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Assorted Election Stupidity

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As some of you may have noticed, the United States had an election the other day. The party not led by Donald Trump made significant gains, and now controls the House of Representatives. The party that is led by Donald Trump added a few seats to its Senate majority, but also it is still led by Donald Trump.

Here are some other things that happened.

  • In Nevada’s 36th Assembly District, Dennis Hof easily defeated Lesia Romanov by a 26-point margin (63–37). Hof will not serve in the state legislature, however, because he has been dead for almost a month. It appears that in Nevada, being dead is not a reason to remove the dead person’s name from the ballot.
  • Notably, nothing in the Nevada Constitution specifically prohibits a dead person from serving in the state legislature, but it is possible to infer this from the requirement that all legislators must be “duly qualified electors….” Nev. Const. art. 4, § 5. Qualified electors include “[a]ll citizens of the United States” who are 18 or older and “resided in the state six months, and in the district or county thirty days next preceding any election….” Id. art. 2 § 1. Hof stopped living in Nevada on October 16, and if he “resided” there in any form for the remainder of the required period, there is no evidence of it.
  • Also notable: Dennis Hof was a pimp. Or, if you prefer, a “brothel owner,” who owned a number of brothels in Nevada, where that is legal (in most of the state). Hof was, in fact, the most famous brothel owner in America, as one of his establishments was featured in the HBO series “Cathouse.” He first ran for office in 2016 as a Libertarian Party candidate, but lost. This year, he ran as a dead Republican, and won.
  • Also dead: the gubernatorial dreams of Lowering the Bar non-favorite Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State whose official Kansas Secretary of State page currently displays both his smiling face and election results showing that he lost by 56,000 votes (48–43%), despite having driven around the state in a car with a fake machine gun mounted on top, which is usually a sure thing. Kobach’s official biography describes him as a “nationally recognized litigator,” which is true but not in the way his official biography means it.
  • Then there’s U.S. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who is recognized both nationally and by the Justice Department as someone who probably committed insider-trading fraud. Following his indictment in August, Collins insisted he would stay on the ballot and seek re-election anyway, but then he didn’t. But then he did, and then he won. Which raises the question: Can a convicted felon serve in Congress? Experts say yes. See Can a Convicted Felon Serve in Congress?” Lowering the Bar (Dec. 24, 2014). But they usually don’t.
  • Such as the subject of that 2014 post, former U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (also R-NY), who was also re-elected while under indictment, but who later resigned after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion, thus allowing Congress to avoid yet again the embarrassment of having a sitting member serve while sitting in jail. Grimm, of course, ran again this year, having been paroled. But he lost in the primary to the non-felon who had replaced him.
  • The question above may also be relevant to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who was indicted in August for misusing campaign funds. Sorry—allegedly misusing campaign funds. See Campaign Funds [Allegedly] Used for Rabbit Travel,” Lowering the Bar (Aug. 27, 2018). Hunter, too, decided to seek re-election despite the indictment, and earned bonus points for awfulness by accusing his opponent of being a Muslim with a terrorist grandfather, though he is actually a Christian whose grandfather died long before he was born (but was, in fact, a terrorist). Since he ran a campaign like that, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Hunter also won.
  • Any indicted Democrats? Yep! Or, at least, the until-recently-indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who survived a trial last fall on bribery charges, courtesy of a hung jury. In January, the DOJ said it would not retry the case. According to the Senate Ethics Committee, Menendez did not dispute that he had “accepted numerous gifts” from someone and then “took official actions related to [that person’s] interests,” but I guess the jury decided that was something other than “bribery.” The Committee “severely admonished” Menendez, though, and if there’s one thing we know about legislators, it’s that they’re always deterred by the prospect of a severe admonishment. The New Jersey race was considered a toss-up, but Menendez ended up winning by about 10 points.
  • Finally, “congratulations” also to Inmate No. 232573 (D-TX), a.k.a. Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Democratic member of the Texas House. Reynolds won re-election on Tuesday even though his campaign headquarters were then located in Pod 2 of the Montgomery County jail. Reynolds had reported there on September 7 to start serving a one-year sentence resulting from five misdemeanor convictions, and that’s where he was on election night when voters overwhelmingly chose to send him back to the state house. Sometime in 2019, that is, or maybe earlier with good behavior. Reynolds was unopposed, but 47,305 voters still chose to mark their ballots for a guy who was in jail at the time.
  • Reynolds was the incumbent, and did not have to resign from office under Texas law because the charges were misdemeanors. It appears that the Texas Legislature is currently out of session, but according to the report, “[u]nless Reynolds’ sentence is reduced, he will likely be sitting in a jail cell when the legislature reconvenes in January 2019,” and could miss the entire first year of the session if not released before next September.
  • Special Lowering the Bar bonus points go to Reynolds because of this detail: he was convicted on five counts “of using a middleman to chase ambulances in order to solicit clients for Reynolds’ law firm,” also known as “barratry.” His law license has been suspended. Wait—double bonus points because he was also recently fined $52,000 for failing to properly file campaign-finance records, but mainly because Reynolds was a member of the House’s campaign-finance committee at the time.

“Congratulations” to all!

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7 hours ago
"He first ran for office in 2016 as a Libertarian Party candidate, but lost. This year, he ran as a dead Republican, and won."
Washington, District of Columbia
16 hours ago
Washington, DC
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to be fair, the simant theme DOES truly kick

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November 12th, 2018next

November 12th, 2018: WHERE'S THE LIE THOUGH

– Ryan

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8 hours ago
Here's the Sim Ant theme, you're welcome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMZduvheCY8
Washington, District of Columbia
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1 day ago
[rss title] to be fair, the simant theme DOES truly kick


[mailto subject] presenting: MACAULAY CULKIN and his character-defining performance... as DOOM GUY

VT official issues apology for international student flyer mishap

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BLACKSBURG - A Virginia Tech official issued an apology to the Asian-Pacific Islander community on campus after an upset over what some considered an offensive promotional flyer for international students.

The flyer was posted around campus for an upcoming survey. It was used to urge international students to compete the survey to tell Virginia Tech ‘what is and is not working well’ with regard to making campus better for international students.

The problem as one student noted on Twitter, is none of the students in the photo used on the flyer are international.

After the student's tweet gained the attention of Tech officials, an executive director with student affairs Hunter Gresham issued an apology addressed to the Asian-Pacific Islander community.

"I realize my apology does not quickly nor simply erase the hurt and harm I've caused, and that this instance is but one of many microaggressions suffered daily by those of underrepresented identities. 

I also know when it is necessary that I offer an apology. This is, without question, one of those times. 

I am truly sorry," Gresham said.

The Asian American Student Union posted a response Thursday on its Facebook page.

“Although Virginia Tech strives to improve diversity and inclusion, incidents such as this diminish any progress made. None of the students pictured are international and, yet, they become the poster-children for international students,” their letter read.

Anna Enkhtur, member of the Asian American student union, said in an email they are working with administration to outline the next steps.

Copyright 2018 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.

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21 hours ago
f.a.c.e.p.a.l.m. (at least he apologized?)
Washington, District of Columbia
1 day ago
New York, NY
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Human history, in one chart

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A scene at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games depicts the Industrial Revolution, a turning point in human history.

Almost all the gains in human well-being in history happened since the Industrial Revolution.

Luke Muehlhauser is a researcher who studies risks to human civilization. Last year, he embarked on an amateur macrohistory project: collecting all the data we have available for six different metrics of human well-being, and graphing those metrics to get a picture of how the world has changed over time.

The six metrics he charted were life expectancy; GDP per capita; the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty; “war-making capacity,” a measure of technological advancement for which we have the most historical data; “energy capture,” which reflects access to food, livestock, firewood, and, in the modern day, electricity; and the percentage of people living in a democracy. Obviously, we don’t have a precise measure of many of these things for most of history — but we have enough to get a strong sense of some trends.

He plotted those measures across the entire sweep of human history. The resulting graph is startling:

The impact of historical events on seven different measures of global wellbeing, by Luke Muehlhauser. Used with permission. By Luke Muehlhauser. Used with permission.
The impact of historical events on six measures of global well-being.

The graph starts in 1000 BC and goes to the present day. It’s flat for most of human history. The Industrial Revolution is generally agreed to have begun in the late 1700s or first half of the 1800s, and that’s also when most of these markers of human well-being started to change.

Economic historian Joel Mokyr has called the 19th and 20th centuries “the most transformative centuries in all of human history.” From this chart, it’s easy to see why. Over almost all of human history, each of these metrics of well-being was completely flat. The same share of people lived in a democratic society — approximately none. Life expectancy at birth is believed by historians to have hovered in the range of 25 to 30 years (though this is mostly due to child deaths, not deaths in early adulthood). Almost the entire world lived in extreme poverty.

The most significant events of history had — when we zoom out and take a look at the big picture — only a small impact on overall well-being. The Black Death killed 10 percent of everyone alive and still barely moved these numbers. The fall of the Roman Empire did affect some measures of well-being, but on a scale that is barely visible on this graph.

In short, for most of history, all human events — the rise and fall of empires, the spread of plagues, the spread and schisms of religions, the invention of wheels and aqueducts and the printing press — barely affected the typical person’s life span, political freedom, economic productivity, or wealth.

And then, with the Industrial Revolution, all those things changed at once. Within 200 years, the human experience looked very different.

What made the Industrial Revolution different?

The Industrial Revolution refers to the transition, beginning in Britain and spreading around the world in the 19th century, to new — often factory-based — manufacturing processes. This transition affected almost every industry, from textiles and ironworking to transportation and agriculture. People were profoundly affected as well.

“Until about 1800,” Mokyr told the Washington Post, “the vast bulk of people on this planet were poor. And when I say poor, I mean they were on the brink of physical starvation for most of their lives. Life expectancy in 1750 was around 38 at most, and much lower in some places. The notion that today we would live for 80 years, and spend much of those in leisure, is totally unexpected. The lower middle class in Western and Asian industrialized societies today has a higher living standard than the pope and the emperors of a few centuries back, in every dimension.”

That sudden, drastic rise in standards of living is what the chart reflects.

Historians disagree on many details of this story — for example, on when the Industrial Revolution can be said to have begun, and on when it started producing real gains in standards of living for the average person. But historians broadly agree that extraordinary gains were associated with the Industrial Revolution.

The most striking lessons from this chart

I reached out to Muehlhauser to ask him about the biggest takeaways from this chart and from this view of human progress.

He emphasized how many metrics are missing from this picture, because we don’t have good data on them going back for centuries. He also emphasized that on its own, a chart doesn’t demonstrate causation — we’d need to look at the timing of industrialization by region, and the timing of changes in well-being, to draw any conclusions there.

Nonetheless, there are things we can learn just from this. We often think about history as a gradual arc of progress, with setbacks such as wars and famines and gains such as new ideas and technologies. Muehlhauser’s chart suggests a remarkable lack of correlation between those forms of progress and gains in human well-being.

While there was absolutely important technological and political progress occurring over centuries — new forms of government, new forms of warfare, new understandings of the world — global average well-being barely budged. The fluctuations associated with nearly all historical events are dwarfed by the changes associated with just one event: the Industrial Revolution.

One of the most striking things about the chart is how little most historical events affected it. The 1918 flu epidemic killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million people. It shows up on the chart, but as a brief blip in a general upward trajectory. World War II surpassed that death toll, killing more than 60 million people; it’s not even visible on the graph. Even though our capacity to slaughter each other has been growing — and the 20th century was rife with such atrocities — the overall trajectory has been that things keep getting better.

If you took a look at these numbers in 1800, you might have concluded that it’s impossible to really change anything about the human experience. Every change up to that point had not affected life span, not really affected political freedom, and not affected wealth or personal capacity to affect the world. It’d be easy to just conclude that the human condition was immutable.

That would have been a mistake, though. In ways that were hard to predict, things were about to change.

Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.

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1 day ago
We humans are new to the whole notion of living comfortably. I think one of the biggest social divides today is between those who trust that comfortable living is here to stay, and those who would prefer the old way of killing off one's rivals.
Washington, District of Columbia
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Open the arboretum’s Maryland Avenue gate, says Eleanor Holmes Norton

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The National Arboretum is supposed to face H Street. It sits just north of DC's Carver-Langston neighborhood, and its original main entrance was at the corner of Maryland Avenue and M Street NE, just a half-mile from The Starburst.

Eleanor Holmes Norton says it's time to reopen that gate, and once again make the arboretum work as a city park.

An inaccessible arboretum

The arboretum is one of the largest and loveliest parks in DC. It could be—should be—the Rock Creek Park of Northeast Washington, a place where residents of neighborhoods along the H Street corridor can walk to stroll surrounded by nature.

Unfortunately, since 1992 the arboretum has been, practically speaking, accessible solely via highway-oriented entrances on its far north side: one on US-50, another east of Bladensburg Road on R Street.

Existing arboretum entrances are shown in red. The proposed Maryland Avenue entrance is in blue. Base map by google. Image by the author.

A fence surrounds the rest of the arboretum, blocking access from core urban neighborhoods. For residents without cars, or even residents with cars who'd like to enjoy a park without driving to it, the arboretum may as well not exist.

The arboretum situation is similar to what was proposed in the summer of 2018 at the National Zoo, to surround the zoo with security fences and close 10 out of its 13 entrances. There, a massive outcry followed and ultimately defeated that proposal. Residents wanted to keep access to their park, and spoke out to ensure they would.

At the arboretum, that sorry situation has been a reality for 26 years. Except at the arboretum it's more like if the zoo's Connecticut Avenue and Beach Drive entrances were also closed, and the only entry was via the zoo's North Road parking lot.

Enter Eleanor to demand a fix

During a panel discussion at the arboretum last week, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton called to re-open the Maryland Avenue entrance. “Whoever heard of having a natural wonder in the middle of the city that’s closed off to the public,” she asked.

Norton's support added heft to efforts by ANC commissioners and civic associations, who have been gathering signatures and building support for the change.

The arboretum is willing, but construction is needed

Re-opening the Maryland Avenue gate is ultimately up to the arboretum's leadership. Richard Olsen, Director of the National Arboretum, says he agrees with Norton in principle and is willing to work on a solution. But the gate can't re-open right away.

Unfortunately, re-opening it isn't a matter of simply unlocking a fence. The street connecting Maryland Avenue to the arboretum's internal road network isn't all there anymore. What streets do exist are in terrible condition. And a literal concrete wall blocks the spot a connecting road would go.

Concrete blocks the Maryland Avenue gate. Image by Google.

Simply put, re-opening the gate would be a construction project. And the arbortum is not flush with construction cash.

To get it done, DC or the federal government would have to provide money. That's certainly possible, but it's not automatic and it won't happen tomorrow.

One way it might happen: If the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) funds and builds a new portion of the Anacostia River Trail that's slated to cut just south of the Maryland Avenue gate.

DDOT is planning a trail following M Street NE. Image by DDOT.

The trail could open as soon as 2020, according to the website's timeline.

The Bladensburg gate might come first

Meanwhile, before arboretum leadership focuses on Maryland Avenue, they're prioritizing constructing another, completely different gate on Bladensburg Road about three-quarters of a mile away from the Maryland Avenue gate.

Existing and proposed arboretum entrances. Base map by google. Image by the author.

The proposed new Bladensburg gate would provide access considerably further south than the arboretum's two existing northern gates. But it would cost a lot too, and it would still be car-oriented, and it would still make for a long and inhospitable walk from Near Northeast neighborhoods. And rather than providing access into the heart of the arboretum's popular garden section—as the Maryland Avenue gate would—the Bladensburg gate would access the less-used forest section.

The Bladensburg gate would be a nice addition, but it wouldn't solve the problem Norton identifies. It wouldn't open up the park to the neighborhoods.

What's next?

During last week's panel discussion, Congresswoman Norton committed to focusing on Maryland Avenue access. “Let’s not leave this up in the air,” she said, pledging to meet with Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie to discuss how the idea might move forward.

That's great news. Even if it will take time and money to fix the arboretum's inaccessibility, the fact that fixing it appears increasingly to be a matter of "when" rather than "if" is wonderful progress.

Unfortunately, the dream of a fully open equivalent to Rock Creek Park, accessible from any point without a fence, formal entrance, or security checkpoint, is not on the table.

Top image: The arboretum's Maryland Avenue gate.  Image by Google.

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1 day ago
DC has a serious addiction to fencing off public lands. I can think of a dozen places just like the Arb that are legally open to all, but treat visitors like an annoyance.
Washington, District of Columbia
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Why Democrats should make Stacey Abrams speaker of the House - The Washington Post

November 9 at 6:00 AM

On Tuesday, voters demanded change.

Tired of politics as usual, they want to see Democrats address issues plaguing the country and hold President Trump accountable. That charge requires Democrats to act boldly and creatively. In this spirit, rather than simply re-elevating Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to speaker of the House, Democrats ought to select Stacey Abrams, the likely losing Democratic candidate in the Georgia gubernatorial race.

Abrams is precisely the sort of inspirational leader that the moment demands, and the move would send a clear message to voters that their concerns have been heard — and that Democrats can find innovative ways to elevate the next generation of party leaders.

Contrary to popular understanding, the Constitution does not require the speaker of the House to be a member of Congress, although every speaker in American history has been. And while some speakers have exercised deep influence in backrooms in Congress (such as the enormously powerful Speaker Sam Rayburn’s famed board of education, the small hideaway in the Capitol where he gathered colleagues, including Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, for drinks and plotting strategy), modern speakers have also become the public face of their parties and salesmen for their agendas. At times, they have even driven the national political conversation.

This has especially been true when the opposition party holds the presidency. House Speaker Tip O’Neill found himself thrust into the spotlight after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory, when Republicans also captured the Senate. This outcome left the House as the sole source of Democratic power in Washington. O’Neill became the face of the Democratic Party, the bulwark against Reagan’s agenda and the chief protector of the safety net that Democrats had spent a half-century constructing.

O’Neill left a strong mark on the speakership by thinking strategically and creatively. A key part of his success was galvanizing electoral support for Democrats. After Reagan scored numerous policy victories in his first year in office, O’Neill and his aides crafted a messaging strategy for bouncing back in the 1982 midterms. They worked to get their message about the Republican threat to Social Security, the dangers of Reagan’s tax cuts and the cruelty of Republican spending cuts to the public, even though they lacked the White House bully pulpit. In the process, O’Neill elevated the speakership in the public’s eyes. His tenure illustrated the power of a speaker to shape public strategy in addition to backroom maneuvering. That represented a marked change from the traditional role of speaker, who typically was chosen for the ability to unify and direct his caucus behind the scenes and score policy victories.

Twelve years later, Newt Gingrich, a politician on the other end of both the ideological and tactical spectrum, again reinvented the position of speaker. Gingrich played a major role in creating the hyperpartisan, ultra-aggressive style of politics that has come to define the modern Republican Party. Gingrich was a master of manipulating the media to his advantage, and his lack of concern for bipartisanship excited and unified the Republican base. The long-term wisdom of these tactics is debatable, but their effectiveness is clear, as they ushered in the Republican Revolution of the mid-1990s.

When Gingrich and his band of Republican revolutionaries captured the House for the first time in 40 years, he became a media sensation, driving the national conversation as Republicans worked to implement their Contract with America. So prominent did Gingrich become that President Bill Clinton was forced to assert in a 1995 news conference, “I am relevant. The Constitution gives me relevance. A president, especially an activist president, has relevance.”

While Clinton eventually triumphed in the long budget battle between the two in the winter of 1995-1996, Gingrich charted a bold public course that helped pull his party in new directions.

The modern speakership has been defined by charismatic and memorable personalities such as O’Neill and Gingrich, and the strongest, most successful speakers are the ones who remade the role.

Two years into the Trump administration, norms and traditions in Washington are fading, creating new opportunities for change. Democrats can use the speakership to create space for dynamic new candidates, particularly those who fought gallantly in deep-red states and lost on Election Day. The new speaker should not be chosen from among those hardened insiders who “worked their way up” through party structures; that sort of politics as usual is what voters rejected Tuesday.

Instead, the party should choose someone talented and galvanizing, suited to the moment.

With Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House, the speaker will be the face of the Democratic Party. This person ought to be visionary, inspirational and speak to a changing set of priorities among the Democratic electorate. These qualities, more than tactical maneuvering or parliamentary mastery, is what Democrats need in the age of Trump. Abrams, a highly qualified lawyer whose campaign was a target of structural and intentional voter suppression, is exactly who Democrats should elevate to this highly visible role.

On Wednesday, Nancy Pelosi formally launched her bid to become speaker of the 116th Congress. Admittedly, replacing the deeply unpopular Pelosi with a relative outsider and a nonmember of the House would be an unorthodox choice. Abrams is not in Congress, and it appears she is likely to lose a historical gubernatorial election in Georgia, where she would have been the first black female governor.

But the move would yield immediate dividends. Choosing an outsider would acknowledge how unpopular Congress is with the public. Choosing one as dynamic, popular and promising as Abrams, from a state in the South where Democrats have been gaining in strength, would signal a real change in the party’s philosophy — and anoint a leader who has the communications skills to go toe to toe with Trump.

A bold move like this would also fortify the alliances of progressives who helped pull Democrats over the finish line on Tuesday, strengthen the Democratic bench for Senate and presidential runs in 2020 and serve as a strong rebuke of the voter suppression and racism in Georgia at the hands of likely governor-to-be Brian Kemp. If House Democrats make this choice, Abrams as speaker would be a win for the party and for democracy. The move would also serve as a long-overdue acknowledgment of the contributions black women have always made to the Democratic Party, doing much of the work in exchange for very little credit or influence.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the best hope for preserving a stable democracy for all Americans is to find and promote talented new candidates who represent a visionary Democratic Party. The role of the modern speakership must evolve with the expectations of the electorate, and Stacey Abrams would provide a welcome remake of a historically dynamic position.

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4 days ago
I love this idea; it's a long overdue way to restore the Speakership to its intended role as the most prestigious title under the Constitution. As an added bonus, the Republicans will go into conniptions at the sight of Democrats breaking a norm and defending it with a Constitutional Originalism argument.
Washington, District of Columbia
4 days ago
This is a fascinating idea insofar as it starts to address the structural issues with our Congress not having opposition political leadership from a national leader in waiting. I don't know about the mechanics here, but now seems like a good time for bold experimentation. (But let's wait to see if Abrams ends up as Governor first.)
New York, NY
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4 days ago
fascinating, going to have to look deeper into what the Constitution says about the speaker. I assume Abrams couldn't actually vote or introduce legislation etc as she wasn't elected by the public
Bend, Oregon
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