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Intelligence Officials See No Signs of Foreign Interference in Mail-in Voting

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  • President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud, suggesting that foreign countries will print counterfeit ballots, among other unsubstantiated concerns. 
  • On Wednesday, top intelligence officials told reporters they have seen no coordinated voter fraud efforts from any nation but did warn the public about covert and overt influence operations. 
  • That same day, Trump claimed that election officials could cause ballot miscounts, not the USPS. His statement came after the Postmaster General agreed to temporarily suspend changes that many felt would have prevented some mail-in ballots from being counted on time. 
  • Several investigations have found that mail-in voting is safe, and Trump’s claims about the potential for a rigged election have now been rejected by top officials in his own administration, state officials from both parties, and nonpartisan voting experts.

Election Security Officials Rebuke Trump’s Claims 

Top intelligence officials said Wednesday that there is no evidence of foreign interference in mail-in voting, a major rejection of warnings shared by President Donald Trump and others in his administration.

For several months now, Trump has routinely warned against mail-in voting, falsely claiming that the process will lead to widespread voter fraud. 

He’s given a variety of claims for this belief, arguing that mailboxes will be robbed and ballots will be forged, among other things. He’s even said the 2020 election will be “rigged” by foreign countries printing counterfeit ballots.

Other members in his administration, including Attorney General William Bar, have appeared to defend that last claim. Still, several experts, studies, and investigations have explained that voting by mail is safe. On top of that, news outlets and social media platforms like Twitter have been working to warn the public when Trump makes unsubstantiated comments about mail-in voting. 

However, arguably one of the most important statements against Trump’s remarks came from high ranking officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Those officials spoke on the condition that they not be named. 

According to several different outlets, one senior intelligence official said: “We have no information or intelligence that any nation state threat actor is engaging in activity … to undermine any part of the mail-in vote or ballots.”

A senior FBI official also reportedly claimed that even if there is fraud, it won’t be enough to tip the scales of the election results. “We have not seen, to date, a coordinated national voter fraud effort during a major election and it would be extraordinarily difficult to change a federal election outcome through this type of fraud alone, given the range of processes that would need to be affected or compromised by an adversary at the local level,” they said.

The range of processes includes things like being able to find every registered voter’s address, forging signatures, and replicating the barcodes and special stock the ballots are printed on. 

FBI officials also noted that the agency is ready to tackle any potential voter fraud that could occur, given that the number of mail-in ballots is expected to increase because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, while there might not be any visible threat towards mail-in ballots, intelligence officials did continue to warn that a number of foreign countries, including Russia, China, and Iran, continue to engage in overt and covert influence operations aimed at the 2020 presidential race.

To that point, a seniors intelligence official said, “We encourage Americans to consume information with a critical eye.”

“Check out your sources before reposting messages,” they added. 

With these remarks, Trump’s claims about a rigged election have now been rejected by top officials in his own administration, state officials from both parties, and nonpartisan voting experts. Still, major rebukes like this haven’t stopped the president from peddling his voter fraud claims in the past.

Trump Blames Local Election Workers

At the same time, many politicians, especially Democrats, argued that Trump and Post Master General Louis DeJoy have been working to hurt the U.S. Postal Service in an effort to slow mail delivery and in turn influence the election in his favor. 

This is actually something many felt Trump admitted himself when he said he opposed stimulus funding for the agency. In an interview with Fox Business earlier this month, he said, “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”

“If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”

Afterward, the post office making huge changes, including removing or locking up several mail drop boxes, cutting overtime hours, and decommissioning many sorting machines. Though the moves were blamed on the general decline of mail, DeJoy later agreed to temporarily suspend those plans until after the November election. Since then, the post office has worked to assure the public that it can handle all the election ballots to make sure they are counted in time. 

However, it seems that now the president is saying problems with counting ballots actually lie with election officials, not the post office. In an interview with The Washington Examiner Wednesday, the president was asked to confirm that he is not worried about the USPS’s ability to deliver ballots.

“It’s not the post office,” Trump said. “No, it’s the elections office. The post office — look, this is a con job. It’s like the Russian hoax. The post office has run the way it’s been run forever.”

He went on to claim that DeJoy will do a good job, saying, “but the post office is the post office.” 

He said that even if mail delivery were a day late, “that’s not the problem. The problem is when they dump all these [ballots] in front of a few people who are counting them, and they’re going to count them wrong. The post office is not to blame.”

The only thing I’m concerned about is the unsolicited ballots, where they’re going to send 80 million unsolicited ballots to people that they don’t even know if they’re alive or if they’re living there. I think it is a catastrophic disaster for this country.”

As of now, it seems like the president may be reangling his issues with mail-in voting, shifting concerns from the foreign countries, and the post office to local election workers. However, once again, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the country. Still, many warn that with the election just around the corner, Americans who wish to vote by mail should submit their ballots as early as possible. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Examiner) (CNN) (CNET)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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