The presidential votes are still being counted in many states, and so far Joe Biden has a substantial lead in the popular vote and is narrowly ahead in the states necessary to win the Electoral College. That makes for a sharp contrast with the pre-election polling averages, which had Biden far ahead nationally and ahead in almost every swing state.
We will have to wait until all the votes are counted to see how bad the mistake was precisely, but at time of writing the FiveThirtyEight polling average was off in Ohio by about 8 percentage points, in Florida by about 5 points, and in Texas by about 4 points. Other states are still being counted, but similar errors look likely in many of them. The mistake looks considerably worse than the miss in 2016, and very possibly the worst one since the infamous "Dewey Defeats Truman" whiff in 1948.
No doubt experts are already investigating what went wrong. But it's hard to trust that they will correctly identify the source of error, given that they have been working on their models feverishly for the last four years and somehow only introduced new mistakes.
The logical response to two consecutive polling faceplants that disadvantaged Democrats would be for the party to abandon its laser focus on public opinion, and simply run on what seems like good policy. If you're going to be flying half-blind in terms of what sells, you might as well try to achieve something in the process.
But this is very hard to imagine. Polls on issues, policies, popularity, head-to-head matchups with conservatives, and so on — these things are central to modern politics. Perhaps half of political argument and political media (much of my own writing included, to be fair) turns on a poll in some way. Even if polls are untrustworthy, they will continue to be conducted regardless, and get wide attention. And panicky Democrats, desperate to find the "safe" choice of candidates or platforms, will probably keep listening to them. Ryan Cooper
There could one day be a COVID-19 equivalent to a carbon monoxide detector.
General Electric is developing a new sensor which could potentially detect the coronavirus and other viruses in the air, on a surface, or on someone's breath, Fast Company reports. The National Institutes of Health awarded the company a two-year research grant to work on the project, which will build upon two papers published by GE's principal scientist, Radislav Potyrailo, and his team.
The sensor that would detect the virus would be a microchip "smaller than a dime," Fast Company reports. Potyrailo is hopeful about the long-term prospects of the project, but he acknowledged the system is hard to build because it needs to be small enough to keep larger contaminants like pollen out to ensure only the right particles are detected.
If a prototype is available in the next couple of years, GE reportedly envisions the sensors in grocery stores, hotel rooms, and perhaps even within individuals' phones and watches. An actual GE COVID-19 sensor is a long way off, and there are many questions to answer, such as how long one would remain reliable before breaking down. But it's all in the works. Read more about how the sensor could detect viruses like the novel coronavirus at Fast Company. Tim O'Donnell
The Supreme Court has once again ruled against California in a case concerning religious worship during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a 5-4 decision, mostly along ideological lines, the court ruled late Friday night that California cannot enforce its three-household limit on at-home religious meetings, such as prayer groups and Bible studies. Conservatives were in the majority, with only Chief Justice John Roberts splitting off and siding with the three liberal justices.
A panel of the 9th Circuit of Appeals had previously upheld the state's restrictions on at-home gatherings since it was a blanket ban that applied to secular and non-secular gatherings, alike. The Supreme Court's minority argued along similar lines; in a dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that California is not required to "treat at-home religious gatherings the same as hardware stores and hair salons."
But the majority wasn't satisfied with that explanation, suggesting the state was treating secular businesses, like movie theaters and restaurants, more favorably. "The state cannot assume the worst when people go to worship, but assume the best when people go to work," the unsigned majority opinion said. "This is the fifth time the Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise." Read more at Politico and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell
Prince Philip, the late husband of the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II, will be laid to rest next Saturday, Buckingham Palace has announced.
The ceremony, which will take place at St. George's Chapel in Windsor, will reportedly contain many traditional customs associated with the death of a royal family member; however, attendance will be scaled down because of COVID-19 restrictions. The Duke of Edinburgh, who died Friday morning at 99, will not lie in state anywhere accessible to the public so as not to draw oversized crowds, but the funeral will be televised, and eight days of national mourning will precede the event. A Land Rover will carry the duke's coffin from Windsor Castle to St. George's, a nod to his preference for driving himself without a chauffeur, CNN notes.
Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex and Prince Philip's grandson, will travel from the United States to the U.K. for the funeral. His wife Meghan Markle, who is pregnant, will remain at their home on the advice of her doctor. Read more at CNN and BBC. Tim O'Donnell
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) revealed Saturday that he underwent emergency surgery on his left eye a day earlier after a doctor discovered his retina was detaching. The surgery "went well" he said, but it will require a long and likely arduous recovery. "I will be effectively blind for about a month," he explained, adding that a "few more prayers that my vision will get back to normal ... wouldn't hurt." While he recovers, he'll be mostly "off the grid," he said.
It was a "terrifying prognosis" for Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL who was hit by an IED blast during a mission in Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2012. The injury cost him his right eye and badly damaged his left, his vision only returning after several surgeries, The Dallas Morning News notes. Crenshaw said "it was always a possibility that the effects of the damage to my retina would resurface, and it appears that is exactly what has happened."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Crenshaw a "fighter" who "has the support of every one of his colleagues" in Congress. "He's going to win this battle, too," McCarthy wrote on Twitter. Tim O'Donnell
A previously undisclosed document prepared by the Pentagon for internal use that was obtained by The Associated Press provides a clearer picture of the government's response to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The timeline shows "the government's failure to comprehend the scale and intensity of a violent uprising by its own citizens," as well as the fact that former President Donald Trump's disengagement meant Pentagon officials, White House aides, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Congressional leaders were left to manage the situation, AP writes. One of the key aspects appears to be an hours-long attempt to coordinate plans between the military, the D.C. National Guard, and the Capitol Police.
The document reveals a minute-long phone call between Pence and then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, in which Pence tells Miller to "clear the Capitol" two hours after the mob initially overwhelmed the Capitol Police and entered the building.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), reportedly grew increasingly frustrated with a slow response after making multiple calls, and at one point reportedly accused "the National Security apparatus of knowing that protesters planned to conduct an assault on the Capitol." Read more about the Pentagon's riot timeline at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the charge in criticizing President Biden's newly-minted 36-person bipartisan commission that's been tasked with studying Supreme Court expansion and term limits for justices, among other judiciary reforms. "This faux-academic study of a nonexistent problem fits squarely within liberals' years-long campaign to politicize the Court, intimidate its members, and subvert its independence," he said in a statement Friday, a few hours after Biden ordered the formation of the commission, which has not been charged with delivering a specific recommendation at the conclusion of its report.
But McConnell most likely need not fear, write Ian Millhiser in Vox and Jonathan Turley in The Hill. Their reasons differ significantly, but the conclusions are the same — the commission looks like it'll be a dud.
That's not to say the members aren't impressive. Both Millhiser and Turley admit it features an all-star lineup of legal scholars, but the former notes that none of the leading academic proponents of Supreme Court reform were named to the commission. "In choosing the members of this commission, the White House appears to have prioritized bipartisanship and star power within the legal academy over choosing people who have actually spent a meaningful amount of time advocating for Supreme Court reforms," Millhiser writes. Subsequently, he argues, members of the Federalist Society praised the makeup of the commission, signaling that they're not threatened by it.
Turley, the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, wasn't sold on the bipartisan angle; he believes the commission is "far from balanced," with only a handful of its members falling under the right-of-center umbrella. In the end, though, "few moderates or conservatives would put much weight in such a stacked commission," Turley writes. "Rather, it could be an effort to defuse the left while sentencing the court packing scheme to death-by-commission — a favorite lethal practice in Washington." Read more at Vox and The Hill.Tim O'Donnell
China's antitrust regulator doled out a record 18.2 billion yuan fine to e-commerce giant Alibaba on Saturday for abusing its market dominance. The figure is equivalent to $2.8 billion and 4 percent of the company's domestic annual sales. Additionally, Alibaba will have to revamp its operations and submit a "self-examination compliance report" within three years, per The Wall Street Journal.
Considering the penalty far surpasses Qualcomm's previous record $975 million fine in terms of raw money (relatively that was a bigger hit) it seems like a real blow to Alibaba, especially since its founder Jack Ma remains under heavy government scrutiny after criticizing Beijing's regulatory restrictions. But it may actually be a weight off the company's shoulders, at least for now.
"China's record fine on Alibaba may lift the regulatory uncertainty that has weighed on the company since the start of an anti-monopoly probe in late December," Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Vey Sern-Ling and Tiffany Tam said. They described the fine as a small price to pay for some clarity.
The fine alone shouldn't be too much to worry about for Alibaba, suggested Jeffrey Towson, a former professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management. "That is serious money, but it's not going to hinder their development," he told the Journal.
In a statement, Alibaba said it "accepts the penalty with sincerity and will ensure its compliance with determination."
That said, Bloombergcalled the Alibaba investigation "one of the opening salvos in a campaign seemingly designed to curb the power of China's internet leaders and their billionaire founders" like Ma, so there may be more to come. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell