Wednesday, April 1, 2020

When it Comes to the 2020 Presidential Election, Expect the Unexpected

In the securities game, there is a standard warning brokers have to give when touting a stock's history:  "Past performance does not guarantee future performance."  In other words, the fact the stock previously did well, does not mean it will do well in the future. 

The political game is not like securities.  While there is no "guarantee" in politics, what happened in past elections involving a candidate often reflect what will happen to that candidate in future elections.  The starting point in analyzing any president's re-election prospects is to first look at the previous election.  Then you build on that model by adding in factors that will be different in the upcoming election.

In 2016, Donald Trump won by a very narrow narrow victory in the electoral college.  Michigan,
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states he won by a total of 78,000 votes, gave Trump an Electoral College victory.  If just 39,000 people (which is equivalent to about half crowd at a Colts home game) had changed their mind and pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton, Trump would not have been elected.

While many fault the 2016 statewide polls for being wrong, the fact is the result in every swing state was within the margin of error of for polling in that state.  Polling is about establishing probabilities, not guaranteeing results.  While Trump winning key swing states to give him an electoral college victory was not probable from the polls, it was certainly a possible outcome. Using poker terminology, Trump's victory was equivalent to successfully drawing to an inside straight.

Drawing to an inside straight does not suggest skill at poker, but luck.  Nonetheless, since November of 2016, most Republican elected officials and candidates jumped aboard the Trump Train, assuming that the President is a poker player of incomparable skill when it comes to winning elections.  However, not one of the elections that has taken place since 2016, many of which were explicitly touted by Trump as a referendum on his presidency, show the President is especially adept at general election politics.  Winning primaries, yes, winning general elections, no.

MONEY AND ORGANIZATION.  But I digress.  The key to an analysis of the 2020 presidential elections is to look at what happened in 2016 and what has changed since 2020.   In 2016, the Trump campaign was underfunded and disorganized, and yet still proved successful.  In 2020, the Trump campaign is awash in money and has a strong organization.  The inevitable Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, cannot begin to match Trump in money or organization.  Advantage Team Trump

CANDIDATES.  If money and organization were all it took, the Democrats would be nominating former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  In politics, though, the product being sold, i.e. the candidate, still matters a great deal.  In a campaign involving a sitting President seeking re-election, that product is the President.

In 2016, Donald Trump benefited by the fact he was up against the most unpopular presidential candidate the Democrats had ever nominated.  Given Hillary's grating public persona and discomfort interacting with voters, making her even more unpopular was not a difficult task.  A large percentage of the vote Trump received in 2016 were not people voting for Trump so much as people voting against Hillary Clinton.

Can the Trump campaign make Joe Biden as unpopular as Hillary?  No doubt the Trump folks will drive up Biden's negatives substantially in the months ahead.  But there are probably limits to how successful that will be.  Personality wise, Biden is well known and comes across as much more likable than Hillary Clinton.  But even more importantly, unlike 2016, 2020 mostly will be a referendum on one candidate - Donald Trump.  An unpopular Joe Biden won't help Trump out as much as an unpopular Hillary Clinton did.  Meanwhile, President Trump has retained enormous unpopularity through his term.  In polls, nearly 50% of the respondents indicate there are dead-set against voting for Trump.  Advantage Team Biden

ISSUES:  The issue in 2020 will undoubtedly be the Covid-19 pandemic, which issue fits nicely with the Democrats 2018 winning issue of health care.  The performance of the economy, which was to be Trump's ace card, will be long gone.  Team Trump though tout the President's improved job performance polls, demonstrating he is at peak popularity seven months before the general election. 

But there are several reasons though to discount the polling bump.  First, despite the improvement, Trump remains an historically unpopular, the only President to never average above 50% in the polls. Second, the improvement in Trump's polling is at best slight and seems to be a result of the "rally around the flag" boost that all leaders temporarily get in times of crisis.  Third, Trump's polling improvement in the face of the pandemic is much less than governors, mayors and foreign leaders have received.  Fourth, very recent polling suggests the bump Trump has enjoyed as a result of Covid-19 is already fading.  Fifth, the impact of Covid-19's toll has not yet been felt by much of the United States, particularly in the red areas.  In a few months, pretty much everyone will have a family member or friend who succumbed to the virus. That personal experience will likely tarnish Trump.   Sixth, the facts are that the Trump administration was not prepared for the pandemic (despite being warned), initially lied to the American public about its impact, and has, from beginning to present, bungled the response to the virus.  People literally are going to die a result of how the Trump administration has mishandled he crisis.  While the 35% of Trump True Believers will certainly never hold Trump accountable for anything, a large portion of independent voters will put the blame at Trump's feet and vote accordingly.  Advantage Team Biden

TURNOUT:   In 2016, key Democratic-leaning constituencies failed to turn out in sufficient numbers to vote for Hillary Clinton.   Team Trump is counting on Democratic leaning voters, uninspired by "Sleepy Joe," to stay home in 2020. 

That is wishful thinking.  In the 2018 mid-terms and all the special elections that have taken place since 2016, Democratic turnout has been through the roof.  That is not because of the particular Democratic candidates or because of the issues they ran on.  It is because Democratic-leaning voters really despise President Trump and are eager to go to the polls to express that dislike.  In 2016, a President Trump was only a theoretical possibility and thus Democratic voters were not as motivated.  But 2020 will be a referendum on Trump's brand of politics and Democratic voters will be lined up to vote "no" to four more years.

That's not to say Republican voters won't be as equally motivated.  Trump is an expert at driving turnout, for both Republicans and Democrats.  In most areas though, Democratic leaning voters outnumber Republican voters.  GOP success often depends on Republicans turning out while Democrats stay home.  That dynamic is unlikely to be there in 2020 like it was in 2016.  Advantage Team Biden.

CHANGING ELECTORATE.   I am not sure why this doesn't get more attention from analysts.  The electorate changes from one election to another, and not just because of different turnout.  One of the chief factors is older voters dying and being replaced by younger voters.  That is significant in 2020 because Trump's strength is among older voters while a strong majority of younger voters harbor an extreme dislike toward President Trump.  How many of those older voters will have died between November 2016 and November 2020?  I have not been able to get the state specific numbers yet, but I am sure we're talking several thousands of voters, a situation made even more pronounced by Covid-19 which kills older people at a much higher rate.  Trump needs to replace those voters.  It is not clear how he does that as he has not expanded his original coalition that gave him a narrow electoral victory in 2016.  How many Hillary Clinton voters will be enticed by the "success" of the Trump Presidency (especially since the economic gains are gone) and this time vote Republican?  Very few, and certainly not enough to replace older voters.  Advantage Team Biden

ELECTORAL COLLEGE:  Trump squeaked out an electoral college victory in 2016 because he won three formerly Democratic states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Given the polling in Michigan, it appears that Trump will have a problem winning the state in 2016.  Of the three, Trump looks strongest in more rural Wisconsin.  Pennsylvania is more of a toss-up though, and given Biden's ties to that state commonwealth, he probably has an edge there.  I also think Trump can win Minnesota and New Hampshire (states Hillary won in 2016) and am not yet convinced the new swing states of Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas are ready to go blue.  Trump is surprisingly strong in Florida, which used to be the swing state.  Meanwhile, analysts are too quickly putting Ohio in the Republican column.

In reviewing Trump's fortunes in the various states, there is one rule of thumb that jumps out - the more rural the state, the better Trump does.  If a state has significant population centers, then the likelihood it will go blue in November increases.  Trump is losing big cities badly and barely breaking even in many suburbs outside those cities.  That is why Ohio, which is one of the most urban states in the country, is well within Biden's reach.  In fact, recent polling shows Biden leading in that state.  Still, in terms of the Electoral College, one has to say:  Advantage Team Trump.

CONCLUSION:  I don't buy that Trump will be going the way of Herbert Hoover due to Covid-19 and its effects on cratering the American economy and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans.  Trump has a solid base that won't let him fall that far, even under the worst circumstances.  At this point though, one has to say Biden is a modest favorite to win the 2020 election, though circumstances may change in the months that follow.  One thing that could well happen is Biden or Trump, or both, could get Covid-19 before the election.  While Biden is clearly in better shape physically than Trump, both are well into their 70s and are at very high risk.   In this age of politics, one needs to expect the unexpected will happen.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Despite Warnings of Medical Supply Shortages Created by Pandemic, the Trump Administration Gave Away Critical PPE to China

As early January, U.S. intelligence warned the Trump administration and Congress about a new virus strain in China and the possibility that it could become a pandemic that made its way to the United States.  Throughout January and early February, increasingly dire reports were issued by intelligence agencies warning about the growing spread of the virus, by then identified as Covid-19. 

It was not like the Trump administration had not been prepped about what steps to take should a pandemic come to the United States.   Days before Donald Trump's inauguration, the incoming administration was put through a simulation calling for a response to a pandemic that originated in Asia.  Part of that exercise included a warning that the pandemic could create shortage of personal protective equipment that would put the lives of health care providers at risk.

Instead of learning from the exercise, the Trump administration ignored its lessons, ignored CDC's playbook for dealing with a pandemic, and ignored the U.S. intelligence agencies warning about that China was not being honest about its containment of Covid-19 and that it could well spread to the United States.  Instead Trump downplayed the danger of the virus coming to the United States and instead heaped praise on his "friend" Chinese President Xi Jinping, on January 24th tweeting:
"China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi."
Two weeks later, on February 7th, the very day the World Health Organization warned that there was a worldwide shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) needed to fight the virus, the Trump administration announced it was sending 17.8 tons of "masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials" to China." 

Less than two weeks later, on February 20th, the United States recorded its first Covid-19 case.  Today, five weeks later, the United States leads the world in Covid-19 cases, topping 160,000.  Medical professionals in the United States face critical shortages of PPE.  Instead of gowns, some are wearing garbage bags and reusing single use masks.  Many doctors and nurses are contracting Covid-19 because they lack the necessary PPE to protect themselves against the virus. 

Our federal government failed the pandemic test.  Spectacularly.  Thank God we have competent governors who are qualified and unafraid to provide the leadership the Trump administration is apparently incapable of.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

President Trump's Inability to Lead is Costing Americans Their Lives

Of course, Donald Trump is not responsible for the outbreak of the Covid-19.  But he is responsible for not having this country prepared for the virus hitting American shores.  President Trump was warned by medical experts about the likelihood of  the pandemic months ago..  Trump could have had Coronavirus test kits ready to go or accepted those from the World Health Organization.  He could have directed that the country greatly increase production of PPE (personal protective equipment), such as masks and gowns that are desperately needed by health care professionals.  Likewise, Trump could have pushed for increased production of much-needed respirators and taken steps to use the military to help hospitals increase their capacity.  He could have urged governors to order their residents to stay in
earlier, which would have lessened the spread of the virus. 

President Donald Trump did none of that. As a result, Americans are now unnecessarily getting sick and dying.  In fact, the United States is well on the way to leading the world in Covid-19 cases and deaths. 

Trump does not like receiving bad news.  His aides know that which is why they only try to give him positive news.   Any bad news that gets to Trump is labeled by the President as "fake news" or a "hoax."  Trump then pivots to something more favorable, even if he has to make it up.  And he makes a lot of stuff up.

Donald Trump has no credibility with the vast majority of the American public because he has been lying to them every day for the three plus years of his presidency.  Now, he needs the public to believe him and no one but those in the Trump cult believes a word he says. 

Now that Trump has dropped the ball in leading the country dealing with a pandemic, the President has decided to ignore that and focus instead on getting the economy going, even if it will cost lives.  He appears to be on the verge of ordering people back to work, despite concerns about Covid-19.  Someone probably should tell Trump though he does not have the power to override state governors who have ordered the shutdowns in their particular states.

As far as the economy goes, the federal government will no doubt be pouring trillions into the American economy to keep the coming recession from sliding into a depression.  Running up debt and lowering interest rates in a time like this is understandable and necessary.  But it also highlights why we should not have been running trillion dollar deficits and lowering interest rates during a period of economic prosperity.  Those are options that should have been saved for when the inevitable downturn came, which would have come even without the pandemic.  Instead my Republican Party chose to cut corporate taxes during, a period of full employment, and run up huge deficits.

My Republican friends always ask me why I did not vote for Donald Trump for President since my conservative views more closely resemble those Trump (who was a lifelong liberal until 2015) was professing to support during the campaign.  (I wrote in "Ronald Reagan," for the record)    I sure did not agree with Hillary Clinton's views on pretty much anything..  But unlike Trump, Candidate Hillary Clinton was actually qualified to be President.  In Trump, you had a candidate who clearly lacked the intelligence, the temperament, and the judgment to be President of the United States. 

Unfortunately, nominating, and ultimately electing, a person who is completely unfit to be President, someone who is unable to lead the country in a time of crisis, was not just a bad decision by voters.  It was a vote that now will cost many Americans their lives. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Yes, Virginia, Ohio is Still a Swing State in Presidential Politics

Is it really true that Ohio is no longer a competitive state in presidential politics?  Many political observers have concluded that Ohio, once one of the most competitive and important states when it comes to presidential politics, is now solidly in the Republican column.

Their reasoning goes like this:  Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and 2016 by 4.5% and 3% respectively.  But in 2016, Donald Trump won by a comfortable 8%.   While Ohio has one elected U.S. Senator - Sherrod Brown - all statewide elected officials, including the Governor, are Republican. The GOP also has strong majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

However, a closer look at the data suggest Ohio, with its sizable 18 electoral votes, is very much in
play in 2020.

When Donald Trump won Ohio in 2016, he did so with just 51.3% of the vote  That translated into an 8% win only because so many voters in Ohio (5.5%) voted for third party candidates.  Most of those voters were no doubt casting protest votes because of their unhappiness with the two major party candidates.  If the Democrats had run a more popular candidate than Hillary Clinton, many of those voters would have cast a vote for their nominee and the result would have been much closer than 8%.

The 2018 midterms also strongly suggest Ohio likely being a swing state in 2020.  Although Republicans held their ground in state senate races, the GOP lost five seats in the state house in 2018.  And, while Republicans did sweep all the statewide offices in 2018, the GOP winning margin in each race was dramatically down from what it was in 2014.   Below is a table showing those declining victory margins:
               
Race                      2014         2018
Secretary of State   29.9%      3.2%
Auditor                   17.1%      3.8%
Treasurer                13.4%      7%
Attorney General    23.4%      4.8%
Governor                30.9%      3.7%

It is not hard to figure out what happened in Ohio in 2018.  There was a dramatic increase in turnout in 2018 over 2014, over 40%.  While Republican statewide candidates greatly increased their vote over 2014, Democratic votes went up even more.

Ohio is not like other midwestern states like Wisconsin or Iowa or Minnesota. Ohio has a lot of large and medium sized cities.  It is the seventh most populated state in the country and tenth as to population density.  While those Ohio cities have always been the source of most of the Democratic vote in the state, those urban votes have ben in recent years cancelled out by suburbanites and rural residents voting Republican.  In the age of Trump, that has changed.  Many of those suburbanites who used to vote as a block for Republican candidates, are now voting for Democrats.

That a candidate like Joe Biden could prove very competitive in a more urban midwestern state like Ohio is borne out by the polls.  A Marist poll released on Monday shows Biden ahead of Trump 49-45 in Ohio.

While Biden should avenge Hillary Clinton's loss of Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2020, winning more rural and white Wisconsin will be much more of a challenge.  Likewise, similarly demographic Minnesota and New Hampshire, won by Hillary in 2016, could well fall to Trump in 2020.  Ohio though makes up for the loss of those three states, and gives the Biden a 273-265 electoral college edge, even if you spot Trump every other swing state he won in 2016, including North Carolina, Arizona, and Florida.

Yes, Ohio will be a swing state, maybe even THE swing state, in 2020.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Amazon's Warehouse Practices Endanger Employees as Coronavirus Spreads

The best approach to keep from getting Coronavirus (more accurately called COVID-19) is to avoid groups of people and to engage in "social distancing" by standing at least 6 feet away from other people.   I know from my own experience working at an Amazon facility a few years ago that many of the practices at Amazon warehouses then would be quite problematic, even dangerous, today. So I checked in with a friend of mine this morning who still works at an Amazon facility to see what
changes have been made to make employees safe.

In response to Coronavirus, Amazon is encouraging employees to wash their hands more frequently (more on that in a bit) and hand sanitizer is more readily available.  (Supposedly a $2 raise is also in the offing and anyone who gets the virus gets two weeks sick leave.)  But the practices Amazon uses at its facility, which causes large groups of employees to congregate at several points during the day, remains unabated.

At Amazon facilities, all workers on a shift arrive at the same time.  Hundreds of employees file through the door in close proximity to each other.  They stand next to each at the time clock waiting to punch in.  Then they proceed to a "stand up," a meeting at which employees of each particular department stand right next to each other as a manager makes announcements, conducts stretching exercises, and gives the employees a pep talk (think the rah-rah talks football coaches give their players) to encourage them to work hard during their shift.

After about a few hours of work, employees at the facility are given a 15 minute break; all of the employees head to the break room at the same time.  After about 5 hours of work, employees are given a 30 minute "lunch" break off the clock.  So all the employees go to the time clock, stand next to each other as they clock out and then proceed together to the breakroom where they congregate to buy food or get food they brought from home and put in a refrigerator.  Then the employees sit in close proximity to each other as they enjoy lunch.

After lunch, employees gather to clock back in, then proceed back for a second standup in which they, again, stand next to other employees.   Then another 15 minute break.  Finally, at the end of the shift, people line up to clock out and then file out of the building. Together.  During a shift, an Amazon employee could have easily been exposed to as many as a hundred people.

Now about frequently washing your hands.  That is a good sanitary practice, but it not a panacea.  If someone next to you at standup has Coronavirus and is breathing your air, it does not really matter if your hands are freshly washed.  Nonetheless, like so many things about Amazon, the preaching about handwashing is a ruse.  Amazon still requires your scanner to go off every six minutes or it is considered "time off task," the accumulation of which time can lead to disciplinary action.  Most bathrooms are a good three minutes walk away if not more. Do the math.  Also, taking a break to wash your hands, means you might not meet productivity requirements.  More disciplinary action.

Of course, Amazon will respond to media inquiries saying that they do not stop employees from taking breaks to wash their hands.  That is absolutely correct and, unfortunately, most media will report that response without followup.  Amazon is not punishing employees for hand-washing, but instead punishing employees for the inevitable consequences, i.e. "time off task" and decreased productivity, that result if you frequently wash your hands.

More than hand-washing, I was interested in learning from my friend what changes Amazon had made to practices that encourage, indeed require, employees to congregate together.  I figured to hear about staggered shift start times, staggered break and lunch times, and the elimination of the stand-up.  (There are a lot of ways to convey necessary information to the employees, including sending messages over the employees scanner).  None of that.  All the same practices continue to this day.

Or here is another idea.  How about Amazon providing respirator masks to its employees for use during their shift, at least to those who want to use them?  Amazon sells those, after all.  Nope.

Anyone who thinks Amazon is good to its employees does not know how the company treats its employees.  Amazon received a lot of applause when it raised minimum pay at its facility to $15 an hour.  But what most media types missed is at the same time Amazon was raising employee pay $1 or $2 an hour, Amazon cut out very lucrative performance and attendance bonuses that dwarfed the meager pay increase.  The $15 an hour minimum announcement duped most of the media, as well as a lot of politicians.

It is only a matter of time before the stories of Coronavirus spreading at Amazon warehouses begins.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Trump's Address to Nation Fails to Reassure Nation Anxious About Coronavirus

Last night, President Donald Trump addressed the nation to outline his administration's response to the Coronavirus pandemic.  The underlying purpose of the speech was to calm the nerves of jittery Americans whose overreaction to the virus (more on that at the bottom of the page) is on the verge of sending the economy into a steep recession.   Trump's address was an attempt to replicate the fireside speeches that President Franklin Roosevelt gave during the depths of the Depression.  In those radio addresses, FDR projected calm and competence as he outlined programs designed to save the American economy from the worst downturn ever.  An objective look at those FDR programs reveal that most of them failed to improve the situation.  But the addresses did succeed in giving people confidence that they had a competent leader in office, someone that cared deeply about their welfare.

Trump's address to the nation last night, however, did not project confidence or competence..  It left people with the impression that the President does not understand the public health crisis the nation faces and lacks the personal skills to lead the country during such turbulent times.  The stock market has the same impression which is why every time Trump speaks out about the crisis, the Dow Jones drops another 1,000 points.

When talking about his business leadership style, Trump would brag that he did not have a daily agenda.  Nor did not engage in short or long-term planning.  His approach was to simply react to things as they happen.  While that might be a passable approach in running a family business, that is certainly no way to run a country dealing with a pandemic.

The nation can survive an unfit, incompetent chief executive.  That is, until there is a national crisis, like a pandemic.  Trump's incompetence, ignorance and inability to learn, however, may not be the worst things.  Trump's inability to tell the truth, means he now has zero credibility when he tries to reassure the public during a crisis.

Trump is not wrong that the coverage of Coronavirus and the public fear it is generating is out of proportion to the threat the virus poses.  On television yesterday, I heard an announcer say that Coronavirus was the worst pandemic the nation has ever faced.  Really?  How about the Spanish flu of 1918?  It killed 20 to 50 million people worldwide (some estimates say as many 100 million), including a half million people in the United States.  In just 24 weeks the Spanish flu killed more than HIV/AIDS killed in 24 years.  Unlike Coronavirus which is most threatening to older people, the Spanish flu killed mostly younger people.  (The theory as to why is that older people had experienced a variant of the virus decades  earlier and had developed antibodies that protected them from getting the Spanish flu.)  In 1917, life expectancy in the United States was 51 years.  Because of all the people who died in 1919, life expectancy dropped to 39 years.

So, yes, people are overreacting to Coronavirus.  But is that is not necessarily a bad thing.  The preventive steps people are taking will help stop the disease so we don't have a repeat of a horrific pandemic like the Spanish flu.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Democratic Suburban Turnout During Primaries Should Set Off GOP Alarm Bells

With former Vice President Joe Biden clearing the field and running up impressive wins over his remaining rival Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, it appears that President Donald Trump will get be getting the opponent he feared the most. 

Officially, Trump campaign officials say otherwise.  They point to supposed flaws with the likely Democratic nominee - Biden's mental decline, his constant gaffes, and the fact his son, Hunter, pretty clearly traded in on the Biden name and position to make money.  Of course, to raise those issues about
Biden is to overlook Trump's own apparent mental decline, his constant gaffes (not to mention his daily lies), and that three of Trump's four adult children (Don, Jr., Ivanka and Eric) appear to have no actual skills except cashing in on the Trump name.  Sure the aforementioned attacks on Biden would be rife with hypocrisy, but when has hypocrisy ever derailed a Trump attack on an opponent?

There are real reasons to fear Biden as an opponent.  Unlike the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, Biden has an appeal to white working class men and women, many of whom live in rust belt, swing states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In 2016, Hillary received tepid support from African-Americans, many of whom decided to stay home on Election Day.  Biden though has enthusiastic support from black voters. 

Trump's Electoral College win in 2016 was razor thin.  If just 39,000 votes in three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, had flipped Hillary Clinton would have been president.  Thus, if Biden does slightly better than Hillary in reaching out to blue collar white voters and encouraging African-Americans to vote, that will tip the balance to the Democrats.  After all, it is not like Trump has expanded the narrow political coalition he won with in 2016.  Add to that the fact that, since his support skews older, many 2016 Trump voters will have passed away before being able to cast a vote in 2020.    It does not take much to wipe out 78,000 votes.

The 2020 Democratic primaries though reveal that the GOP has a much, much bigger problem.  Turnout for Democrats has been through the roof in the primaries.  The new Democratic voters Sanders promised would come to the polls have indeed to the polls...to vote for Biden.  While the increased turnout reveals an enthusiasm which would be bad enough news for Republicans, the big problem for the GOP is where that increased Democratic turnout is taking place - the suburbs.

Suburban voters turned out in the 2018 general election to vote against Trump and for Democratic candidates for Congress. The result was an historic 41 seat gain by Democrats in the House.   Now those former Republican leaning suburban voters are participating in Democratic primaries.  That means those suburbanites are dead set on voting against Trump in 2020. 

That would be a major change.  Although Trump lost some GOP support in the suburbs in 2016, the Republican voter defections were at the margins.  But President Trump has proven to be much less popular in the suburbs than Candidate Trump.  In every special election since 2016 and the 2018 mid-terms, Republican-leaning suburban voters have been casting ballots for Democrats.

The 2020 Democratic primaries show the trend of suburbanites fleeing the GOP will not only continue, it will exacerbate.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Joe Biden Only Choice for Reagan Republican Conservatives

Today Senator Minnesota Amy Klobuchar decided to end her campaign for the Democratic nomination President.  Yesterday, Mayor Pete dropped out.  It is being reported that both will endorse former Vice President Joe Biden.  While former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg remains in the race, he will probably end his candidacy this week after Super Tuesday's results roll in.

Who will be left then?  Socialist Bernie Sanders, wannabe socialist Elizabeth Warren, and Tulsi Gabbard.  Gabbard, who is is barely even showing up in election results, seems to have an agenda that
does not include actually getting elected President.  Gabbard, who interviewed with President-elect Trump for a cabinet position in 2016, appears exclusively on Fox news.

In short, the once crowded moderate "lane" is about to be occupied by only one person, Biden.  Nonetheless, it will be a struggle for Biden to overtake Sanders who starts out this new electoral phase with a lead in delegates, more money and more enthusiastic supporters.

Biden is far from a perfect candidate  He is too liberal for my tastes on numerous issues..  But, unlike President Donald Trump, Biden is intelligent, honest, competent, knowledgeable, and has the capacity and willingness to learn about things he does not yet know.  Unlike Trump, Biden has a respect for the Constitution, the rule of law, and democratic norms and institutions.  Unlike Trump, Biden is willing to work across the aisle with those with whom he disagrees.  And most importantly, unlike Trump, Biden truly cares about the United States and its people.  While Trump plays the role of a patriot to his gullible band of supporters, Biden is an actual patriot.

I cannot begin to express how embarrassing it is having Donald J. Trump as President these past three years plus. That embarrassment has been made so much worse by the fact that Trump, a lifelong liberal Democrat, was able to con his way into securing the GOP nomination and ultimately the Presidency.   It may take Democrat Joe Biden to rescue the Republican Party from its pending self-immolation over the cultish worship of a failed businessman (but successful con man), who is completely unfit to be President of the United States.

For real conservatives, those who believe in the principles that Ronald Reagan espoused in 1980, there remains only one choice for President in 2020:  Joe Biden.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Review of Bob Woodward's Book: "Fear"

I finally found time to read Bob Woodward's book "Fear: Trump in the White House." While avoiding sensationalism, the legendary Woodward instead focuses on the day-to-day operations of the Trump administration.  In his portrayal of the 45th President, Woodward paints the picture of someone who is ignorant and uneducated (not the same thing), especially when it comes to basic economics.  Impulsive and highly temperamental, Trump is depicted as lacking in any management skills, a person incapable of putting together a team to advance an agenda...not that Trump has a coherent or consistent agenda to advance.   Woodward makes it clear he does not.

Frankly, Woodward's book has been a snoozefest.  Nothing he reports about President Donald Trump
is any different from what I knew about candidate Donald Trump. What is surprising though is the degree - how bad it is. I knew Donald Trump was unfit to be elected to be President of the United States, but I assumed though Trump's incompetence would be softened by his learning on the job and having competent people around him.  Indeed Woodward's book talks at length about the "guardrails," advisers who worked behind the scenes to prevent the worse excesses of the President.

Unfortunately, since Woodward's book was released, most of those advisers have been fired or quit, replaced by Trump sycophants, like Attorney General Bill Barr and scores of officials who are so bad they are appointed in an "acting" capacity because even a Republican-majority Senate would not confirm them.

But it is not just Trump's ignorance, incompetence and his administration of sycophants.  Rather than "drain the swamp," Trump has taken D.C. corruption to an unprecedented level.   Trump, aided by a Republicans in Congress, has seized power from that branch.  Trump has repeatedly demonstrated he has no respect for American institutions, democratic norms or the Constitution, which he defecates on on a daily basis.   Trump has also shown he is willing to, again, cheat to win a Presidential election, by accepting help from a foreign country to defeat the Democratic nominee.  The notion that Trump is a "patriot" or has a foreign policy which puts "America first" is laughable.  Sucking up to brutal dictators and enemies while undermining our American allies at every turn, is not a pro-American foreign policy.   It's a foreign policy that Vietnam-era Jane Fonda would have been proud of.

Unfortunately, Woodward's book came too early, missing the dark turn the Trump presidency has taken during the last 18 months.

Trump insisted the 2018 election was a referendum on him and the GOP took it on the chin as a result.  In the mid-terms, Democrats made historic gains in the House and state legislatures.  With Trump's poor approval rate, Democrats are poised to win again in 2020.  All the Democrats have to do is run the same playbook the party ran in 2018, i.e. moderate the Democrats' message and reach out to suburban and highly educated voters who have been leaving the GOP in droves during the Trump era.  So simple.

Enter Democratic stupidity.  Democrats appear to be weeks away from throwing  away those 2018 gains by nominating a socialist, someone who is not even a Democrat!, as their presidential nominee.  While Trump is one of the few Republicans candidates who could actually lose to a socialist, the odds are those suburbanites and college educated voters are not going to be sold on Trumpism being replaced by socialism.  They will instead hold their noses and vote for four more years of Trump or stay home. Few will vote for Sanders.  Even if Sanders beats Trump (which is highly unlikely but not impossible), having a socialist at the top of the ticket will almost certainly mean the Democrats fail to win the Senate and possibly lose the House.

The 2020 election appears to be a contest between Trump incompetence and corruption and Democratic stupidity.   Who wins remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Should Attorney General Curtis Hill Face Discipline for Groping Allegations?

At the 2016 Indiana GOP Convention, I voted against Curtis Hill nomination for Attorney General's race on all three ballots.  I remember the reason why:  1) Hill's position we need to aggressively prosecute people for marijuana possession; 2) Hill's use of his office to target a journalist who dared to report on the conditions at the Elkhart County jail; 3) Hill's ridiculous prosecution of the teenage burglars for "felony murder" when one of them ended up shot and killed by a homeowner.  He litigated it all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court which told him the obvious - that the felony
murder law didn't apply to that situation.

I am definitely no fan of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill.

Still Hill's prosecution of his alleged groping of women in a bar raises troubling questions.  Would an attorney in private practice be subject to discipline for such boorish behavior?  I say "boorish" because Hill's alleged behavior was not found to warrant criminal charges.  Hill also could have been impeached and removed by the General Assembly.  The leadership of the Indiana legislature though apparently did not believe Hill's conduct warranted impeachment.

Instead, Hill's effective removal is being attempted through the attorney disciplinary process.  Hill needs a license to practice law and if that license is suspended, Hill cannot serve as Attorney General.  Then you have the issue of his being eligible to being run for re-election.

The Disciplinary Commission's recommendation to the Hearing Officer, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby that Hill be suspended from the practice of law for two years was excessive to say the least.  Unfortunately there is a tendency of the Commission's leadership to take anything but complete acceptance of the rightness of the Commission's charges personally.  Attorneys who dare challenge Commission charges too often end up getting hit with excessive punishment recommendation. That is a fact I know all too well when the Commission recommended that yours truly be suspended for a year when I wrote a private email to another attorney criticizing a judge, an email in which I got a couple minor facts wrong regarding what happened in the case before I entered my appearance.

Selby soundly rejected the Disciplinary Commission's recommendation, and instead determined that Hill should be suspended for two months, without automatic reinstatement.  Still should Hill face even that discipline?

The IBJ reports:
A prominent supporter of Indiana’s attorney general is arguing that a proposed suspension of his law license over allegations of drunkenly groping four women is excessive and that even the proposed punishment wouldn’t force him from office.It remained unclear Monday whether Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill could remain in as the state government’s top lawyer if the Indiana Supreme Court agreed with a hearing officer’s recommendation released Friday that his law license be suspended for at least 60 days. 
Hill has denied wrongdoing and rebuffed calls from Gov. Eric Holcomb and other GOP state officials for his resignation for his actions during the March 2018 party at an Indianapolis bar marking the end of that year’s legislative session. 
Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby wrote in her report to the court that Hill’s “conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing” to the women. She recommended a 60-day suspension of his law license without automatic reinstatement under which the sanction could continue indefinitely until lifted by the state Supreme Court, which will make the final decision in the professional misconduct case. 
James Bopp, a Terre Haute attorney who is a former vice chairman of the Republican National Committee, objected to Selby’s findings that Hill should be held to a higher standard of conduct because of his status as the state’s top law enforcement officer.“He should not be treated more harshly because he is a public official, that’s the job of the voters,” said Bopp, who helped start a legal defense fund for Hill in 2018. “When people do things in office, they’re judged by the voters.”
Bopp is 100% correct.   Barring a criminal charges or misconduct relating to the office, the attorney disciplinary process should not be used as a way to overturn the results of an election or prevent attorney office holders from running for re-election. While Selby's determination that a two months suspension is warranted is far more reasonable than the position taken by the Disciplinary Commission, it still constitutes substantial discipline for conduct removed from Hill's actual duties as the elected attorney for the State of Indiana.

It is a very slippery road when attorney disciplinary bodies start disciplining lawyers for non-criminal conduct unrelated to their jobs.  Where is the line?   That's not to say the conduct Hill is accused of is perfectly acceptable. It just means that it might not be something that should be dealt with by the attorney disciplinary process.   The Indiana Supreme Court should use the case to create some bright lines on what conduct is an appropriate subject for attorney discipline.

Monday, February 17, 2020

GOP Senators Will Pay for President Trump's Impeachment

One thing you learn in politics is that when one side wins a contentious issue, that issue no longer salient to the winners.  It is the generally losers of the issue who reap the benefits at the polls, especially when the election is several months down the road from the lost battle.

In 1973, liberals, mostly Democrats, won the abortion issue when the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade.  Even though it was then, and still, is about a 50-50 issue, it is conservatives, mostly Republicans, who for 47 years have beat up those on the left on the issue.  If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, expect conservatives to relax and the abortion issue to start working in the liberals favor
Army Lt. Col. Arthur Vindman
politically.

That brings me to the issue of impeachment.  Democrats were able to impeach President Trump in the House, but in the Senate removal fell far short as Republicans (sans Utah Senator Mitt Romney) voted lockstep to acquit the President.  In the process, an impeachment "trial" was held without witnesses or evidence being introduced.

Several Republican Senators, including Indiana's Mike Braun, opined that President Trump's behavior in trying to shake down an ally for help against a political opponent was over the line and Trump had learned a lesson from the impeachment.  In the days that followed his acquittal, President Trump proved he had, indeed, learned a lesson.  That lesson was that no matter what he did, no matter how illegal or morally wrong, Republicans in the Senate would always have his back..

Within days of the acquittal, President Trump removed Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman from his position with the National Security Council because he dared show up to testify in response to a House subpoena, which he was required to by law, and then proceeded to tell the truth under oath, which he was required to do by law.  Vindman has faithfully served in the Army for over 20 years, starting as an infantryman in 1999.  In 2004, Vindman was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and received a Purple Heart.

After Trump's retaliation against Vindman, Republican Senators rallied to his defense.  Kidding.  They said nothing or explicitly backed President Trump over Vindman.  Indiana Senator Todd Young, who publicly claims to support veterans, chose to publicly back the five time draft dodger Donald Trump over Vindman, whose commitment to his adopted country by any measure qualifies him as a patriot.

Young was not alone in his support for the questionable decision to sack Vindman over his testimony.  Other Republican Senators chimed in, while some said it was okay because he was not sufficiently "loyal" to the President, most most bypassed the merits of the reassignment, focusing instead on the notion that the workplace retaliation against Vindman was perfectly legal because of the President's absolute authority to remove appointees to the NSC.  Too long to discuss here, but the legal issues regarding the Vindman reassignment are much more complex than those GOP Senators wished to admit.  But even if the retaliation was legal, that does not make what Trump did morally right.  On that point, Republican Senators are mostly silent, or support the President.

In 2018, the Republicans lost the House because the GOP-led majority refused to do their job and hold President Trump accountable.  The only thing that saved the GOP majority in the Senate that year was the incredibly favorable map, i.e. 1/3 of senators are up every 2 years and the 2018 election featured scores of Senate Democrats defending seats in states Trump won in 2016.  The 2020 Senate map is much less favorable for Republicans.

Trump may well escape the political consequences of "winning" the impeachment issue due to the Electoral College and the Democrats' apparent stubborn intent to offer an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, as Trump's opponent in the Fall.  The GOP Senators though do not have the luxury of the Electoral College and they may well square off against Democratic moderates capable of picking up enough votes to swing competitive states in their favor.

Senate Republicans were extremely foolish to not allow for witness testimony and documents in the Senate impeachment trial.  It makes Republican Senators vulnerable to the charges that they were trying to cover up the President's misconduct...which, of course, is exactly what they were doing.  But it is worse than that.  The Senate Republicans failure to even call for evidence at the trial assured Trump he can do whatever he wants and the Republican-led Senate will do absolutely nothing to hold him accountable.

Surprise, surprise, surprise (channeling my inner Gomer Pyle)....Trump has taken that assurance and run with it.  You can expect that Trump will continue to try to cheat to win the 2020 election (asking foreign countries to intervene in the election will just be the start.)  You can expect Trump will use the departments of government to go after his opponents and protect his friends.  (Trump will make Nixon look like a rank amateur in that regard.) You can expect he will continue to use his position to enrich himself and his family.

And you can expect the Republicans in the Senate to lose a majority because they refused to do their jobs and hold this President accountable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hopefully the Tabulation Snafu Spells the End of the Iowa Caucus

I was at my computer last night, eagerly awaiting the results of the Iowa caucus to start trickling in.  Nearly 24 hours later, I'm still waiting.

From the reactions of the candidates, Mayor Pete might have won.  Or, maybe, Bernie Sanders did.  Warren probably finished third. Biden, who seemed the most displeased with the delay and raised the issue of election integrity, probably slipped to fourth if not fifth. 

But who knows what happened?  By 5 pm, eastern time, Iowa Democratic officials are supposed to
release "partial" results. 

I frankly don't know how you mess up the count on a caucus.  Tabulating the votes in a primary involves much more moving parts and is much more complicated than a caucus.  With a caucus, people are declaring their preferences publicly and standing in a group with a group of people who support that candidate.  The precinct captain then counts the number of supporters each candidate has then reports that total.  So simple.

Apparently, the Iowa Democratic Party tried to use an app for the tabulation that had bugs.  That's why they should have had a backup plan. And there should have been a second backup plan if the first one didn't work.  That is why you always have test run of the equipment.

It appears the tabulation snafu has people so angry, the institution of Iowa caucus, founded in 1972, might be in danger.  Hallelujah!  First, caucuses are stupid.  In an age where privacy is of utmost concern and our politics is incredibly divisive, voters do not want to go to public meetings and declare in front of their neighbors who they support for President. 

But I have another reason I want the Iowa Caucuses to end - Ethanol.

When it comes to alternative energy sources, ethanol is far and away the worst.  It takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy that gallon of ethanol provides for consumers.  Blending ethanol with gasoline significantly reduces fuel economy, which results in cars requiring more gas to travel the same distance. Not only is ethanol bad for the environment, putting corn into our gas tanks drives up grocery prices.  Not only do humans consume corn, the farm animals we consume do as well.  There is only so much corn that farmers can grow.  When demand for corn is high due to the use of ethanol, the prices for corn, beef, pork and chicken all go up.

Environmental activists long ago figured out the flaws in ethanol and stopped advocating for its use.  So, if environmentalists aren't pushing for ethanol, it reduces mileage, and it raises prices for consumers, why is ethanol still being pushed.

Farmers.

In particular, the farmers from Iowa, the biggest ethanol producing state in the country.  Iowa farmers make a lot of money off ethanol.  So what is the tool by which those Iowa farmers ensure that powerful politicians protect the ethanol industry?  The Iowa presidential caucus held every four years.  For presidential candidates to do well in the all important first electoral contest, they must promise to support ethanol. 

If the wait for vote totals in Iowa spells the end of the Iowa Caucus and ethanol, the wait will be worth it.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Expect Iowans to "Feel the Bern" Tonight

Because caucuses, unlike primaries, require a substantial time commitment on behalf of participants, candidates who have a core of highly energized, committed supporters tend to do best.  Because of that, I would be shocked if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders does not come out on top tonight. (A caveat, however.  Because of the way they are tallying votes in Iowa, there may be more than one
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
winner). 

As someone who studies politics, I am more interested in how the other candidates do.  Will Joe Biden fall to third or maybe even fourth place?   Will Elizabeth Warren finish a strong second, which runnerup status would keep her alive to possibly win New Hampshire?  Can Mayor Pete, who I think is the most talented politician in the field, recover some of the luster that briefly propelled himself to the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire polls?  And what about Minnesota Amy Klobuchar?  Can she have a strong showing in Iowa that will keep her campaign going?

Have I mentioned how ridiculous it is that we put so much meaning on the differences in candidates' totals in the Iowa caucuses that amount to just a few hundred voters?

If Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, I think Warren's campaign is effectively over.  If Mayor Pete and Klobuchar perform badly in Iowa, they are also on the ropes.  While I think Biden's campaign could survive bad performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, surviving is not the same thing as succeeding.  

I believe when it is all sorted out, there is likely to be one "progressive" candidate (almost certainly Sanders) and one moderate candidate (Biden, Mayor Pete, Klobuchar or former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg) left pursuing the Democratic nomination.   I was originally dismissive of Bloomberg's chances, but I am not anymore.  I think he may have stumbled onto a strategy, the only strategy, that makes him viable for the Democratic nomination.  If it comes down to just Sanders or Bloomberg, my money is on Bloomberg, who Democrats would believe is a much stronger general election candidate.

GOP: The Conservative Party Becomes the Party of Corruption, Cover-Up

Nearly 40 years ago, I walked into my first Young Republicans meeting on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.  I had grown up with Democratic parents, but they were not liberals.  My father, in particular, complained constantly about liberals at the dinner table.  When I asked him why he didn't vote for Republican since he disliked liberals so much, he responded that the GOP did not support the working man.  He was the epitome of what used to call a "yellow dog Democrat," someone who would vote for a Democrat even if the party's candidate was a yellow dog.

At the Young Republican meeting and the other Republican meetings I attended that year and the
years that followed, I learned of a burgeoning group of intellectuals whose ideas provided the foundation for what became the conservative movement.  Over the years, I read many of their positions papers, books and other writings.  To this day, I still have on my bookshelves Milton Friedman "Free to Choose," Robert Bork's "Tempting of America, and the bible of privatization, "Reinventing Government."   

The conservative movement was about limited government, reduced budget deficits, a devolution of power from the national government to the states (i.e. federalism), a support for freedom and democracy around the world, family-friendly social policies, a commitment to the Constitution as written (and the Framers intended), and open, honest, and ethical government. It was about marshaling the better nature of people who choose to live in this great country and giving them the opportunity to succeed.  The conservative movement provided a positive vision of the future, a welcoming and supportive environment.  Liberals were not the enemy.  They were just people who had not yet been convinced of the correctness of our ideas..

Don't get me wrong.  The Republican Party, to which the conservative movement attached itself, often fell far, far short in implementing those objectives over the decades that followed. But there was never any doubt what those goals were. 

About a decade ago, the conservative movement, which came alive during Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, began dying.  Led by a multitude of hosts on FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh and others, the intellectual underpinnings of the conservative movement were replaced by the oversimplified dichotomy, "we good, they bad."  Except that the other side, the liberals, were not just bad, they were downright evil, worse than even the most brutal foreign dictators who repress freedom and kill their own citizens.  People no longer were expected to think critically about issues...instead they were asked to focus on who is for which policies.  Conservative politics became not about intellectualism, but about tribalism.  The conservative media's feedback loop created a flock of sheep who would simply support whatever policy or candidate they were told to support. 

With the intellectual underpinnings of conservativism gone, it wasn't long before the goals of the movement began falling as well.  Today, we have a Republican Party supporting record budget deficits (during a time of sustained economic growth no less).  The GOP has also apparently forgotten about federalism, enthusiastically mandating states adopt preferred policies such as a 21 year old smoking age.  On the foreign policy front, we have a Republican President who warmly embraces dictators who repress freedom and kill political opponents, while that same President, at every turn, undermines our allies and refuses to support American democratic values both at home and abroad..  Today's Republicans, in and out of Congress, regularly support these views, which just a few years early would have been called, rightfully, un-American and unpatriotic.

And let us not forget the Constitution.  The first few decades after I became a Republican, GOP candidates and elected officials bragged about carrying a copy of the Constitution in their pockets.  Today members of Congress, at least the Republican ones, have turned to gutting provisions the Founders put in the Constitution to protect our Republic.  The requirement that emoluments being given to the President be approved by Congress?  Ignored.  The power of the Senate to confirm key members of the executive branches, including those appointees conducting foreign policy?  Gone.  The President can just appoint unconfirmed "acting" officials or have his private attorney do the whatever he wants done.  The power of Congress to appropriate money for programs?  Never mind.  The President can just make a phony claim of an "emergency" and take money from other programs for his pet project. 

But at least Congress still has the power to conduct oversight of the executive branch, right?   Nope.  This past few days though we learned Congress has no right to subpoena documents or witnesses from the executive branch.  The President can just ignore the subpoenas without any consequence whatsoever.  Indeed as the impeachment saga played out, Justice Department officials were in federal court in another matter arguing that Congress had no authority to go to counts to enforce its subpoenas.  Congressional oversight is gone.  Not sure when gutting constitutional checks and balances to give the President absolute power became a Republican concept. 

Then you have impeachment.  The President used his office to illegally withhold congressionally appropriated military aid (a violation of the Impoundment Act) desperately needed by Ukraine to get that country's President to intervene into an American election.  In doing so, the President was willing to put America's national security at risk to get something he could use (the announcement of an investigation) politically against a rival.   Of course, the President does what he routinely does - he lied, saying there was no quid pro quo, that he didn't ask that the Bidens be investigated in an exchange for military aid.  The President then did everything he could to cover up what he did, ordering executive officials to not testify and not turn over a single page of documents in response to House subpoenas.  When impeachment reached the Senate, Republicans complained, wrongly,  there was no direct evidence of such a quid pro quo.  Of course, when there was an opportunity for Republican Senators to get even better direct evidence such as the testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton, they said they didn't want to hear it.  The first impeachment "trial" in American history without evidence will conclude this week. 

But it gets worse.  In reaching the conclusion that the President did in fact withhold military aid for a political favor, i.e. there was a quid pro quo, the Republicans in the Senate de facto adopted the doctrine put forward by former Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz which states that if a President does something in furtherance of his re-election, that is by definition in the public's interest, and cannot be a subject of impeachment.  In fact, the President cannot even be investigated for such conduct.   The Dershowitz Doctrine makes Presidents immune from criminal and non-criminal acts, as long as they can tie it to an effort to get re-elected.   Too bad Nixon did not know about this "Get Out of Impeachment" card that Dershowitz, but no other legal expert, found buried in our Constitution.

To say the performance of the Republican Senators during impeachment has been an embarrassment is to be kind.  But it apparently won't end with the impeachment trial.  Iowa Senator Joni Ernst continues to gloat about the trial outing the supposed corruption of Joe Biden.  Back in the real world, Biden did absolutely nothing wrong.  The Ukraine prosecutor Biden pushed (at the behest of President Obama and scores of others) to get fired had long ago stopped investigating Burisma, the company his son, Hunter, was on the board of.  In fact, that stopped investigation and several others is why virtually everyone was pushing to get rid of the Ukraine prosecutor widely viewed as corrupt.  Biden's actions didn't stop an investigation of his son's company.  It in fact, made it possible for the investigation of Burisma to be restarted.  No doubt, Senator Ernst knows all of this.  But one you thing you learn in the Trump era is if the truth does not advance the cause politically, just tell a lie instead. 

Now South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is giving interviews in which he says he will subpoena the whistleblower whose report that sparked the investigation that led to impeachment.  Never mind that everything in the whistleblower report turned out to be true and the whisteblower became irrelevant the minute evidence was found supporting those claims, Graham and several Senators still want the whistleblower outed, which action they undoubtedly know will put his life in danger.  Their purpose behind doing so is clear - that want to intimidate future whistleblowers from speaking out about the wrongdoing they witness in the executive branch.

I have long preached that Donald Trump is not the cause of the Republican Party's problems.  Rather Trump is the symptom.  As a candidate and recent Republican convert, Trump swooped in and took advantage of a political party whose conservative intellectual moorings had been stripped away.  Trump filled in that vacuum with his own flexible version of populism and nationalism, which often had little if anything to do with the conservative positions that underpinned the rise of Ronald Reagan four decades earlier.

The problem is not Trump.  The problem are his enablers, the people who decided to surrender the Republican Party completely to Trump and have refused to hold him accountable for anything he has done.  As someone who studies election trends, I just do not understand those Republicans who think the GOP's long-term future is Trump, a political candidate who has shown virtually no electoral strength.  In 2016, Donald Trump won the electoral college by 78,000 votes in three key states, one of the closest presidential elections in American history.  In the process, Donald Trump ran behind virtually every Republican statewide candidate.  In almost every special and regular election in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the support for Republican candidates declined dramatically.  This included in 2018, when Republicans suffered historic losses in the House despite heavily gerrymandered maps in the GOP's favor.  Exit polls show women, suburbanites and college-educated voters fleeing the Republican Party in droves during the Trump era. 

As far as 2020 goes, Trump runs behind virtually every Democratic candidate and his popularity level has never reached 50% despite having a strong economy.  Any other Republican President would be cruising to re-election.  While Trump may still win re-election because of the strong economy (which he did not create by the way...Presidents do not run the American economy) and the foolishness of Democrats, who appear eager to nominate the avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders.  While Trump is one of the few Republican presidential candidates who could actually lose to a socialist, the odds of his winning go way up if the Democrats nominate someone on the far left such as Sanders or Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren instead of a moderate. 

While the Electoral College and the Dershowitz Doctrine, which sanctions a President cheating to win re-election, may save the White House for the GOP, the Republicans in Congress and state legislatures have no such protection and will continue to lose seats in the Trump era.  Republican Senators, in particular, will pay a price at the polls for their conduct during the impeachment.  Voters know that trials are supposed to have witnesses and evidence and what Republicans in the Senate did was doing was covering up the corrupt actions of a corrupt President.

Most of the intellectuals who provided the ballast for Republican policies have fled the party in the Trump era.  They saw the GOP, a party that used to be based on conservative ideals, becoming a party that is willing to condone and cover up corruption by a President that they refuse, at all costs, to hold accountable. 

As I write this, I see a law school classmate of mine, Ed Adams, has announced he is leaving the Republican Party.  So too has one of my brothers.  That is not a choice I have made.  I think the best choice of action is for real conservatives and the intellectuals is to fight to get the Republican Party (or whatever name it will be known by in the future) back.  There is certainly no future in Trumpism.  The general election electorate is sending that message at every election. 

Today's Republican Party, the conservative party I chose to associate myself with in my youth, has become instead the party of corruption and cover-up.  And that makes me incredibly sad.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Downtown Indy Needs BlueIndy Parking Spaces Back

Late last year it was announced that the electric car service company, BlueIndy, was ceasing operations.   BlueIndy was one of the many hair-brained ideas that came during the Ballard administration, ideas that almost always involved taxpayers subsidizing private business.

This is how Blue Indy describes itself:
BlueIndy is a revolutionary 100% electric self-service car sharing service in Indianapolis available 24/7. The BlueIndy system will be the largest electric car share service in the U.S. when complete. The service is part of the city’s transit strategy. Stations throughout Indianapolis will offer the membership-based car share service as well as electric vehicle charging infrastructure for public use. 
BlueIndy is a subsidiary of the Bolloré Group which is among the world's 500 largest companies. 
Despite being given free prime parking spaces throughout Indianapolis, BlueIndy could not turn a profit.  Not a surprise.  The spaces were almost always occupied by unrented BlueIndy vehicles taking up valuable parking spaces. 

If you have been downtown lately, you will know it is a mess for those of us still driving vehicles  Scores of traffic lanes have been taken away in favor of dedicated Red Line bus and bike lanes.  Numerous traffic signals have been added providing different options which do little more than confuse everyone.  In some places, parking has been moved off the curb so that parked cars appear to be in traffic lanes. 

The other day I drove from 16th and Capital to Maryland and Capitol, about 2 miles.  It took me 30 minutes.  Downtown traffic was just one big parking lot at rush hour.

But let's return to the parking issue   Finding on-street parking in the middle of the day near the City-County Building is virtually impossible.  You might drive around for 30 minutes looking for a space.  Scores of parking spaces have been removed to create dedicated bus and bike lanes.  And then you have the numerous BlueIndy cars taking up valuable parking spaces.

Not only have Indianapolis residents lost out on valuable parking spots, we are paying for those lost spots.  Yep, when Indianapolis privatized on-street parking several years ago (another hair-brained Ballard idea), we agreed to pay ACS (ParkIndy) for each parking spot taken out of commission as if they were fully-occupied six days a week. 

When BlueIndy moves out of the spots, city officials need to return those spots for the use they were intended - on street parking.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

An Impeachment Richly Deserved

In a few hours the third presidential impeachment "trial" in American history will begin.  I hesitate to call it a "trial" because it is still not clear that the Republican-controlled Senate will agree to hear witnesses and evidence, or even whether that body will consider the documents and witness testimony gathered by the House.  

Andrew Johnson was the first President impeached. That effort, in 1868, fell one vote short of
conviction in the Senate.  In 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice.  His conviction on those charges failed by votes of 45-55 and 50-50.  In the 100 member Senate, 67 votes are needed for a conviction.

At the time, I supported Clinton's removal from office.  My view over the years has changed however,.  I still believe Clinton committed a felony (perjury) and, no, you don't get a free pass to lie when the issue is sex.  Also, it should not be overlooked that Clinton was carrying on a sexual affair with a subordinate in the workplace.  That's not right and to the Democrats credit, most at the time acknowledged that Clinton's conduct was wrong.  But most of those Democrats also took the position that Clinton's conduct was not impeachable and I agree with that now.  As heinous as Clinton's conduct was, that conduct did not directly relate to his presidential duties.  I think that should generally be the standard for impeachment.

The Trump's impeachment is most similar to the impeachment charges against Richard Nixon that were voted out by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974.  Those charges were 1) obstruction of justice for Nixon's attempt to impede the investigation of the Watergate break-in; 2) abuse of power 
for using his office to compel federal agencies to target his enemies; and 3) contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas.

I was only 13 in 1974, but I followed the Nixon impeachment hearings quite closely.  (Nixon, of course, resigned before the full House could impeach him.)  Donald Trump's transgressions make Richard Nixon's look like jaywalking. There is no comparison.

In 2016, Donald Trump accepted the help of a hostile foreign power, Russia, to win an American election.   It is illegal for foreign powers to involve itself in American elections.  And it is illegal for candidate to solicit that help.  At the very least, the candidate can be charged with a criminal campaign finance violation.

As the 2020 election approached, Donald Trump decided he would cheat again.  This time he used his office to "encourage" Ukraine into announcing an investigation of his chief political rival, Joe Biden, so he could try to paint Biden as "corrupt."  (I find it ironic that the most corrupt President in my lifetime, by far, thinks corruption is a good issue for him.).  To accomplish this goal, Trump, through intermediaries, offered Ukraine's President Zelensky a bribe - already appropriated military aid that Ukraine desperately needed for survival in defending itself against Russia.  (Never mind that Trump had no actual authority to impound the congressionally appropriated money.)  Trump was willing to put America's national security at risk for his own selfish, political reasons.  So much for Trump being a "patriiot."

And, no, Trumpers, the "transcript" (it was actually just notes) of the phone call does not exonerate Trump. Not even close.  Not that the phone call is the only evidence of Trump's Ukraine scheme.  Far from it.

When the House tried to investigate the Ukraine scheme, Trump immediately went into cover-up mode, attempting to block executive branch witnesses from testifying and refusing to turn over a single document (beyond the so-called "transcript").  The claim that executive privilege allows Trump to do this is laughable.  Nixon attempted to take the same approach when the White House recordings were subpoenaed.  The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that Nixon executive privilege claim as to the tapes was invalid.  While a President can exert executive privilege when applicable, that privilege is not a blanket that allows a President to bar all witnesses or refuse to hand over any documents. The notion that Congress has no recourse but to run to court every time the President or other executive branch official refuses to comply with a subpoena by offering a bogus claim of blanket executive privilege is nonsensical.  

The House's impeachment charges against Trump are for 1) abuse of power; and 2) contempt of Congress.    Not only are both charges richly deserved, they only scratch the surface for what Trump could be charged with.  

As a Republican, I am greatly disheartened that so many people in my party, including those in Congress, want to give Trump a pass on behavior they would never in a million years accept from a Democratic President.  You would think they'd try to argue otherwise, but most do not.  It is a sign of today's tribalism, that they don't even protest when you point out their hypocrisy.  All that matters is what uniform the players are wearing.

History is watching.  History will judge Republican Senators harshly if they abdicate their responsibility to carefully consider the evidence and, instead, exonerate an obviously guilty President.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Critics of Today's Political Environment Need to Stop Blaming Trump

Critics of today's destructive political environment point the finger at President Donald J. Trump as the culprit.   That would be wrong.  Trump is a symptom of today's current political climate.  He is not the cause of that climate.

Trump pictured with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday.
Before Trump was elected President, he was a failed, dishonest businessman.  Banks would not loan
him money and the people of New York City considered him to be a joke.  The only success Trump ever personally achieved in life, before being elected President, was his reality show, the Apprentice, in which he pretended to be the successful businessman he never was in real life.  Even that success was fleeting as the show's ratings took a dive the last few seasons and was on its way to being cancelled when Trump bailed.

Candidate Trump warmly accepted, even publicly solicited, help from Russia to win the 2016 election.  As the 2020 election approaches, President Trump has decided he is going to try to cheat again, this time by using his office to coerce Ukraine into giving him political ammunition against Joe
Biden, his probable general election opponent. (He also China for dirt on Biden and Elizabeth Warren, another potential general election rival.) In the process, Trump has put Ukraine's future and America's national security at risk. Trump clearly does not think he can win an election without foreign interference and, given his anemic approval ratings, he may be right.

For anyone who has followed Donald J. Trump's career, his transgressions in office do not represent new behavior.  Trump has always been extremely dishonest (some would call him a pathological liar), incompetent, selfish, immoral, ignorant, and completely uneducated about about the issues.  You could walk into any downtown Indianapolis building after business hours, find a janitor cleaning toilets and that person would be better suited to be President of the United States than Donald J. Trump

As I write this, the U.S. House is moving forward with impeaching President Trump.  The two articles drafted by the Democratic leadership are for abuse of power for Trump using his office (not using past tense because those efforts continue to this very day) to coerce a foreign power to help him with his re-election efforts and obstruction of Congress for blocking any cooperation with the probe into his actions.  

People need to stop blaming Trump.  President Trump is operating exactly as he did when he was pretending to be a successful businessman. Instead blame the enablers, people who helped elect such an unqualified disgrace to the highest office in the land and then decided he should never be held accountable for his actions.

Those enablers include members of Congress.  You could count on one hand the number of Republicans in the House and Senate who think that what Trump is doing with Ukraine is perfectly fine. If President Obama or a President Hillary Clinton pulled the stunt Trump did, you can bet that GOP members of Congress would be unanimous in supporting impeachment.  But those Republicans have decided to put their their own electoral interest (which requires blind, unwavering loyalty to Trump) ahead of what is in best for the country and the Republican Party.  Regarding the latter, make no mistake about it, the GOP will pay a very high price for being on the wrong side of history.

While Republican elected officials who look the other way are a problem, the worst enablers are members of the so-called conservative media (a term I loathe as many long ago stopped acting like real conservatives) who have decided that honesty and integrity in our politics no longer matter. All that matters is Us v. Them, i.e. tribal warfare.  If our side does something, it is by definition is right.  If the Democrats do it, it is not only wrong, it is evil.

Many members of the conservative media decided to throw away their intellectual integrity to go all in on Trump not because they believe in him, but supporting Trump is the only way to get the audience needed to stay on the air  I am talking people like Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin...the list of these sell-out television and radio personalities is endless.  But the Trump effect on the conservative media is not just national...it is local as well.  Here in Indianapolis, we have WIBC "conservative" radio hosts such as Hammer and Nigel, Tony Katz, and the Chicks on the Right.  Probably the worst Trumper locally though is Chicks' producer and WIBC guest host Rob Kendall who never lets actual facts get in the way of presenting Trump talking points.  While the aforementioned media types seem to be just playing a role as Trump supporters to collect a paycheck, one gets the sense Kendall actually believes the propaganda he spouts.

The Trump-worshiping conservative media has created an echo chamber of alternative facts and conspiracy theories that shield Republican voters from reality.  When conservatives want the latest news, they turn on FoxNews and watch hosts Hannity, Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson, none of whom feel compelled to be balanced, or even factual, in discussing recent developments.  But as bad as the Fox News and radio hosts like Limbaugh and Levin can be, it is even worse when those conservatives turn to social media.  Twitter and Facebook offers even more outrageous "facts" and conspiracy theories than the more mainstream commentators could ever muster. 

Regardless of the information source, the approach is always the same: provide the audience tuning what they want to hear so they come back.    It doesn't matter if it is not factual.  All that matters is whether the audience is being fed what they want to hear so they will come back. The truth be damned.

Stop blaming Trump.  Blame the people who made a Donald J. Trump possible. They are the ones who need to be held responsible for today's toxic political environment.