Be prepared
August 3, 2020

"Picture this Thanksgiving: turkey, football (maybe), tenser-than-usual interactions with relatives," media columnist Ben Smith writes at The New York Times. "And perhaps a new tradition: finding out who actually won the presidential election."

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to prompt a surge in mail-in voting, at a time when the U.S. Postal Service is grappling with service-slowing cost-cutting measures handed down by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Trump. Key states like Pennsylvania may be counting those ballots for weeks after Election Day, and with Trump filling that time tweeting more "false allegations about fraud," Smith writes, "the last barriers between American democracy and a deep political crisis may be television news."

TV hosts, election analysts, network chiefs, and social media executives exude "blithe confidence" about their ability to handle an election that won't be decided for days or weeks, Smith writes, but there's "near panic among some of the people paying the closest attention."

"The nerds are freaking out," Brandon Finnigan, the founder of Decision Desk HQ, told the Times. "I don't think it's penetrated enough in the average viewer's mind that there's not going to be an election night. The usual razzmatazz of a panel sitting around discussing election results — that's dead."

Media companies can prepare their viewers and change how they report election results, "but what the moment calls for, most of all, is patience," Smith writes. "And good luck with that."

"Nobody I talked to had any real idea how cable talkers or Twitter take-mongers would fill hours, days, and, possibly, weeks of counting or how to apply a sober, careful lens to the wild allegations — rigged voting machines, mysterious buses of outsiders turning up at poll sites — that surface every election night, only to dissolve in the light of day," Smith said. But one war game of an election in which Joe Biden wins a big popular majority and tiny electoral college loss ended with the U.S. military casting the deciding vote. Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

April 1, 2020

A Chinese county that was largely unscathed by the novel COVID-19 coronavirus went into lockdown Wednesday, signaling fears of a possible second wave in the country where the virus originated, The South China Morning Post reports.

The county of Jia in Henan province, home to 600,000 people, is now in lockdown after infections reportedly spread at a local hospital. There were previously only 12 confirmed cases in Henan, despite it being situated just north of Hubei province, where China's epicenter, Wuhan, is located. However, U.S. intelligence reportedly believes China under-reported the actual number of cases.

Either way, the new lockdown, which shuts down all non-essential business and requires people to carry special permits to leave their homes, and wear face masks and have their temperature taken when out and about, comes at a time when the country clearly wants to get its economy up and running again. It's unclear if such measures will be limited to the county or if it's a sign of things to come for the rest of the world's most populous country, but President Xi Jinping has warned that China must return to normal gradually in the hopes of preventing a full-scale COVID-19 return. Read more at The South China Morning Post. Tim O'Donnell

July 22, 2019

So far in 2019, California's climate change-induced wildfires have burned far fewer acres than they did in the same period last year, but the state's officials are still on edge. The constant threat of flames has continued to drive up expenses, as well, reports The New York Times.

For example, Pacific Gas & Electric is requesting that regulators approve an additional charge to customers of $2 billion over the next three years to help pay for wildfire safety improvements. Customers will also be paying more than $10 billion in taxes on electricity bills, the Times writes, and some counties are spending hundreds of thousands to install generators in government buildings. But the rising costs are increasingly accepted as a necessary evil.

"It's a lot of money for us, but I really feel we don't have a choice," Dennis Darling, who owns a supermarket in the town of Clearlake, told the Times.

Darling, who is paying $100,000 to install a generator in the supermarket he owns, is among the residents taking matters into their own hands should the power grids continue to fail amid wildfires. There's reportedly been a spike in interest in energy storage systems throughout the state. "We're seeing more and more of that over the last three or four years now, because of the threat of wildfires, the threat of an earthquake," said Rainier de Ocampo, vice president for marketing at Solar Optimum, a solar power and storage contractor.

Resident Susanne Polos said she recalls her power going out 10 times in the last year, prompting her family to invest in an energy storage system; they have an electric car, which they can't afford to not have charged in case of a fire emergency.

All told, the prospect of fires remains on the minds of everyone in the state despite the assurance from Pacific Gas & Electric's chief executive officer Bill Johnson that "we are safer than we were yesterday." Johnson himself acknowledged "this risk exists and can't be eliminated." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

August 9, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might have some company on the debate stage in September. Politico reported Tuesday that the Commission on Presidential Debates has advised universities hosting the upcoming general election debates to have a third lectern ready to go "just in case." When asked about the possibility of Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein making the stage, Commission on Presidential Debates Co-Chair Mike McCurry told Politico, "Some of our production people may have said, 'Just in case, you need to plan out what that might look like.'"

Producers from the commission insist the directive they've given universities is more about being as prepared as possible than it is a "reflection of the state of the race," Politico reported. For a candidate to debate, he or she must "appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College," the commission determined last year, and have at least 15 percent support in the national polls. Johnson has 8.8 percent support right now, and Stein has about 3.8 percent.

The commission says it might "consider giving an inch" to a third-party candidate who nears the requisite percentage. "We won't know the number of invitations we extend until mid-September," McCurry said.

As of now, there are three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate scheduled. The first debate is slated for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Becca Stanek

June 30, 2014

Generations of active and former members of the Boy Scouts of America marched alongside thousands of participants in New York City's 44th Pride Parade on Sunday, marking a historic first for the group.

Bedecked in rainbow-colored neckerchiefs, the marchers served as the event's color guard while they openly defied the BSA's ban on wearing troop uniforms in pride parades. Though the BSA last year finally agreed to accept gay scouts — but not gay troop leaders — it still prohibits members from wearing their uniforms during pride events.

Marchers said they believed the New York council, which has a more lenient policy toward gay members, would not punish them for participating. But more importantly, they said they hoped their visible presence would push the national BSA toward an even more inclusive policy. Jon Terbush

See More Speed Reads