Why Facebook Won't Kick Off A Warlord

Facebook banned far-right extremist Alex Jones. But it won't remove the warlord Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo in Sudan from the platform, even though he oversaw the killing of more than 100 people.
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Americans Can Barely Imagine a Congress That Works
At a hearing of the House’s antitrust subcommittee recently, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos seemed rattled to discover that his appearance was not a public-relations exercise but a deposition.Bezos, who devoted much of his five-minute opening statement to talking about his childhood, appeared unprepared to field questions about his sprawling empire, which dominates online retail in the United States, controls the backbone for much of the web through its cloud-computing division, and has lately built a parcel-delivery operation that rivals UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. Remarkably, Bezos had never before testified in front of Congress. As pointed questions came at him from both sides of the aisle, he hesitated and stammered through many of his answers, and said—implausibly—that he didn’t know or couldn’t recall the details behind several of Amazon’s strategic decisions and core functions. On occasions when he did venture more of a response, he made incriminating admissions about specific tactics his company uses to snuff out competitors.The hearing was one of the final steps in the subcommittee’s bipartisan, yearlong probe into whether Amazon and three other tech companies—Apple, Facebook, and Google—are abusing their market power to thwart competition and entrench their own dominance, and if so, what Congress should do about it. The committee is expected to release its report in early September, and it could well be damning. The report may call for both regulating the tech giants’ behavior, splitting them up into smaller companies, or both.Despite all of this, Amazon’s share price barely budged after the hearing, suggesting that Wall Street harbors little fear that anything will come of the investigation. The very next day, Amazon announced record profits. During a quarter in which the overall economy shrank by a staggering 32 percent amid a cascade of business failures, Amazon’s blockbuster earnings provided still more evidence that its grip on e-commerce is tightening. Seeing no end to the monopoly gravy train, investors sent Amazon’s share price soaring. By the end of the week, the discussion in tech-policy circles had moved on to whether President Donald Trump had the power to ban the Chinese-owned app TikTok.[Read: For whom the Tok Tiks]These developments illustrate the challenges facing lawmakers who want to rein in the U.S.-based tech titans. Even if they can put forward a convincing case that, for instance, Amazon is unfairly crushing small companies, most Americans can hardly imagine that the government will act, or even that it can. The problem isn’t just that Amazon employs more lobbyists than the U.S. Senate has members. It’s that the machinery of government has been dysfunctional for so long that Americans forget it even exists. This is especially true when it comes to questions of how the economy is structured. Both political parties long ago abdicated their responsibility to be a check on the accumulation and the abuse of private power. Americans who believe this deference to big business is unwise have been conditioned to see ourselves as helpless.I encounter this every day in my work. As a researcher and the head of a nonprofit organization that seeks remedies for rising inequality and the decline of small local businesses, I’m worried about monopolies in general and Amazon in particular. (Last year, I testified before the committee as an expert witness in its investigation.) Amazon is a gatekeeper. By some estimates, more than 60 percent of Americans start their search on that site when buying goods online. The retailers and the manufacturers who do not sell there are at a deep disadvantage—which gives Amazon enormous power to dictate terms. If my inbox is any indication, many people share my view that Amazon has too much power. And yet the only response most can envision is a campaign calling on people to cancel their Prime memberships. Americans have somehow forgotten that we’re citizens of a democracy that possesses formidable tools for restoring balance and fairness to our economy.[Franklin Foer: The tech giants are dangerous, and Congress knows it]For that reason, what happens next in the investigation is crucial. The committee’s work is that of a democracy rediscovering its capacity to determine how the economy should operate—and how to hold the powerful accountable to the law. Its ultimate outcome will speak to two of the most consequential economic questions Americans face. One is whether a handful of tech giants will continue to wield outsize power over our commerce and communications. The other is whether we’re still capable of governing ourselves.Much of the subcommittee’s work has been happening quietly out of view. Over the past year, its staff of attorneys has sifted through more than 1 million documents that the four corporations were ordered to hand over, reviewed submissions from more than 100 of their suppliers and competitors, and conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with witnesses. Seeking testimony from the CEOs was the final step in the investigation. It gave the executives a chance to address the evidence against them before the committee issues its findings.The burden is on the subcommittee to show Americans that what Amazon and the other tech giants are doing is both wrong and harmful. Armed with witness statements and internal company documents, the subcommittee and its staff are framing an argument: Although these companies may still produce the occasional innovative product, they’re not nearly as inventive as they would have us believe. Rather, they have achieved their extraordinary reach through raw power. The tech giants have become gatekeepers, and they exploit that control to advance their own interests. At the hearing, the subcommittee members translated the sometimes-arcane language of antitrust law into words everyone understands. They talked of spying, stealing, and bullying.Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a Democrat whose district encompasses Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, pressed Bezos on evidence that Amazon routinely mines the pricing and sales data of the independent sellers on its site and uses this information to develop its own competing versions of their most lucrative products. “Do you think that’s fair to the mom-and-pop third-party businesses who are trying to sell on your platform?” she asked. When Bezos asserted that these sellers are Amazon’s “partners,” Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who chairs the subcommittee, quoted from company documents in which Amazon instead calls them “internal competitors.”That Amazon exploits its power in one part of its operations to further its interests in another was a theme the subcommittee returned to repeatedly. One example of this was the questioning by Democratic Representative Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania about Amazon’s logistics division. During a moment that will undoubtedly haunt the company’s lawyers, Bezos confessed that Amazon’s algorithms deliberately steer shoppers to sellers who use its shipping services. This helps to explain how Amazon has, in just a few years, built a package-delivery operation that’s on track to overtake UPS and FedEx by 2022. It accomplished this feat not by competing with these carriers on price and service, but by leveraging its control over the many businesses that depend on its website.[David Dayen: America’s monopoly problem goes way beyond the tech giants]Ken Buck, a Republican representative who is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, continued the theme, grilling Bezos about evidence that Amazon had deliberately allowed counterfeits to proliferate on its site in order to extract protection money from suppliers. He cited the experience of PopSockets, a start-up in his home state of Colorado that makes popular phone accessories. The company’s founder told the subcommittee that Amazon declined to rid its website of fake versions of his products until he agreed to spend $2 million to advertise on the site.The subcommittee also has evidence that Bezos had leveraged his exceptional backing from Wall Street to block upstart competitors from gaining a foothold; that Amazon lost $200 million in a single month selling diapers below cost in a bid to force the parent company of a popular rival,, to agree to be acquired; that Amazon sold Echo speakers below cost and bought up potential rivals such as Ring so that its Alexa voice assistant could dominate the “smart home” market. Lawmakers have also documented the consequences of these practices—the small businesses, the software developers, and the product inventors who live in fear of being crushed at Amazon’s whim.Amazon, of course, is just one of the tech giants under the antitrust subcommittee’s scrutiny. The panel is building a case that these companies have created a form of private government—autocratic regimes that are tightening their control over our main arteries of commerce and information. As such, they threaten Americans’ liberties. “Our founders would not bow before a king,” Cicilline said at the hearing. “Nor should we bow before the emperors of the online economy.”Congress has not conducted so detailed an investigation of monopoly power in the lifetimes of most Americans, so it’s hard to conceptualize where it might lead. But if the past is any guide, it could precipitate both new laws and antitrust prosecutions. In 1938, for example, Congress set up a commission to examine concentration across multiple industries. Its findings led the federal government to file a major antitrust case, change the patent laws, and, in 1950, pass sweeping legislation to restrict mergers. Congress conducted other investigations of monopoly in the 1950s and 1960s, and the results shaped antitrust enforcement. But then, beginning in the 1970s, monopoly was sidelined as a concern by both political parties.The House’s antitrust subcommittee is resurrecting this tradition, and there are signs its work is already having an effect. State attorneys general in New York and California have reportedly opened antitrust investigations into Amazon.But a multiyear court fight is not the only way to restructure Amazon and the other tech giants. The subcommittee may recommend a more straightforward approach. Congress could approach digital platforms the same way it did the railroads, another pivotal technology that governed market access. In the late 19th century, a handful of railroad barons used their control of the rails to monopolize other industries. They captured the market for coal, for example, by blocking rival producers from using the rail lines to get their coal to market. They also charged farmers exorbitant rates to ship their crops. Congress responded by setting up a commission to oversee rates and ensure that the railroad companies did not discriminate against some customers by imposing higher prices or different terms of access. Then, in 1906, Congress enacted a law barring the railroads from maintaining an ownership stake in firms that produced goods requiring rail transportation, thereby dissolving their ability to self-deal.By passing a similar law today, Congress could compel Amazon to spin off its core parts, making each of its major divisions—its online marketplace, retail division, cloud services, and logistics operation—a stand-alone company. Doing so wouldn’t eliminate what people like about Amazon. But it would prevent Amazon from leveraging the interplay between its parts to sidestep competition, exploit smaller companies, and expand its dominance into adjacent markets. It would, in the words of the NYU business professor Scott Galloway, “oxygenate the economy,” opening the way for new businesses, new innovations, and new jobs.Amazon’s investors clearly aren’t worried that this will happen. The antitrust subcommittee’s work may not lead to legal changes for years, if at all. But in the middle of a pandemic that has spawned so much rethinking of how American society has come to operate, the panel is offering a reminder that tech monopolists, too, are subject to democratic rule. By limiting their ability to expand their power, Congress could also reestablish America as a democracy that can actually solve problems and govern itself.
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Ilhan Omar faces a fierce primary challenge in her first reelection bid
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a “Strike for Black Lives” demonstration to advocate for the passage of the HEROES Act in the Senate outside of the U.S. Capitol on July 20, 2020 in Washington, DC. | Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images Minnesota’s primaries could have major repercussions for both poles of the Democratic Party. When Minnesotans go to the polls on Tuesday, the political futures of one of the state’s most progressive Democrats — as well as its most conservative — will be on the ballot. In Minnesota’s Fifth District, voters will decide whether they want to return Rep. Ilhan Omar — a former Somali refugee and one of the first Muslim women ever to serve in Congress — to Washington. And in the Seventh District, voters will pick a Republican challenger for Rep. Collin Peterson, a 15-term incumbent who has held on for term after term in an ever-reddening district in western Minnesota. Elsewhere in Minnesota, general election matchups are already set — like in Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, where incumbent Rep. Angie Craig, who flipped the seat from GOP control in 2018, is up against Marine Corps veteran Tyler Kistner — or aren’t expected to be competitive. In Minnesota’s Fourth District, longtime Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum will face a handful of challengers, including political strategist and first-time candidate Alberder Gillespie, who co-founded the organization Black Women Rising. McCollum won her 2018 primary with more than 80 percent of the vote in 2018. The Minnesota Senate race is effectively locked in as well: Neither incumbent Sen. Tina Smith nor presumptive GOP challenger Jason Lewis, who previously represented Minnesota’s Second District in the House, have serious primaries to contend with on Tuesday, and their focus is on November. Minnesota’s Fifth District: A progressive luminary in a harsh spotlight The old Tip O’Neill aphorism holds that “all politics is local.” But in Minnesota’s Fifth District, which centers around Minneapolis, national politics has fueled a challenge to Rep. Ilhan Omar from lawyer Antone Melton-Meaux. Melton-Meaux isn’t too far from Omar on the issues, and he brands himself as a “lifelong progressive.” But it’s not his position on Medicare-for-all or similar progressive policies that have buoyed his candidacy: Instead, it’s dislike of Omar, who serves as whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. On the back of an (arguably racist and sexist) anti-Omar backlash, Melton-Meaux raised a staggering $3.2 million in the second quarter of 2020 alone. As BuzzFeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reported last month, much of that money has come from large donations and pro-Israel bundlers. And for both candidates, many of their donors are from out of state. Melton-Meaux has criticized Omar on at least two fronts: One, her voting record — not what she’s voted for, but the number of votes she’s missed. (Omar missed about 6 percent of votes in 2019.) “I was hopeful that she would use her platform to do great work for the district,” he told MinnPost. “But what I’ve seen since then is someone that doesn’t show up for votes and someone that doesn’t show up for voters.” And two, Israel: Omar supports the Boycott, Divest, Sanction, or BDS, movement; Melton-Meaux, meanwhile, has the backing of several pro-Israel groups. But for all the traction Melton-Meaux has gained in the race, it’s not too likely that Omar is going anywhere — a recent poll commissioned by her campaign found her with a 37-point lead over Melton-Meaux, with the other three challengers — journalist Les Lester, campaign strategist John Mason, and attorney Daniel McCarthy — relegated to single digits. Omar has a long list of high-profile endorsements to her name, both in Minnesota and nationally. Sen. Tina Smith, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz have all backed her candidacy, though the Minneapolis Star-Tribune chose to endorse Melton-Meaux just last week. Larry Jacobs, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, believes that Omar will win out on Tuesday — and go on to win the reliably blue district come November. “Yes, she’s controversial,” he said. “Yes, she’s alienated some Democrats and angered the Jewish community. But she’s in a district where she’s progressive and voters are progressive. And so she’s likely to, I think, win the primary and go on to being reelected.” Minnesota’s Seventh District: Third time’s the charm? By some metrics, Rep. Collin Peterson is the most conservative member of the House Democrats’ 232-person majority — and he’s still more liberal than his district. First elected to the House in 1990, Peterson represents a district that went for Trump by 30 points in 2016, which means that the National Republican Congressional Committee is champing at the bit for a chance to flip his seat this cycle. Before the Minnesota GOP gets around to Peterson though, there’s still a five-way primary coming up on Tuesday. Air Force veteran Dave Hughes is something of a perennial candidate in Minnesota’s 7th District, where he has twice now won the Republican nomination and gone on to lose to Peterson. This year, former Minnesota Lieutenant Gov. Michelle Fischbach looks to be his main challenger on the way to the nomination, but three other candidates — Dr. Noel Collis, pastor Jayesun Sherman, and farmer William Louwagie — are also in the running. Though Hughes was the anointed candidate in 2018, when he lost to Peterson by a bit more than 4 points, in 2020 Fischbach has won endorsements from President Donald Trump, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Minnesota Seventh District Republican Party. It’s already been a contentious race: According to MinnPost, Fischbach’s former campaign manager pleaded guilty to harassing Hughes just last month. Nonetheless, most signs point to her being the favorite heading into Tuesday. Not only does she hold the edge in terms of big-name endorsements, but she has a more than 10:1 fundraising advantage — MinnPost reports that she had more than $900,000 in the bank last month compared to just $66,000 for Hughes. If Fischbach wins on Tuesday, though, she likely won’t have an easy time come November, despite how much the district favored Trump in 2016. Peterson has at least one major advantage: He chairs the influential House Agriculture Committee, a plum position for someone representing a rural district. “Donald Trump won by double digits in his district,” Jacobs said. “It’s by the sheer power of Peterson’s name that he held on, though it’s worth saying that his last few elections have been competitive. He used to win by large double digits.” Currently, the Cook Political Report rates Minnesota’s Seventh District as a toss-up this November. Jacobs, though, believes that Peterson, 76, will pull off a win. “But,” he adds, “this could be his last election. I mean, it’s not fun for him anymore. This is like a fistfight.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
How to Show Kids the Joy of Reading
Editor’s Note: In the next five years, most of America’s most experienced teachers will retire. The Baby Boomers are leaving behind a nation of more novice educators. In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. Less than three decades later, that number had fallen to just three years leading a classroom. The Atlantic’s “On Teaching” project is crisscrossing the country to talk to veteran educators. This story is the 20th in our series.“Look at this cloud,” Deloris Fowler coaxed her third graders during a science lesson about different types of clouds last year. “What shape do you think it is?”A student I’ll call Abby raised her hand. “That cloud is shaped like an anvil,” she volunteered.Fowler was impressed. Anvil isn’t a word most 21st-century third graders would know. Abby came from a family with little formal education and was particularly unlikely to have picked up vocabulary like that at home.In fact, Abby remembered the word from a story Fowler had read to the class weeks before, about a Viking boy whose father was a blacksmith—a story all the kids had followed with rapt attention. Abby had a reading disability, but Fowler had seen her confidence grow over the course of the school year. She often contributed some of the most insightful comments during class discussions. While she still had some trouble sounding out words, her score on a reading-comprehension test had zoomed from the 10th percentile at the beginning of the school year to just below average by mid-December.Things weren’t always like this in Fowler’s classroom. In her 28 years of teaching, she’s seen educational reforms come and go. That’s not unusual; in a 2017 survey of a nationally representative sample of teachers, 84 percent said that as soon as they “get a handle on a new reform,” it changes. To Fowler, some of the changes only seemed to make it harder for her students to learn—like a directive to discontinue an effective phonics program, or the emergence of a joyless and stressful regime of test prep. So when the district unveiled yet another new initiative a few years ago, Fowler was skeptical. But, to her surprise, it turned out to be the one that did the best job of achieving what has always been her goal: inspiring a love of reading in her students—including struggling ones like Abby.[John McWhorter: How I taught my kid to read]Fowler grew up in Silver Point, a rural hamlet in Putnam County, Tennessee, about 70 miles east of Nashville. Her parents only made it through eighth grade, although her mother eventually got her GED. But they put a high value on education. As a child, Fowler was a precocious and avid reader. Books, she felt, made life interesting.With the help of scholarships, she attended Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville—a town of 35,000, about 15 miles from Silver Point—that Fowler’s family considered “the big city.” Inspired by a charismatic literacy professor as well as her own book-filled childhood, Fowler made it her goal to introduce children to the delights of reading.Graduating with a degree in elementary education in 1992, she snared a job teaching first grade right in Cookeville, at Capshaw Elementary. And though she’s bounced between first, second, and—for the past seven years—third grade, she’s been at Capshaw ever since.When Fowler started, her school district, like most across the United States, grounded its literacy instruction in a textbook called a basal reader. Intended to teach both aspects of reading—sounding out words and comprehension—the reader didn’t do an adequate job with either, in the opinion of Fowler and her colleagues. In terms of comprehension, the reader was organized around skills and strategies, like “finding the main idea” and “making inferences,” but it presented the skills in such a fragmented way that kids soon forgot them. So the teachers supplemented the reader with a phonics program, paid for by the school’s parents’ organization, that systematically taught students to hear the individual sounds in words and connect them to letters. According to Fowler, the supplementary phonics program worked—until the district directed teachers to stop using it.Fowler found her own way, trying to teach comprehension skills through texts that could infuse more joy into the process than those in the basal reader. She read aloud chapter books by well-known children’s authors and biographies of historical figures like Helen Keller. The children were far more engaged in those books, begging her to keep reading when it was time to stop. She would also try to carve out 15 or 20 minutes a day when kids could choose books from the classroom library and read silently on their own. Sometimes she would have students do spontaneous talks to describe the books and convince others to read them.But the best parts of teaching, for Fowler, were the two- or three-week units she and her colleagues created around science and social-studies topics. When the class studied Italy, for example, they read books by the Italian American author Tomie dePaola and went to a local Italian restaurant to eat spaghetti. A unit on Japan included reading books by Japanese American authors and making kimonos. When kids studied the Arctic, they did projects on penguins. “I always felt in my heart that was the best way to teach kids,” Fowler told me, “because they got so involved in it.”[Read: Every child can become a lover of books]Then, in an effort to boost student achievement and address inequities, Congress enacted No Child Left Behind in 2002. The legislation required states to give annual reading and math tests in third through eighth grade and once in high school. If schools didn’t make sufficient progress toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency, a range of sanctions could be triggered. In Tennessee, as in many states, the scores also factored into teachers’ job evaluations. Capshaw had a relatively affluent student body, and test scores were fairly high. Nevertheless, Fowler says, teachers there came under pressure to teach to the test.The district continued using the same curriculum—which, for literacy, was essentially the dreaded basal reader. But there was no more time to enrich it with perceived frills like deep dives into Italy, Japan, or penguins. The focus had to be on the tested subjects, reading and math. And, for several weeks before the tests were given in April, the basal reader was abandoned in favor of instruction that mirrored the test format—even for the first graders Fowler was teaching. While they weren’t yet required to take state tests, first graders were given other tests designed to predict their performance in years to come.To prep them, Fowler would give her students workbooks with reading passages on disconnected topics, followed by comprehension questions. The kids were uninterested in the passages in the workbooks, and they found the testing stressful. Some started to hate reading. Fowler found the situation so dispiriting that she briefly considered taking a different role in the school district.While Fowler could see how the focus on testing was failing her students, others in the district—particularly Jill Ramsey, who oversees elementary curriculum—had a view of the bigger picture. Throughout the district, there was a dramatic drop in scores after fourth grade. The problem, Ramsey believed, was that at higher grade levels, students were suddenly being confronted with test passages that assumed more academic knowledge—knowledge that elementary schools had been failing to build. What looked like a middle-school problem, Ramsey thought, was actually an elementary-school problem.The solution was yet another reform, but this time the impact would be very different. In 2016, the Putnam County School District decided to try a more rigorous literacy curriculum, beginning in the elementary grades—one that included solid phonics instruction and also built the kind of knowledge students would need in order to understand material at upper grade levels. They opted for Core Knowledge Language Arts, or CKLA.The next year the district piloted CKLA’s “Listening and Learning” strand, which—unlike basal-reader instruction—was organized around specific topics in subjects like history and science. A teacher would spend two to three weeks on each topic, reading aloud about it to the entire class and leading class discussions based on questions provided in a teacher’s guide. Students would also have simpler books to read on their own. The pilot involved one teacher at each elementary school. At Capshaw, that teacher was Fowler, then teaching third grade.At first, she had serious doubts about the new curriculum. CKLA didn’t explicitly teach comprehension skills, and it covered topics that seemed far too sophisticated for third graders, like the Vikings, ancient Rome, and astronomy. It seemed, she says, that this approach was “taking a big gamble on kids.” And, like many teachers, she didn’t relish the idea of teaching from what she saw as a script.But Fowler found that her third graders were not only able to understand the material, they also loved it. Eager to learn more, they would often read ahead in their student books. Fowler still tried to make time for students to read books of their choice, but she found they often wanted more books on the CKLA topics. When they clamored to learn more about Pompeii, Fowler appealed to the school librarian for additional books, bought some with her own money, and brought in a friend who had traveled there to do a show-and-tell. [Read: The new preschool is crushing kids]Fowler was also impressed by the improvement in students’ writing. Writing instruction at Capshaw, as at many schools, had long been a struggle. To prepare kids for the writing component of the state tests, teachers would mimic the test format, providing them with two or three paragraphs of information about a topic like insects and asking them to write a paragraph in response. The kids had trouble producing anything. But with CKLA, they had lots of information to draw on and eagerly wrote multiple paragraphs on the topics in the curriculum.By the end of the pilot year, all 20 teachers who participated were enthusiastic about the curriculum, and it was tried district-wide the following year. This past spring, Putnam County officially adopted it for kindergarten through fifth grade.Fowler says she doesn’t worry anymore about CKLA’s “scriptedness”; teachers infuse the lessons with their own personalities. And she values the equity in giving all children access to the same content, regardless of individual reading ability. While Fowler will occasionally work with small groups of students on discrete skills—like coming up with the topic sentence of a paragraph—students no longer routinely work in reading groups. She’s found that all children, including those with a disability like Abby, are able to take in more sophisticated information through listening than through their own reading—and that inspires them to stay engaged. At the end of the school year, Abby told Fowler she would keep reading over the summer. “I’m not going to stop,” she said, bringing Fowler and the girl’s mother to the verge of tears. “I promise you.”CKLA isn’t perfect, Fowler says. She wishes the curriculum included more fiction and poetry—partly because she feels kids should be introduced to a variety of genres, and partly because the state tests expect third graders to know about elements of fiction like plot and setting. The tests—now required under NCLB’s successor legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act—still loom large, and they aren’t connected to the content in CKLA. But Ramsey, the curriculum supervisor, hopes that the knowledge and vocabulary students are now acquiring beginning in kindergarten will eventually result in better scores at upper grade levels.As for Fowler, the measure of effectiveness is, as always, whether her students are finding joy—and she sees them discovering not only the joy of reading but also the joy of learning. Instead of making kimonos and dioramas of penguins, they’re dressing up like ancient Egyptians and building pyramids. But their level of engagement is the same.“This is how I used to teach 20 years ago,” she says. “I’m back to the beginning. This is what I thought kids wanted. So it makes my heart happy.”This article is part of our project “On Teaching,” which is supported by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Panta Rhea Foundation.
The ‘Blue Shift’ Will Decide the Election
As polling places closed on November 6, 2018, the expected “blue wave” looked more like a ripple. Not only had some of the highest-profile Democratic candidates lost, but the party’s gains in the House and the Senate looked smaller than anticipated.The wave, it turned out, simply hadn’t crested yet. Over the ensuing weeks, as more ballots were counted, Democrats kept winning races—eventually netting 41 House seats. In Arizona, the Republican Martha McSally conceded the Senate race to the Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who picked up more than 70,000 votes in post–Election Day counting. Democrats narrowed deficits in races in Florida and Georgia too. Republicans were stunned.“California just defies logic to me,” then-Speaker Paul Ryan said in late November. “We were only down 26 seats the night of the election and three weeks later, we lost basically every contested California race.”This sort of late-breaking Democratic vote is the new, though still underappreciated, normal in national elections. Americans have become accustomed to knowing who won our elections promptly, but there are many legitimate votes that are not counted immediately every election year. For reasons that are not totally understood by election observers, these votes tend to be heavily Democratic, leading results to tilt toward Democrats as more of them are counted, in what has become known as the “blue shift.” In most cases, the blue shift is relatively inconsequential, changing final vote counts but not results. But in others, as in 2018, it can materially change the outcome.[Read: The Democrats’ delayed gratification in the midterms]Although it is slowly dawning on the press and the electorate that Election Day will be more like Election Week or Election Month this year, thanks to coronavirus-related complications, the blue shift remains obscure. But the effect could be much larger and far more consequential in 2020, as Democrats embrace voting by mail more enthusiastically than Republicans. If the public isn’t prepared to wait patiently for the final results, and if politicians cynically exploit the shifting tallies to cast doubt on the integrity of the vote, the results could be catastrophic.Imagine that as November 3, 2020, ticks away, President Donald Trump holds a small lead in one or more key states such as Pennsylvania—perhaps 10,000 or 20,000 votes—and seems to have enough states in his column to eke out an Electoral College win. Trump declares victory, taunts Joe Biden, and prepares for a second term. But the reported results on Election Night omit tens of thousands of votes, including provisional ballots and uncounted mail-in votes. Over the coming days, as those votes are counted, Trump’s lead dwindles and eventually disappears. By the end of the week or early the next, Biden emerges as the clear victor in Pennsylvania—and with that win, captures the race for the presidency.If that’s how things unfold, Trump is unlikely to take defeat snatched from the jaws of victory graciously. He has already spent months attempting to delegitimize the election system. So imagine that he instead cries fraud and insists he’s the target of a criminal Democratic coup. What if he encourages his supporters to take to the streets, where there are violent clashes between partisans? He might even urge the Republican-led Pennsylvania General Assembly to submit a slate of Trump-backing electors, citing the Election Day returns, even if the full tally clearly shows Keystone State voters chose Biden.[David A. Graham: Trump can’t postpone the election—but he’s trying to destroy its legitimacy]The hypothetical of a blue shift reversing the early projected winner is the “nightmare scenario,” according to the election-law expert Rick Hasen. Either Trump or Biden could win by a sufficient margin to make the result clear on Election Night; it’s also possible that multiple states might see a decisive post–November 3 blue shift, creating even more chaos.“You don’t need to worry about Russia,” Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State, told me. “Simply anxiety over a blue shift and willingness to litigate about it and fight about it could cause a raging contestation over a presidential election.”The blue shift is the product of two major developments in elections over the past 70 years. First, Americans began to expect that they would have results on Election Night itself. In the first national elections, it was impossible to gather results from many different jurisdictions promptly, and even then, there was no way to instantaneously deliver the results to the public. Electronic communications began to change that. Abraham Lincoln learned he’d won in 1860 by staking out the telegraph office until the wee hours of the morning. But when the races were close, or the votes were slow to be tallied, even instantaneous communications couldn’t deliver a result that hadn’t yet been determined. Nearly a century after Lincoln, in 1948, CBS News’s Edward Murrow signed off without being able to give the result of the close election between Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey. (The Chicago Daily Tribune was not so patient.)The second change was the introduction of a technology that allowed television networks to project who would win the election, sometimes even before the last polling places had closed. In 1952, for the first time, CBS and NBC each experimented with using computers to analyze the early returns, and by 1960, they were a key part of the election coverage. Television became central to Americans’ Election Night rituals, and the networks’ projections came to stand in for actual results. Strictly speaking, there are no election results until boards of elections certify them. Practically, Americans usually assume that whatever the TV tells them is fact.“From a legal perspective, there are no results on Election Night, and there never have been,” Foley told me. “The only thing that has ever existed on Election Night are projected results that the media has helpfully provided to its audiences.”[David A. Graham: The damage of Trump’s voter-fraud allegations can’t be undone]Eliding this distinction created a disaster in 2000. On Election Night, networks projected a win for Democrat Al Gore, then withdrew it, then predicted a victory for Republican George W. Bush, and then withdrew that too, as results in Florida were too close to know the outcome. A final answer wouldn’t come until December 12, when the Supreme Court slammed the door shut on a recount, ensuring that Bush’s lead in Florida would stand, and thus that he would be president.The mess of the 2000 election in Florida—butterfly ballots, opaque instructions, hanging and pregnant chads—inspired the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Among other things, the law requires that voters who believe they are eligible to vote but who don’t appear on a voter register be allowed to cast provisional ballots that are adjudicated later. A growing number of states also adopted no-excuse absentee ballots, which were intended to make it easier for people to vote without waiting in long Election Day lines.In 2012, while watching the Ohio returns, Foley wondered what effect votes counted after Election Day might have. He found something astonishing. Looking at five battleground states, Foley discovered that from 1960 to 2000, there’d always been some change between the Election Night tally and the final results, usually in the hundreds or thousands of votes, and sometimes favoring either party. Starting in 2004, the size of the shifts had become reliably Democratic and significantly larger—nearly 80,000 votes in Virginia in 2008. Foley christened this effect the “blue shift.”The blue shift remains little studied and poorly understood. In a 2015 paper, Foley and the MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III found evidence that the blue shift was correlated with the number of provisional ballots cast. A California Institute of Technology paper this year studying the blue shift in Orange County, California, found that many provisional voters are younger, more likely to be nonwhite, and more transient, all populations that tend to vote for Democrats. Foley and Stewart also found no strong correlation between mail-in or absentee ballots and a blue shift. These votes have not historically had a strong partisan leaning.[David A. Graham: Trump is brazenly interfering with the 2020 election]“I think an honest assessment of this is that we’re still learning,” Foley said. “While we have made some progress as a field, I don’t myself feel confident that we’ve really pinned down causality.”Meanwhile, politicians and the general public seem largely unaware of the phenomenon, which is one reason Paul Ryan was caught so off guard by the 2018 results.“I can understand why professional politicians would be anxious if their Election Night leads are slipping away when they’re used to the expectation that you could bank on an Election Night result,” Foley said.Ryan was quick to say he didn’t question the final California results. But not all Republicans were so scrupulous. (Democrats lodged some of their own claims about stolen elections, especially in the Georgia gubernatorial race.) Even though there was no indication of fraud in Orange County, Trump likened the slow tally of the votes there to a massive ballot-fraud operation in North Carolina, which resulted in an election do-over. And as Democratic candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate in Florida gained votes in post–Election Day counting—roughly 20,000 a piece—Trump grew agitated: “The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” The state’s sitting senator, Marco Rubio, and then-Governor Rick Scott, who ultimately won the Senate race, both echoed that claim.This was nonsense: The ballots that were being counted had been cast legally, and to not count them—to “go with Election Night,” in Trump’s parlance—would have constituted widespread voter disenfranchisement. In the end, the votes were counted, the Republicans won, and the fuss quieted down. But Trump’s fury offers a small taste of what might happen in a similar situation—only with Trump himself on the ballot, and the presidency at stake.A blue shift this November is all but certain; the real question is how big it will be. In a 2019 paper on the prospect of a disputed 2020 election, Foley wrote: It is not unreasonable to expect Trump’s Democratic opponent in 2020 to gain on Trump by over 20,000 votes in Pennsylvania during the period between Election Night and the final, official certification of the canvass. The key question is whether this kind of gain simply extends a lead that the Democratic candidate already has, comparable to what occurred in two statewide races in 2018. Or whether, instead, it cuts into a lead that Trump starts with on Election Night—and, if so, whether it is enough of a gain for Trump’s Democratic opponent to overcome Trump’s Election Night lead. That was all before the coronavirus. Elections held during the pandemic so far have revealed a slew of problems: not enough poll workers, not enough polling stations, and long lines to vote. That’s all happening in relatively small primary elections. Extend that to a nationwide election with the high turnout expected in November and the risks become greater.[Read: Why Americans might not trust the election results]Much of that turnout will not be in person. The use of mail-in voting has expanded massively, as states seek to offer voters a way to cast their ballots without having to worry about their health. Although some states use universal mail-in balloting, no national election has ever relied so heavily on it, and most states don’t have experience processing so many mail-in votes.The explosion of mail-in voting could enormously magnify the blue shift. In the past, there’s been little correlation between mail-in ballots and the post–Election Day Democratic gain. But there is growing evidence, and concern among GOP strategists, that the president’s crusade against mail-in voting is discouraging Republicans from casting their ballots that way. If mailed ballots are disproportionately Democratic, and Republicans disproportionately vote on Election Day, then the blue shift could be huge—especially in states where officials are restricted from counting mailed ballots until Election Day, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Florida.Other states might not be presidential tipping points, but could have pivotal House and Senate races. (Two New York Democratic congressional primaries saw winners officially declared only last week, more than a month after Election Day.) Courts and state governments could alter these rules—for example, by mandating different schedules, or requiring that votes postmarked but not received by Election Day be counted.“We saw delays in the primaries,” Hasen, the election-law expert, told me. “There’s going to be much more volume [in the general election]. There’s a lot that could be done to help. It’s just a question of whether the system will be adequately resourced.”Even a well-prepared system will see a blue shift, though, and that will make it vulnerable to the kind of attacks Trump used in 2018.“The public is more likely to perceive, rightly or wrongly, that ballots counted for the first time after Election Day are more susceptible to partisan manipulation than ballots counted on Election Day, with this perception stronger if these overtime ballots tilt more favorably toward one party and diverge from the Election Day count,” Foley and Stewart wrote.[Norm Ornstein: The November election is going to be a mess]Neal Kelley, the registrar of voters in Orange County, told me it was hard to even describe his experience of trying to canvass voters after the midterms. “It’s just a tremendous amount of pressure,” he said. “You’re getting scrutiny from attorneys, candidates, media, across the board. It’s kind of like captaining a ship in battle.”Kelley said he doesn’t worry about fraud, noting that in most states there are more checks on mail-in votes than on in-person votes. But he said offering full transparency was helpful in instilling confidence in the tally. TV crews rolled tape all day as his team counted votes, and political operatives were watching too. “I don’t expect people to just blindly trust us,” he said.Open communication from election officials will be essential to maintaining legitimacy if blue shifts significantly change the initial projections this November. The public has to understand what to expect: not only that the timeline for results will be extended, but also that the final tally might be different from the early returns. But much of the burden for protecting the credibility of the voting will fall on elected officials. Unfortunately, the president’s track record makes it clear that he will cry fraud no matter the result—he did so even in victory in 2016, insisting that “millions of people” voted illegally.“A lot of this is on responsible members of the Republican Party,” Hasen told me. “If there’s no way Trump’s going to win, even with claims of fraud, I expect Republicans will reject Trump’s claims of fraud. If it’s close, then they’ll get in line behind Trump.”If that prediction comes true, it might be the only orderly thing to happen this November.
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