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ISSUES

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe?

This is an extraordinary scientific achievement, but is it safe?

The average vaccine takes approximately 10 years to develop. There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) that will likely be authorized and released to the public within a year of the discovery of the virus. How can a safe vaccine possibly be developed so fast?

These will be the fastest vaccines ever developed, by a margin of years. The next fastest vaccine ever approved for public use was the mumps vaccine, and that took 4 years.

Unfortunately, that speed has made a lot of people nervous. Will the vaccine be safe? Are they skipping steps? How is this process moving so fast?

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POLITICS

Maine Democracy Gets an Upgrade

While most of America teeters on the edge of a fascist abyss, Maine has given democracy a much needed upgrade with the switch to ranked choice voting.

Maine will officially become the first-ever state to use ranked-choice voting for a presidential election, the state's Supreme Court ruled this September.

This will allow voters to rank each presidential candidate in order of preference for the November election. Voters will now be able to rank all five presidential candidates that will appear on the ballot, which include Republican President Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, Green Party candidate Howard Hawkins, and Rocky De La Fuente of the Alliance Party. But why is ranked choice voting such a big deal?

How Does It Work?

Ranked Choice Voting is also known as instant-runoff voting (IRV), the alternative vote (AV), or preferential voting. In ranked choice voting, instead of only voting for one candidate, voters can rank the candidates in order of preference. You can rank as many or as few of the candidates as you like and leave the rest blank. If any candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If not, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to their second-choices. The process repeats until one candidate has a majority.

Former Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate, Evan Falchuk, explains that ranked choice voting is essentially the same idea as runoff elections. "You hold an election one day, and then you see how the votes come out, and then you eliminate the candidates that didn't meet whatever the threshold is, and then you hold another election. With ranked choice voting, you do that instantaneously," he stated. Maine's new policy is essentially a more efficient way to hold multiple rounds of elections at the same time.

Flow chart of ranked choice voting Ranked Choice VotingWilliam Hessian

This system was successfully used by all voters in four states in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, and is used for local elections in more than 15 US cities and the state of Maine. Even some of the biggest critics of RCV agree it's better than our current system.

But what does this actually mean for elections? Elections have become increasingly unreliable at selecting policymakers who are representative of and supported by their constituents. But RCV eliminates a few of the common problems that exist in our current system. It makes third parties viable, it enables winners that actually have majority support, and it reduces polarization and negative campaigning.

Benefit # 1: RCV Makes 3rd Parties Viable

The majority of the country uses a system called winner-take-all voting or first-past-the-post voting. In this system, voters each have a single vote which they can cast for a single candidate. Whoever gets a plurality of the votes wins all of the representation. Winner-take-all voting systems naturally trend towards two parties. This is mainly because voters feel that they have to strategically vote for candidates who have the best chance of winning so that they don't "waste their vote."

Yet third parties still run for president every four years, and every four years they lose. Sometimes they gain a fair amount of votes, but even then, they are accused of being spoilers.

The spoiler effect is when a third party candidate's presence in the election draws votes from a major-party candidate similar to them, thereby causing a candidate dissimilar to them to win the election. The more popular a third party candidate, the less likely someone who has similar beliefs is to win.


Graph of the spoiler effect using hypothetical pro-cat and pro-dog candidates The Spoiler Effect@The_Factivists

The spoiler effect is particularly relevant in close elections like the 2000 presidential race. Many people think that Democrat Al Gore lost the 2000 Presidential Election to Republican George W. Bush because some voters on the left voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party. If even 1% of Nader's Floridian supporters had chosen to vote for environmentalist Gore over Texas oilman Bush, Gore would have been elected president.

RCV eliminates this issue. Voters can feel confident voting for a third party candidate, even one they think is unlikely to win, without fear of being a spoiler. Say you live in Maine and you think Green Party candidate Howard Hawkins is awesome, you think Joe Biden is just okay, but most of all you want Donald Trump to lose. Normally, most people would tell you to just suck it up and vote for Biden, because Howard Hawkins is never going to win and it's more important to prevent Trump from winning. With RCV you can confidently rank Hawkins as your first choice and Biden as your second, and you can know that if Hawkins loses, your vote will still be put to good use.

This allows third parties to form and grow because voters can vote for the candidate they like the most without worrying that they will help elect the candidate they like least. If it were implemented across America, RCV may not lead to many third party wins in the first few years, because America is firmly entrenched in a two party system. However, RCV allows third parties to gain real footholds and eventually even majority support.

Benefit #2: RCV Enables Majority Support

One of the biggest problems with our current election system is that in order to win candidates only need a plurality of the vote, not a majority. A plurality just means that a candidate received more votes than everyone else, whereas a majority is 51%. This is not a problem when there are only two candidates, but any time there are more than two this becomes a concern.

Too often, candidates win elections despite being opposed by the majority of voters. In elections with more than two candidates, candidates can and do win even when less than half of voters support them.

This lack of majority support is part of what pushed voters in Maine towards adopting a new system. For example, in Maine, nine of the eleven gubernatorial elections between 1994 and 2014 were won with less than 50% of voters' support. Maine governors with low winning percentages include Angus King, who won the governorship in 1994 with just 35% of the vote; John Baldacci, who won in 2006 with just 38.1% of the vote; and Paul LePage, who won in 2010 with 37.6% of the vote.

A list of the "Smallest Winning Percentages for Gubernatorial Candidates Since 1990" Smallest Winning Percentages for Gubernatorial Candidates Since 1990US Election Atlas

These low percentage wins are not unique to Maine. A recent win in the Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District Democratic primary made headlines when Jake Auchincloss won with only 22.5% of the vote.

RCV has the potential to resolve these issues. With RCV, a candidate can only be declared a winner if they have received 51% of the vote. It's true that not every voter will get to see their first choice candidates win, but a majority of voters will see a candidate they at least somewhat agree with in office. If a voter's first choice is eliminated, their vote instantly goes to their second choice. That way, we can find out which of the top candidates actually has the most support.

All that being said, RCV will elect a majority winner—so long as that majority winner actually exists in the election. In RCV you only have to rank as many candidates as you like. This can result in something called exhausted ballots. Ballot exhaustion occurs as part of RCV when a voter has ranked only candidates that have been eliminated even though other candidates remain in the contest. For instance if your ballot just ranks the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates, but you decided not to rank any of the major party candidates, it's very possible that both of the candidates you voted for will be eliminated therefore your vote won't end up counting in the final round. RCV makes a majority more likely but no single-winner voting method can guarantee a majority in every election, including RCV.

Benefit #3: Decreased Political Polarization

Americans are more polarized today than ever before. A 2019 Pew poll asked partisan voters to rate their feelings towards the opposite party on a thermometer-style scale. The results showed that Americans feel increasingly negative toward the party they oppose. In March 2016, before the election, 61% of Democrats gave Republicans a cold rating and 69% of Republicans gave Democrats a cold rating (a thermometer rating of 0-49). By 2019, those numbers had significantly increased, 79% of Democrats and 83% of Republicans rated the other party coldly.

Yet the results from the bipartisan Battleground Poll from October 2019 reported that 8 in 10 Americans say that "compromise and common ground should be the goal for political leaders."


Donkey and Elephant wearing suits and arguing. Democrats and Republicans agree only to disagreeGary Markstein

Ranked choice voting could help bridge America's widening political divide by changing how elections work. This is partly because RCV decreases negative campaigning and partisan politicking. When a politician needs second-choice votes to win, they're incentivized to promote their own policies rather than tear down their opponents. And they are incentivized to focus on the beliefs they have in common with other candidates rather than the small policy difference s.

In RCV contests, candidates do best when they reach out and positively influence as many voters as possible–including those who support their opponents. This gives constituents more power and major parties less power. With RCV, candidates can't write off any voter as "unreachable"; they must genuinely try to appeal to voters who are openly voting third party. This means that in order to gain those second choice votes, major parties will have to look at the third parties close to them and adjust their platforms accordingly.

A 2016 study on campaign civility in local RCV elections found that voters viewed campaigns as more civil than they did in cities without RCV. The study concluded that "people in cities using preferential voting were significantly more satisfied with the conduct of local campaigns than people in similar cities with plurality elections." They added, "People in cities with preferential voting were also less likely to view campaigns as negative, and less likely to respond that candidates were frequently criticizing each other."

Our current voting system really only does one thing really well: fuel America's two-party system, a system that is divisive, outdated, and makes voters feel like their votes don't count. When voters feel like their votes count, they show up and they participate. In the words of Elizabeth Warren, RCV's latest champion, "That's a stronger democracy."

Congratulations, Maine; this is a huge step in the right direction. Now let's hope we see similar changes across America—before it's too late.

ISSUES

What Is Antifa? The Truth Behind the Tweets

Donald Trump clearly hates antifa. But what actually is antifa and why does it matter?

If you've watched Fox News recently, you have almost certainly heard the term "antifa" uttered with an air of sinister mystery and more than a hint of contempt, but what actually is it?

Antifa, pronounced "AN-tee-fuh," is short for antifascists. Antifa is not really an organization, as they have no leader, no hierarchy, and no regular meetings or gatherings. It is instead a left-wing political ideology that aims to eradicate fascism and white nationalism through the use of both nonviolent and violent direct action rather than policy reform. Essentially, they are a group characterized entirely by opposition to one thing: fascism.

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Mass Hysterectomies at Immigrant Detention Center? Here Are the Facts.

Whistleblower files official complaint on disturbing conditions at Georgia detention center.

A whistleblower who worked as a nurse at a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia has come forward with a claim that immigrants are facing serious medical neglect in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic—as well as an unusually high rate of hysterectomies.

The whistleblower is Dawn Wooten LPN. She has worked at the facility for three years as a licensed practical nurse, and has over 10 years of experience working as a nurse in prisons. She originally worked full time at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia but was demoted to an on-call position in mid-July after repeatedly complaining to staff leadership about the dangerous working conditions. Irwin is a private prison which houses immigrants detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is run by LaSalle Corrections, a private company that runs immigration detention facilities in Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana.

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POLITICS

6 Reasons You Should Fill Out Your Census (Immediately)

The Census has one goal: "Counting everyone once, only once and in the right place." Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau conducts a survey of every single person living in the United States.

The United States has been conducting census surveys since the 1790's because when the founding fathers were building their fledgling democracy they decided that population would be the basis of political power.

The 2020 Census asks a few simple questions about you and everyone who was living with you as of April 1, 2020. The survey asks about the number of people living in your household, and each persons age, sex, and race.

The September 30th deadline is rapidly approaching, but some American's still haven't filled out their census. Not filling it out, has some very real consequences. Here are six reasons why you should definitely fill out your census immediately.

1. It's illegal not to.


Photo of US Census envelope, the envelope says "YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW" Your response is required by law.Getty Images


Filling out the census is mandatory, and everyone living in the U.S. and its five territories as of April 1, 2020, is supposed to be counted. This includes children, babies, people without homes, college students, and immigrants regardless of their legal status.

According to United States Code, Title 13 (Census), Chapter 7 (Offenses and Penalties), SubChapter II, if you're over 18 and refuse to answer all or part of the census, you can be fined up to $100. If you give false answers, you're subject to a fine of up to $500. If you offer suggestions or information with the "intent to cause inaccurate enumeration of population," you are subject to a fine of up to $1,000, up to a year in prison, or both.

2. If you don't, someone will show up at your house.


Photo of a Census Bureau employee with official Census Bureau bag Census Bureau EnumeratorU.S. Census Bureau


If you haven't already filled out the census, you can expect a visit from a US Census taker as part of NRFU. The Nonresponse Followup operation (NRFU) is when census takers visit nonresponding households to survey their inhabitants in-person and enter their answers on their secure Census Bureau smartphone.

If no one is home when the census taker visits, they will leave a notice of their visit with information about how to respond online or by phone. As necessary, they will make additional visits to collect responses from the household.

NRFU is a huge operation, this year they are expected to send enumerators to approximately 56.4 million households that have not responded to the 2020 Census.

3. It affects your representation


Apportionment map of 2010 Census shows number of seats gained and lost in the US house of representatives for each US state. Apportionment map of 2010 CensusU.S. Census Bureau


The census determines how many representatives each state will have in Congress for the next 10 years. The US House of representatives has 435 seats, each of which is allocated based on population. For instance, Texas gained four seats after the last Census, while New York and Ohio lost two seats each. State and local officials also use census results to help redraw congressional, state, and local district boundaries.

4. It affects your community's funding.


Picture of multicolored dollar signs on blue background Billions in government funding are allocated through census data every year. Andy Warhol

The Census also affects funding. Each year, approximately $675 billion in federal funds is spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs, and this money is divided up largely based on population. Responding to the census helps your community receive its fair share of that funding.

Census data isn't only used by the public sector. It is also used by many businesses in the private sector to decide where to build factories, offices, and stores, and developers use the census to decide where to build new homes.

Local governments use the census so they can plan for every emergency from riots to fires to hurricanes, and advocacy groups use the census to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer rights.

5. It's so easy and safe!


Photo of computer screen on census 2020 landing page. This is the first year you can fill out your census online!U.S. Census Bureau


This year, there are three different easy ways to fill out your census.

  • By mail. You should have received a paper survey in the mail in April, which can still be mailed back to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Online. This is the first time the census can be completed online! Visit www.2020census.gov to fill out the survey. The online survey has 13 available language options.
  • By phone. Respondents can call the Census Bureau at 844-330-2020, and can be provided with answers over the phone in 13 languages.

You may be thinking that you don't care how easy it is, and no matter what, you don't want to share your information with the government. But the census really is a safe and secure way to participate in democracy. It is strictly against the law for the Census Bureau to disclose or publish any census information that identifies an individual. Title 13 makes it very clear that the data collected can only be used for statistical purposes—and it is not allowed to be used for anything else, including law enforcement. No law enforcement agency can access or use your personal information at any time, including the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the FBI, and the CIA.

6. COVID-19 might lead to an undercount, which hurts vulnerable populations.


2 women holding signs that say "Every Person Counts" Undercounts hurt everyone, but they hurt vulnerable populations the most.Getty Images


The coronavirus has changed a lot about how the Census operates. In-person efforts to reach census respondents have been significantly reduced and delayed, the Census office had to undergo a month long hiring freeze right as they began sending out survey, and the deadline for filling it out has shifted twice.

The NRFU operation was originally scheduled for May 13 through July 31, 2020, but these dates have been adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are now set to take place between August 11 and September 30, 2020. This reduction from two and a half months to one and a half months has caused some concern.

The Census Bureau is also having trouble hiring and keeping employees during the pandemic. They say they require 435,000 census-takers to complete their accelerated count, but as of Aug. 18 they had onboarded just 309,000. A report from the Government Accountability Office explains this discrepancy may be due to high attrition rates. The Census Bureau expected that about 10% of employees that started training would not show up for field work, but surprisingly the rate was closer to 35%.

The Bureau's original COVID-19 plan was to extend the census count's follow-up period from July 31 to October 31. Given this extension,the Bureau also requested that Congress delay the mandated reporting of census results to the president from December 31, 2020 to April 30, 2021. However, the extension was never approved and on August 3, the Bureau announced its intention to end all follow-up activities by September 30 and report the results to the president by December 31.

The Census Bureau says they are on track to meet this goal, but many have criticized the decision and blamed it on pressure from the White House. Four former Census Bureau directors who served under nine presidents have made a statement saying that without the full deadline extension, "The Census Bureau will not be able to carry out the NRFU fully and will be forced to take steps such as fewer in-person visits and rely instead on the use of administrative records and statistical techniques on a much larger scale than in previous census." This could result in a serious undercount of hard-to-count populations.

Hard-to-count populations have always taken extra efforts to reach. These populations include the homeless, residents of dormitories or group homes, racial minorities, immigrants, rural residents, and residents on Native American reservations. Some groups are hard to count simply because they are hard to locate, like homeless people or people in remote locations, but others don't respond on purpose because they don't trust the government.

Unfortunately, the populations that are most likely to go uncounted are also those who need funding and representation the most. These populations are often already underserved by the government and an undercount could affect the next 10 years of resources available to them. Homeless people, minorities, immigrants, and rural communities are all at risk of being underrepresented in legislative bodies, and they also risk receiving less funding for desperately needed social programs, hospitals, and schools.


September 30 is the last day to be counted in the United States Census. As of September 1st, approximately 64.9% of the country has already self-responded, and another 17.9% have been counted through follow-up efforts by the bureau. Unfortunately, that still leaves approximately 17.6% of the population to locate and count in the next 30 days. Make sure your community gets the resources and representation it deserves by filling out the Census today


For more well-researched, unbiased information on today's biggest issues, follow Alexandra's Instagram account The Factivists.


POLITICS

Did the Republican National Convention Violate the Hatch Act?

Everything you need to know about the Trump administration's latest controversy.

The Hatch Act is in the news this week due to uproar about potential violations at the Republican National Convention.

The accusations involve three critical RNC moments: Secretary of State Pompeo's speech from Jerusalem, Trump and Melania using the White House as a backdrop, and the inclusion of a naturalization ceremony conducted by acting Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf. However, most Americans have never heard of the Hatch Act, and Trump's Chief of Staff believes that "Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares." So what actually is the Hatch Act, did the Trump administration violate it, and should we care?

What Is the Hatch Act?

By ART CHANCE

The Hatch Act of 1939, "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities," limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. Specifically, those in the executive branch, with the exception of the President and Vice President, must abstain from taking "any active part" in political campaigns while on duty. They may not use their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity or participate in any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group while on duty, in any federal room or building, or wearing a uniform or official insignia.

Summarily, the Hatch Act was created to ensure that government resources don't subsidize re-election campaigns, that government aides aren't pressured into campaigning for their superiors, and that government officials don't use the influence of their position to affect election outcomes. It ensures that campaigning and governing remain separate activities.

The Trump administration has a history of violating the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Council, which is responsible for evaluating Hatch Act complaints, has issued members of the Trump administration 13 official citations, and 12 more investigations are underway, not including the potential violations during the Republican National Convention. This is despite the fact that Henry Kerner, the head of the Office of Special Council, is a Trump appointee and model conservative.

The most notable offender is Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who has been accused of violating the Hatch Act over 60 times by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). She's violated the Hatch Act so many times that even the Trump-friendly OSC recommended she be fired, referring to her actions as "egregious, notorious and ongoing." Her response to the recommendation? "blah blah blah...let me know when the jail sentence starts."

Conway is not the only one.The New York Times reported that Trump officials "privately scoff" at the Hatch Act and "take pride" in violating it, and the Daily Beast reported that staffers flaunt violations because they "love the anger it produces." In contrast, during Obama's eight years as president, only two cabinet officials received official citations, and both publicly apologized for their misconduct.

So now that we understand what the Hatch Act is, let's talk about the specific violations that took place during the RNC.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Speech

Watch Mike Pompeo's Full Speech At The 2020 RNC | NBC News www.youtube.com


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered his Republican National Convention speech from a rooftop in Israel. Pompeo filmed the speech on an official overseas trip, but the State Department said he delivered it "in his personal capacity." He never mentioned his position as Secretary of State, but he did speak to foreign policy in general and Trump's "America First" vision.

Does it break tradition? Yes, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the first acting Secretary of State in living memory to give a speech at a partisan convention. Other cabinet members have made speeches to national conventions in the past, but the Secretary of State's role in foreign policy has deemed their participation inappropriate. As Susan Hennessey and Scott R. Anderson wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, "Diplomats are supposed to represent all Americans to the rest of the world, and limiting their political activities ensures that they are able to serve this role effectively."

So does Pompeo's speech break department policy? Yes, According to a 2019 memorandum from the department's Legal Adviser, "Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event." The memorandum explains that the State Department specifically has a "long-standing policy of limiting participation in partisan campaigns by its political appointees in recognition of the need for the U.S. Government to speak with one voice on foreign policy matters."

Does it violate the Hatch Act? Maybe. The State Department has stated that he delivered the speech "in his personal capacity," which, under the Hatch Act, he is allowed to do. However, because the speech was delivered from Israel on a diplomatic visit, it can be argued that he was on duty, and it is impossible to separate him from his official capacity; therefore, he was violating the Hatch Act.

The Use of the White House Grounds for Campaign Speeches

Melania Trump delivers speech at 2020 RNC www.youtube.com

Melania Trump delivered her speech on the second night of the convention from an unconventional location: the White House Rose Garden. And as his grand finale, Donald Trump delivered his speech accepting his nomination from the south lawn of the White House. Trump has stated that the choice to do the speeches from the White House is simply a matter of convenience since it would be "easiest from the standpoint of security." However, many officials have criticized this action for being a Hatch Act violation waiting to happen.

Does it break tradition? Yes, use of the White House grounds as a platform for a re-election speech is highly unusual and represents a blurred line between taxpayer-supported government activity and political campaigning. The "Rose Garden strategy," a term used by political strategists for an incumbent president's use of official events to gain publicity in an election year, is fairly common. But, using the official events to get media attention is not the same as literally using the Rose Garden for televised campaign events.

Does it violate the Hatch Act? Maybe. The President himself is exempt from the Hatch Act. But any other White House employees assisting in the setup/preparation for RNC speeches are in violation. The OSC has stated that federal employees attending the event are not in violation because the Rose Garden and the South Lawn are not considered part of the White House.

Use of Naturalization Ceremony Footage

Naturalization Ceremony Naturalization Ceremony shown at RNC

During the second night of the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump presided over a pre-recorded naturalization ceremony for five new American citizens. The ceremony was performed by acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, and was filmed inside the White House. The video began with Trump striding up to the lectern while "Hail to the Chief" played in the background.

Does it break tradition? Yes. Using a legally binding ceremony as part of a partisan campaign event has never been done before.

Does it violate the Hatch Act? Probably. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, was acting in his official capacity, clearly on-duty, performing a legally binding ceremony in the White House. Because this was used during a political convention in support of the re-election of Donald Trump, it is a seemingly clear violation of the Hatch Act. White House officials have defended the action in a statement, "The White House publicized the content of the event on a public website this afternoon and the campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes." The argument seems to be that because the original intent of the ceremony was not to use it for the campaign, it was not a violation.

All three of the questionable actions mentioned above effectively blur the line between the Executive Branch's role in governing and their role in getting Trump reelected. Even though it is unclear whether these actions were technically violations of the Hatch Act, they certainly violate the spirit of the act. Free and fair elections are the foundational principle of Democracy, but Trump and his administration don't seem to care about the rules in place to keep things fair. Americans deserve a federal government that works for everyone, not one that can't seem to tell the difference between campaigning and governing.

For more well-researched, unbiased information on today's biggest issues, follow Alexandra's Instagram account The Factivists.