Monday, February 26, 2018

CPAC Pushes Aside Conservative Intellectualism to Embrace Hate and Hypocrisy

Last week, the American Conservative Union hosted the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.  Started by ACU and the Youn Americans for Freedom in 1973, CPAC was an annual event that was about discussing conservative ideas and promoting those ideas, particularly among young people who regularly dominate the conference attendance.  I use past tense "was" instead of the present tense "is" because the event held this weekend was certainly nothing about conservative ideas.  Rather it was about Trumpism,i.e. the blind and unquestioned worship of Donald Trump, a lifelong liberal only recent turned pretend Republican, the ultimate RINO who barely stumbled into the Presidency in 2016 only because the Democrats managed to nominate the worst candidate the party could find.

Mona Charen
I have never been fond the of the description "tribalism" to define Trumpism, but it is growing on me.  Basically the term, especially when used in this context, refers to Trumpers who see anything done by "The Donald" and his supporters as right because, well, Trump is the leader of their team.  Meanwhile, anything done by those outside the Trump orbit is by definition wrong, because they are on the other team.  It does not matter if both sides are guilty of the EXACT same thing.  It is Right when Trump and his allies do it, and it is Wrong when those who oppose Trump do it.  There is nothing more anti-intellectual than that "logic," a hypocrisy that was on full display at this year's CPAC.

During President Trump's speech to the conference, a chant broke out to "lock her up," a reference to the investigation into Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, exposing to hacking classified information because she chose to use a private server to receive that information.  I, for one, think, especially in light of General Petraeus' prosecution for mishandling classified information, that Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted.  But given the revelations of scores of officials without proper security clearances handling classified information in the Trump White House, is this really an issue that the President and Trumpers in the CPAC audience should want to bring this up?  A true intellectual would note the hypocrisy and steer clear of the issue.  But when it comes to tribalism, intellectual honesty matters not one whit.  What matters is what side you are on.

There are so many things that happened at this year's CPAC that speaks to the intellectual rot of those who are trying, wrongly I might add, to claim the mantel of modern-day conservativism.  I could talk about the attack on former GOP chairman Michael Steele by a CPAC spokesman, who it is said only received his position because he is black.  Or I could talk about the President reading a poem that suggested all immigrants, not just the illegal kind, are prone to criminal behavior because they are, well, immigrants.  Or the shear absurdity of giving House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes the "Defender of Freedom" award,  Nunes has done more to undermine the rule of law and obstruct a legitimate investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election than anyone.

But nothing at CPAC demonstrates the rife anti-intellectualism among its participants how they treated conservative icon and syndicated columnist Mona Charen.  USA Today describes what happened:

In the final hours of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, conservative columnist Mona Charen was escorted out Saturday after remarks she made about conservatives supporting politicians despite sexual misconduct allegations against then.
Charen, who was speaking on an all-women panel titled "#UsToo: Left Out by the Left," rebuked conservatives for excusing the behavior of both President Trump and Alabama Republican Roy Moore.
"I'm disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites on sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women," she said. "And because he happens to have an 'R' after his name, we look the other way, we don't complain."
She also criticized Republicans who endorsed Moore, who was accused of pursuing and assaulting teenagers while he was in his 30s.
"You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that," she said.
Shouts of "not true" came from the audience afterward.
Charen later penned a column in the New York Times about what happened.  If readers can get past the pay wall, its worth reading in its entirety.

I’ve been a conservative my entire life. I fell hard for William F. Buckley as a teenager and my first job was as editorial assistant at Buckley’s National Review, followed by stints writing speeches for first lady Nancy Reagan and then working for the Gipper himself. Looking toward the 1988 race, Vice President George H.W. Bush wasn’t conservative enough for me. I went to work as a speechwriter for Representative Jack Kemp in 1986.
So you’d think that the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, would be a natural fit. It once was. But on Saturday, after speaking to this year’s gathering, I had to be escorted from the premises by several guards who seemed genuinely concerned for my safety.
What happened to me at CPAC is the perfect illustration of the collective experience of a whole swath of conservatives since Donald Trump became the Republican nominee. We built and organized this party — but now we’re made to feel like interlopers.
While there were reasonable, mainstream Republican speakers at CPAC, the lineup also featured demagogues like Sheriff David Clarke Jr. While he oversaw the Milwaukee County jail, one pregnant prisoner was repeatedly raped, and several prisoners died in the space of just six months. One was a mentally ill man who was denied water for seven days. No matter. The sheriff was cheered by the CPAC crowd.
My panel was about the #MeToo movement, which was a natural for me since my new book coming out in June, “Sex Matters,” grapples with the movement and other aspects of our fraught sexual ecosystem.
After every woman on the panel had a chance to speak and with 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the moderator threw a slow pitch right over the plate. She asked us about feminist hypocrisy. Ask me that at a cocktail party and I will talk your ear off about how the very people who had lectured us about the utter venality of workplace sexual harassment throughout the 1980s became suddenly quiescent when the malefactor was Bill Clinton.

But this time, and particularly in front of this crowd, it felt far more urgent to point out the hypocrisy of our side. How can conservative women hope to have any credibility on the subject of sexual harassment or relations between the sexes when they excuse the behavior of President Trump? And how can we participate in any conversation about sexual ethics when the Republican president and the Republican Party backed a man credibly accused of child molestation for the United States Senate?
I watched my fellow panelists’ eyes widen. And then the booing began.
I’d been dreading it for days, but when it came, I almost welcomed it. There is nothing more freeing than telling the truth. And it must be done, again and again, by those of us who refuse to be absorbed into this brainless, sinister, clownish thing called Trumpism, by those of us who refuse to overlook the fools, frauds and fascists attempting to glide along in his slipstream into respectability.
I spoke to a hostile audience for the sake of every person who has watched this spectacle of mendacity in disbelief and misery for the past two years. Just hearing the words you know are true can serve as ballast, steadying your mind when so much seems unreal.

For traditional conservatives, the past two years have felt like a Twilight Zone episode. Politicians, activists and intellectuals have succumbed with numbing regularity, betraying every principle they once claimed to uphold. But there remains a vigorous remnant of dissenters. I hear from them. There were even some at CPAC.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Democrats Appear Certain to Pick Up Several Indiana Legislative Seats in Mid-Term Elections

Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Democrats have been scoring electoral successes throughout the country, including in state legislative districts in which the GOP formerly dominated.  This trend has accelerated as we entered 2018.  Earlier this week, a Kentucky Democrat won a state senate race in a district that Trump won by 49 points.  That marks the 37th state legislative district that has flipped from Republican to Democratic control in the Trump era.  Meanwhile, the Republican state legislative gains can be counted on one hand.

Democrats appear to be doing dramatically better not only in suburban areas, but also in rural GOP

But a good political analyst doesn't focus so much on wins and losses, but margin.  Size does matter in politics, at least in predicting future elections  While it is hard to get the data, a recent report indicates
that, since Trump's election, state legislative seats are, on average, swinging 27 points in favor of Democrats.  That means GOP candidates are doing on average 13.5% worse, while Democrats are doing 13.5% better.

If those trends continue, how could they affect the Indiana General Assembly?  Right now the Republicans dominate both chambers, 70-30 in the House and 40-10 in the Senate. Indiana is about a 57-43 GOP state, so those numbers far exceed what one might expect if the maps were not so gerrymandering.  But even gerrymandering has its limits, particularly when faced with what appears to be a wave election coming in 2018.

In my analysis, I looked at the last election results and adjusted them for varying electoral swings.  In the Indiana House, of course, all 100 seats are up for election.  If there is a 20 point swing (which means Democratic candidate gains 10% while the Republican loses 10%), then the House goes from 70-30 to 60-40.  With a 22 point swing, the Indiana House is 57-43 Republican; a 24 point swing makes it 55-43.  It would take a 30 point swing for the House to become a 50-50 body.

My analysis might understate things as I only looked at those districts in which the incumbent had a major party challenger the last race.  What we've found in the recent anti-Trump/anti-GOP trend is that Democrats are running candidates and winning in districts so heavily Republican that the Democratic Party did not even bother to field a candidate in the last election.  So there could be more districts out there that the Democrats could win...assuming the party can find strong candidates.

But what about the 40-10 Senate?  Twenty-five seats are up in 2018, and by my count 22 of those are held by Republicans.  Again, looking at the GOP incumbents who faced challengers last time, there are a lot of opportunities for Democratic gains.  Scores of Senate Republicans up in 2018 are in relatively tight districts.  With just over a 21 point swing, Democrats win 7 seats.  In a 28 swing environment,  Democrats win 10 seats held by Republicans.

While there are numerous Republican seats up this time that Democrats could win, to get to even the Democrats would have to run candidates and win several previously uncontested state senate districts.  Given the numbers and that only half the Senate is up every two years, it would be virtually impossible for the Democrats to win Senate control in one election.

During President Obama's eight years in office, Republicans won control of 1,000 state legislative seats formerly held by Democrats.  That trend appears to be dramatically reversing.  Trump may easily eclipse Obama's dubious record, assuming Trump could actually get re-elected in 2020.

On Election Night 2016, I said that a President Donald Trump will prove to be the greatest thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party.  With virtually every election since, my prediction is getting closer to becoming reality.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Indianapolis Terminates Ballard-Era Electric/Hybrid Car Contract; Will Blue Indy Be Next?

A few years ago, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard entered into a contract to rent scores of electric and alternative fuel cars for city workers  It was sold to the public as a cost savings for taxpayers. That was net even remotely true as my analysis at the time as well as other analyses showed.  The cars also proved to be insufficient for the needs of municipal workers. Thankfully, the administration of Mayor Hogsett is now ending that contract.  The Indianapolis Business Journal reports:

The city of Indianapolis is ending a contract for an electric municipal vehicle fleet—a program that at first was hailed by some as a breakthrough for the green economy and then ran into political trouble. 
The administration of Mayor Joe Hogsett has signed an agreement to wind down the deal with California-based Vision Fleet, Fox59 reported Thursday. The 2014 deal was signed by Hogsett's predecessor, Mayor Greg Ballard, who envisioned a 425-vehicle municipal fleet running on electricity or a hybrid-gasoline option. 

Under the deal originally inked in February 2014, the city agreed to pay $32 million over seven years to lease 425 electric-powered cars to replace some of the city's gas-powered vehicles. The cars, including such models as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, would be used for a variety of city services, but not for police-pursuit purposes. 
Now, the city will return 200 cars this year, keep 12 vehicles and pay $500,000 for 43 charging stations that were built on city-owned property, Fox59 reported. It was not immediately clear on Friday how many of the 425 cars that the city hoped to lease actually were in use by the city.  
The agreement to end the contract that the city signed this week with Indy-Vision Funding I LLC indicates that the cars don't meet Indianapolis' needs.
One can hope that this is a prelude to the City of Indianapolis also ending the Blue Indy electric car contract that is even more a debacle than the Indy-Vision Funding contract.  The Blue Indy cars take up valuable parking spaces, that inconvenience the public and cause local businesses to lose customers.  The late great Gary Welsh wrote a great deal about that Ballard fiasco.  Links to those articles can be found here.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Nunes Memo Attacking the "Deep State Conspiracy" at the FBI Proves to be a Nothing Burger

Hyped for more than a week as the smoking gun which would reveal a "deep state" liberal FBI conspiracy against Donald Trump, the Nunes memo has spectacularly failed to live up to its promotion.    One wonders whether the author, Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Ca), who admits to not reading the intelligence supposedly undergirding the memo written by his staff,  even bothered to read the 3 1/2 page memo which bears his name.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Released Friday afternoon, I had a chance to begin reading the document shortly after it was published. About 5 minutes later I concluded that perusal  My reaction was utter astonishment.  Not at what information the memo contained, but astonishment that anyone who read the memo could have thought it exposed some scandal at the FBI or in any way undercuts the Russia probe.  Even assuming all the facts contained therein are true, it doesn't advance the "deep state" conspiracy theory one inch.

The memo focuses on FBI wiretaps obtained through several FISA judges of Carter Page, who was identified at one time as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.  The argument is that the "unverified and salacious" Christopher Steele dossier, was used to obtain the Page wiretaps in order to conduct surveillance the Trump campaign.  A major part of the memo is the suggestion that the FBI failed to disclose that the dossier was funded by Trump's political opponents when it sought the Page wiretap.  It should be noted that today, three days after the memo's release, Nunes admits that claim is false and that the FBI did disclose to the FISA court the political support behind the dossier.

There are numerous problems with these conclusions reached in the memo. First, Page was not working on the Trump campaign when the surveillance of him was sought.  He had left the campaign a month earlier. Second, the references to Page make up only a small portion of the lengthy dossier.  There is no indication that the facts alleged against Page in the dossier were not verified before the document was presented to the FISA court.  (Indeed, many of the claims in the dossier have long again been verified independently.) Third, contrary to the memo's claim, the FISA court was told that the dossier was funded by Trump opponents was made known to the FISA court, a fact that Nunes today (three days after the memo was released), sheepishly admits.   Fourth, there was plenty of other evidence to support surveillance of Carter Page, who since 2013 had been suspected of working as an agent of the Russian government.

Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted this weekend that the memo "vindicates" him against the accusation that his campaign worked with the Russians to win the 2016 election.  Utter absurdity.  Carter Page is only a bit player in the Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  Even if all the conclusory, unsupported allegations in the Nunes memo are taken as true, it does not come close to clearing the Trump campaign of what has come to mistakenly be called "collusion."  Not even close.  That the President would make such a claim reveals that instead of spending five minutes to actually read the memo, he preferred to be briefed on its contents by Sean Hannity.  Or, President Trump is simply lying...which he does a lot of.

But what about the fact that people like Christopher Steele were outed in the memo as not wanting Donald Trump to be elected?  Again, a big nothing burger  Steele was a long-time respected British intelligence officer.  His investigation had led him to conclude that Trump had troubling ties with Russian officials, had been compromised and was subject to blackmail.  So, Steele and other intelligence officers who saw the same troubling Trump-Russian connections are not supposed to have opinions?  Any anti-Trump bias was undoubtedly because of what they saw in their intelligence The notion that Steele and the professional intelligence officials at the FBI started with an anti-Trump bias which caused them to shed their professionalism to "get" the President is based on zero facts.

As far as the notion that there is a deep state FBI bias which was working against Trump's election is contrary to the facts we know to be true. There were FBI investigations of both the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's campaigns before the election.  But the FBI only disclosed one of those investigations, the one involving Hillary Clinton.  The Comey letter reopening the Clinton investigation came only 10 days before the election and caused her to sink in the polls.  Given that the election turned on just 78,000 votes in three states, it is not a stretch to guess that the actions of FBI Director James Comey, fired by President Trump, are the reason Trump won the historically close, 2016 election instead of Hillary Clinton.   Oh, and who was the FBI agent urging Comey to re-open the Hillary Clinton investigation based on the newly discovered trove of emails found on Clinton confident Huma Abedin's computer, the same agent who drafted the Comey letter?  None other than Peter Strzok, the same agent caught sending to his lover text messages critical of Donald Trump.  I know it is something not understood in Trump's world, but there are actually professionals out there who do their job, not based on politics, but on what is right or wrong.

Not only does the Nunes memo not support the "deep state" conspiracy narrative, a piece of it completely destroys the conspiracy theory pushed by certain House Republicans that the Trump investigation was launched based on the "unverified" Steele dossier.  The memo, in fact, confirms the New York Times story that the investigation into the Trump campaign was started by the FBI following a tip by an Australian diplomat who had been informed, in a bar by Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous during the Summer of 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.  

So two foreign nationals, the Australian diplomat and British intelligence officer Steele, reported to the FBI concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 election, while everyone on the Trump campaign team remained silent about the Russian contacts with the Trump campaign.  This includes Donald, Jr. who, after his infamous "adoption" Trump Tower meeting with Russian officials, was briefed by the FBI that the Russians officials might try to contact his campaign as part of an effort to interfere in the 2016 election.  Donald, Jr. said nothing.

Rep. Devin Nunes has gone well beyond just carrying water for Donald Trump in an obvious effort by the President to undermine and even obstruct the Russian investigation.  Nunes, who now indicates he is targeting other departments with more memos to follow, is fulfilling the goals of Vladimar Putin in undermining American democracy.  Nunes certainly has no business being chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  Speaker Paul Ryan should remove from that role immediately.