Several days after the startling attack on the U.S. Capitol, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), a former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, alleged that members of Congress “had groups coming through the Capitol that I saw on Jan. 5 for reconnaissance for the next day.”

Within days, more than 30 other members of Congress joined Sherrill in calling on the Capitol Police and the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms to investigate. They wrote:

Many of the Members who signed this letter, including those of us who have served in the military and are trained to recognize suspicious activity, as well as…

This is a loose transcript of the Close Read podcast for 1/9/20. I’ll be cross-posting these to Medium with more frequency.

As I’m recording this, I can look out my window and see the very top of the Capitol dome. I’ve lived in Washington for 15 years. My grandmother was actually born here. Her mother worked in the Senate dining room. Her father was a mason and he did some work at the Capitol, too.

Washington is our capital city. It’s also home to 700,000 people. This is where we live and play and work and worship. …

Democrats really did it. They flipped the Senate. Now the party has control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency for the first time since 2009.

This victory is due to hard work from Georgia organizers who have been battling voter suppression for decades—and Trump’s wild conspiracy theories about election fraud for the past few months.

Democrats should view this victory as a mandate to save democracy. But in order to do so, they’ll need to get their own house in order on process and power, especially in the Senate.

Georgia’s newest Senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. (via

Attacking democracy loses elections

Runoffs always have lower turnout than general elections, but…

It’s tempting to think that better messaging is the key to advancing good policy and getting big political wins.

Think tanks, pollsters, cable news pundits, and elected officials constantly debate which messages will be the most effective at moving public opinion and mobilizing people to vote. It’s also easy (and fun!) to debate messaging. It’s something everyone who speaks and writes about politics feels qualified to do.

But the truth is that messaging choices often don’t matter as much as we think they do. Far more important is our ability to deliver a message in the first place.

Messaging only gets you so far

Historian Lara…


I’ve moved my writing to Ghost in solidarity with Medium workers who faced union busting from their managers. You can find this article here.


Despite losing a major presidential election, conservatives are urging liberals to earnestly listen to “half the country” that voted for Trump. But are we really talking about “half the country”?

There are 331 million people in America. That means “half the country” is 165.5 million people.

Did either candidate win support from “half the country”? No. In fact, no presidential candidate has ever received support from more than 50 percent of the population.


Often, visualizations about election data focus on the margin of victory (the gap between a winner and loser) and share (what percent of the electorate a candidate captured).

But 2020 was a very high turnout election. And such elections create some quirks in how we visualize election results.

Preliminary turnout estimate from 11/4. We can’t compare modern turnout 1:1 to pre-Civil Rights Era turnout due to extensive voter disenfranchisement and suppression, some of which is unfortunately still with us.

For instance, many popular maps focus on changes to vote margin. So a red area is one where Republicans improved on their margin and a blue area is one where Democrats improved on their margin. But that focus on change can obscure who actually won in each of these counties. …

This is a reference post for some political emails we’re discussing for Close Read.

First Email

From: Elizabeth Warren <>
Date: Wed, Jan 29, 2020 at 1:59 PM
Subject: Afraid


Donald Trump has been president for 3 years, and there are a lot of people out there who are afraid.

They’re afraid for the children who have to go through lockdown drills at school. They’re afraid for families separated at the border. They’re afraid for women, for people of color, for the LGBTQ+ community, and for anyone who is marginalized under this administration.

It’s easy to give into our fear and…

The ongoing protests against police violence in America are among the largest civil rights demonstrations in history. They’ve rapidly shifted the debate on racial justice and policing and they’ve been overwhelmingly peaceful, except for when police and policymakers instigate violence or try to restrict people’s First Amendment rights.

But as we get closer to the election, right wing propaganda sites and Republican operatives will increasingly try to frame property destruction and physical confrontations in the streets as representative of the Democratic party and “Joe Biden’s America.” That’s because they don’t have a record to run on.

Harper’s “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” has gotten a lot of attention and there are some fine responses out there already, including this very funny one.

But I wanted to dive into a few specific claims about the letter itself, who signed it and whatever (possibly odd!) process it followed to publication, including troubling claims by two initial signers, and inconsistent solicitations to sign onto the letter from people who took a pass.

[I also did a podcast on this episode, including a few additional updates.]

Debate so open I can see my own brain! And yes, the reference to “it’s about ethics in open letters” is me being glib.

This is a Weird Open Letter

I’ve helped with a lot of open letters over the years on…

You may have heard the new idea.

It sounds intriguing at first, but a note of caution is warranted.

First, advocates for the new idea have framed their demands in simple terms, but it’s actually quite complex.

Second, the new idea hasn’t been tried before. You know what that means: there’s no evidence that it works.

Strike three: I looked into some of the claims advocates for the new idea have made and they’re not quite up to my standards, which I’d certainly like to apply here.

The advocates could have avoided this problem if they had simply taken into…

Aaron Huertas

Democracy is pretty cool. We should try it some time. Voting rights, science policy, political communication and grassroots activism.

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