually stop trying. When Suggs started running into problemswith her unemployment claim, she went to Facebook to try to find answers and see what others in the same situation were doing. Eventually, she started her own group for people struggling to navigate the bureaucracy to talk to one another. “I wanted people to be able to post their frustrations and come and get support,” she said. Members ask for advice, swap stories, and even share phone numbers they’ve used that have helped them finally get through. The EDD’s phone line for people who need help with a specific claim is only open from 8 am to noon, Monday through Friday. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law by President Trump in March, was supposed to make life for the unemployed during the pandemic better. It tacked on an additional $600-a-week federal benefit through July 31, extended the amount of time people can collect benefits, and expanded the pool of workers who can apply for unemployment to independent contractors, gig workers, and others who are usually ineligible, such as artists and musicians. But many people could not actually access the system. When Suggs finally got through to a real person at California’s unemployment office, the woman she spoke with told her she was lucky, because she actually knew what she was doing. The department had staffed up, but most of the new staff hadn’t received a ton of training. “They basically hired … people to just kind of answer the phones, hang up on people, and tell people they couldn’t help them,” Suggs says she was told. “Not to be hyperbolic, but everywhere you look in our unemployment agency, there is a problem,” said Jennifer Kwart, a staffer for Assembly member Chiu. A small error, such as an extra digit in a Social Security number, can put a claim in flux for weeks, and even with benefits being slow to go out, states’ unemployment trusts are already being tapped out. In May, California became the first state to borrow from the federal government to pay benefits during the current downturn. It took till 2018 to finish paying off what it owed the government in unemployment from the last recession. As one source familiar with California’s EDD put it, a lot of the issue comes down to the complexity of how federal funding is handled and the fact that no governor is eager to raise taxes to fix things, Democrat or Republican. It’s just not politically popular, especially when employers are powerful and there isn’t exactly a union of the unemployed. “The power of our labor unions is pretty strong, but at the same time, it’s really hard when it comes to unemployment insurance to convince people when times are really good to focus in on it,” the source said. “But the problem is when you don’t focus on it when times are really good is that when stuff is tough, like it is now, it’s the most important department in the state.” All of this adds up to real consequences in people’s everyday lives, consequences that are even more stressful in moments of crisis like now. Still, Suggs considers herself lucky — her husband has a steady income, and her family had recently sold a home they inherited. “If it wasn’t for him working, I don’t know what we would have done. We probably would have ended up homeless,” she said. Yvonne Garcia, a member of Suggs’s Facebook group, is also thankful for her family’s support as she tries to work through the unemployment system after being laid off from the poker room she works for in March. She’s experienced the consequences of the focus on fraud directly. When she was unemployed in 2018, Garcia was paid an extra $172 in benefits she wasn’t supposed to receive. It happened during three days of training for a new job that she didn’t realize she was supposed to report. “I was just so embarrassed,” she said. Garcia has paid back the money she owed, but even so, she was penalized five weeks of benefits this time around for the mishap after being furloughed. She successfully appealed her case and is now collecting benefits — just $167 a week. It’s enough for her to get by, for now. Garcia waited to request forbearance on her mortgage until August, when the extra $600 in federal benefits ended, to buy herself time. She hopes the poker room will reopen in January and in the meantime plans to pick up a part-time job at Costco. “When somebody says you’re making more than what you make at work, I say, no I’m not,” she said. “I’d much rather be at work.” “The $600 got us into a different conversation that acknowledges that wages are really, really low to begin with” Personal incomes did rise about 10 percent in April, and poverty didn’t increase — it actually might have gone down. According to one recent paper from the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, between March and July 2020, expanded unemployment insurance under the CARES Act offset earnings inequality the country would have otherwise seen, particularly for low-income Americans, and it helped reduce the decline in aggregate demand in the broader economy by putting money in people’s pockets. And despite concerns that generous benefits would discourage people from working during the pandemic (which, one could argue, is at least partially the point), research for Yale found that didn’t happen. “The $600 boost made a huge difference to families that are unemployed to no fault of their own,” said Liz Watson, executive director of the progressive nonprofit the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. “For too long, the benefit has been set at a level that is completely unlivable.” One estimate recently released by the group and put together by Center for American Progress researchers Justin Schweitzer and Lily Roberts made the case that typical single-parent households fall thousands of dollars short when trying to meet basic needs on typical unemployment insurance. “The $600 got us into a different conversation that acknowledges that wages are really, really low to begin with, and anything that’s a proportional replacement of those wages will just reinforce how disparate wages are,” Roberts said. “We have an opportunity to now create permanent structural change to this program,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of National Employment Law Project, at a recent panel hosted by Vox. “We often say that something is not working as designed, and I would just encourage us to realize it is working as designed, and we need to change that design.” So how do we change it for the better? So that it works in the good times and the bad? Many of the experts I spoke with said that if the US got a real do-over, it would be much better to go with a federal system — which the vast majority of countries that have unemployment benefits use — instead of a hybrid federal-state one. It could run much like the Social Security benefits program and would be a way to make the program more uniform in terms of benefit amounts and time frames across states. “Having a 50-state system, and having them really underfunded by their states and by the federal government, hasn’t left us in a good position,” Stettner, from the Century Foundation, said. While that might be the ideal situation (which would also ideally entail the federal government adequately funding the program’s administration and the benefits), it’s not super likely. Employers and state governments would likely oppose it. So then it’s time to start looking for overhauls to make where the states still get a role. “If you take the existing state systems as here and impossible to get rid of, you can still have a minimum standard for benefits payment,” Vroman said. It’s a way to make sure that if you lose your job in Mississippi, you’re not in a much worse spot than if you lost your job in Massachusetts. “That could be legislated, and that’s a less radical change because it still keeps the states as the first line of administering the program.” There are multiple proposals, both big and small, for how to improve and modernize unemployment insurance in the US. In 2016, the Obama administration laid out a series of proposals on that front, including expanding access to part-time, temporary, and low-income workers. More recently, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) put out a series of proposals for the unemployment system, including automatic stabilizers that would ramp up the program when the economy falters and unemployment rises. Instead of waiting on Congress to decide to help out when unemployment is at 10 percent, as it is now, extra benefits would kick in automatically. There is a lot of consensus among experts and activists around the issue. After decades of wage stagnation, the government should increase the amount of benefits paid in proportion to someone’s salary to make sure it actually helps, especially for people on the low end of the income spectrum, including people of color and women, who often aren’t even in a position to save in normal times. It should invest in administrative and technological infrastructures so that they are designed for moments of stress. It should expand the pool of workers eligible for unemployment to less typical employees, including those who change jobs a lot and especially those lowest earners who are not covered. And it should provide job-seekers some sort of benefits as well. That way, recent graduates or people reentering the workforce aren’t scrambling. Some of these workers have been added into the mix under the CARES Act, such as independent contractors. Others, such as those without a long work history and recent graduates, are left out. The government should also examine and encourage innovative programs, such as work sharing, through which employers temporarily reduce work hours for their employees and that reduced income is supplemented with unemployment insurance. “It’s not perfect, but for a lot of employers, it means the difference between layoffs and no layoffs, and for workers, it means keeping not only their jobs but also their health care,” Flocks, with the California Labor Federation, said. It’s the type of idea that could perhaps help someone like Suggs and her employer, because even when open, business isn’t back to normal. When the salon reopened for a while in the spring, things were pretty slow. People weren’t rushing to get their hair done. “I was having cancellations all over the place,” Suggs said. To be sure, addressing the real shortfalls of unemployment is easier said than done, and there are real philosophical questions about how the program should work. What amount of benefit is the right amount is not a simple issue. In the current crisis, arguments that benefits are too generous are unwarranted — when you’ve got four or five job-seekers for every job, the government being too nice to them isn’t really the problem, let alone in a pandemic. But in normal times, economists and experts don’t agree on how much is the right amount of income to replace. “The best kind of insurance from the perspective of a worker would make them whole,” said Michael Stepner, an economist and postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard research project Opportunity Insights. “But the trade-off there is if you make people completely whole, there’s a concern that they just won’t bother to search for a job.” Vroman said there is evidence of disincentive effects, and some people are more prone to follow those effects than others. Jeffrey Miron, a libertarian economist at Harvard, said part of the issue is making sure people don’t wait on unemployment insurance forever while also waiting for a job that’s not coming back. “There is an inevitable trade-off between trying to protect those people who are unemployed who generally face bad opportunities versus creating a perverse incentive for people to stay unemployed,” he said. But given how scarce benefits are and how hard the system is to navigate, the real disincentive for people to apply for unemployment insurance at all is coming from state unemployment offices and poor systems no one’s entirely in charge of. “The idea at least should be to give everyone, not just higher earners, the ability to feel secure after a layoff knowing they aren’t going to get evicted or have to skip meals while they take the proper time needed to look for a new job,” Schweitzer, the CAP researcher, said in an email, pointing out that even when things are normal, finding a job isn’t always easy. “The more desperate workers are to find a job fast, the more leverage employers have, especially in low-wage industries, to underpay them.” That is especially harmful to workers of color and, in particular, Black workers, who typically have higher rates of unemployment than white workers and who have been hit especially hard during the pandemic. They also overall have less savings to fall back on and less wealth. There are, of course, those who argue that the social safety net, whether unemployment insurance or otherwise, is a waste of money for the federal government and that even in the current crisis, such generous benefits are unwarranted. The US Chamber of Commerce, a private organization that represents businesses, has lobbied against expanding the $600 in CARES Act benefits, arguing that it is causing “significant distortions in the labor market and hurting the economic recovery.” Another read: It’s drawing attention to how little some companies pay their workers. While Suggs says her situation is under control for now, she still sees people in the Facebook group every day talking about their troubles. “There are people out there that are really, really struggling,” she said, and even she remains frustrated. The government has made it “as difficult as possible for people to work or not work.” “If you want everyone to stay home, why don’t you make it easier and fix the system somehow? We’re the tech state, and we couldn’t do it,” Suggs said. “It was a nightmare. It is a nightmare.” Emily Stewart is a business and politics reporter for Vox, covering the ways people are affected by the forces of capitalism and money. This story is part of The Great Rebuild, a project made possible thanks to support from Omidyar Network, a social impact venture that works to reimagine critical systems and the ideas that govern them, and to build more inclusive and equitable societies. All Great Rebuild coverage is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
Young people are the new corps of engineers the US has been waiting for
We have more than enough work to go around for the next generation if we address one of our nation’s biggest problems: infrastructure. Part of The Great Rebuild Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. I was born to Taiwanese American immigrants in upstate New York in the 1970s. My father worked at General Electric, my mother at BlueCross BlueShield. Like many others, the America I thought I inherited from them was one of opportunity. Work hard at a job or school, get into a trade or college, and start a family in a home you could afford. Work for a few decades, then retire. The boomers have lived in a world largely like that: 90 percent of them ended up better off than their parents, and they assumed their children would do the same. The suburbs would continue to thrive, the number of cars per household would go up, and more frequent and exotic vacations for their children would be just oneof the payoffs for that lifetime of hard work to provide their children with opportunity. In reality, that was never in the cards for many Americans. But now it’s barely in the cards for any. The path to a decent life is more and more out of reach. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the market determines everything — including human value — and that’s infected everything, from our public policy to our culture. It’s easy to get student loans, because the market says college must be valuable since it’s expensive. But it’s impossible to discharge these loans, because bankruptcy is bad and defaulting on loans is irresponsible. We’ve driven metrics such as GDP and the stock market to the edge of a cliff, and then handed our children the wheel. Students and graduates have amassed more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt that many will never be able to pay off, while others will delay buying a home, getting married, and having kids because of this millstone around their necks. Owning a home is unrealistic in many cities for almost anyone starting out. Each successive generation has less in retirement savings, which, for millions, will make stepping back from employment in older age less and less feasible. Our infrastructure is crumbling beneath our feet. And climate change yet looms over this generation and every generation to come. For many young people, building savings or a career is next to impossible when we’ve had two “once in a century” recessions in the past 15 years, just as millions are trying to establish a financial foothold. Economic inequality keeps climbing while the ability to save and get ahead keeps shrinking. Many recent graduates are told by family members and boomer editorialists to simply lower their sights and expectations and accept underemployment. And when millennials display any dissatisfaction with their grim inheritance, they are labeled entitled brats who spend all their money on avocado toast instead of saving for a home (never mind that it would take 22 years of skipping it to put down a down payment). Each of these problems is big, and we need to start setting the next generations up for success while cleaning up our messes. But we can tackle them all with the same solution — rebuilding our economy and country with a massive and ongoing public works program. To do it, we must build a human-centered economy, making sure it works for our children by ensuring that it stops working exclusively for those at the top. Our winner-take-all economy has resulted in a country where, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder/Harris Poll survey of nearly 3,500 workers, 40 percent of people report usually living paycheck to paycheck. Forty percent of Americans also say they would have difficulty affording an unexpected $400 bill — and that was before the pandemic. The economic deck is stacked even more significantly against millennials and young people. Because of that unprecedented student loan debt and the recessions they have suffered during their early careers, the homeownership rate for millennials is nearly 8 percentage points lower than that of previous generations. This has driven more than 20 percent to move back in with their parents — a situation that isn’t ideal for anyone involved. More than half have less than $5,000 in their savings account. It’s no wonder that the generation had only a 50-50 shot of doing better than their parents, pre-pandemic. Our economy has failed an entire generation, and as the current pandemic puts us on the precipice of the greatest downturn since the Great Depression, the future looks dark for many. It’s no wonder that nearly half of those who came of age after the financial crisis don’t have a positive opinion of capitalism — they have experienced its failures directly and personally. Capitalism has led to some of the greatest advances of modernity, including the technology we use every day. But it is not designed to maximize our well-being; it is designed to maximize investor returns and capital efficiency. It is crystal clear now that what is good for capital is no longer good for many Americans. A perfect example: Amazon is setting record highs in stock market valuation while millions await economic relief from Congress. We need to start setting the next generations up for success while cleaning up our messes. But we can tackle them all with the same solution. A more human-centered economy wields the positives of capitalism to maximize human well-being and flourishing, instead of solely investment returns. I like to say human-centered capitalism has three basic principles: Humans are more important than money; markets exist to serve our common goals and values; we should be using human-based metrics to determine success, not money-based ones. It sounds silly to need to say these things, and yet here we are, in 2020, still chasing stock market returns and gross domestic product growth as our mental health and opportunities evaporate. The nation adopted GDP more than 75 years ago, and even then, its creator, Simon Kuznets, said it was a terrible measurement of national well-being. A century later, it is even more true. If we were looking at the right measurements, we would see life expectancy that has stagnated or decreased over the past several years; “deaths of despair” — suicides, as well as drug- and alcohol-related deaths, particularly among less educated white Americans — that have skyrocketed this century; and anxiety and depression at record levels. Labor force participation, a measure of how many working-age people are actually working or seeking work, is also unacceptably low — less than 64 percent before the current crisis. At the same time, our infrastructure requires a $4.6 trillion investment to reach modern standards. With an investment in the next generations through a massive, ongoing public works program that addresses those infrastructure failings, we can help our children build a future they want for themselves and their country. So where do we start? With those very same millennials whose economic future is in peril. About 40 percent of recent college grads are working a job that doesn’t require a college degree. Those with high school degrees today are worse off, as they experience more stagnant wages and a higher underemployment rate than the same cohort from 2000. With more than 70 million millennials and nearly the same number born to Generation Z, we have a vast number of young people who are looking for work and ways to make a difference. Let’s help them do that. Imagine that you’re a recent high school or college grad, and you’re unsure what to do next. You have a variety of interests, but you don’t know how to turn that into a career. Family members are telling you to find just any job that pays the bills, but you’re more interested in finding meaningful work than a job that pays more. What if we as a nation instead showed these job-seekers the list of human-centered stats that we’re looking to fix and asked them, “What problem do you want to solve?” The federal government can collect and collate this data, and then it can provide work for anyone who has a plan to address it. Whether that’s through the direct creation of federal jobs, grants to the states for projects they administer, or through public-private partnerships, the nation needs to address these problems. If someone is worried about the state of our environment, let’s put them to work on sustainable infrastructure projects. Our grid can be modernized. Solar panels can be manufactured and installed. Turbines can be built, and urban planning can be used to minimize the carbon footprint of our biggest cities. The amount of work that can be done here to improve our way of life and the planet is staggering, and the various areas and levels of work that need to be done means an appropriate and exciting job can be found for tens of millions of people. Do they find it disheartening that 21 million Americans don’t have access to reliable broadband? They can be a part of the solution, working on projects that expand access to rural areas and increase affordability in urban ones. Our water system is aging, poisoning our kids to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in economic costs, on top of the human costs. I’m certain we’d see tens of thousands sign up to help address that. There’s no shortage of work to be done that will provide the next generations with the meaningful jobs they desire. While infrastructure is one of the most obvious areas, there are so many more problem areas in this country that the passion and innovation of the next generation can solve. There are 7.8 million job openings for in-home health aides, a number that will only increase as time goes on. The private sector values this work at $10 an hour, which is far too low for a physically and emotionally taxing job. The federal government can subsidize some and hire others to do this work, covering any gap left by the market. More than 20 percent of newspapers in the US have closed, resulting in more and more people living in local news deserts. Imagine a world where recent graduates can fill that gap. Journalism majors could cut their teeth covering local politics, while business majors could explore new sources of income. Is it unacceptable to them that more than 37,000 veterans are homeless and that millions lack affordable housing? We can use that passion to start a vastly scaled-up Veterans Community Project, building houses for those who need them. The environment isn’t just about building for sustainability — there’s a lot of existing damage that we have to address. Let’s get young people working to build floodgates and move communities that are soon going to be (or already are) underwater. Wildfires in the US are costing us billions of dollars each year; surely, a large number of individuals would be willing to work clearing forests to lower that risk if given the opportunity and funding to do so. There are tens of millions of jobs out there that would allow for meaningful contributions to this country. We can provide work to help get these underemployed generations back on track and ensure that future generations don’t get similarly left behind, all while engaging in one of the largest public works and modernization projects in history. And what could their country do for them? As we make the right investments to shift our economy to be more human-focused, we can also help our children dig out of the mess that we left for them, and set them up for success. While they’re rebuilding the country, let’s help them build their future. First, each and every one of the jobs can start someone on a career path right, with training and mentorship, and let them build up experience they can use throughout their lives. This is an area that I feel especially passionate about. My nonprofit group, Venture for America, is known for trying to rebuild local economies through entrepreneurship. What was just as important for me was mentoring the young individuals who came through the organization, many of whom I’m still in touch with to this day. These young people — all people — don’t just want jobs. They want pathways to develop and grow. Day care workers can train to become early childhood educators or childhood psychologists. Home health care workers might transition to social work or health care. Our future architects and civil engineers could start by building homes for the indigent, and our next generation of Pulitzer Prize winners can start by covering local board meetings. After spending a year preventing wildfires in California, we might end up with an entire generation of park rangers and firefighters who fell in love with the job in this program. We could even create positions for people who have worked in these jobs for some time to mentor the next cohort. Additionally, these jobs could be offered to people at various points in their lives, helping to guide their education and plans for the future. Maybe a recent high school grad who didn’t think college was for her will find a passion for engineering as she works on rebuilding a bridge. Or someone who works on an HVAC renovation to make a building more environmentally friendly might decide to pursue a trade program that lets them build that into a career. Someone who just graduated from community college with the intent to continue to a four-year college can join a project to see if the major they’re considering is an area they’d like to work in. And we could actually value their time — unlike the market, which all too frequently places the value of the work of interns at $0. Giving people experience before they invest money in education will let them make smarter decisions, especially considering the massive cost of college. Which is another problem we can address. Much as the GI Bill provides funding for education for those who serve our country, we can also provide grants, scholarships, and loan forgiveness for individuals who work in any of these public works jobs. We can ensure that everyone has proper health insurance, and pay everyone a living wage. And as this will be the first significant job that many, if not most, of these individuals have, we can ensure that they receive financial counseling at a time when they’re most in need of it, along with getting them set up with retirement accounts and a plan on how to save for their golden years. We have more than enough work to go around if we decide to invest in solving some of our biggest problems. It seems like each major crisis or piece of legislation ends up bailing out people who were already doing well. We spent trillions of dollars to bail out banks in 2008. For nearly four decades, we’ve been hearing about the trickle-down economy, which promised that returning our tax money to the investors and job creators would trickle down to the rest of us. And that’s how it was sold to us, as if getting a trickle of the success of this country is something to celebrate. We need to end it and build a trickle-up economy, benefiting our people, families, and communities, on up. The recent pandemic led to the CARES Act, which finally started to put money in the hands of individuals to allow them to make it through the crisis. But helping people just make it through life shouldn’t be the goal of our government, and these constant shocks and failure to plan for increasingly common “once in a generation” market failures are a feature of our current, shareholder-driven, extreme economy. We need to start measuring the right things in order to make sure our economy is geared toward maximizing our health and well-being. Instead of stock market prices, we should be maximizing our quality of life, health, mental health, childhood success rates, and environmental sustainability. It starts with universal basic income. By returning money straight into the hands of our people, we can both retain jobs in small businesses around the country and give millions a path forward. This will drive up demand both nationally and locally. It would improve our health and well-being and stress levels. The money would go straight to groceries, car repairs, child care, and local nonprofits — something we’ve now witnessed in the stimulus checks of the CARES Act and in recent UBI trials. It would give local small businesses a chance to survive. We don’t exist to serve the economy. It’s the other way around. It’s time to rebuild our country and stop failing both ourselves and the next generation. We must put ourselves to work, improving our way of life and investing in our people on a historic scale — only if we do can we begin to right the imbalances we built for decades. Andrew Yang is an entrepreneur and former Democratic presidential candidate. He is also the founder of the nonprofit Humanity Forward. This story is part of The Great Rebuild, a project made possible thanks to support from Omidyar Network, a social impact venture that works to reimagine critical systems and the ideas that govern them, and to build more inclusive and equitable societies. All Great Rebuild coverage is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
The financial case for defunding the police
It’s time to ask why we continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on police misconduct lawsuits and billions more on policing that yields poor outcomes. Part of The Great Rebuild Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. The costs of bad policing are exacted in lives, in lost time, in terror, and in money — and present an interconnected moral and economic case for defunding the police. Take the story of Daniel Prude, a Chicago man brought to his brother’s home in Rochester, New York, for help with mental illness. After Prude left his brother’s house early one morning, his brother, worried, called 911. The police found Prude naked in the middle of the street, seemingly in a state of great confusion. As snow came downthat March day, they did not clothe him, nor did they orient him; instead, they handcuffed him and hooded him and put their bodies on him. The 41-year-old died of asphyxiation. Prude’s story — which came to light months after it occurred, thanks to the family’s petitions for the release of body camera footage — continues. But others have reached their conclusion. Christina Eilman was arrested in 2006 in Chicago while on her way home to California after exhibiting signs of a mental crisis; officers released her in an unfamiliar neighborhood where she was raped and later fell from a seventh-floor window, causing serious brain injuries and paralysis. She ultimately received $22.5 million from the city to settle a police misconduct case on the same day it agreed to pay $10.25 million to Alton Logan, who was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit due to testimony extracted by officers known for torturing and framing Black men. According to the most recent data available from the US Census Bureau, in 2017, state and local governments spent $114 billion on police forces and $78.8 billion on prisons. Policing can take up a large chunk of city budgets;for instance, Chicago planned to spend $2 billion, 15 percent of its budget, on its police force in 2020. The aftereffects of bad policing only add to the financial strain on governments, even after negligent and criminal officers leave the force. Over the past 10 years, Chicago has spent more than half a billion dollars settling police misconduct cases, plus more than $200 million in lawyers’ bills since 2004 defending police actions. And Chicago isn’t alone; police misconduct bills over the past five years in New York City have topped $300 million; in the 2018–2019 fiscal year, Los Angeles spent $91.5 million. No city can afford these sorts of costs in the best of times — and these are not the best of times. Before Covid-19 shuttered parts of the economy, some cities whose finances were in disarray began to use bonds to pay police misconduct settlements. But these bonds put cities at financial risk: They find their credit ratings affected by them, and their ability to pay the bonds affects their ability to borrow in the future. It has put taxpayers — the people most easily called upon to make up financial shortfalls — in jeopardy. Taxpayers also bear the weight of police overtime, a cost exacerbated by our extraordinary times. Cities across the United States have responded to anti-racist uprisings by deploying extra police, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to do so; for instance, New York spent $115 million in overtime in just two weeks earlier this year. But police across the country have also responded to those protesters with public displays of brutality, putting taxpayers in the position of paying to be beaten, tear-gassed, and, in some cases, arbitrarily detained — all raising the specter of future payouts to victims. Cities don’t have this money. The coronavirus has left them in dire financial shape; early on in the pandemic, the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, which will fall $26 million short this year, told Vox that the Covid-19 recession “feels like falling off a cliff.” And other cities are faring far worse.New Orleans has forecast between $130 million and $170 million in losses. Boston is planning on $65 million in revenue losses for the next year. States are in just as much danger; Florida can expect a shortfall of $16 billion to $23 billion in the next three fiscal years; California has a $54 billion deficit. Cities and states are being forced to take action through cuts. “We’re now shifting into this new paradigm of austerity, wherein a number of things will be de facto defunded,” said Seft Hunter, director of Black-led organizing for the grassroots social justice organization Community Change. “We need to then have a conversation around where cities and states should deploy resources.” Part of that conversation is whether cities should continue to fund policing as usual. City leaders must answer whether it is wise to continue to spend millions of dollars on lawsuits; whether it is a good idea to budget for overtime that might result in police acting in ways that cement resentment; and whether it is a smart use of resources to force police to do the work of social workers and paramedics, without the same qualifications. A numberof cities are already beginning to defund police departments as a way of addressing budget shortfalls and the ringing alarm of protesters who, for months, have demanded disinvestment of resources in policing that is violent, biased, and ineffective.Some of these cities have reinvested that money in programs that activists argue will save money — and lives — in the long run. But there is also a case to be made that defunding the police could bolster the economy. “We do have a shortage of a range of jobs that are necessary and a vision of reinvestment in Black communities and providing what communities need: First responders, child care — teachers and providers,” said Dorian Warren, Hunter’s colleague and president of Community Change. Defunding the police would, in theory, lead to the creation of new jobs in these areas. And it could lead to spending on training people to fill those jobs, as well as on the infrastructure and support staff needed to make sure new social workers or mediators or paramedics are successful in their work. Some of these new jobs would come at the expense of old ones in policing, but could also provide new opportunities and diversify the types of well-paying jobs available. And in making that reallocation, advocates argue, any strain on budgets in the short term could pay great dividends later. In many ways, said activist and Pod Save the People co-host Brittany Packnett Cunningham, defunding provides both social and economic benefits: “The long-term gains are really around the expanding of the political imagination that puts people first, and that recognizes that economic decisions have human costs.” The public asks police to solve problemsfor them — through patrols, they are supposed to stop crimes from happening, and through investigations, they are supposed to solve the crimes they do not prevent. But data and anecdotal evidence indicate police forces are failing at both. Instead, bias in patrolling has led minority communities to view police with suspicion — if not outright contempt — and an inability to solve crimes means most violent criminals are never caught When it comes to patrolling, studies have found a stark racial bias — that Black and Latinx Americans are stopped more often than white Americans. And prominent work by researchers such as Harvard University economist Roland Fryer Jr. has found Black and Latinx people face violence at those stops more often than white people do; Fryer published a paper in 2019 that found Black and Latinx Americans are 50 percent more likely to suffer force from police than white Americans are. More recent studies have found that figure to be an undercount, and the likelihood of biased violence to be far higher. The results of this research are reflected in narratives from the policed. “I’ve always seen police mishandling me and my people,” one Baltimore man told the Portals Policing Project, which collects policing stories from communities of color. “I’ve had evidence planted on me. ... I’ve had money and evidence removed over the years. I’ve had police get on the stand and flat-out lie.” This research and these narratives serve as importantreminders of the problem with executing patrols as they are currently conducted: Police cannot be seen as protectors because they too often brutalize those they are meant to protect. This leads to poor outcomes, reducing community trust and cooperation with police, and draining time that could be spent on proactive crime reduction and apprehending those who have committed crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks “clearance rates” — essentially, solved crimes. The most recent data the FBI has is for 2018, and that year, law enforcement either arrested or killed murder suspects 62.3 percent of the time. Officers closed rape cases 33.4 percent of the time, robbery cases 30.4 percent of the time, and aggravated assaults 52.5 percent of the time. And these figures likely overestimate officers’ success, given that most violent crimes are not reported and thus are not included in the FBI’s calculations. Police cannot be seen as protectors because they too often brutalize those they are meant to protect. This leads to poor outcomes. These clearance rates have remained fairly stable for several decades despite increases in police budgets, suggesting that giving departments more money does not necessarily result in better outcomes. And in an economy that has been devastated by Covid-19 lies an opportunity for smarter — rather than more — spending on police. In the United States, activists have for centuries called for radical changes to policing and the criminal justice system. Post-Reconstruction, W.E.B DuBois made what has become a familiar argument against policing, writing that police forces were an enforcement arm of a larger white supremacist system meant to ensure “no power was left in Negro hands.” He gave examples, writing of police officers harassing Black communities while affording them none ofthe policing benefits white communities enjoyed. Demands for better policing have been closely linked to the struggle for civil rights. Although people of all ethnicities are victims of police killings, people of color disproportionately bear the economic, mental, and physical weights of unfair and callous police action. As a result, some activists have called for the abolition of police — an idea recently explained in detail by Josie Duffy Rice for Vanity Fair. This is exactly what it sounds like: a world without police. Instead of law enforcement, state and local governments would fund new groups mandated to solve mental health crises and domestic disputes, to enforce speed limits and prevent stampedes at large gatherings, to investigate crimes and unravel mysteries. And for many, abolishing police would go hand in hand with the abolition of prisons and a reimagining of what constitutes justice. Immediately abolishing the police would radically change the lives of many of America’s people of color and free up hundreds of billions of dollars, giving cities and states freedom to allocate resources and plug budget shortfalls in new ways. But abolition is not an idea that has been accepted by politicians — or by most Americans. What has gained more immediate traction — and what many police abolitionists see as a stepping stone to their ultimate goal — is defunding the police, or reducing police departments’ budgets, and reallocating money toward other programs meant to encourage crime prevention, community cohesion, and social welfare. As Packnett Cunningham put it, “the seeds are starting to bloom.” The push to defund has been spurred by a series of prominent police killings this year, like those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but also by violent — and sometimes deadly — incidents involving people suffering from mental illness, like Prude. Money taken from police departments would be used in part to build up cities’ capacity for crisis care, but also to hire public servants better suited to many of the tasks that consume police officers’ time, from dealing with traffic problems to assisting with substance dependency issues. While giving departments more money hasn’t increased the clearance rate, by redistributing officer duties, more crimes could perhaps be solved. It would then be possible to reduce negative interactions with police as well as opportunities for police misconduct. A number of cities have begun some limited experiments in defunding the police. The city council of Austin, Texas, recently voted to slash its department’s funding by $150 million — a third of the department’s budget — and proposed moving some of the money to programs aimed at expanding health care, access to food, and preventing violence. The cuts would be made possible by not filling vacant positions, moving some nonpolicing duties to other city agencies, and canceling plans for new cadet classes. New York City’s council approved cuts in similar areas and plans to redistribute $1 billion to youth programs, education, internet connection programs, and social services. In a reminder that making the cuts is only the first step, it has been noted that the feasibility of actually enacting and maintaining these approved cuts remains an open question. Los Angeles; San Francisco; Baltimore; Washington, DC; Hartford, Connecticut; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City; Seattle; and Philadelphia are among the other cities that have already voted to cut police budgets. And the Minneapolis City Council has promised to work to “dismantle” its police department and rebuild it from the ground up, with some of its funding going to other programs. These cities are just getting started, but there are a few prominent examples of how dismantling and defunding can work. Camden, New Jersey, dramatically reformed its police department in 2013, and despite some criticism, has seen some positive outcomes. And Eugene, Oregon, has moved much of its crisis response to a separate agency called CAHOOTS, which, at a cost of $2.1 million per year, serves residents having problems with mental health, homelessness, and substances. The program’s coordinator claims that $2.1 million investment saves his community more than $15 million per year. Given their financial constraints and the fact that no federal aid for state and local governments appears to be forthcoming, some cities now defunding police would have made cuts to their police programs anyway. However, without the pressure from national uprisings and hardworking activists, they may not have reinvested that money — and might have failed to reap the future dividends of these reinvestments. Defunding policedepartmentssuccessfully would create a virtuous cycle, in which communities reap social and political benefits that translate into economic benefits for cities, states, and the communities themselves. An example might be found in one of the ways police departments do bring in money. A number of cities use police departments to generate revenue through ticketing, fines, court fees, and asset seizures; a recent study by Rebecca Goldstein, Michael W. Sances, and Hye Young You found that 80 percent of US cities benefit from police this way and that 6 percent of cities — mostly smaller ones — rely on funds generated by their police departments for more than 10 percent of their revenue. A prime example is the small city of Ferguson, Missouri. Following the uprising in 2014, the US Department of Justice found the city’s police department was under pressure to generate revenue through tickets and court fees, and that it responded to this pressure by finding novel, often petty, ways to ticket and arrest citizens. That initiative was enacted largely on the city’s minority population, depleting the resources of an already disadvantaged population and further souring the community’s perception of officers. Defunding the police could reduce the amount of money cities cull from these activities — and full abolition certainly would. But communities of color would then have more funds to invest in themselves and to inject into their local economies. Cities would be able to reap the benefits of that activity through taxation, be it from sales taxes made on purchases or investments in homes. A common critique of defunding the police is that officers would lose their livelihoods. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made a related argument in the New York Times: “You are eliminating one of the few tools that the city has to create middle-class incomes for black and brown folks.” Activists have argued, however, that it is morally wrong to allow many people of color to suffer so that some may be allowed entry into the middle class. “There are so many other options — especially for people who want to do right by their community,” Packnett Cunningham said. Options would include new jobs like those Warren imagined: new positions in mental health and educational services, in health care and at city hall. If those jobs had pay structures similar to police work, for which the median annual wage is $65,400, they would also be a path to the middle class. And as Hunter pointed out, with overtime, take-home pay for civil servants who respond to emergencies can rise quickly: “Sometimes, you see a line firefighter making more than the mayor,” he said. Repurposing officers could also lead to the direct economic empowerment of others, Warren said. For instance, police could be put to work addressing wage theft — a crime mostly committed against low-wage workers (who are disproportionately people of color) that causes several billion dollars of lost income per year. “We know that employers flout the law all the time, and there’s no penalty,” Warren said. “If you want to redirect police officers, hire them in the city labor department to enforce employers who are cheating Black workers out of wages.” In so doing, Warren said, cities can begin to think “differently about who gets enforced and who doesn’t.” And it could have a political benefit as well. Research by Vesla Weaver and Amy Lerman, as well as others, has found that civic engagement — including voting — declines not just following arrests but after police contact. The studies also suggest repeated negative encounters lead to steeper engagement declines. These declines, Owens and Walker found, could be countered through positive engagement with community organizations. This research suggests eliminating — or even reducing — those negative encounters would increase civic participation and strengthen the public trust in government. It could ensure “that democracy is actually responsive to the aspirations and calls of the people,” Hunter said. The benefits of defunding the policeare limited only by imagination, the activists Vox spoke with said. Funds taken from the police could serve as an immediate form of economic stimulus created and controlled at the local level — stimulus badly needed, given the federal government’s failure to craft a new aid package. Using funds this way would allow cities to give “resources to people who need them now, [people] who cannot put food on the table, who can’t access basic services, whose water is getting shut off, whose electricity is getting shut off because they can’t make their payments because they’ve lost their jobs,” Warren said. One of the most common forms of wealth in the US is a family’s home, but Black families have struggled with homeownership, particularly following the Great Recession. And many of the 40.6 percent of Black families who do own homes live in devalued neighborhoods; according to Andre M. Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, the average Black home is devalued by $48,000. Higher home values brought on by community development would be good for cities as well, opening the door for new sources of property tax revenue. There are myriad ways employment might be affected as well. Economists such as Jhacova Williams and Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute have detailed why Black Americans have higher rates of underemployment than white Americans. One reason is that Black people do not have the capital — such as from a home — that would allow for extended periods of unemployment; instead, they are forced to accept subpar opportunities out of an immediate need to pay bills. If cutting police budgets leads to fewer police encounters as well as fewer arrests and fewer sentences, “there is a greater possibility for living wages,” Packnett Cunningham said. “The amount to which we see people pay unlivable wages, and the excuse is ‘You have a record’ — that excuse disappears.” Looking at defunding the police from this perspective, the question becomes less about what cities and communities lose when police are taken out of the equation, and more, Packnett Cunningham said, “How much more can we gain in human brilliance and creativity and innovation?” Sean Collins is the weekend editor at Vox, and reports on civil rights protests, the Trump administration, and the 2020 presidential election. This story is part of The Great Rebuild, a project made possible thanks to support from Omidyar Network, a social impact venture that works to reimagine critical systems and the ideas that govern them, and to build more inclusive and equitable societies. All Great Rebuild coverage is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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The extremely profitable (and ethically murky) business of reselling dumbbells
If you sold these dumbbells, you would be very rich. | Al Bello/Getty Images Dumbbells are impossibly expensive right now, thanks in large part to resellers taking advantage of a shortage. Humans’ fragile understanding of worth and employment has long been tested by comically effective get-rich-quick schemes — think rare Beanie Babies or the volatile world of cryptocurrency. Now there’s a “why didn’t I think of that?” business idea for the pandemic era: reselling dumbbells. Literal, not figurative, dumbbells. Dumbbells — cast iron molded to a specific shape, set to a specific weight, and created for the simple act of being picked up and put down — have become some of the most coveted items of 2020. Like cookware or cars or electronics, there’s a range of quality when it comes to dumbbells that might not be apparent at first glance. Some dumbbells are worth every penny. But on the resale market, on sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist, dumbbells are being sold for twice to sometimes six or seven times the amount they went for before the coronavirus pandemic struck. The markup and profits are the result of a dumbbell shortage combined with meteoric demand. But there’s something else happening: This new supply of ravenous consumers is largely uninformed about the market, and resellers are eager to take advantage of that perfect storm. “And you know, of course, the million-dollar question is: Is this thing going to correct itself? And what happens when it does?” American Barbell CEO Phil Patti told me. “The bottom line is we don’t see that happening anytime soon.” America has a dumbbell shortage and an excess of resellers Johnny Louis/Getty Images Look at those dumbbells! This CrossFitter should probably sell them. Understanding the lucrative dumbbell resale market means understanding the shortage. The pandemic resulted in gym shutdowns across the country in March. With their fitness plans in limbo, people started ordering weights from retailers, which burned through their inventory and placed orders that most likely went through China (according to my sources, the country accounts for 95 percent of cast-iron weights). At the same time, China’s winter and spring lockdowns gummed up the supply chain. Retailers’ stock remains sporadic, sometimes taking months to ship. This shortage put resellers at an advantage. “I never once considered selling everything that I own. I had everything that I wanted,” Brian Doyle, a former NCAA coach and home-gym enthusiast, told me. “Once I put it on paper, and I saw exactly how much money that the market was telling me that I could make off of my gym, that told me,‘Go ahead, you’re gonna make a 3x return on your investment on this.’” Doyle said he had been working on his home gym for five or six years before selling everything during the pandemic. He then used that money to repurchase a more expansive home gym. Putting Doyle’s flip into plain English, the weights and dumbbells he was looking at two years ago were going for less than $1 per pound, sometimes as low as 50 cents per pound. Those same weights now go for $2.50 to $3 (or even more) per pound on the resale market. If you were to buy a 10-pound dumbbell at the 50-cents-per-pound steal Doyle found, it would cost $5. On the current resale market, that 10-pound weight could be $30 (if not more). That’s a 600 percent difference. Obtain and sell enough weights, or really anything at a 600 percent markup, and you’ve got an extremely profitable business model. Or one that could, if enforced, qualify as price gouging. “I’m defending the secondhand market because price gouging is typically only enforceable in retail, not in secondhand sale,” Doyle said. “You know, the secondhand market is free game. It’s the wild, wild west.” As Doyle points out, there isn’t a federal law against resellers marking up their prices. He saw it happen to the very dumbbells he sold. “When I sold everything here, I sold my dumbbells at $1.20 a pound,” he told me. Later, “I saw four pairs of my dumbbells marked up for $2 a pound. They were listed online two days after I sold them. And so I see it happening immediately with the stuff that I sold. I sold it at what I thought was a very reasonable price.” Reseller Lupe Barajas told me he makes roughly a 30 percent profit from the weights he’s been buying at retail. His strategy is to go directly to retail stores, ask when shipments come in, and then flip the weights that he buys. “I make sure I get there in the morning, when everything is stocked up” “Big 5 [Sporting Goods] gets loads once a week, and Walmart is pretty much every day but varies,” Barajas said. “Usually workers will let me know when that is and I make sure I get there in the morning, when everything is stocked up.” While Barajas started out selling on eBay, he learned that selling locally was a better option, since he could avoid shipping fees and eBay’s cut. I asked him what he would say to a buyer who says he and other resellers are price gouging. “I think that should be motivation to producers of items that there is a shortage on,” he said. “It’s not just gym equipment — there’s tons of items people increase the price on. But some people like the convenience of knowing someone like myself has the item available and are fine paying a little more, versus going to stores and the store not having what they want and they’re just wasting their time.” While writing this story, I received tips about more complex sourcing and selling techniques, from bots that crawl Amazon to sellers who have found that moving equipment was more lucrative than their current career. Those sellers declined to speak to me on the record, though I spoke with a few one-off resellers who had stories about selling adjustable dumbbells and even equipment like Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure video game for around double the price. Earlier this year in March, a man from Tennessee hoarded 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer in an attempt to make a monster profit. His plan went awry when lawmakers like Gov. Andrew Cuomo took action against price gouging, and websites like Amazon followed suit and blocked bad actors. That said, dumbbells and weights aren’t considered “essential” items during the pandemic the way sanitizer and other items were. There’s also no law or even Amazon directive that bars you from hypothetically purchasing dumbbells from a seller looking to make an exponential profit. The reverse is also true: There isn’t anything stopping sellers on Amazon or Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. And it’s worth noting that these extreme markups, while rare, are actually commonplace with items such as sneakers and watches. The transactions, as simple as a click on Venmo, are often unregulated. It’s not hard to find the resellers on sites such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace, the latter of which features multiple sellers offering dumbbells at $2 to $2.50 per pound. On the r/flipping subreddit, sellers share stories about how buyers’ offers for dumbbells have skyrocketed during the pandemic and strategize about whether gym reopenings will drive prices down. Dumbbell have become a luxury. No one needs them right now, but there’s a premium on having them because for the most part, how we work out still hasn’t returned to “normal.” Even in places where gyms are open, some people might not be comfortable working out with others amid the pandemic. Retailers sell weights for a fair price with delays, but with dumbbells that allow you to work out right away, you run the risk of getting hosed. Doyle summed up the price dilemma as such: “How much is my time worth? How much is it worth to not wait two months to get what I want right now?” The answer, it seems, is as much as a 600 percent markup. How uninformed customers have driven up dumbbell prices Britta Pedersen/picture alliance via Getty Images This dumbbell is a luxury. For 42 years, American Barbell was a behind-the-scenes player and commercial manufacturer of, you guessed it, American barbells. It supplied everyone from Orange Theory to Planet Fitness, but when the pandemic struck, most of its business — $28.5 million of the $30 million it did in 2019 — shut down overnight. As American Barbell’s Patti tells it, it was a crisis — for about a week. As the CEO was plotting his next move, one of his partners came to him. “He said, ‘We have $4 million in internet orders,’” Patti told me. “In 2019 we did about $1 million to $1.5 million in total [online]. Now we had $4 million all at once.” In the before times, gyms such as Gold’s or Equinox or Planet Fitness edited and picked out weights for their customers. According to Patti, these customers were now ready to spend money without having a clue what to buy. And as a result, resellers and new retailers looking to cash in on booming demand are getting away with selling or reselling poor-quality products at astronomical prices. Take hexagonal-shaped dumbbells, for example. “Hex bells are very, very popular for the home market. They’ve been around forever,” Patti explained. “But you know, you can buy one that’s recycled rubber that smells like old car tires, and it’ll smell up a room and you know, gag people. That’s the majority of what people sell.” (Rubber and urethane-coated dumbbells are popular because they protect both the equipment and surfaces like your floor.) Patti is very clear that his products aren’t cheap — he said they signify premium, top-shelf strength-training products. His rubber hex bells are going for the high end of retail value ($1.75 to $2.25 per pound), but he argues that you’re paying for quality and natural, non-stinky rubber that won’t induce your gag reflex. “They’re just capitalizing on, you know, the unknowing customer …” The thought being that if you’re already paying a premium, above-market price for a product, you might as well go with a premium product. Further, Patti said the influx of new and resold product could result in serious safety issues, such as equipment falling apart or something disastrous, like an Olympic bar snapping. “We realize that boy, the public needs a little bit of education, because to us it’s a tremendous disservice to watch all these people that are making big money,” Patti told me. “They don’t deserve it. They haven’t put in any dues. They’re just capitalizing on, you know, the unknowing customer, and to me, I take that extremely personal.” Doyle, the home-gym expert, echoed what Patti said about education. He said he was at an advantage because he’d been building and researching his home gym for years, as well as coaching college athletes. He knew what to look for and the price points to seek out. “Without market knowledge, it’s kind of like shooting a dart with your eyes closed trying to find the right price,” Doyle said. Patti said he doesn’t see the market shifting back to gyms anytime soon or in the capacity it once was, at least not until a vaccine is created. He doesn’t blame people for not wanting to be in a tight space working out with others. He also doesn’t blame consumers for wanting to bring those workouts home — he just wants them to be more educated. “Don’t be afraid to ask the seller tons of questions,” Patti told me. “If you’re buying something very inferior and you’re paying a Ferrari price, that’s a problem.” Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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The Election Is Already Under Way in America’s Courts
Although the election is not technically until November 3, election season is already well under way—most significantly in the dozens of election-litigation cases that are determining how people can vote, whether they can vote, and whether their votes will be counted. In the many cases that have already been decided, a clear pattern has emerged: Republican litigants seek to limit the franchise, and Republican-appointed judges often allow them to do so; Democratic-appointed judges favor Democratic litigants who seek to expand it. While election law and voting rights might seem to have become nakedly partisan, only one side is actually favoring democracy. Each state establishes the rules and procedures for how its residents vote. Those rules are subject to the constraints imposed by the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the courts. This election cycle is also complicated by a pandemic that creates all sorts of challenges to holding the election, and by a president, backed by his political party, who seems intent on making voting harder.So far, the litigation has mainly been of two kinds. One kind seeks to make voting easier and to ensure that more people are able to vote. Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott challenged a Texas law that permits voters over the age of 65 to vote by mail for any or no reason, but requires voters under the age of 65 to provide an excuse in order to vote by mail. Texas has stated that risk of exposure to the coronavirus does not qualify as an excuse. Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee involved a challenge to Wisconsin’s cut-off requirements for absentee ballots and absentee-ballot requests. People First of Alabama v. Merrill involved a challenge to Alabama’s prohibition on curbside voting and the state’s requirements that a notary or two witnesses sign absentee ballots and that voters submit a copy of their photo identification. Finally, Raysor v. DeSantis was a challenge to Florida’s statutory requirement that persons with felony convictions pay all court costs and fees before regaining their right to vote under the state’s constitutional amendment.While these lawsuits seek to extend the right to vote, others seek to restrict it. In Donald J. Trump for President v. Murphy and Donald J. Trump for President v. Cegavske, courts were asked to invalidate New Jersey’s and Nevada’s expansions of voting by mail and extensions for counting ballots. RNC v. Newsom also involved a challenge to a state’s vote-by-mail expansion and Donald J. Trump for President v. Boockvar involved a challenge to Pennsylvania’s use of drop boxes to collect mail-in ballots. Curtin v. Virginia State Board of Elections concerned Virginia’s adoption of no-excuse absentee voting.The case captions tell much of the story. Republican Party officials, including those in President Trump’s reelection campaign, are trying to stop states’ efforts to expand voting—they are suing to prevent mail-in voting, extensions for counting ballots, and drop-box voting, and intervening in lawsuits in order to defend Republican-led states’ ability to enforce voting restrictions in the midst of the pandemic. The Democratic Party and its voters and interest groups, by contrast, are using litigation to make voting easier for more people to do safely, and not in person, in the midst of the pandemic.Many of the rulings also break down along these lines. Two district court judges who were appointed by President Barack Obama issued rulings in the Alabama and Wisconsin cases that would have prevented states from enforcing some of their voting restrictions during the coronavirus crisis. In the Florida case, a district judge appointed by President Bill Clinton invalidated the state’s requirement that recently released persons pay court fines and fees before voting when the state would not tell them how much they owed. In the Alabama and Wisconsin cases, the five Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court allowed the states to enforce voting restrictions, but the Democratic-appointed justices would not have. In the Florida case, the Republican-controlled U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld Florida’s pay-to-vote scheme. A majority of the Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court also allowed Florida to enforce the scheme in the primary election, whereas a majority of Democratic-appointed justices would have prohibited the state from doing so. In the Texas case, a Democratic-appointed district judge invalidated Texas’s law prohibiting voters under the age of 65 from voting without an excuse, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, with two Republican-appointed judges, put that opinion on hold and allowed Texas to enforce the law, because they concluded that the law was likely constitutional. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has a majority of justices elected as Democrats, rejected an attempt to limit late ballots and drop boxes, and a Michigan state-court judge appointed by a Democratic governor expanded the period for counting mail ballots.Of course, Democratic-appointed judges sometimes reject claims to expand voting. One of the judges on the Fifth Circuit panel was nominated by President Obama, and although he would not have upheld the Texas law, he instead directed that the suit proceed first in state court. Sometimes Republican-appointed judges affirm laws or lower-court decisions that expand voting. The Supreme Court kept in place a lower-court ruling suspending a requirement that witnesses or a notary witness the completion of absentee ballots. However, in that case, the state election officials did not defend the law, and even then, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Neil Gorsuch would have set aside the lower-court order. Yet these examples are rare, and the overall trend in such cases is overwhelming.These are merely the lawsuits happening before the election; after the election others will all but surely follow. The post-election lawsuits may include variations on the Court’s infamous decision in Bush v. Gore, which involved a challenge to Florida’s manual recount. Other cases might include challenges to rejected ballots. In the primaries this year, more than 534,000 mail-in ballots were rejected for various reasons, including the sometimes dubious suggestion that signatures did not match or that the markings were unclear. Research shows that Black and Hispanic voters’ ballots are much more likely to be rejected than those of white voters. And some lawsuits could challenge rejected ballots or efforts to count mail-in ballots after Election Day. Given the millions of people who might vote by mail this year, and the fact that many states do not allow mail-in ballots to be counted before Election Day, most of those ballots will not be counted by the end of Election Day or even the day after.Any one of these lawsuits is significant and has the potential to sway the election in swing states. The Florida lawsuit in particular affects whether 750,000 people can vote in a state that President Trump won by 115,000 votes. Altogether, there is no doubt that these cases could decide the election. Coupled with the pattern of partisanship so far, this means that a lot will ride on which judges hear those cases, and which party’s president appointed them.This is why in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama pleaded with people to “make a plan” to vote, and vote early if possible—now, if possible. The election system and basic pillars of democracy such as voting rights have become prey to hyperpolarization, with one party bent on degrading democracy for its own success.
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Chihuahua rescue turned bodybuilder’s life around
He’s large and in charge — of 40 chihuahuas. Meet Bobby Humphreys, an ex-bodybuilder and wood floor professional, who took in dozens of rescue chihuahuas after his marriage of 17 years ended. See how the big-hearted dog lover is now drowning in canine kisses as he runs the nonprofit Big Guy, Littles World Sanctuary out...
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How to Get Fall Aesthetic iPhone Background Wallpaper on iOS 14
iPhone users are transforming their home screens with cozy fall wallpaper, custom icons, widgets, and quotes.
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US stock futures head higher: September 23, 2020
Here's what's moving markets today.
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"Zombie" storm regains strength in bizarre 2020 season
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Tropical Storm Paulette," the National Weather Service said.
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Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine is fourth to begin Phase 3 trials in the United States
Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine candidate begins Phase 3 trials in the United States today. Trials for the single-dose vaccine will include up to 60,000 adult participants at nearly 215 sites in the US and internationally.
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California Fire Map, Update as Bobcat Blaze Exceeds 'Critical Thresholds for Large Fire Growth'
Around 8,000 wildfires have burned over 3.6 million acres of California this year.
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Why Kim Cattrall Is Done Talking About Sarah Jessica Parker
The actress, who played Samantha Jones in "Sex and the City," previously called her co-star "cruel."
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