Epoch Times mailbox surprise prompts fact-finding mission

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I was surprised recently to find a copy of the Epoch Times newspaper in my mailbox here in my secluded, little corner of the world on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada. Why me? I’m not a subscriber and had no interest in being one.

But then I saw the ‘sample issue’ tag at the top of the front page and realized it was a promotional flyer of sorts, though not routinely delivered like most others. Lots of us on the peninsula must have got it, and many residents of other parts of Ontario, according to media reports. The date of publication-coverage on the pages of the sample edition is January 1-7, 2021. An historic week to say the least.

I recognized the Epoch Times name. I had seen it in passing before in my daily browsing on the internet for news and had been left with the impression it was too conservatively biased for my taste.

But out of curiosity and to be fair I took a look through the sample edition, including a full, promotional page under the heading, “Read what others won’t report,” signed by publisher, Cindy Gu.

“These are trying times,” she wrote. “So, this complimentary edition of the Epoch Times is for you to enjoy. Because what we all need right now is honest, responsible journalism that investigates issues in an objective, and unbiased way.”

I browsed through the rest of the paper and soon got the impression it’s coverage was far from unbiased.

The Epoch Times is described by several online sources as far right-wing in its views, a supporter of soon-to-be former U.S. President Donald Trump, and affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement persecuted and banned in Communist China. The newspaper was founded in 2000 as a Chinese language on-line publication based in New York. A short time later it began publishing a printed edition, and then an English-language edition in 2003. More recently, its strong support for Trump helped fuel a surge in circulation.

The sample Canadian edition’s front page includes an article under ‘USNEWS’ with the headline, “$500 Million Donation From Facebook’s Zuckerberg Used to Undermine US Election, Violate Law: Report.”

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The article says the report was released in December by the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society. The Society, a registered U.S. charity, is described in the article as a “constitutional litigation organization.” It is deeply conservative in stance and often involved in legal actions on behalf of anti-abortion and religious-freedom advocates. The Society is named after St. Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII. He was charged with treason and beheaded after a trial for refusing to support the King’s divorce from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. More also refused to support the tyrant King’s break with the Roman Catholic church and set up a separate, new national church for England.

The Epoch Times article says Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated a total of $500 million in grants to local election officials across the U.S. to help cover increased election expenses caused by unusual circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic. That may not be an accurate number. Numerous online reports put the Zuckerberg donation at $400 Million. But they do confirm, as the article says, that a non-profit charity based in Chicago, The Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) got donations totaling $350 million from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The CTCL distributed the funds to a total of 2,500 cash-strapped county election offices that applied for help to cope with Covid-19 challenges.

The Epoch Times article, citing the Amistad Project/Thomas More Society report, alleges the CTCL and other non-profits deliberately, and illegally under U.S. election laws, used the Zuckerberg money to target local election office in swing states to benefit the vote in Democratic “strongholds.” It says Facebook and the CTCL did not respond to requests for comment.

APM Reports, the investigative journalism arm of non-profit America Public Media Group, says in an article published December 7, 2020 that it had been unable to get interviews with the CTCL about the private election donations after repeated requests.

“But through a series of interviews, public records requests and a review of public meetings, APM Reports pieced together the details of grant awards in the five swing states that decided the election.” its article says under the headline, ‘How private money helped save the election.’

“APM Reports obtained more than 30 grant agreements and applications between local election offices and the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The documents show requests mainly focused on the logistics of the election: increased pay for poll workers, expanded early voting sites and extra equipment to more quickly process millions of mailed ballots.”

The APM Reports article notes, “In the weeks since the election, allies of President Trump have included the (CTCL) grants in their voter fraud conspiracy theories. They have challenged the legality and neutrality of the grants, claiming that the funding was aimed at boosting Democratic turnout. But an APM Reports analysis of voter registration and voter turnout in three of the five key swing states shows the grant funding had no clear impact on who turned out to vote. Turnout increased across the country from 2016,” the article said, adding, the analysis found that counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona that received grants didn’t have consistently higher turnout rates than those that didn’t receive money.”

As the November 3 election approached, local election offices in the U.S. were running out of money. In March 2020, the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) included $400 million for states “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 federal election cycle. This supplemental appropriation funding, distributed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), will provide states with additional resources to protect the 2020 elections from the effects of the novel coronavirus,” the EAC still says on its website.

The APM Reports article notes that amount if federal funding was widely regarded at the time as nowhere near enough to meet the pandemic-related needs. As a result there were fears the election could be a “catastrophe.”

The CARES election money came with a host of strict requirements, including an unexpected one from Trump administration officials that required states to match 20 percent of the federal money. Only states were allowed to apply, rather than local, county, election officials directly. The EAC also required detailed ‘narrative explanations’ justifying how the money was used for strictly Covid-19 related needs.

EAC

The EAC’s most recent quarterly report, published October 10, 2020, about the disbursement of the CARES money for the period April to June, 2020, says all of the $400 million was used up by then. It notes, “Some states requested less than their full allocation due to concerns over meeting the required 20 percent match.” In other words, the EAC ran out of Covid-19 emergency money to help election officials across the U.S. cope with the unprecedented challenges they faced.

It wasn’t until well after the election that another bipartisan, Covid-19, relief bill was finally worked out and approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Trump.

The private donation money, including the Zuckerberg money, proved to be a lifesaver; or, as one elections manager said, “Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it.”

Benjamin Hovland, chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and a Trump appointee was, to his credit, one of many high-ranking federal and other officials in the U.S. who issued a ‘Joint Statement’ on November 12, 2020 defending the integrity of the November 3, 2020 election. Click on the link above for the complete list of names. Following is the full text of the statement:

“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result. 

“When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary. This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.

“Other security measures like pre-election testing, state certification of voting equipment, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) certification of voting equipment help to build additional confidence in the voting systems used in 2020.

“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too. When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.”

It’s well known by now that the Trump campaign and supporters, in their efforts to overthrow the election results, filed numerous, unsuccessful lawsuits alleging the election results in swing states were skewed by fraudulent activities. I found no evidence in my research that any of those lawsuits made an issue in their claims of the private donations that helped local election officials overcome the challenges of holding a national election in the midst of a pandemic emergency.

In summary, there was much more to the private, election-funds story than The Opech Times covered.

Keep your hands on that plow, hold on: January 6, the fate of American democracy, and a door left open.

Keep your hands on that plow, hold on.” — The refrain from an old American gospel/folk song

The wonderful thing about the annual celebration of the arrival of a New Year is the spirit of hope it inspires. Whatever the troubles of the old year were — though they can’t all be consigned safely to history or memory — they can be met with a new resolve. For a wonderful moment, anything is possible again. The earth, this precious, little, blue-green jewel of a planet, has come full circle. Another journey has begun; and with it the chance, again, to get things right, or at least start heading decisively, resolutions in hand, in that direction.

I really would like to continue this post in a hopeful, positive tone, about how I’ve got my seed order in already for the 2021 gardening season, how the renewed interest in growing and eating food you grow yourself is a good thing for more than that good reason. It is also a continuous learning experience that helps keep your body, mind, and spirit healthy and hopeful. Or to put it another way: being close to the soil is good for the soul.

But first, dear, patient, persevering reader, allow me to pause long enough to consider an important event in a few days that could have a huge impact on the shape of things to come in 2021, and beyond. One way or another, January 6, 2021 could be a date that will go down in history as an epic turning point; hopefully, for the better.

This coming Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m., a joint session of the U.S. congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, will meet in the House, to formally hear and confirm the results of the November 3, 2020 U.S. election. That is, the state-by-state, certified electoral college results as voted on December 14, 2020. That process gave the Democratic Party candidate, Joe Biden, 306 electoral votes for President, compared with 232 for incumbent, one-term President, Republican Donald Trump. Biden won the national, popular vote by more than seven million, in an election that saw more than 155 million American voters cast ballots, the most ever.

But Trump has not conceded defeat and continues to claim there was widespread fraud during the election, despite the claim being repeatedly dismissed in court for lack of evidence. Inauguration Day is January 20. The January 6 Joint Session, normally a routine affair, is shaping up to be anything but routine.

Sitting Vice-Presidents of the U.S., in their capacity as President of the Senate, preside over the Joint Session, unless they choose not to, or otherwise are not available. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey declined the job in 1969. In those circumstances the President pro tempore of the Senate presides, the Congressional Research Service says in its December 8, 2020 report, Counting Electoral Votes.

If the current Vice-President, Mike Pence, is not willing or available for whatever reason, he would be replaced by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the current President pro tempore of the Senate.

Assuming he will be presiding, Pence’s job will be to open the sealed electoral college result envelopes from each state, and hand them over to appointed ‘tellers’ to be read aloud to the Joint Session. At that point, his other role, to maintain “order,” could get much more than routinely interesting.

“When the certificate or equivalent paper from each state or the District of Columbia is read, the President of the Senate shall call for objections, if any,” the Congressional Review Service says. “Any such objection must be presented in writing and must be signed by at least one Senator and one Representative. The objection ‘shall state clearly and concisely, and without argument, the ground thereof.’ During the joint session of January 6, 2001, the presiding officer intervened on several occasions to halt attempts to make speeches under the guise of offering an objection.”

The report goes on to say, “When an objection, properly made in writing and endorsed by at least one Senator and one Representative, is received, each house is to meet and consider it separately. The statute states, ‘No votes or papers from any other State shall be acted upon until the objections previously made to the votes or papers from any State shall have been finally disposed of.’ However, in 1873, before enactment of the law now in force, the joint session agreed, without objection and for reasons of convenience, to entertain objections with regard to two or more states before the houses met separately on any of them.”

The report does not clarify what effect, if any, the actions of 1873 may still have on the application of the statute if multiple objections are raised during the upcoming Joint Session. Recent news reports have said up to 140 Republican members of the House may raise or support objections, and so far, 11 Republican senators. Might it be up to Pence to rule objections be handled state-by-state, or collectively, as in 1873? When objections are accepted as valid by the presiding vice-president the Joint Session is required to adjourn, and the House members and Senators go to their separate chambers to debate the issue, for a maximum of two hours. If Pence rules multiple objections during the reading of each state’s electoral results should be handled one at a time, that will certainly spell a long delay in the Joint Session process, and disruption.

The Congressional Review Service report raises another interesting point regarding the “basis for objections.” It says the federal statue and “historical sources” appear to suggest the “general grounds” for objections include “that the elector was not ‘lawfully certified’ according to state statutory procedures.”

The paragraph continues, “It should be noted that the word lawfully was expressly inserted by the House in the Senate legislation (S. 9, 49th Congress) before the word certified. Such addition arguably provides an indication that Congress thought it might, as grounds for an objection, question and look into the lawfulness of the certification under state law.”

The Trump campaign has raised the issue of the lawfulness of state election law — in swing states, not states he won – but the actions were dismissed in court. Will it be raised again on January 6?

There does seem to be lots of potential for the Joint Session to become problematic, to put it mildly. The chances of Trump and his political enablers succeeding in overturning the election results are said by many in the news media to be slim at best, to impossible. But after four years of Trumpism it seems anything, no matter how outrageous, is still possible. And the mechanism of the Joint Session leaves that door open.

Bad enough the fate of the world’s first and once-greatest democracy is at stake; but the fate of the world itself also hangs in the balance.

So much for my hopeful, positive intentions for this post.

Yes, I have ordered my garden seeds for the 2021 season. I strongly recommend you long-time, or Brave New Gardeners, do the same, ASAP, because lots of people are getting on board the grow-your-own bandwagon. It was true last year, and is likely just as true, or even more so, this year.

I promise, you’ll be glad you did: there’s nothing like gardening to offer refuge for the worried mind.

Cue the Adagio for the decline and fall of American greatness

Last night I watched most of the second U.S. presidential-campaign debate. You know, that’s the one in which Trump refers to his comments in the now-infamous video as “locker-room banter.”

Tonight, I listened again – though for the first time in quite a while – to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The string quartet version is the one I like best. I always go to the Dover Quartet performance on YouTube. They really put their hearts into it. You can see that, as well as hear it. That’s flattery I’m sure they would be glad to hear.

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The Dover Quartet in concert

As I was listening the thought occurred this great music is well-suited as background for the tragedy now unfolding in that great country, the world’s first liberal democracy. Yes, liberal.  Continue reading