Thursday, July 20, 2017

Special Counsel's investigation Expands to Target Trump Family's Financial Dealings with Russia

Bloomberg dropped this bombshell just a couple of hours ago:  
The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. 
The president told the New York Times on Wednesday that any digging into
matters beyond Russia would be out of bounds. Trump’s businesses have involved Russians for years, making the boundaries fuzzy so Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be taking a wide-angle approach to his two-month-old probe. 
FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.
John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday he was unaware of this element of the investigation. "Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code," he wrote in an email. 
Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. They are also examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and White House aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties. The information was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.
... 
In a New York Times interview yesterday, President Trump left open the possibility he may attempt to fire Mueller if he strayed too far into the Trump family's finances.  While how he would accomplish such a firing is questionable given how the special counsel law is structured, perhaps a more likely way for Trump to protect his family from such a financial investigation would be to issue pardons to anyone who might be a target of Mueller's probe.   Indeed, Trump could even issue a pardon to himself.   Whether Trump's choice is the firing of Mueller or issuing multiple pardons, either choice takes him one step closer to impeachment.

Monday, July 17, 2017

President Trump Tweets That Collusion With A Foreign Power Is Normal In Politics

Once again, the narrative has changed.  First, President Trump, et al. claimed there was absolutely no meetings between Trump campaign officials and agents of the Russian government.  That turned out to be a lie.  The next story was that there were meetings, but no discussion of election matters, and certainly no "collusion."  When the Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with a Russian attorney finally came to light, the tale spun by Junior was that it was a brief meeting to discuss Russian adoption.  Another lie. An email chanin demonstrated the "adoption" meeting
was instead for the purpose of allowing Trump, Jr. to receive anti-Hillary Clinton info dug up by the Russian government.  If you believe the every increasing list of participants of that meeting, and there is no reason to cloak those individuals with any sort of credibility given their history, the dirt on Hillary Clinton was not forthcoming.

At the very least, the emails and subsequent meetings demonstrate a willingness on the part of Trump campaign members to collude, even if such collusion did not take place.  Even more clearly, it appears that campaign finance laws were violated, laws which prohibit the solicitation of things of value from foreign nationals.  Opposition research is most certainly a thing of value which would have been reported as an in-kind contribution.

However, just hours after confirming the date and time of the Trump, Jr. meeting with the Russians to get anti-Hillary information, Trump publicly announced that he would in a few days give a speech detailing Hillary dirt.   We're supposed to believe that was just a coincidence and that the President knew nothing of the "adoption" meeting?   Given the President's penchant for lying, it's hard to believe this claim is true.

It's probably only a matter of time before it is revealed that President Trump was well aware of his campaign staff's interactions with the Russian officials to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.  While collusion was never the only thing that mattered in the investigation (I always thought that related financial crimes were likely the bigger story), it appears that collusion really did take place, or at the very least an attempt to collude.

Now that collusion is a strong possibility,, what is the Trump response? Well, of course, to say that even if there was collusion, collusion is perfectly okay because everyone in politics does it!  Late this morning, Donald Trump tweeted:

Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!

Of course, that's a ridiculous claim.  But even if it were true, it's not a defense.  If you run a stop sign, it is not a defense that other people run that same stop sign too.

The word "impeachment" is increasingly being mentioned by more and more Democrats, an idea dismissed out of hand by most Republicans. They shouldn't.  Democrats are likely to run on impeachment in 2018 and, if history is any guide, they almost certainly will win a majority of seats. When that happens, impeachment proceedings are almost certain to happen.

Even if impeachment is successful, the President's case would still have to be tried in the Senate. Given the seats up in 2018, it is virtually impossible for the Democrats to do much better than draw even with the Republicans who have a 52-48 majority.  While that would seemingly close the door on Trump's removal, I don't buy it.  Given the likely bad 2018 election results, I think 17 Republicans could be found to vote to rid the country of the incompetent, ethically-challenged administration that would likely be an albatross as they go into the 2020 election.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

President Trump Tweets that He Discussed Forming a Cyber Security Unit with Russia

Friday's meeting between American President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimar Putin only featured six people in the room, the two Presidents, U.S. Secretary of State and Russian Order of Friendship Winner Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and two interpreters. Everyone else was shut out, including the American National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, who would normally rank ahead of the Secretary of State when it comes to attending such a meeting.

The purpose of the small attendee list was undoubtedly to prevent leaks. The Trump administration did not want a repeat of the damaging information that came out during his last meeting with the Russians, a lighthearted event in the oval office in which Trump bragged about his access to top rate intelligence followed by his then giving out highly classified information to the Lavrov and other Russian attendees.
Russian officials meeting with President Trump in Oval Office this May
 It was at that meeting that Trump also told the Russians he had fired "nutjob" FBI Director James Comey to ease pressure on him due to Comey's Russian investigation, a maneuver that has failed miserably.

Unfortunately, for the Trump administration, there was one person in the room who could not remain silent when it came to releasing damaging information about what happened in Friday's meeting - Donald Trump.  This morning President Trump tweeted out:
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said involving the Russians in a cyber security unit is "not the dumbest idea I've ever heard but it's pretty close."  Meanwhile Florida Senator Marco tweeted out that "partnering with Putin on a "Cuber Security Unit" is akin to partnering with Assad on a "Chemical Weapons Unit."

And those were Republicans. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who is a member on the House Intelligence Committee, who said on CNN's State of the Union that "if that's our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow."

It is now clear how Russian participation on such a cyber security unit would work.  Would we share with the Russians our intelligence on how we track down hackers and how systems can be designed to avoid such hacking in the future? Doesn't President Trump understand that such information would be enormously helpful to the Russians in continuing their cyber hacking program?

Trump has now tweeted several times about Friday's meeting and it is clear from those tweets that the President did not "press" his man crush Russian President Vladimar Putin on election meddling.  Even Secretary of State Tillerson said Trump raised meddling not on his own behalf but on behalf of the "American people" and then simply moved on when Putin denied it. President Trump now admits that he didn't raise the possibility of sanctions for Russia's election interference, despite the fact such a bill passed the Senate 97-2 and is pending in the House.  According to Lavrov's version of the meeting, Trump accepted Putin's denials of involvement and even offered the observation that some media outlets in the United States are exaggerating the election hacking story.    While Lavrov has a reputation for being less than honest, sadly President Trump does as well.   Bottom line is that Lavrov's claims about what transpired during the meeting seem perfectly consistent with the things President Trump has said about Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how Trump responded when asked by a reporter about the issue just two days early.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

President Trump Continues Assault on Free Press as New Tweet Condones Violence on Reporters

One would think that President Trump's attacks on a free press had gone as low as he possible could have this week with his twitter attack MSNBC's Morning Joe Hosts, Mika Brzezinski, and Joe Scarborough, which included not only his sexist mocking of Brzezinski's appearance but also lies about their trip over New Year's to the President's Maralago resort.  But on the heels of that tweet came Brzezinski and Scarborough's claim that President Trump used a threatened National Enquirer expose of Brzezinski and Scarborough's relationship (they are divorced and now are engaged to one another) to try to extort better coverage of the President on their show  Calls from the White House, including apparently from Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, indicated that if they were willing to apologize to President Trump for their past criticism of the President and provide more favorable coverage in the future, the President would have the publisher of the National Enquirer, with whom the President is close friends, pull the story.  The Morning Joe hosts refused and the story ran.

It should be noted that this is not the first time President Trump threatened to expose the Morning Joe hosts' relationship because he did not like how they talked about him on the program.  He tweeted such a threat earlier this year, though it seems in discussing the President's more recent tweets about the program the reporters have forgotten about the earlier threat President Trump made.

So we're at the bottom, right?  Think again.  Never bet against President Trump finding a way to lower the dignity of his office and lowering political civility yet further.  As the network morning news shows were taking place, President Trump posted this spoof of his physically assaulting a CNN reporter:



In an environment in which a Republican congressional candidate assaulted a reporter because he didn't like the question he was asking and a Democratic nutjob began shooting at Republicans members of Congress at a baseball practice, the last thing we need is the President using his position to undermine civility and condone violence.  While many may simply laugh off the President's professional wrestling spoof, the fact is there are people on the margins of society who are going to take such a video as the President himself condoning violence on reporters.  Of course, Donald Trump has condoned violence at his rallies before so this isn't new.

Okay, we've finally reached the bottom, right?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Indianapolis Sues Carmel Over 96th Street Roundabouts

The Indianapolis Star reports:
Indianapolis has filed a lawsuit to prevent Carmel from building several roundabouts  along 96th on the cities' shared border.  
The argument started when Indianapolis City-County Councilwoman Christine Scales refused to sign an agreement to allow Carmel to build roundabouts at the intersections with Hazel Dell Parkway, Gray Road, Delegates Row and Randall Drive. As the district
representative, Indianapolis followed her lead.  
After he couldn't get Scales to change her mind, Mayor Jim Brainard in March told IndyStar he would build the roundabouts regardless of whether Indianapolis agreed to the plans. 
Indianapolis filed the lawsuit this month, arguing Carmel has no authority to buy right of way or do roadwork in Indianapolis city limits without permission. Boone County Judge Matthew Kincaid will hear the case to avoid a conflict of interest with Marion or Hamilton county judges. 
The article goes on to quote Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard that under state law Carmel has the authority to maintain roads on its southern border.  It is not clear that provision though would include construction of a completely new intersection which involves crossing over into another city to do so.

The article also quotes Councilor Scales who notes the opposition of business owners to the project.

I've long said that the construction of roundabouts is the best thing Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has done in office.  I used to work in Carmel pre-roundabouts and traffic congestion was horrible.  Not so any more.  But drive in Carmel today and it appears that a few well-placed roundabouts has given way to an obsession.   You can hardly drive in Carmel today without encountering scores of roundabouts, many of which are on lightly traveled roads where a stop sign might be more appropriate.  On the other end, there are extremely busy intersections in which a stoplight would be better.   Indianapolis should have the right to say "no" to the Carmel's obsession with roundabouts.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Georgia Special Election Portends What the "Trump Effect" Will Be on GOP-Leaning Congressional Districts in 2018

Today voters in the northern Atlanta suburbs go to the polls to vote in a special election, the most expensive congressional race in history.  Democrat Jon Ossoff faces Republican Karen Handel in the battle to replace former congressman and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in Georgia House District #6.  Both parties, but especially Democrats, have poured money into the competition for a district that Price won by 23% in 2016, but President Trump only carried by 1%. The national media is focusing on the race as a referendum on Trump.  Republicans have won previous GOP-leaning special districts this year, but in every instance the Republican share of the vote has been substantially down over previous years.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls show Handel with a .2% lead.  Obviously a dead heat.


Karen Handel
Is too much made of this special election as a referendum on President Trump?  Certainly too much is based on who wins or loses.  If Handel, for example, wins by a handful of votes instead of losing by a handful of votes, there shouldn't be too much read into the result. However, the GOP is having to defend this heavily Republican seat is a significant development, apart from the actual result that rolls in tonight.  It should be noted that Georgia HD #6 has a highly education population.  Indeed it is in the top 10 in that measure.  The other nine congressional districts with the most educated populations are represented by Democrats.  There was a time when the more education one had, the more likely a person would be a Republican.  That appears to be changing.

While far from an inspiring candidate, Handel's moderately conservative views better fit the district than the bland Ossoff.  Politically, Ossoff, who is only 30 years old, is a traditional liberal who would be much better suited for a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Massachusetts or California, rather than a Republican-leaning district in Georgia.  Even more importantly than his age and liberal views being a handicap in the district, the biggest negative for Ossoff is that he doesn't actually in House District #6. While not a legal requirement, that issue has proven to be a deal-breaker for challengers who have attempted to convince voters they can properly represent a district in which they don't live. 

What I find most remarkable is that the Democrats, despite recruiting an extremely poor candidate for the district, have a real chance of winning tonight. That speaks volumes about the drag that President Trump will be on the Republicans going into the 2018 congressional elections.  Call it the "Trump Effect."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cabinet Meeting an Embarrassing Spectacle, Puts President Trump's Deep Personal Insecurities on Full Display

From Day 1 of his candidacy, I, and many others, have argued that Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit for the Office of the Presidency.  It seems like very day since then , Donald Trump, now President Trump, finds new ways to prove that assertion correct.  Yesterday was no exception.

On Monday, President Trump held his first cabinet meeting.  He began with a completely false personal assessment of the first nearly five months of his Presidency, which included this whopper of a lie:
"Never has there been a president....with few exceptions...who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than I have."
I can only assume that President Trump doesn't know what the term "legislation" actually means. He apparently thinks it includes the numerous executive orders he's issued, most of which are nothing more than press releases.



But then the cabinet meeting got even more bizarre.   After the President's opening, he prompted each cabinet member to give obviously prepared speeches on how great President Trump is and how fortunate they are to work for such a great man.  The New York Times reports on the spectacle:

“The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” Mike Pence said, starting things off.
“I am privileged to be here — deeply honored — and I want to thank you for your commitment to the American workers,” said Alexander Acosta, the secretary of labor.
Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, had just returned from Mississippi and had a message to deliver. “They love you there,” he offered, grinning across the antique table at Mr. Trump.
Reince Priebus, the chief of staff whose job insecurity has been the subject of endless speculation, outdid them all, telling the president — and the assembled news cameras — “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.”
So it went on Monday in the Cabinet Room of the White House, as Mr. Trump transformed a routine meeting of senior members of his government into a mood-boosting, ego-stroking display of support for himself and his agenda. While the president never explicitly asked to be praised, Mr. Pence set the worshipful tone, and Mr. Trump made it clear he liked what he heard.
It is disconcerting that President Trump feels such personal insecurity that he needs to have his ego publicly stroked, especially by members of the cabinet who supposed to be giving him honest advice, not simply being "yes" men and women.

The cabinet is made up of many successful generals, business men and women and government officials.  It is appalling that almost all of them were willing to set aside their pride and integrity, to grovel at the feet of President Trump, kissing his ring.

There were a few exceptions, the most notable being General Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense, who deviated from the scripted praise of Trump to say it is an "honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense, and we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength."   
Trump, who sat next to Mattis, was clearly not pleased.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Polls Show Georgia CD #6 Special Election a Toss-Up

In what is considered the best barometer of politics post-Trump presidency,  the candidates in the special election run-off or Georgia's 6th Congressional District appear to be in a statistical dead heat. The latest poll conducted by WSB-TV/Landmark at the end of June shows Democrat Jon Ossoff leading Republican Karen Handel 49-48, well within the 4.4 margin of error. All other polls reported by Real Clear Politics, except one, show the margin as 2 points are less.  The outlier, a poll conducted by WXIA-TV/Survey USA, in mid-May, showed Ossoff leading by 7 points.

The district was formerly represented by Tom Price who was appointed Secretary of Health and
Human Services by President Donald Trump.  In the 2016 election, Price received 61.6% of the vote. While the Atlanta suburban district is normally reliably Republican, Trump performed poorly in the district barely edging out Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Despite the Republican-leaning nature of the district, Democrats have outspent Republicans in an effort to boost Ossoff.    Ossoff has been called an uninspiring candidate who has been criticized for residing outside the 6th district (Residency in a particular congressional district is not required to be a candidate for that district.)  Ossoff's strategy appears to make the special election, to be held on June 20th, a referendum on Trump who he has tied closely to Handel.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Montana Special Election Shows What Is Wrong With Early Voting

I have never been a fan of early voting, but after last night's debacle in Montana I am dead set against it.

For those who haven't been paying attention, on the eve of a special election Montana GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, "body slammed" Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs who dared to try to ask the candidate about the CBO scoring of the Republican health care plan.  Then to compound matters Gianforte's campaign issued a press release blaming the incident on the reporter. NPR reports:
Gianforte's campaign spokesman claimed in a statement that Jacobs interrupted an interview "without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began
asking badgering questions.

"After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground," Gianforte spokesperson Shane Scanlon said. "It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ."
Unfortunately for Gianforte, Jacobs had an audio recording of the altercation and Fox News reporters were nearby waiting to interview Gianforte.  The recording and the Fox reporters contradicted Gianforte's "alternative facts" his campaign tried to spin, namely that Jacobs and not Gianforte instigated the incident.  Gianforte has been charged with misdemeanor assault.

As a result of the attack, several Montana newspapers immediately revoked their endorsement of Gianforte.  But the wannabe thug will probably get elected to Congress despite widespread negative publicity the day before the election.  Why?  Because close to 70% of Montanans have already cast their ballot due to the state's liberal early voting laws.

I am not against making voting easier.  In fact, I am a strong supporter of vote centers, which would allow voters to cast ballots at any county voting location on Election Day.  As far as early voting, that reform has not been shown to increase participation, but only changes when people who are going to vote cast their ballots.  But the negative is that early voting results in people casting ballots long before the campaign narrative has played out  It is like allowing jurors to cast votes in a trial before all the evidence is in.  Well, in politics, all the evidence is not in until Election Day.  Sadly 70% of Montana voters are stuck with a choice many of them now regret.

Hopefully, the Gianforte experience will help put the brakes on early voting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Carmel Mayor Crashes City Vehicle...Again

The Indianapolis Star reports:
[Carmel} Mayor Jim Brainard crashed his city-provided 2017 Ford Fusion hybrid into another motorist last month, IndyStar has learned. 
No one was injured or cited in the crash, although the driver of the vehicle Brainard hit faces a charge for driving without a license. 
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard
Brainard was driving northbound on 3rd Avenue SW around 2 p.m. April 20 when he crossed the center line along the curve north of Carmel Drive, according to the Carmel Police Department report. Jose Guzman Uribe, 36, Indianapolis, was driving southbound in a 2006 Chevy Silverado hauling a trailer for his lawn-mowing business. Brainard crashed into the trailer. 
The mayor told police he was feeling fatigued before he crossed the center line, according to the report. 
... 
[Carmel Spokeswoman Nancy Heck] said city employees are required to submit to a drug and alcohol screen in crashes while driving city vehicles, if there is injury or a vehicle was towed. Brainard's car was towed, but Heck said elected officials are exempt from the rule. She said the responding officer can choose to administer a test if he or she feels it's warranted. Lt. Joe Bickel, Carmel Police Department's public information officer, said it is up to the officer at the scene to decide whether to conduct a sobriety test or cite a motorist involved in a crash. In this case, the officer didn't think either was warranted.

... 
It's not Brainard's first crash in a city-provided vehicle. In November 2002, he T-boned a school bus in a 2002 Mercury Mountaineer, while attempting to turn left on 99th Street to Westfield Boulevard. No one was injured, but both vehicles were damaged.
I have questions. First, why did it take more than a month for this accident to be publicly reported? Usually, newspapers monitor public records but maybe it was just missed.  Second, while I take the police at their word that there was no cause for a sobriety test, the fact is Brainard admitted crossing the center line which is plenty of cause to be ticketed for that offense.

By the way, the article also detail the shockingly high cost of the leased vehicle Brainard wrecked, an angle that is worthy of its own story.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Turkish President's Bodyguards Beat Peaceful Protesters in Washington, DC

The Wall Street Journal reports;
WASHINGTON—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security team was accused Wednesday of taking part in an unprovoked attack on protesters in the U.S. capital, marring a Washington visit for the second year in a row. 
District of Columbia police have joined the Secret Service and State Department in an investigation of what Police Chief Peter Newsham said appeared to be an unprovoked and “brutal attack on peaceful protesters” that sent nine people to the hospital on Tuesday. One police officer and two members of the Secret Service were also injured in the clashes, according to the police and a U.S. official. 


The attacks were captured on video and shared widely on social media, drawing denunciations from the State Department, U.S. lawmakers, the city’s mayor, and the police chief. 
“This is the United States of America,” U.S. Sen. John McCain, (R., Ariz.), said on Twitter. “We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this thuggish behavior.”
According to protesters and video showing the attacks, a few dozen demonstrators marched to the Turkish ambassador’s residence, where Mr. Erdogan was speaking, to protest his first official visit to Washington to meet President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday. 
The demonstrators included a mix of people opposed to Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown on opposition lawmakers, journalists, diplomats and military officers. They were met by a group of Erdogan supporters, District of Columbia police and members of the Turkish president’s security detail. 
... 
The Turkish Embassy cast the demonstrators as terrorist sympathizers of Kurdish separatists known as the PKK who were “aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled” to support Mr. Erdogan. The Erdogan supporters “responded in self-defense,” leaving one seriously injured, the Embassy said. 
“The violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration,” the Embassy said. “We hope that, in the future, appropriate measure will be taken to ensure that similar provocative actions causing harm and violence do not occur.”
Former President Barack Obama refused to meet with Erdogan who has jailed journalists and suppressed civil liberties in a crackdown on political opponents following a coup attempt.  President Trump, however, has praised the Turkey strongman who since has assumed dictatorial powers. President Trump offered no criticism of the beatings of peaceful protesters.  The State Department, however, told reporters that it was communicating corn about the incident to the Turkish government "in the strongest possible terms" and that {v]iolence is never an appropriate response to free speech."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quinnipiac Polls Americans For One Word Description of Donald Trump

A Quinnipiac Poll released yesterday showed that President Donald Trump support had fallen back to near record lows of 36%. Probably the most interesting part of the poll though is when the university asked "the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?"   Here are the top 10 results:

1.  Idiot  9
2.  Incompetent 31
3.  Liar   30
4.  Leader  25
5.  Unqualified  25
6.  President  22
7. Strong  21
8.  Businessman 18
9.  Ignorant  16
10. Egotistical  15
11. Asshole  13
11. Stupid  13
13. Arrogant  12
13.  Trying  12
15.  Bully  11
15.  Business  11
15.  Narcissist  11
15. Successful 11
19.  Disgusting 10
19.  Great  10

Vice President Pence Damages His Reputation in Conveying False Narrative About Comey Firing

Probably no one has done a better job of remaining unscathed by association with the administration of Donald Trump than Vice President Mike Pence.  In that capacity, Pence has acquitted himself quite well in the aftermath of a rocky term as Indiana Governor.

That all changed with the Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday.  On Wednesday, Pence and other Trump spokespeople went out to spread the narrative that Trump had acted on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Comey because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.    Pence's mission was to convey that message to
members of Congress.

The problem was the Trump-Comey talking points were not true.   Journalists began digging and found that the Comey firing was because of every increasing Trumpian furor over the continued Russian investigation led by Comey.  Indeed, Comey had just requested it be expanded, with additional financial and personnel resources devoted to the investigation. The Rosenstein memo turned out to be after-the-fact cover for the decision.

The problem for Pence is that he was in the meeting during which Trump announced his plan to fire Comey, a meeting at which Trump requested Rosenstein write a memo to offer a false motive for his action.  So when Pence was on Capitol Hill he was knowingly offering a lie about how President Trump arrived at his decision.  The White House has since admitted the original tale spun by the Trump spokespeople, including Pence, wasn't true.

Pence's loss of credibility is a most unfortunate development.  I would rate the odds better than 50-50 he will be President before the official end of Trump's term and that he will lead the Republican ticket in 2020. His being damaged by his actions as Vice President further hurt GOP efforts to keep control of the White House and the Senate.

As far as the U.S. House, that most likely be won by the Democrats in 2018.  A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday showed that Americans by a 54-38 margin Americans want Democrats to win control of the U.S. House in 2018.  That 16 point spread is by far the widest margin ever measured on that question.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Downtown Indianapolis Living May Be Dealt Severe Blow With Loss of Two Marsh Stores


It appears the gentrification wave in  Indianapolis may soon be dealt a serious blow with the loss of the two primary downtown grocery shopping locations.  The Indianapolis Star reports that Marsh yesterday informed the Indiana Department of Workforce Development that it may have to close 17 stores, including those at 227 N. Michigan Street and 320 N. New Jersey Street, if it can find a buyer soon.  Despite younger professionals moving downtown the area has struggled to retain shopping opportunities.

Other Indianapolis stores are on the list including 1435 W. 86th Street, 6965 W. 38th Street, as well as a Marsh stores in Broad Ripple.  My local Marsh, which is a smaller store at 56th and Georgetown, is, thankfully, not on the list.   Not yet at least.

Marsh notice to IDWD indicates that the 17 closures would mean the layoff of 1,535 employees.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Liberals Show Contempt for Free Speech in Silencing Ann Coulter

By now many if not most people have heard that "conservative" columnist Ann Coulter's planned speech at the University of California at Berkeley has been cancelled.  Liberals on and off the campus acted to shut down the speech.  Fox News now reports on the latest development, support from a prominent actor:
Rob Schneider attacked UC Berkeley for cancelling conservative commentator Ann Coulter's speech, saying the university should "add burning
Ann Coulter
books to the curriculum." 
"UC Berkeley, after you done eliminating speech you don't like & words you don’t like what’s next?" the comedian wrote on Twitter adding, "Maybe add burning books to the curriculum." 
The outspoken star also tweeted, "Freedom of thought, speech, conscience & informed consent to medical risk taking. There's no greater calling for Americans in the 21st Century." 
... 
Earlier this month, a bloody brawl broke out in downtown Berkeley at a pro-Trump protest that featured speeches by members of the white nationalist right. They clashed with a group of Trump critics who called themselves anti-fascists. 
... 
In February, violent protesters forced the cancellation of a speech by right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who like Coulter was invited by campus Republicans.
I am no fan of Coulter.  I find her to be utterly repulsive, an ideological faud who has hijacked the "conservative" label to promote ideas that are full of hate and not at all conservative.   It is people like her, and President Trump, who are destroying the once great conservative movement that convinced me to become a Republican.

Nonetheless, college campuses should be venues where the open exchange of ideas is welcomed, even when those ideas are an anathema to many who study and work at the school.  One of the most unfortunate trends in recent years is the increasing lack of tolerance for free speech by people on the left, particular at our colleges and universities.  If you want to read a great book on the subject, written by a liberal Democrat no less, pick up The Silencing by Kirsten Powers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Shopping Malls Try Gimmicks to Fend Off Their Inevitable Death At Hands of Online Commerce

The Indianapolis Business Journal has an interesting article on how shopping malls are trying desperately to survive as online commerce increasingly takes over:
Malls are fighting for shoppers with one thing their web rivals can’t offer: parking lots.
With customer traffic sagging, U.S. retail landlords like Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group Inc. are using their sprawling concrete lots to host events such as carnivals, concerts and food-truck festivals. They’re aiming to lure visitors with experiences that can’t be replicated online—and then get them inside the properties to spend some money.
“Events draw people to come to the shopping center,” said Craig Herkimer, whose company, KevaWorks Inc., is working with big landlords including GGP Inc. and Simon to produce outdoor events. “They generate revenue for the owner and offer a chance for cross-promotion, so they can try and drive more customers into the stores.”
Mall owners across the country are grappling with store closings and declining rents. Retail property values are down 3 percent in past six months, as all other types of commercial real estate showed gains, according to the Moody’s/Real Capital Analytics indexes. A Bloomberg gauge of publicly traded mall landlords has tumbled 15 percent in the past year through Thursday, the worst performance among U.S. real estate investment trusts.
Amazon.com Inc. and other internet retailers continue to grow, while department stores including Sears Holdings Corp. and Macy’s Inc. have been closing hundreds of locations. Payless Inc., the discount shoe seller, is among the latest to announce a massive shuttering—of 400 stores—as part of a bankruptcy plan.
The article notes that the United States is home to approximately 1,100 malls.  The structure that is the mall, as well as the large parking lots surrounding the building, consume a considerable amount of real estate.  When those malls fail, they become extremely difficult to repurpose.  They often end up being a blight on the neighborhood for years.

Photo of Simon Shopping Mall
It would appear that in searching for gimmicks to drive foot traffic to the retail stores, mall owners are fighting a losing battle.   With the exception of certain consumer items, consumers prefer the convenience of shopping from the convenience of their homes.  That is a niche that Amazon has cornered, although even that company faces growing competition when it comes to online retail.

But as one looks to the future of retail, one wonders if even the Amazon model might be outdated.  The Amazon approach right now is for wholesalers and manufacturers to ship goods to the company which it then stores in incredibly large "fulfillment centers."  Then when a customer orders the item from the Amazon website, it gets shipped once again, this time to the customer.  Amazon became popular because it enhanced customer convenience by eliminating the need to visit a brick and mortar store to shop.  But the Amazon retail approach, which requires considerable overhead, doesn't provide much in the way of cost savings to the consumer.  Eventually Amazon may be replaced with a web-based shopping approach that links customers with wholesalers and manufacturers so that items may be purchased directly, saving consumers a substantial amount of money while cutting out brick-and-mortar online retailers such as Amazon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Indy Star Columnist Praises Broad Ripple "Improvements" While Ignoring Challenges Residents Face

Generally once a week I make the trip to Broad Ripple to visit my friend and local attorney Mark Small. These occasions often, okay "always", involve tossing back a few beers while we discuss life and politics. Even though Mark is a whacked out liberal, we do share the same opinion on Broad Ripple, where he has lived for several years, i.e.  the new development and resulting congestion in the "Village" has cause it to lose its charm.

Indianapolis Star Matthew Tully doesn't agree.  In today's column he sings the praises of Broad Ripple development.
Broad Ripple looks a little different these days. 
You can perhaps see that best from the patio of Three Sisters Café on Guilford Avenue. As I sat there the other day, I looked north toward the heart of the village, at a strip of colorful bars, restaurants and stores on Broad Ripple Avenue. Behind them stood a brand new development —  a sprawling grocery store and high-end apartment complex that recently opened. That taller development doesn’t just stand behind the heart of the village, it seems to hover over it. 
Matthew Tully
You can see a lot of other change throughout Broad Ripple, from the much-debated parking garage that popped up a few years ago on College Avenue, to so many small businesses that have come or gone, to the bustling area that south Broad Ripple has become. And then there is the change to come: A tortured redevelopment project at College and Kessler and, of course, the red line transit expansion.
Anyone who has followed Tully's writing career knows he has never once written in opposition to corporate welfare. He is perfectly fine with taxpayer money being diverted from such things as roads and schools to the pockets of developers.. Not once did Tully utter a negative word about the Broad Ripple parking garage at the intersection of College and Broad Ripple Avenue, a structure built with tax dollars then simply given away to one of former Mayor Greg Ballard's biggest contributors.

 Of course if you drive by the structure now you discover what was going on.  The building contains a number of business establishments with parking only a secondary thought.  Bottom line is that we taxpayers built a commercial building for a politically-connected developer.  That's what it was about.
And yet to this day Tully cannot bring himself to say a negative word about how taxpayers were mislead and ripped off about the purpose of the structure.

In Tully's column he doesn't make the slightest effort to talk to any of the long time residents of Broad Ripple, people like Mark Small.  If he did, he would find a different story.  People in Broad Ripple are unhappy with the congestion which has added considerable time to any commute.  They are unhappy about the high rise buildings that have caused Broad Ripple to lose its "village" feel.  As far as the red line transit expansion going up congested College Avenue, resulting in the loss of desperately needed traffic lanes, pretty much any Broad Ripple resident will tell you that mistake.

Of course, Tully doesn't live in the Broad Ripple Village area any more.  A few years ago, he moved to Carmel.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

President Trump Defends Fox's Bill O'Reilly: "I Don't Think Bill Did Anything Wrong"

A few days ago, the New York Times broke news about  sexual harassment lawsuit settlements involving Fox "The Factor" host Bill O'Reilly:

For nearly two decades, Bill O’Reilly has been Fox News’s top asset, building the No. 1 program in cable news for a network that has pulled in billions of dollars in revenues for its parent company, 21st Century Fox.
Behind the scenes, the company has repeatedly stood by Mr. O’Reilly as he faced a
Bill O'Reilly
series of allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.
An investigation by The New York Times has found a total of five women who have received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.
Two settlements came after the network’s former chairman, Roger Ailes, was dismissed last summer in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, when the company said it did not tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”
The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.
The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.
O'Reilly has tried to dismiss the settlements as merely payoffs for nuisance suits. As an attorney, I've seen many nuisance suits.  Settlements for nuisance suits are generally a few thousands of dollars, certainly never millions.  These suits would not have been settled for such sums if there wasn't serious wrongdoing involved.

President Trump, however, disagrees.  In an interview with the New York Times, Trump stated:

“Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office with Times reporters. “Because you should have taken it all the way; I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Mr. Trump said.
President Trump likewise thought the sexual harassment suits against former Fox News Chief Roger Ailes were also baseless:
"I think they are unfounded just based on what I've read," Trump said of the accusations against Ailes. "Totally unfounded, based on what I read."
I guess we shouldn't be surprised by Trump's reaction considering his own history with women.


Monday, April 3, 2017

More Flynn Foreign Payments Revealed; Trump-Friendly National Enquirer Labels Flynn a "Russian Spy"

A few weeks ago it was revealed that General Michael T. Flynn, who advised President Trump on foreign policy, and briefly served as National Security Adviser in the Trump administration, was acting as an agent of of a foreign government, namely Turkey.  Flynn's company received $530,000 for 90 days of work to investigate and undermine a political opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who engaged in a political crackdown after surviving a military coup.

That's $5,889 a day that Flynn's firm was being paid by Turkish interests, all the while traveling around
General Michael T. Flynn
the country with the Donald Trump campaign.  It's a good gig if you can get it.

But it turns out, there were more payments. Recently, Flynn amended federal disclosure documents to show payments from Russian outfits, i.e. Volga-Dnepr Airlines and Kapersky Government Security Solutions, Inc, each of which paid him $11,250.  Flynn was also paid $45,000 by RT, the state Russian news agency, for a speech he gave in 2015, another payment he failed to disclose.

Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, indicated the payments might result in a referral to the General Accounting Office, which might ask for a return of all the money.  As Rep. Chaffetz notes, former military officers simply are not allowed to take these type of payments.  It is not a stretch to think there might be criminal liability involved with the payments, which might further explain why Flynn is requesting immunity for his testimony.

An interested and related development comes from of all places, the National Enquirer.  Last week's edition of the supermarket tabloid had blazened across the front page the headline:  "TRUMP CATCHES RUSSIAN'S WHITE HOUSE SPY!"    Here is a summary:

Add caption

Here is the start of the article inside the paper:




National Enquirer's CEO David Pecker is a good friend of President Trump.   Pecker's publication has enthusiastically supported his campaign for President.  During various points in the campaign, the National Enquirer published scandalous (and unverified) stories about Trump's opponents which Trump then used on the campaign stump.  These National Enquirer stories includes the bizarre piece claiming that Sen. Ted Cruz's father was involved in the plot to assassinate President Kennedy.  Despite the absurd stories that regularly appear in the magazine, President Trump has on several occasions said the Enquirer is a credible source of information..

While the Enquirer has zero credibility as a news source, the story calling Flynn a Russian spy is noteworthy for this reason:   The story almost certainly didn't go to print with Trump's direct or indirect blessing.  The story represents the beginning of the new spin that Trump wasn't personally complicit with Russian meddling in the campaign, that he was instead a victim from unscrupulous Russian agents like Flynn.

General Flynn take a look at the Trump bus.  You're going to soon find yourself underneath it.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Governor May Consider Imposing Tolls on Indiana Roads

WIBC reports:
Tolls are in and cigarette taxes are out if Governor Holcomb gets his way in a final road funding bill. 
Gov. Eric Holcomb
Holcomb is offering his most specific ideas so far on the final shape of a road funding plan. He says the cost of building and maintaining roads should fall on those who drive on them, and says provisions in both the House and Senate bills calling for the state to apply for federal tolling approval probably have to be part of a final plan. 
Neither the House nor the Senate package reaches the one-point-two-billion dollars a year the state says it needs in order to fully fund roads, but Holcomb says their combinations of gas taxes and tire and vehicle fees would be enough to pay for road maintenance for the next 20 years. He says in six or seven years, the state will have to take "a hard look" at imposing tolls to raise money for new construction. But he says he doesn't want tolls on urban bypasses -- he's thinking more of truckers going state line to state line.
Hopefully the legislature and the Governor will come to their collective senses and not inflict toll roads on Hoosiers.  I'm confident that most drivers loathe tolls and would rather pay for roads through taxes.   Personally I cannot imagine ever voting for a politician who imposed tolls on Indiana highways.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Democrats Strengthen Domination of Indianapolis Northside Townships

I finally got around to looking at the Marion County (Indianapolis) election results from November.  I may write a few columns on the subject. Today's is about changing party fortunes in the nine Marion County townships.


At the turn of the century,  Republicans dominated the township boards in 8 of the 9 townships, i.e. all the townships except Center Township.  Now the story is that the Democrats dominate all the townships with the exception of the three southernmost, Decatur, Perry and Franklin.

This year, the number of township board seats changed from 7 to 5.  That didn't help Republican prospects any, however .  While the Democrats lost a seat in Pike, the party increased its domination in Washington, Warren and Lawrence Township.  Below are the results:

YEAR 2016
Township Republican Democrat
Center 0 5
Decatur 5 0
Franklin 5 0
Lawrence 1 4
Perry 5 0
Pike 0 5
Warren 1 4
Washington 1 4
Wayne 1 4
19 26
YEAR 2012
Township Republican Democrat
Center 1 6
Decatur 7 0
Franklin 7 0
Lawrence 3 4
Perry 6 1
Pike 0 7
Warren 2 5
Washington 3 4
Wayne 1 6
30 33

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trump Campaign May Have Coordinated with Russians on Release of Information Damaging to Clinton Campaign

CNN reports:
The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN.   
This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source.   
The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel,
business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.   
In his statement on Monday Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered "a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power."  
... 
One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it's premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it's largely circumstantial. 
The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation, the officials said.   
The FBI has already been investigating four former Trump campaign associates -- Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page -- for contacts with Russians known to US intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts and CNN has not confirmed any of them are the subjects of the information the FBI is reviewing.
Yesterday in a bizarre turn of events House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) briefed President Trump on intelligence he had seen in which names of the Trump transition team (of which Nunes himself was a member) had appeared in intelligence intercepts relating to foreign targets, intercepts he didn't bother to share with anyone else on the committee.   While this was in fact old news, Nunes held a press conference to claim that the information somewhat supported Trump's claim that Trump Tower phones were wiretapped by President Obama.  In the next breath, however, Nunes said that the information did not show Trump's claim was true.
The big development though may well be that Nunes has shown himself to be an agent of President Trump and, thus, unable to conduct a fair and impartial investigation of matters relating to the Trump campaign.  Nunes might lose his chairmanship as a result of the stunt he pulled yesterday. At the very least he made the appointment of a independent committee much more likely.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A "Big, Gray Cloud" Descends Over the Trump Presidency

Today, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that there exists a current FBI investigation into possible coordination between members of Trump's campaign team and Russian officials in the latter's interference into the 2016 election.  Fox News reports:
FBI Director James Comey said during a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee today that there is an ongoing investigation into possible "coordination" between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.
Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016
FBI Director James Comey
presidential election. 
"That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts," he stated.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), who was a member of the Trump transition team, complained that Comey's testimony created a "big, gray cloud" over the White House and urged a quick conclusion to the investigation. 

Comey also confirmed that Trump's tweets claiming former President Trump had ordered his phones "wiretapped" at the Trump Tower were simply not true.  Also confirmed as inaccurate was the new claim that British intelligence had wiretapped Trump at President Obama's request.

When the media begins examining more closely Trump campaign connections to Russian officials, , expect a few names to come to the forefront quickly, most notably Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page.  In an apparent attempt to head off damaging association, administration spokesman Sean Spicer today incredulously noted that Manafort had only a "limited role" with the Trump campaign.  A mighty strange way to characterize the former MANAGER of the Trump campaign.