Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Religious Liberty Wins Bigly at the Supreme Court

Religious liberty is winning bigly at the United States Supreme Court.  Indeed so much so, that even liberal justices are crossing over to vote for religious freedom.

Three cases handed down this sesEspinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case which dealt with a ban on the use of government subsidized vouchers at religious schools.  Justice Roberts, writing for the 5-4 majority, held the so-called Blaine Amendment, which bars the use of the vouchers to religious schools solely because they are religious schools, discriminates in violation of the First Amendment's religious freedom guarantee.
Little Sisters of the Poor
(Photo from www.CatholicNewsAgency.com)
sion are of note.  Last week, the Court handed down

Liberals were outraged, claiming that the "wall of separation between church and state" was "bulldozed" by Chief Justice Roberts.   But for liberals who insist that the religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution should always take a back seat to laws setting forth "good public policy," things got much worse in two opinions handed down today.

The first case today, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration rule exempting employers with sincerely held moral or religious objections from the Obama-era mandate that the employer include contraceptive coverage as part of its employee insurance plan.   No doubt to the consternation of liberals, themajority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, was joined in by two liberals justices on the court, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.  Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

In the second case, the Supreme Court threw out two discrimination lawsuits filed by teachers against their religious employers.  In the opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court held that the First Amendment protects the rights of religious institutions "to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine."   The vote in that case was also 7-2, with the same lineup as in the Little Sisters of Poor case.

No doubt my liberal friends right now are beside themselves. There are two constitutional principles that consistently baffle liberals:  federalism and religious freedom.  Regarding the former, they think states have no autonomy, and are merely subunits of the national government obligated to do whatever they are told to do by Congress or the President.  Regarding the latter, liberals believe the Free Exercise of Religion Clause is just about protecting one's right to worship as he or she sees fit, and that those religious freedoms end once one steps outside of a church.

Today, by two 7-2 decisions, the Supreme Court told my liberal friends they are wrong about the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Lack of Competency May Doom Trump's Re-Election Chances; Indiana GOP's Laughable "Diversity" Outreach

Should President Trump lose re-election, there will be a review of what went wrong.  Usually sitting Presidents do not lose re-election, but as of writing this column, Trump trails significantly in every swing state and is struggling in states like Texas, Georgia and Ohio, states which were supposed to be solidly in the Trump column.  Discussion of a Trump landslide is gone.  Rather, the Trump campaign is hoping to draw, once again, to an inside straight, eeking out victory in just enough battleground states to narrowly win the Electoral College.

I can just hear the screams now...the polls are rigged!  Plus, they were wrong in 2016!  None of that is actually true.  While methodology varies from pollster to pollster, and is open to criticism, they do not put their finger on the scale to favor one candidate over another.  As far as the claim the polls were wrong in 2016, the average of national polls that year were just a point off what the candidates received and the results in the swing states were all within the margins of error of the polling averages in those states.

What is remarkable is that despite so many issues over the years that should have doomed Trump - his putting kids in cages, his solicitation of foreign powers to help him win elections, his self-dealing and outright corruption, his utter disregard for the Constitution and democratic norms, his huge budget deficits, his racist and xenophobic rhetoric, his ridiculous trade wars that hurt American consumers, his giving aid and comfort to our enemies while attacking our allies - he still had a solid chance of winning as of early 2020.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Americans finally woke up to the fact that they had a President in the White House who is utterly and completely incompetent.  Trump has demonstrated beyond any doubt he lacks the ability to lead the country.  While some of us who followed his career were well aware of Trump's unfitness for office, it has taken the death of some 130,000 Americans from a pandemic for many voters to wake up to that fact.

Competence, or rather the lack thereof, will be what killed Trump's re-election campaign. Maybe Trump still has time to turn things around and prove to Americans he's up for the job.  I kind of doubt it though.

****

The Indianapolis Star reports this morning that the Indiana Republicans have launched a "diversity" initiative to recruit African-Americans and Latinos.   The article quotes at length Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer who claims he has worked for years promoting diversity in the party.  Hupfer says in the article he wants to see more minority Republican candidates and more minorities
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer
voting for Republican candidates.

What a pile of human excrement.

Chairman Hupfer is a YUGE supporter of President Trump, the most openly racist president since Woodrow Wilson.  Trump has labeled Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists.  And remember the "good people on both sides" comment about the white supremacy protests?  Just last week, Trump defended Confederate monuments, the Confederate flag, and retweeted a supporter yelling "white power" from his golf cart.

Of course, none of this should be a surprise to anyone who has followed Trump's career.  Trump has a long history of racial discrimination as a businessman, including discriminating against African-Americans in housing.  Outside the world of business, Trump has taken public positions that are often tinged with racism, to say the least.  The most prominent of these pre-presidency positions is his steadfast support of the death penalty for the Central Park Five, even after they were exonerated of murdering the woman jogging in the park.

In June of 2020, Vox Magazine published a story documenting Trump's "long history"of racism.  While I don't agree that all the entries in the years from 1970s to 2020 are evidence of racism, many, if not most, are.

Of course, liberals are constantly throwing out the charge of racism against virtually every Republican candidate.  As a result, many people understandably have ignored the claim Trump is a racist.   But this time, liberals are actually right.

Fortunately, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Hupfer has consistently pushed back against Trump's overt racism, standing up for Latinos and African-Americans who might be considering the Republican brand.  Kidding.  Chairman Hupfer has done NOTHING of the sort.

There will be a time in the not too distant future when the Republican Party, sans Donald Trump, will have to reinvent itself.  As part of that re-calibration of the party, GOP leaders will realize they must reinvent the party so it can attract African-American and Latino votes.  Part of that process will be excommunicating from party leadership posts pro-Trump Republicans, like Hupfer, who said and did absolutely nothing as the President turned the GOP into the party of white supremacy.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Mail-In Ballots and Florida; Stacey Abrams Please Go Away; Indiana 5 CD Race

I am no fan of mail-in voting.  It is not because of concerns about fraud.  While President Trump is right that mail-in voting makes fraud easier, he is certainly not right that it leads to widespread fraud.  States which have high levels of mail-in voting have not experienced that.  So fraud is not one of the top reasons I oppose mail-in voting.

The problem with mail-in voting is that it undermines the secret ballot.  When voters are casting ballots away from the voting booth, they are subject to pressure from spouses, other family members,
political candidates, friends, employers, unions, etc..  That is why we designed a voting system in which people go into private spaces, away from that potential pressure or influence, to cast ballots.

Another huge problem with mail-in ballots is the length of time it takes to collect and count the ballots.  In California, which has high levels of mail-in voting, election results will often not be known until weeks after election day.  That undermines the faith people have in election results. When people see the winner on election day slip behind due to post-election day mail-in ballots, many people assume the election is being stolen.  We need to know the result at the end of election day.

I'm also not in favor of people voting a month before election day.  As much of the campaigning is done that last month, voting before those messages are heard seems unfair to the candidates and not good for the voters who might be persuaded to change their minds those last 30 days.  A workable compromise is to have a week of voting before election day in which people can vote at any vote center in the county.  You can still have mail-in absentee voting for those who, for health or other reasons, can't cast a ballot in person during that week.

But this election is different.  It is a no brainer that, during a pandemic, states should allow excuse-free, mail-in voting.  While there is nothing wrong with Republicans defending the integrity of the ballot, the GOP should never be about making voting more difficult.

*****

Donald Trump's outspoken opposition to mail-in voting is a nightmare for the Florida Republican Party which had developed the best mail-in voting program in the country.  Democrats have lost numerous races in the Sunshine Sate because the Florida GOP is so good at getting its people, many older voters, to cast ballots by mail.  Now Trump is telling them voting that way is wrong...that these Florida voters should instead head to the polls.  That may well cause GOP turnout to be down in Florida this year, a state which Trump desperately needs and is struggling.

*****
Can we pass a law to make former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams go away?  I am constantly seeing in my phone's news feed Abrams' thinking on a wide range of issues.  Not sure why she gets so much fawning media coverage. She thinks she is too good to have run for one of the two Georgia Senate seats up this year.  Rather, she should be Vice President of the United States!  Her campaign for Veep flopped because Joe Biden doesn't even think she's worth interviewing for the position. Through it all, Abrams continues to falsely insist she was cheated out of the 2018 gubernatorial election because of "voter suppression." (Please fact checkers, take a look at that one.)  I don't like branding candidates with childish nicknames, but if I did "Sore Loser" would be the obvious moniker for Abrams.  Go away, Stacey.  Please.

*****
A poll out this week, has Democrat Christina Hale up 6 points on Republican State Senator Victoria Spartz.  According to the poll, Trump is running 10 points behind in the mostly suburban district.  While one needs to take the poll with a grain of salt as it was paid for by Hale's campaign and we don't have crosstabs, a 6 point lead is a curious figure to arrive at if one were simply putting his or her finger on the scale.  Political Analyst Larry Sabato believes the polling as his "Crystal Ball" analysis now rates the district as a "tossup."

Spartz does not think the district, which Trump won by 12 points in 2016 is that competitive.  She'd be wrong.  If you look at the 2018 and 2019 election results in northern Marion County and Hamilton County, there has been a dramatic swing in favor of the Democrats during Trump's presidency.  In 2019, Republicans did not win a single precinct in Washington Township, the wealthiest and most populated township in Marion County.  That same year, Democrats won council seats in Fishers and Carmel. (In fact, the Democrats could have won a majority of council seats in Fishers if they had not left some Republicans unopposed.)   Spartz's tying herself to the Trump might have allowed her to win the primary, but the President will prove to be an albatross in the general election.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Anti-Trump Republicans are Right to Target Trump's GOP Enablers

McClatchey has an interesting article on the efforts of anti-Trump Republicans to target Trump's Senate enablers running for re-election:
 A loose association of current and former Republicans working to sink President Donald Trump’s re-election now see another political feat that’s necessary for them to have a shot at reclaiming their party: flipping the U.S. Senate to the Democrats.
The emerging belief, based on more than a dozen interviews, is that defeating Trump alone is insufficient to spur the reckoning required to salvage a party that will almost undoubtedly confront a crossroads if the president loses to Joe Biden this fall. Many
argue that GOP senators must pay a steep price for their unabating fealty to Trump, even if it hands Democrats complete control of the federal government. 
“The analogy would be in the same way that fire purifies the forest, it needs to be burned to the ground and fundamentally repudiated,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican-turned-independent political strategist who now works for The Lincoln Project, one of the most pugnacious of the anti-Trump GOP groups. “Every one of them should be voted out of office, with the exception of Mitt Romney.”
...
“They are the only ... human beings who had the authority and the ability to keep this president in check constitutionally and politically, and every one of them made a conscious decision to not do so,” said Jennifer Horn, a former New Hampshire GOP chairwoman who now advises the Lincoln Project. “The only way to make sure that Trumpism doesn’t continue to rule the Republican Party for years to come is to make sure that we defeat not only the president, but those people who have enabled him.”
Ms. Horn is 100% correct.  I have long said that Donald Trump is not the problem.  Certainly he lacks the intelligence, character, integrity and temperament to be President, but so what?  There are thousands of Donald Trumps out there.  Just go into your local neighborhood tavern and you will find some drunk residing at the end of the bar loudly pontificating on every subject under the sun, while not possessing any actual knowledge or competence.  You don't go and make that person President of the United States.  But that is what we did in 2016.



But once elected President, there were plenty of people conservatives in the media and in politics, particularly Congress, who could have checked the worst excesses of Trump and held him accountable.  But instead they deliberately chose to give the President a pass on EVERYTHING. In doing so, those enablers have allowed the reputation of the Republican Party to be tarnished, perhaps indelibly.   Because the damage Trumpism has done to the GOP brand, during the next couple decades socialism and a liberal social agenda will dominate politics.  It will take us a generation to rebuild the Republican party and the conservative movement post-Trump.

Now a number of Republican Senators seeking re-election are awakening to the electoral consequences of abdicating their constitutional responsibilities to go all in on Trump.  They are demanding anti-Trump Republicans give them a pass because they are wearing GOP jerseys.  Hell no.  Those Senators need to pay a price for the damage that they allowed Trump to do to my party.  The enablers need to be held responsible.  

I became politically active during the conservative intellectual movement of the late 1970s, which blossomed into the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the first presidential candidate I voted for.  I believe in conservative values and am certainly not leaving the Republican Party because of Trump.  After all, I was a Republican long before Trump began pretending to be a Republican.  

Even though I have voted Republican in the past and plan to vote Republican in the future, I pledge to never vote for any current Republican member of Congress (save Mitt Romney) for any public office ever again.  They must pay a price for what they did to my Republican Party.  The Trump enablers must be held accountable.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Trump May Well Be Telling the Truth About Not Knowing About Russian Bounties on American Soldiers...and That is Exactly the Problem

President Trump's defense to not acting on intelligence that Russia's President Putin paid a bounty for each American soldier killed by the Taliban is that he was not briefed on that matter.  Although the intelligence finding was in his written briefing materials, because no one orally told him of the Russian bounty program he can't be held responsible.

For once, Trump may not be lying.  I find it entirely plausible that Trump did not read the briefing materials.  Everyone who has worked with the President over the course of his business and political career has consistently said Trump does not read.  If you are lucky, you might get him to look at a
single piece of paper with bullet points.  Maybe.
So I don't find it far-fetched that Trump did not read about the bounty program in the informatin he was given.

Likewise, I find it entirely plausible that no one around Trump verbally told him about the bounty program.  Trump is very, very fond of Russian President Vladimar Putin.  Trump constantly fawns over Putin, groveling for his approval. Trump is also notoriously adverse to bad news.  Does not want to hear it.  He only wants to hear the good news.  Early in his administration, it was reported that Trump had an aide twice a day bring him a folder full of positive stories about him.  No negative stories allowed.

So could it be that national security officials were concerned about giving Trump the bad news that his buddy Vlad was rewarding terrorists with bounties for killing American soldiers?  That those administration officials knew the intelligence would make Trump angry and cause him to attack the very people who developed the intelligence and tried to convey it to him?  es, that is entirely plausible because it's happened before.

But what does it say that we have a President who does not read and cannot bear to hear bad decisions?  Nothing good.

Then you have the new story on CNN from legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein about Trump's phone calls with world leaders:
In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.
The calls caused former top Trump deputies -- including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials -- to conclude that the President was often "delusional," as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.
...
By far the greatest number of Trump's telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump, according to the sources. Meanwhile, the President regularly bullied and demeaned the leaders of America's principal allies, especially two women: telling Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom she was weak and lacked courage; and telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she was "stupid."
...
The insidious effect of the conversations comes from Trump's tone, his raging outbursts at allies while fawning over authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history and lack of preparation as much as it does from the troubling substance, according to the sources. While in office, then- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed worry to subordinates that Trump's telephone discussions were undermining the coherent conduct of foreign relations and American objectives around the globe, one of CNN's sources said. And in recent weeks, former chief of staff Kelly has mentioned the damaging impact of the President's calls on US national security to several individuals in private.
None of this should be surprising. Trump is a man with tremendous character and personality problems that go far beyond an inability to tell the truth, and a mind-boggling ignorance about history and world affairs.  Trump is deathly insecure about his intelligence and his abilities.  He is enamored with dictators who do not have to succeed on their merits, and is resentful toward leaders from democratic countries who have become successful leaders on the merits instead of wielding autocratic power.

In short, Donald Trump has proven beyond any doubt that he is spectacularly unfit to be President of the United States.   That was not a surprise to most of us who followed his career as a failed businessman/con man/reality show star before he got into politics.  But now Trump's enormous character flaws, lack of intellect and management abilities, should be apparent to everyone.  Even if Trump were right on all the issues (he most certainly is not) voting for his re-election should not be an option for anyone who cares about this country.

***
Now some OOP's short takes:

  • Two more days passed and two more Trump campaign commercials appeared on my Indianapolis TV.
  • Other people are starting to take seriously my theory (yes, I'm claiming that it originated with me) that Trump may drop out this Fall rather than face an electoral landslide.
  • The once proud National Review continues its downward slide by today publishing a piece by Victor Davis Hanson (he wrote the book, The Case for Trump), titled "The Strategies of Dementia Politics."  In the piece, Hanson, who has a B.A. and Ph.D. in the "classics," makes the medical diagnosis that Biden has "dementia" and states as fact that because of his dementia the Democrats are desperately trying to keep him in the basement until Election Day.  (I will ignore the irony of someone who supports mentally-addled Trump questioning the mental acuity of a candidate who, even at his worst, is a 100 times sharper than Trump.)  That the editors of National Review would publish an entire article premised on the the medical diagnosis of a candidate rendered by a lay person, speaks volumes about the decline of the National Review as a serious conservative publication.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Would Trump Drop Out to Avoid Electoral Landslide?; Is Indiana in Play?; Dropped from Trump Email List

Politico yesterday published an article titled "Trump admits it: He's Losing."  Here is a snippet from the lengthy article:
Donald Trump knows he's losing. 
The president has privately come to that grim realization in recent days, multiple people
close to him told POLITICO, amid a mountain of bad polling and warnings from some of his staunchest allies that he's on course to be a one-term president. 
Trump has endured what aides describe as the worst stretch of his presidency, marred by widespread criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide racial unrest. His rally in Oklahoma last weekend, his first since March, turned out to be an embarrassment when he failed to fill the arena. 
What should have been an easy interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday horrified advisers when Trump offered a rambling, non-responsive answer to a simple question about his goals for a second term. In the same appearance, the normally self-assured president offered a tacit acknowledgment that he might lose when he said that Joe Biden is “gonna be your president because some people don't love me, maybe." 
“Under the current trajectory, President Trump is on the precipice of one of the worst electoral defeats in modern presidential elections and the worst historically for an incumbent president,” said former Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg, who remains a supporter....Nunberg pointed to national polls released by CNBC and New York Times/Siena over the past week showing Trump receiving below 40 percent against Biden. 
If Trump's numbers erode to 35 percentage points over the next two weeks, Nunberg added, “He’s going to be facing realistically a 400-plus electoral vote loss and the president would need to strongly reconsider whether he wants to continue to run as the Republican presidential nominee.”   
Nunberg suggests something I have said on these pages before.  There is a possibility that come August or September, Trump sees a crushing defeat as likely and drops out of the race rather than face a humiliating loss that damages the Trump brand.  (Turns out former Trump press secretary Anthony Scaramucci said the same thing last year.)   Prior to making that move, Trump would start selling his supporters on the claim the Democrats were going to rig the election against him.   With the groundwork laid, Trump fans might well support his leaving the race.  Trump could then move on to establish Trump TV, make money, and remain a significant player in Republican politics.  A landslide Biden victory would make any of that difficult. 

I believe, and still believe, the biggest obstacle to that possibility is that Trump views politics through rose-colored glasses.  He refuses to believe independent pollsters and he has surrounded himself with yes men and women who do not dare tell him the truth, such as how badly he might be beaten.  That makes the Politico article and Trump's comments to Sean Hannity so surprising. C ould it be I was wrong - that Trump would get the message about his uphill climb to re-election and respond in a rational manner?  

The argument I've heard against Trump dropping out is that his ego would notallow it.  To that I respond, would his "ego" be better served by staying in the race to possibly suffer a humiliating electoral loss?   While I think Trump dropping out is very unlikely, I do think it is a lot more of a possibility than people realize. 

****
Does the Trump campaign have polling that Indiana may be in play in the Presidential election?  I say that because yesterday I saw a commercial on CNN, paid for by the Trump campaign, attacking Biden for his supposed weakness towards China.  (I won't get into the hypocrisy of Trump campaign running such an ad.)  With the Electoral College, it would make no sense for a presidential campaign to run a national ad.  So that ad had to have been intentionally dropped into the Indianapolis market.  

While it makes some sense to run ads in the Ft. Wayne and South Bend/Elkhart media markets, which ads reach voters in a couple counties in the swing states of Ohio and Michigan, running ads in the Indianapolis media market just hits Hoosiers in Central Indiana.  While that is undoubtedly Trump's weakest part of the state, surely there is no doubt that Trump will carry Indiana in November.  If there is, Trump has a lot bigger problems than Indiana.

My guess is the Indianapolis Trump ad just reflects the incompetence of the Trump campaign.  Maybe someone like Jared Kushner saw the Indianapolis media market and just assumed, because of its geographic location in the center of the state, that an Indianapolis Trump ad would reach Ohio and Michigan residents.  Well, it does not.

****
I am pleased to report that following my blog article mocking Trump's clownish campaign emails I used to get six times a day, the emails have stopped.  Kudos to someone in the Trump campaign reading my article and connecting the dots to my name on the email list.   The campaign saved me the effort of unsubscribing.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Russia Paid Taliban Bounty for Each American Soldier Killed in Afghanistan; White House Claims President Trump Not Told of Intelligence

Late yesterday, The New York Times published this bombshell story in its online edition:
American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last
year.
Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

When questioned today, White House officials denied President Trump had been briefed on the intelligence.  The USA Today reports:
The White House denied Saturday that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed on an intelligence finding that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American troops and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. 
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day, and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement. 
While the White House does not routinely comment on intelligence or internal deliberations, “the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” McEnany said. 
...
McEnany said her statement “does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter.”

In short, the Trump administration does not deny that there is intelligence that Russia offered to pay the Taliban a bounty for killing American soldiers, it just says that information was not passed along to President Trump or Vice President Pence. 

That offers only two possibilities.  The first is that President Trump was informed of the bounty and refused to act on the information while at the same time demanding that his buddy Russian President Vladimar Putin be invited to the next G7 Summit.  The second is that Trump's national security team chose not to pass along the intelligence to Trump because they did not want to upset the President by telling him what Putin had done.  The former is downright treasonous.  The second, while not treasonous, is still alarming because it means that Trump's national security team does not believe the President can handle information he does not want to hear, even when that information might be critical for making foreign policy decisions.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Biden Takes Polling Lead in Key States Trump Won in 2016

Turns out the election everyone said will be close, may not be after all.   In a flurry of swing state polls released yesterday, Democratic challenger Joe Biden has taken the lead in several states Donald Trump won in 2016, many of them by double figures.  

To assist the reader, I am also including the final Real Clear Politics polling average in that state before the 2016 election as well as the final result in 2016.  That will show that Biden is polling significantly ahead of Hillary Clinton's poll numbers going into the 2016 election.


Michigan (16 electoral votes)
---Hodas & Associates (600 likely voters):  Biden +18
---Siena College/New York Times (653 registered voters):  Biden +11

2016 RCP Average:  Clinton  +3.6
2016 Result: Trump +0.3


Wisconsin (10 electoral votes)
---Redfield  & Wilton Strategies (846 LV):  Biden +9
---Hodas & Associates (600 LV): Biden +17
---Siena College/New York Times (655 RV): +11

2016 RCP Average: Clinton +6.5
2016 Result:  Trump +0.7


Pennsylviania (20 electoral votes)
---Redfield & Wilton Strategies (1,125 LV):  Biden +10
---Siena College/New York Times (651 RV): Biden +10
---Hodas & Associates (600 LV):   Biden +12

2016 RCP Average: Clinton +2.1
2016 Result: Trump +0.7


Florida (29 electoral votes)
---Fox News (1,1010 RV): Biden +9
---Siena College/New York Times (651 RV): Biden +6
---Redfield & Wilton Strategies (1,079 LV): Biden +4

2016 RCP Average: Trump +0.4
2016 Result:  Trump +1.2


North Carolina (15 electoral votes)
---Fox News (1,012 RV):  Biden +2
---Siena College/New York Times (653 RV):  Biden +9
---Redfield & Wilton Strategies (902 LV): Biden +6

2016 RCP Average:  Trump +0.8
2016 Result: Trump +3.6


Arizona (11 electoral votes)
---Redfield & Wilton Strategies (865 LV): Biden +4
---Siena College/The New York Times (650 RV): Biden +7

2016 RCP Average:  Trump +4.0
2016 Result: Trump +3.5


Georgia (16 electoral votes)
---Fox News (1,013 RV): Biden +2

2016 RCP Average: Trump +4.9
2016 Result: Trump +5.1


Texas (38 electoral votes)
---Fox News (1,001 RV): Biden +1

2016 RCP Average:  Trump +11.7
2016 Result:  Trump +9.0


***

Of course the race is fluid and could change dramatically before Election Day which is a long way off.  I lie.  The election is not that far off.  Further, in my decades of studying election races, I have never seen less fluidity in polling than I have when it comes to Donald Trump, especially now, after 3 1/2 years.  While voters may drift a bit from one camp to another, do not expect dramatic changes in the numbers.  A tightening of the numbers probably, but I doubt, come Election Day, we will see Trump regain the lead in most of the key swing states cited above. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Matt Schlapp Sells Out Conservative Movement for Cold Hard Cash

If you need a poster child for the death of conservative intellectualism, you could do no better than Matt Schlapp.  Formerly George Bush's political director, Schlapp has headed the American Conservative Union since 2014.  The ACU, which was founded in the aftermath of Goldwater's unsuccessful 1964 campaign, puts on the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual meeting of mostly young conservatives that was intended to marry future leaders with the ideals of the movement.

Under his watch, Schlapp has gutted the conservative principles that long guided the ACU, in favor of
ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp
full blown Trumpism.  Meanwhile he has turned CPAC into a freak show of political misfits espousing crazy conspiracy theories and naked tribalism.  I am not saying Schlapp by himself killed conservative intellectualism, but he has certainly been at the front of the line plunging a knife into the legacy of Barry Goldwater, William Buckley, and Ronald Reagan.

If Schlapp's damage to conservativism is not bad enough, he has worked to associate conservative thought with white politics and bigotry. On the website, Popular Information, writer Judd Legum details "Schlapp's Ugly Racial History" in a length piece titled "A Schlapp in the Face."
As president of the ACU, Schlapp was responsible for the annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference. In 2017, Schlapp invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at CPAC, despite Yiannopoulos' association with the racist "alt-right" movement. Yiannopoulos regularly collaborated with white nationalists for pieces published on Breitbart.
Matt Schlapp 
@mschlapp 
We think free speech includes hearing Milo’s important perspective. #CPAC2017
February 18th 2017 
(Schlapp later rescinded the invitation, not because of Yiannopoulos' racism, but because Yiannopoulos was caught defending pedophilia.)  
The same year at CPAC, Schlapp personally interviewed former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon, who used the site to "openly embrace[] the white supremacist Alt-Right." Schlapp also invited Clare Lopez, who advanced racist conspiracy theories about former President Obama, to participate in a panel. 
In 2016, Schlapp had a dispute with Bakari Sellers, who is Black, on Don Lemon's CNN program. During the commercial break, Schlapp allegedly yelled, "Come at me, boy!" to Sellers — a taunt that has historically been used to denigrate Black men. Schlapp later apologized but was never invited back on Lemon's show. "I don’t have any need to be on air with someone like Matt," Sellers said. 
During the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Schlapp tweeted an image of "the three Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee who are people of color." He encouraged conservative voters in swing states to "look at this photo." It was widely denounced as a "racist dog-whistle."  
Matt Schlapp @mschlapp
Look at this photo conservative voters in WV, ND, IN, FL, MO, MT, MI, TN, AZ, NV MarjorieDannenfelser @marjoriesbahttps://t.co/OvF1JlfdzqSeptember 27th 2018 
Conservative columnist Bill Kristol, who supported Kavanaugh's nomination, called Schlapp's tweet a "straight-up appeal to bigotry."  
That by the way is just the short list of racially-tinged comments by Schlapp, who is a regular commentator on Fox News.

While I knew Schlapp had sold out the conservative movement to climb on the Trump Train, I had no idea how literally that was true.  By combing through public records, Legum in "A Schlapp in the Face" details how much he has received as a "lobbyist" from big name public corporations.  In just the first three months of 2020, Verizon paid Schlapp $40,000 to lobby Congress on "general telecom and tax issues."   Abbot Labs, a large medical device company, pays Schlapp $200,000, a year to lobby, Comcast $120,000 and Walmart $200,000.

In light of his comments attacking the George Floyd protesters, Verizon claims it ended its contract with Schlapp in June of 2020.  As far as Legum could ascertain, the other annual payments to Schlapp continue.  This is despite corporate positions taken by Abbott Labs, Comcast and Walmart which seems completely at odds with Schlapp's racial rhetoric.

Schlapp, who is constantly sucking up to President Donald Trump with blind, unwavering support,, does this "lobbying work" through the guise of a firm called Cove Strategies, which Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, founded in 2009   Mercedes Schlapp was a director of strategic communications for the Trump administration, leaving in July of 2019 to take a role with the President's re-election campaign.

As Legum points out, the publicly reported payments to Matt Schlapp may only be the tip of the iceberg.   Cove strategies offers other services besides lobbying, such as coalition building and communications strategy.  Payments for those services would not require public disclosure.

Matt Schlapp has made it clear that he is more than willing to sell out the ideals of the conservative movement for cold harsh cash.  He most certainly should not have a role in GOP in the post-Trump era, which likely begins on November 4th.

Monday, June 22, 2020

How Does Trump Campaign Manager Brad Parscale Still Have a Job?

In February of 2018, President Trump named Brad Parscale the campaign manager of his 2020 re-election effort.  Parscale, who had previously worked with the Trump Organization, had led the digital communications efforts during Trump's 2016 election victory.  Parscale's efforts were applauded as playing a key role in Trump's narrow electoral college victory that year.

While the media dutifully reported Parscale's appointment without editorial comment, political pros had to be scratching their heads.  While Parscale's father ran for Congress - as a Democrat - Parscale's resume shows no political activity whatsoever until his work with the Trump campaign.  And that role - as digital communications director - was narrowly focused.  Even though having a key role in the 2016couldn't manage the intricacies of obtaining an absentee voter ballot from Texas while working in New York.  As a result, he did not vote in the 2016 election.
campaign, Parscale apparently

So you've never ran a political campaign in your life and your first campaign manager job will running a President's re-election effort?

Parscale reminds me of the statistical consultants, the math whizzes, that every major league baseball team now employs to evaluate players and strategy.  The information they provide general managers and managers on the field has proven invaluable.  But the consultants' talents are narrow ones focused on a particular, albeit important, facet of the game.  They can advise that the batter's "launch angle" is off or a pitcher's "spin rate" is too low to be effective, but being on the field working with the players every day to improve their performance, well it is just not what an Ivy League math Ph.D. working for a baseball team does.

In short, Parscale's experience in digital communication has made him a specialist in the field, someone who has a narrow focus.  But the manager of a political campaign is a generalist, someone who, by the nature of the job, needs to see the big picture.  It is unusual when there is a specialist who can easily switch roles and become a generalist.  This is especially so in the world of politics where there is no substitute for campaign experience.

It appears Parscale knows he will not make it to Election Day as Trump's campaign manager and has since been using his position to enrich himself as much as he can in the meantime.  A Daily Mail headline says it all:  EXCLUSIVE: How Donald Trump's campaign manager Brad Parscale went from family bankruptcy to splashing out millions on mansions, condos and luxury cars through his companies that get a hefty cut of the president's $57M campaign contributions

Parscale's political inexperience was highlighted by Saturday's Trump rally in Tulsa.  Campaigns 101 teaches you on day one that you always LOWER expectations when it comes to turnout for events.  In politics, success is always measured by exceeding the expectations you mostly set.  Instead Parscale and the Trump Campaign bragged about 1 million requests for tickets, that there would be a full arena (seating 19,000) and a overflow crowd outside of maybe 50,000.    Turns out that there was no overflow crowd and only about 6,200 (the estimate of the Tulsa Fire Department) in the arena.  And those 1 million tickets ordered? Well Parscale, the communications digital "expert," may have been trolled by a bunch of fake ticket requests from teenage girls using something called TicTok.

The second thing you learn in Campaign 101 is that you should always make sure the venue is smaller than the crowd that shows up.  The media will always notice the empty seats and turn it in to a failure of the campaign.  It does not matter if the rally is in a stadium that seats 90,000 and "only" 70,000 people come to the rally.  Those 20,000 seats represent failure to the media.

That Parscale still has his job as of today is surprising.  Trump's poll numbers have gradually slid from toilet seat into the toilet.  Not only is Biden's lead double digits in many national polls, he leads in virtually every swing states and is competitive or leading in states like Iowa, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio - previously considered solidly in Trump's camp.

Still, Trump has one remaining ace card - $$$$$$.  Well, not anymore.  In April, Biden and the Democratic National Committee raised $60 million. Trump and the Republican National Committee during the same month brought in $61.7 million.  In May, Biden and the DNC raised $80.8 million while Trump and the RNC raked in $74 million.  While the Trump campaign has significantly more money on hand, the "bleed rate" of Trump's campaign spending may prove to problematic.  Much of that spending seems directed to an assortment of  companies that, not coincidentally, has "Trump" in their name.  Then, according to media reports, Parscale gets his cut as well.  In short, I am confident that much of the Trump/RNC money will go to line people's pockets rather than advance the political football.

If Parscale makes it to the end of Summer I would be shocked.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Keeping an Eye on Alaska; Update on Today's State Polls

As of writing this, the website FiveThirtyEight has posted 18 polls for today.  Sixteen of them focus on contests within the state, either for President or U.S. Senate.  When the best polling news for Republicans is a poll out of Arizona showing the President losing Arizona (a state he won in 2016 by 3.5 points), it is a terrible polling day for the GOP.  Let's take a look at the states poll:

Alaska:  This is a state to keep an eye on.  I know it has voted for a Democrat presidential candidate
Rep. Don Young (R-AK)
since 1964, but this could be the year it swings to the Democrats.   A poll shows the sole Alaskan member of Congress Republican Don Young, who has represented Alaska since 1973 (not a typo) trailing a Democratic challenger by a point.    Alaskans like Republicans, but they prefer Republicans who have an independent streak.  The 86-year-old Rep. Young, a strong supporter of Trump, does not fit that bill.  Neither does Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan who also has been a close ally of the President.  Keep an eye on Sullivan's re-election bid in that state.  It could get close.

Arizona:  I've already mentioned the presidential contest, but the Senate race there was polled as well.   Democrat Mark Kelly is ahead of  incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally by 9 points.  Well, at least it isn't double figures like most recent polls.

Florida:  Shocker.   A poll of likely voters has Trump losing Florida by 11 points.  Trump won by the state by 1.2% in 2016.

Georgia:  Trump is running behind in Georgia by 2 points.  He won Georgia in five points in 2016.  Also, it looks like Trump ally David Perdue is in trouble in the Peach State.  He trails newly annoited Democratic nominee John Ossoff by a point in today's poll.  Of the two Georgia Senate seats up in 2020, Perdue's was considered the safest. 

Michigan:  Two polls of likely voters in Michigan were released today.  One has Trump losing the state by 13 points, the other by 16.  Trump squeaked out a win in Michigan in 2016, one of the key Midwestern states (Pennsylvania and Wisconsin being the other two) that he flipped to win the election.  As I've been saying, Michigan is a lost cause.  Trump needs to replace it with another state, possibly Minnesota. 

Two polls has incumbent Senator Gary Peters winning re-election by 6 and 12 points.  Republican challenger John James was considered the best bet for a Republican pick-up in the Senate outside of Alabama.  James though has the unfortunate luck of running in the two bad election cycles for Michigan Republicans, 2018 and 2020.

Finally, two Michigan polls show the Democratic challenger Hillary Scholten in a statistical dead heat (even and +1) against two possible Republican nominees in  Michigan District 3.  That is Republican turned independent Justin Amash's district.  Amash who voted for Trump's impeachment in the House, was going to be targeted in the GOP primary for not being worshipful enough of Trump.  But Amash might well end up being replaced by a Democrat who certainly won't be conservative or pro-Trump.

New Mexico:  Early on, New Mexico was cited as a top pickup opportunity for the Trump campaign.  Of course, the suggestion that Trump  had a chance to win New Mexico is insane.   A poll today shows Biden with a 14 point lead and Democratic Congressman Ben Ray Lujan winning the open Senate seat in the state by 12 points.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Another Day, Another Bad Joni Ernst Poll

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)
Until a few weeks ago, the Republican Party did not anticipate having to spend money in Iowa to ensure the re-election of incumbent Senator Joni Ernst.  It was assumed Ernst was safe in Iowa.  To make sure of that, Ernst thought it best to lash herself to President Donald Trump.  Turns out that was a bad move.  It seems, Iowans do not appreciate their senators giving up their political independence to be a rubber stamp for the President.

Trump seems to do best in states which are overwhelmingly rural and white.  So it is shocking that Trump is not more popular in the Hawkeye State which is overwhelmingly rural and white..  The most recent poll only shows Trump up 2 points in Iowa.

Saturday evening, the Des Moines Register released a poll (conducted by the A+ rated pollster Selzer & Company), showing Democrat challenger Theresa Greenfield leading Ernst 46-43.  This is consistent with two other June Iowa polls which has Greenfield leading 2 to 3 points.   While the poll makes the race look like a toss-up, it may not be the toss-up the numbers seem to suggest.  When you have an incumbent, the undecided vote 80% of the time breaks for the challenger, by margins that average about 2-1.  If that happens here, Greenfield wins the November contest 53-47.

The Democrats have a lot of targets to win a majority in the Senate.  Don't bet against them.

About that CNN Poll...

This week, the Trump campaign sent a cease and desist letter to CNN claiming its June poll which showed the President running 14 points behind Biden nationally was defamatory and was aimed at suppressing the Trump vote.  The letter, which demanded CNN stop using it, was based on a critique of that poll (allegedly) written by the Republican polling outfit McLaughlin & Associates. 

I use the word "allegedly" because if you read the McLaughlin critique, much of it has the tone not of a professional pollster criticizing a colleague's methodology, but instead a Trump Twitter rant.  McLaughlin & Associates, I should point out, is ranked as a C/D pollster by FiveThirtyEight, one of the
worst pollster ratings handed out by the website.

That the Trump campaign could find an attorney, Jenna Ellis, willing to sign such a ridiculous letter speaks poorly of my profession.

Media outlets employ independent pollsters, usually from outfits that have bipartisan ownership.  The notion that these pollsters put their finger on the scale to make a particular candidate look good or bad is absurd.  There are pollsters out there who do that, but they work for candidates, not the media, and they keep their methodology a closely guarded secret lest the polling flaws undercut the poll numbers they obtained for their clients. 

I would add the notion that the CNN poll, which was conducted by the independent research group SSRS, is aimed at suppressing the Trump vote in the fall is ludicrous.  A poll showing Biden with a commanding 14 points ahead, is just as likely, if not more likely, to cause Biden voters to stay home as Trump voters.   Arguably, one of the reasons Hillary Clinton probably lost in 2016, were her voters, convinced she would win comfortable because of polls that showed her ahead, stayed home. Nonetheless, it is June.  How is a poll in June going to cause suppression of the vote in an election five months away?

The McLaughlin critique focuses on the fact that the CNN poll sample only had 25% self-identified Republicans (compared to 32% self-identified as Democrats in the sample) and this smaller group of Republicans led to the President under-performing in the poll.    McLaughlin says the sample should have been 33% Republican which would have reflected the 2016 exit polls.

Exit polls always show higher levels of partisanship than in-person phone poll interviews, which is considered the most accurate way to poll.  Nonetheless, a pollster does not set out to pick a certain amount of Republicans and Democrats to sample.  (It should be noted that the 25% Republican sample in the CNN poll was in line with numerous other telephone polls)  But the methodology pollsters uses does cause a variation in the sample obtained.  That is why when looking at polls, it is best to compare the poll result to a previous result reached by the same pollster. (Pollsters do not switch out the methodology they use from one poll to another.)  In short, the number one thing you are looking for when analyzing polls is MOVEMENT.

In a CNN poll released in mid-May, Joe Biden had a 5 point nationally over Donald Trump.  Three weeks later, the same pollster using the same methodology found the margin was 14 points.  Even if every criticism McLaughlin said has merit, it does not undercut the the importance of that 9 point swing in Biden's favor in just three weeks. 

But polling aberrations happen, so one should look at other polls to see if they record similar movement in Biden's favor during the same period.  The Hill/Harris X poll tends to render better results for Trump than other polls.  In mid-May, that poll had Biden ahead by only 1 point.  In early June, less than three weeks later, another Hill/HarrisX poll showed Biden up 10 points.  A weekly Economist/You Gov poll released at the end of May showed Biden ahead by 3 points.  A week later, the lead was 7 points, and another week later, it was 8 points.

In short, the CNN polls might have been on the high end in terms of showing the size of the Biden national lead.  But that does not make the poll illegitimate or biased.  The most important result is the CNN poll showing substantial movement in Biden's favor, which movement is confirmed by other polls.   That doesn't mean Biden's undeniable national lead is insurmountable or the national race won't tighten down the road.  It almost certainly will. 

Of course, with the Electoral College, national polls mean little anyway.  The result of polls in swing states are much more important.  That is a topic I will return to on several occasions before November's election.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Tuesday's Polls: Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky, and Tennessee

Some new polls today came out that may portend bad news for Republicans in November.

Michigan - President:  Poll by Kiaer Research has Trump down 15 points in a swing state.  This could be considered an outlier but a poll by Epic-MRA  released at teh end of last week had Trump down 12 points in Michigan. May's polls had Biden with leads ranging from 2 to 9 points.  I think Michigan is
going to lose its "battleground status" this election.  It does not appear to be in play.

Michigan - Senate:  The Republicans best hope to pick up a non-Alabama Senate seat was Michigan.  I used the past tense deliberately.   The two most recent polls have Republican challenger John James losing to incumbent Democrat Senator Gary Peters by 16 and 15 points.  The other June poll had him 9 points behind.  The Republicans will certainly pull the funding from that race and choose instead to play defense.

Iowa - President:  Today's poll in the Hawkeye state has Biden running even with Trump.  That comes on the heels of another June poll showing Trump only ahead by one point in Iowa.  Trump won Iowa by nearly 10 points in 2016.

Iowa  - Senate:  According to a poll release today, Republican Senator Joni Ernst is running three points behind her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.  This comes on the heels of another early June poll that shows Ernst trailing by 2 points.  Before 2020, Joni Ernst was considered a fairly safe bet to win re-election.  No more.

Kentucky - Senate:  Democrats shouldn't get too excited, but a poll out of Kentucky shows Amy McGrath one point up on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Since it was a poll commissioned by an interest group with an agenda (pro term limits; McGrath supports them, McConnell opposes), I am skeptical of it.  The poll also shows Trump up 17 points in the Bluegrass State.  Now that sounds more realistic.

Tennessee President: According to a poll today, Trump leads by 9 points in Tennessee.  That is a bit lower than I expected.   I figured the spread in the Presidential contest would be more like Kentucky.

Indianapolis Council Needs to Look at Jail Commissary Fund and Address Civil Forfeiture Reform

I hate the phrase "defunding the police."  That slogan sounds like an effort to completely eliminate law enforcement.   While I doubt more than a handful of advocates of "defunding the police" actually want police departments eliminated and replaced by anarchy, words in political discourse have consequences.  Using the phrase "defunding the police" plays into the hands of those who oppose law enforcement reform.  And we need law enforcement reform.

During a recent interview with Channel 13, Indianapolis City-County Councilor Zach Adamson discussed what "defunding the police" might mean locally.  Adamson said there would be a thorough review of the law enforcement resources in August during the annual budget process.  Adamson says
Indianapolis City-County Council
Vice President Zach Adamson
there might be better to allocate some law enforcement resources to addiction services, mental health issues and youth programs. 

Zach, I think I know where you can get that money.

Years ago, I wrote several pieces on my blog about local law enforcement abuses, programs that took advantage of citizens and provided perverse incentives for law enforcement.  Unfortunately, I could not get the Indianapolis Council, outside of one council member, to take an interest.  Republicans maybe did not care because they were pro-law enforcement and Democrats probably were not interested because it meant taking on a Democratic sheriff and prosecutor.  So, in light of the new push for reform, let me refresh readers about the issues I addressed years ago.

One area the council needs to take a look at is the jail commissary fund, i.e. the money the Sheriff's Department receives from selling stuff to inmates.  Although Indiana law limited what commissary money could be spent for, those limitations were repeatedly ignored by then Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson who spent it on items not allowed under the statute, e.g. legal fees, public relations fees, employee awards, law books for the prosecutors, and, my favorite, "ammunition."  While I believe subsequent Sheriffs have probably done a better job of complying with the law, without meaningful oversight of this fund there is a tendency of the Sheriff's Department to treat it as a slush fund.  Here are some of the things I at the time wrote about the commissary fund.

Friday, September 14, 2012, Commissary Payments to Former Sheriffs and Sheriff's Law Firm Violate Indiana Law

Thursday, October 22, 2009,The Jail Commissary Fund, Part I: Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson Violates Indiana Law to Pay Private Law Firm

Monday, October 26, 2009, The Jail Commissary Fund, Part II: Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson Violates Indiana Law to Pay Accounting and PR Firm Out of Jail Commissary Fund

Wednesday, October 28, 2009, The Jail Commissary Fund, Part III: Need Money to Buy Plaques or Attend a Fundraiser? Just Dip Into the Jail Commissary Fund

Then you have the issue of money from the telephone contract.  Inmates incarcerated in the Marion County jails who want to contact their loved ones, have to pay a hefty per minute phone rate.  I wrote about it in 2012:
During his tenure, I heard a lot of complaints with how Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson provided oversight (or failed to do so) over Jail #2, the facility on Washington Street run by Corrections Corporation of America.  One of those complaints involved his signing a contract with a private company to provide high-priced phone service for inmates detained at that facility.  In exchange for a huge payment into the commissary fund, money that Sheriff Anderson then used for any purpose he wanted often in direct violation of an Indiana statute limiting a sheriff's use of commissary money (see four stories [above]), a private company received a lucrative contract worth millions to charge inmates for overpriced local phone calls. Of course, that money didn't appear out of thin air.  It represents money that jail inmates, who often couldn't even afford bail pending trial, had to pay to keep in touch with loved ones or to contact legal counsel.
Due to changes made by the Federal Communications Commission detailed in the article I linked, these private telephone contracts making money for the Sheriff's Department commissary fund may be a thing of the past.  The Council though should at the very least make inquiries about where the money made off of inmates' phone calls in 2020 is going to.  Someone is making money.

Finally, you have the issue of civil forfeiture.  In Indiana, law enforcement officials can can seize your private property (bank accounts, computers, vehicles, phones, etc.) by simply alleging that property was used or received in conjunction with a crime. Criminal charges need not be actually filed, and quite often are not. While your property is out of your possession, the prosecutor's office files a civil action to cause permanent forfeiture of your property.  Because it is a civil action and not criminal, the legal protections afforded to criminal defendants are not present.  A person who loses his or her property is forced to spend money on a private attorney to try to get the property back.  Further, the standard of proof for the civil forfeiture lawsuit is only a preponderance of the evidence, not the beyond a reasonable doubt standard required for criminal conviction..  

While Republican Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi was aggressive in using civil forfeiture, under his tenure the program was mostly limited to drug offense allegations.  But under Democratic Prosecutor Terry Curry, the civil forfeiture program was vastly expanded to all crimes for which civil forfeiture is allowed.  To emphasize again, those do not have to be charged criminal offenses.  The criminal offenses only have to be alleged as part of the civil forfeiture lawsuit.  Most people facing civil forfeiture choose to simply walk away from their property.  Needless to say, this program hits poor people and minorities particularly hard.

Indiana law says law enforcement is only entitled to receive those civil forfeiture funds which cover the cost of the particular enforcement action that resulted in the civil forfeiture lawsuit.  The excess is to go to the Common School Fund.  The obvious reason is that the legislature wanted to make sure that law enforcement officials were not incentivized to go after alleged lawbreakers to simply make money for the department. 

Here is the kicker though...Marion County/Indianapolis law enforcement agencies have been keeping 100% of the civil forfeiture proceeds for years.  They are so brazen about it, they even have a formula for how the money is to be divvied up between the various agencies.   That formula, by the way, involves 0% going to the Common School Fund.  Law enforcement gets 100%.

I'm not sure whether the Indianapolis City-County Council can put a stop to civil forfeiture by passing an ordinance.  If so, that should be done.  If not, the Council needs to at least take control of civil forfeiture funds and decide how that money is to be spent instead of leaving the expenditure of those funds to the various law enforcement agencies.  

As a caveat, some of my knowledge in this post may be a bit dated.  It's been a few years since I have been beating the law enforcement reform drum.  To be frank, elected officials did not seem to care what happens to people accused of crimes.  Hopefully that has changed.