Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Indianapolis Political Leaders Wagered the Future Would Look Like the Past ... It Was a Bad Bet

In anticipating what Indianapolis would look like deep into the 21st Century,city leaders bet heavily that it would resemble what it looked like in the past.  They built a big downtown mall for shopping.  They subsidized professional and amateur sports, expansions of the convention center, downtown hotel and office developments.   Indianapolis even gave away control of street parking meters with a 50 year lease that provided guaranteed income to the vendor should those spaces not be used for parking.  City officials are now in the process of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the bus system. 

City leaders envisioned that, in the future, huge throngs of people would continue to pack into Indianapolis downtown venues for shopping, conventions and sporting events.  They saw no end to people driving private vehicles (although they tried to encourage people to ride the bus) to their white collar jobs in big downtown office buildings.  They thought gentrification, the movement of younger, upwardly mobile people downtown, would continue for several decades to come.

These bets about Indianapolis' future were always made using taxes paid by hard working men and women.  Often they were part of "public-private partnerships," which means the public assumes the risk while the private companies, usually big political donors to the mayor's campaign, get the profits.

When you look at the bets Indianapolis city leaders made about the future, it was almost always that what happened in the past would continue to define the future.  The sole exception was city leaders believing fossil fuel vehicles were on the way out.  They bought hybrid and electric city vehicles, electric buses, and allowed a private company to operate an electric car rental company using prime Indianapolis city parking spaces.  The electric car rental business failed.   As far as the aforementioned 50 year parking meter contract, just ten years in city leaders are desperately looking to break the lease.

It is not clear whether the Covid-19 crisis will cause changes to American cities or whether the pandemic is merely speeding up changes that were already in the works.  Clearly, people shopping at malls is on the way out.  But so too are companies and groups holding large annual conventions.  (Yet, Indianapolis city leaders kept insisting on expanding the convention center to get a bigger piece of a clearly shrinking pie.)  Telecommuting has been an option for a number of white collar workers for years, but it was never well-developed before the current crisis. 

The Indianapolis of 2050 is unlikely to look anything like it looked in February 2020.  Driverless cars do not need street parking.  Increased telecommuting will decrease the need for office space and reduce vehicles on the road.  Air pollution will decrease.  The crowds downtown will dwindle.  People will shop even more online as retail businesses continue to fail.  The movement of people from large cities to the suburbs, exburbs and even rural areas, originally fueled last century by better private transportation, will resume thanks to telecommuting. Gentrification may well turn out to be a fad.  People do not need to live close to their jobs and shopping when they can merely walk steps to their home office and shop on-line.

Indianapolis leaders bet Indianapolis 2050 would look it did in the past.  It was a bad bet.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Former Georgia Governor Candidate Stacey Abrams Needs to Be Fact-Checked on Bogus Stolen Election Claim

Fact checkers have been all over the lies of Donald Trump (and rightfully so) since he was elected President in 2016.   One such lie often repeated is the claim that millions of "illegals" voted for Hillary Clinton in the election that year, which is why she ended up winning the popular vote by 2.1 million.  Supposedly this was an organized effort by Democrats, focused primarily in California.   Given the nature of the Electoral College, such an effort in the Golden State makes no sense.  Hillary Clinton was going to win California anyway and padding the popular vote there gains nothing.

2018 Georgia Governor Candidate Stacey Abrams
The media has consistently pointed out that there is no evidence to support Trump's millions of "illegals" voting claim. Correct.  But when it comes to the claims made by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams that her opponent, now Governor Brian Kemp, suppressed the vote, causing her to lose the 2018 election, fact-checkers are nowhere to be found.  The media simply repeats her claims without any fact-checking whatsoever.

To recap, Stacey Abrams, former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, ran for governor in 2018 against Brian Kemp who was then Georgia Secretary of State.   Abrams was very popular with the mainstream media, and her efforts earned her considerable free coverage of her campaign. However, Abrams lost to Kemp by 1.4% of the vote, very close but well outside the margin which would have triggered an automatic recount.  Abrams refused to concede the race and instead has since the election peddled the narrative that were it not for "vote suppression" by Kemp in his role as Secretary of State, she would have been elected Governor of Georgia.

Abrams "voter suppression" fairy tale consists of three parts:  the purge of non-voters from the voting registration lists, the exact match requirement which made some new registrations "pending," and the long lines at polls created by consolidation of precincts.   The National Review explains the purge Kemp did:
The claims of voter suppression rest primarily on the fact that as Georgia secretary of state, Kemp enforced a statute passed by a Democratic-majority legislature and signed by a Democratic governor in 1997. It required the voting rolls to be periodically purged to remove names of voters who were dead, or who had moved away or were incarcerated. Under this law, 600,000 names of people who hadn’t voted in the last three elections were removed from the rolls in 2017 by Kemp’s office.  
Those who were removed got prior notification in the mail about the impending purge, and they were given a menu of options to retain their registration. Moreover, it took four years to complete the process by which a name was removed. The reason so many names were taken off in 2017 was that a lawsuit by the Georgia NAACP had delayed the routine enforcement of the law for years before the organization eventually lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.  
If you assume that most of the 600,000 were Democrats who were denied the right to vote — rather than voters who were deceased or who had moved or been jailed — that gives credibility to Abrams’s story. But there aren’t many people stepping forward since November 2018 to say they were wrongfully removed from the rolls, let alone the tens or hundreds of thousands necessary to substantiate Abrams’s claim that the election was stolen.
As a precinct committeeman, ward chairman and candidate, I've worked with voting histories numerous times and watched how purges to clean up voter registration rolls work.  One thing I know extremely well is that if a voter has not voted in a single election during a four year period, there is about a 99% chance that voter is deceased or has moved from the precinct.  In fact, the entire time I worked in the precincts, I do not recall a single voter who had not cast a ballot in the precinct during a four year election cycle, showing up to vote in that precinct. 

As a result of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter Law), states now have to attempt to notify those non-voters before they are purged from the voter lists.  The difficulty in purging these voters who have died or moved has resulted in grossly bloated voter registration lists.  I know this very well because I have documented how Indiana has scores of counties with voter registration rates at 90% or more, some even higher than 100%.  This includes Marion County (Indianapolis) which at one time had a 105% registration rate. 

The notion that Stacey Abrams could have made up her 50,000 vote deficit from this pool of 600,000 people who had not voted a single time in at least four years and as many as ten years or more is pie in the sky stuff.  If she got a net 60 vote bump from that pool of purged voters I would be surprised. 

Indeed, contrary to Abrams claims of tens of thousands of disenfranchised voters, nary a Georgia voter has come forward and said they were not able to cast a ballot during the 2018 election.  In fact, contrary to Abrams' "voter suppression" claim, the 2018 Georgia election featured record turnout.  In 2014, 2.5 million Georgians voted for Governor.  In 2018, that rose to 3.9 million, nearly matching the Georgia vote total for President in 2016.  This increased turnout, included a 60% turnout among African-Americans in 2018, an incredibly huge mid-term turnout that even exceeded black turnout in the 2016 election with a hotly contested presidential race on the ticket.

A second complaint is that 53,000 voter registrations submitted by Abram's voter registration organization were put on hold for failing to have an exact match of the data the Secretary of State's Office already had on file of those individuals.  Once again, Kemp was just enforcing an existing law.  All Kemp's action did was make the registrations "pending" which would then become "active" when the voter actually showed up at the polls and presented a photo ID.  Clearly, considering the turnout numbers, there is no reason to believe Kemp's actions actually blocked these voters from casting ballots.

A third complaint is that Secretary of State eliminated over 200 voting locations which resulted in long lines that caused Democrats to turn away.  That argument also doesn't hold water upon examination:
The other argument that purportedly backs up the stolen-election claim is that lengthy lines caused by the closing of 212 precincts in the state since 2012 deterred Georgia voters from turning out. But Kemp had nothing to do with that, since all decisions on consolidating voting stations were made by county officials. Which means if there were fewer precincts and longer lines in Democratic-majority counties in Georgia, it was almost certainly due to the decisions made by local Democrats, not Kemp or a national GOP conspiracy.
Abrams performance as Georgia gubernatorial candidate was impressive.  She could have built on that performance and easily been a top candidate, if not the favorite for one of the two Georgia U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in 2020.  But Stacey Abrams considers herself too important to be a U.S. Senator from Georgia.  She should be Vice President!  Despite having a political resume more limited than the often derided Republican VP nominee, Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, Abrams is on a media tour campaigning to be Joe Biden's running mate.

Georgia Democrats should be furious at Stacey Abrams who turned her back on them.

Do not get me wrong.  I am certainly no fan of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.  His blind support for all things Trump is disgusting and his leadership during the Covid-19 crisis has been astonishingly bad.  But the notion Kemp stole the election from Stacey Abrams in 2018 is utter nonsense.  Abrams needs to be called out for misrepresenting the truth about that election.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

November Election Could Get Really Bad for Republicans

News yesterday portend the distinct possibility that November's election will be calamitous for the Republican Party.

Three battleground polls came out showing Trump trailing.  Fox News polls show President Trump trailing Joe Biden by 8 points in Michigan and Pennsylvania.  A Quinnipiac poll has Trump losing Florida to Biden by 4 points.  While the later result is well within the margin of error it is nonetheless noteworthy.  Going into Election Day 2016, Trump led (albeit narrowly) polling in Florida in 2016 and ended up winning the state by just over 1%.

Right now, Biden leads the polls in every swing state.  That includes Ohio, which Democrats were foolishly set to write off just months ago.   Using today's polling averages (or recent polls if there are not enough polls for Real Clear Politics to offer an average), Biden would win 352 electoral votes to Trump's 186 assuming the polls broke exactly as they are now.

More notably, Biden has gotten this lead while sitting in his basement while Trump is given free media time, seven days a week, to say whatever he wants about Covid-19 or any other topic during his daily press conference.  Trump fashions himself as his best spokesperson.  Hint...he is not.  The continued coverage of Trump at these pressers makes the President look like the person  who he really is  - a man who is ignorant, unprepared, dishonest and a bully.  Trump has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he is more interested in positive spin than being honest with the American people about the sacrifices that are needed and the difficult days ahead.  Given the hours of free media time, you would think Trump would at least once get around to displaying some empathy toward Americans who have gotten sick or died during the pandemic.  Nope.  Covid-19 is not about people getting sick and dying or people losing their jobs. Covid-19 is about Donald Trump.  In Trump's mind, everything is always about him.

Trump's edge regarding his handling of the economy (standard admonition that Presidents do not run the American economy) is just about gone.  A CNN poll this month has Trump's approval on the economy down to 48% a drop from 54% in March.  That may be just the beginning of of
John James, Republican Candidate for Michigan Senate
the decline, however.  60% of Americans now view the economy as "somewhat poor" or "very poor."  Meanwhile, this morning it was announced that 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.  That makes a total of 26.5 million who have filed since March 14th.  When the numbers are released in early May, some economists believe unemployment will approach 20%, depression era type numbers. 

Don't expect a repeat of the 1936 election, however.  Trump is not Herbert Hoover.  Unlike Hoover, Trump has a loyal band of followers, maybe as much as 38% of the electorate nationwide (obviously higher in some states), who will support him, now matter what.  Unlike Hoover, Trump has media outlets, from whom conservatives get almost all their news, that will praise him no matter what he does.

Trump's base will ensure red states will have enough of a reddish hue to prevent a wipeout of the Republican Party in the 2020 election.  But the backlash may well be enough for the Democrats to oust enough Republican Senate incumbents in competitive seats to take control of the Senate. It may even make competitive Democratic opponents against Senators like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina,  races which could only won if the Democrat at the top of the ticket wins big..  Yes, keep an eye on the Senate.

Expect that many GOP candidates, with nomination in hand, to begin distancing themselves from President Trump.    John James,an Army veteran and businessman, is making his second run for the Michigan Senate. James who praised Trump in the primary round and in 2018, has found Trump is major liability going into the Fall, even in swing state Michigan.  So James has taken to emphasizing his "independence" in an effort to assure the voters he would not be a Trump rubber stamp.  The strategy is not working.  James, who has trailed incumbent Gary Peters in every 2020 poll, now finds himself 10 points behind in the most recent Fox News poll.

Even Republican Governors, most who are enjoying a bump from their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in their states, will likely see their approval ratings decline as the crisis fades away and the economic downturn takes center stage. Here in the Hoosier state, Republican Eric Holcomb enjoys a 20 point lead over his Democratic opponent Woody Myers according to a recent Indy Politics/Change Resource poll.  That is in comparison to Trump's 13 point lead over Joe Biden.  Mark my words, the Indiana Governor's race will get a whole lot closer before November.

There is still time for the GOP to turn things around for the Fall election.  But the Covid-19 virus needs to go away this summer and the economy needs to snap back dramatically by September, if not August.  While both seem highly unlikely, there is still a chance.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Republican Attacks on Free Speech Are Unacceptable and Unpatriotic

The Republican Party, before Donald Trump, used to cherish free speech.  Even when liberal-leaning journalists were using the First Amendment to misrepresent right-wing views, conservatives never stopped supporting the principles of the First Amendment, which has been interpreted to provide maximum protection to political speech.   That has all changed in the Trump era, which has featured the President and his Republican allies filing baseless defamation, i.e. SLAPP lawsuits, designed to shut up their critics.

SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation."  If is a type of defamation suit filed
by someone with deep pockets against a critic who often lacks financial resources.  A SLAPP lawsuit takes advantage of the American Rule which says win or lose, you are responsible for paying your own legal expenses.

Plaintiffs do not file SLAPP lawsuits believing they can win on the merits.  Rather, the goal is to drive up the critic's legal expenses so much that the critic agrees to stop saying bad things about the plaintiff in exchange for the plaitniff dismissing the lawsuit.  The plaintiff succeeds not only in getting the critic end the criticism, it is intended to stop others from criticizing the plaintiff yet they too might face a lawsuit.

Many state legislatures, including several dominated by Republicans, have found the use of the technicalities of who pay legal expenses to attack free speech to be so outrageous that they have passed anti-SLAPP statutes.  These laws reverse the American Rule so that in these sorts of defamation cases the winner has to pay the losers' legal fees.  In the states which have strong anti-SLAPP statutes, the use of fake defamation lawsuits to shut up critics has virtually disappeared.

Earlier this month, the Trump campaign filed a SLAPP lawsuit against a small television station in northern Wisconsin which dared to run an ad which criticized Trump's handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Associated Press describes the lawsuit:
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is suing a Wisconsin TV station for running an anti-Trump commercial that pieces together audio clips of the president talking about the coronavirus outbreak in a way they argue is misleading and false.  
The ad by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA features a series of soundbites in which Trump downplayed the threat posed by the virus, while a chart that is splashed across the screen gradually begins to shoot upward as cases of the virus skyrocketed across the U.S.  
The lawsuit alleges the ad splices together the clips in a way that makes it appear as though the president said the virus was a “hoax.” Trump’s campaign argues that the president did not call the virus itself a “hoax,” but was instead referring to Democrats who have politicized his handling of it.
The comments in question were made by Trump at a February 28, 2000 South Carolina rally.  While the "hoax" comment was in the context of Trump criticizing the Democrats' response to the then still developing crisis, Trump went on during the rally to downplay the seriousness of the spread of the virus, which just a few weeks later would be reclassified as a "pandemic."

 The "hoax" distinction the lawsuit attempts to make falls far, far short of what is needed to win a defamation lawsuit that targets political advertising, the most protected type of speech under our First Amendment.   Of course, the Trump campaign has no expectation of winning the lawsuit on the merits.  It was no accident that the lawsuit was filed in Wisconsin, which is one of the few states which has no anti-SLAPP law, in a county which Trump won by more than 60%.  The presiding judge in the court was appointed by former Republican Scott Walker.

This is not the first SLAPP lawsuit the Trump campaign has filed.  The Trump campaign this year filed defamation lawsuits against the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN, not for inaccurate news stories, but for editorials the Trump Campaign claimed included false statements about Russian interference into the 2016 election. 

The Trump Washington Post lawsuit was filed in the D.C. federal district court and the CNN lawsuit in a Georgia federal district court.  Not coincidentally, there is no federal anti-SLAAP statute.  Meanwhile, the New York Times lawsuit was filed in New York state court.  New York has a very weak SLAPP statutute, a law graded as a "D" by the Public Participation Project which supports the enactment of anti-SLAPP laws.

Trump is not the only Republican filing lawsuits attacking free speech.  California Congressman Devin Nunes has filed several SLAPP lawsuits against critics, journalists, political operatives, and even a satirical internet cow.  (It is unclear where he is getting the money to finance all these SLAPP lawsuits).  But instead of filing them in California, which has an "A" rated anti-SLAPP law, Nunes opted to file them in Virginia which has a substantially weaker SLAPP law.

Even the Hoosier state is not immune to defamation lawsuits being threatened by politicians to try to stop negative press coverage.  My colleague at Indy Republican reminded me that Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb had his attorneys issue two cease and desist letters to media outlets for publishing a story about the state allegedly agreeing to waive safety fines for a worker killed at an Indiana facility as part of a package to lure a second Amazon headquarters to Indiana.  The C&D letters prompted a response from the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists, which was re-published yesterday by Indy Republican:
Dec. 3, 2019 
Honorable Eric J. Holcomb Governor of Indiana 200 W. Washington St. Indianapolis, IN 46204 
Dear Gov. Holcomb: 
The Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists takes exception to your call for the Indianapolis Star and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting to cease and desist reporting stories about your administration’s handling of worker safety investigations at Amazon facilities in Indiana. 
Our organization, which represents professional journalists throughout Indiana, feels this move is a threat to press freedom. According to Article I, section 9 of the Indiana Constitution: “No law shall be passed restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.”
In our view, your cease-and-desist letters, issued on Nov. 29, are designed to intimidate reporters and journalists looking into your administration. The letters also add to the overall climate in the nation that looks to undermine the credibility of journalists and media outlets. 
Although you might not agree with the contents or conclusions of the report in Reveal and the Indianapolis Star, an unusual call by your office for a cease-and-desist order against the media could chill efforts to report an ongoing story. 
Indiana Pro SPJ stands behind the efforts of local and national journalism outlets to report issues of public importance and hold leaders accountable. If there are disputes over accuracy, there are ways to address those concerns without issuing a cease-and-desist order. 
Indiana should set an example for the rest of the nation to follow when it comes to press freedom. Our officers would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and discuss this issue further. 
The Board of Directors Indiana Professional Chapter Society of Professional Journalists
Amen.  Not surprisingly, no lawsuit was ever filed, no doubt because Indiana has a "B" rated anti-SLAPP statute.  Nonetheless, Governor Holcomb was way over the line for threatening, using taxpayer paid attorneys no less, lawsuits which he and his advisers knew had no chance of prevailing on the merits.  Clearly the the C&D letters were aimed at chilling media criticism of the Holcomb administration.

We Republicans need to be better than this.  The media is not the "enemy of the people."  The "enemy of the people" are those who file, or threaten to file, SLAPP lawsuits to chill freedom of speech.  Trump, Nunes, and Holcomb deserve the wrath of the voters for their unpatriotic attacks on the First Amendment.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Federal Election Commission Powerless to Enforce Campaign Finance Laws Heading into 2020 Election

On its website, the Federal Election Commission describes its mission as: "protect[ing] the integrity of the federal campaign finance process by providing transparency and fairly enforcing and administering federal campaign finance laws."

The FEC notes that federal campaign finance law covers three areas:
  • Public disclosure of funds raised and spent to influence federal elections
  • Restrictions on contributions and expenditures made to influence federal elections
  • The public financing of presidential campaigns
Of course, most people involved in politics know there is a $2,800 limit on individuals giving money to federal candidates, such as someone running for Congress or President.  Other people may be aware that corporations are completely banned from donating to federal candidates, including in kind contributions such as a corporation providing an airplane or a fleet of vehicles to a favored candidate. 

 Another campaign finance law which got more publicity during the Trump years is that foreign nationals and foreign governments are strictly forbidden from doing money or making in kind contributions (such as opposition research) in American federal elections.  

The FEC has the authority to launch investigations and take action to enforce these federal campaign finance laws.  Commissioners, who run the FEC serve staggered six year terms, with two seats up every two years.  The appointments are made by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  No more than three of the six Commissioners can be of a particular political party. If a Commissioner's term is up, he or she can remain on the Commission until replaced.  In fact, all three current sitting FEC Commissioners terms officially expired long ago, the most recent one was up in 2013.

To taken an enforcement action requires, the FEC needs to have a quorum of Commissioners present.  As of last Fall, two Commissioner positions were vacant.  With four members, the FEC had a quorum (barely) to take enforcement actions.  But then, on August 26, 2019, FEC Commissioner Matthew Peterson, a Republican, suddenly resigned from the Commission, leaving the FEC's current and future enforcement actions in limbo.  Peterson was may be best known for his December 2017 performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Appointed by President Trump to a DC federal judge position, Peterson failed to impress even the GOP majority in that chamber when Peterson could not answer several basic legal questions posed by Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana.  Peterson's performance during the confirmation hearing went viral and he withdrew his name from consideration.  

Despite the fact President Trump could appoint all six FEC Commissioners, he has only appointed only one during his three plus years in office.  In 2017, he appointed Trey Trainor to replace Peterson who expected to become a federal judge.  Trainor, an Austin, Texas based attorney and fervent supporter of the President, was know for fighting the Texas Ethics Commission over campaign finance disclosure and having a deregulatory attitude toward money in politics.  His appointment made ethics watchdogs and even some Republican Senators queasy.  Further, the appointment violated the previous practice of a President nominating, at the same time, two candidates, one Republican, one Democrat, to the bipartisan FEC.  When Trainor and Peterson's appointments went nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, Peterson stayed on as FEC Commissioner.  That is until last Fall when Peterson suddenly resigned as FEC Commissioner, providing no reason for his departure.

In a February 21, 2020, article, the publication Government Executive explained the impact of Peterson's resignation:
At the start of 2019, the FEC had 344 enforcement matters at various stages and 101 were awaiting commission action (such as a vote or dismissal). By September, the commission was able to get the numbers down to 272 for enforcement matters at all stages and 63 awaiting commission action, according to Weintraub’s year-end report. However, with the loss of a quorum the caseload has increased to about 300 and the number of cases awaiting action rose to 119, said Weintraub. 
“Honestly the biggest story at the FEC is what’s not happening and that is anything that would require a working commission. It’s really unfortunate,” said Weintraub. The commission is supposed to have a six-member board, and it needs four members for its proceedings to be valid. With only three commissioners the agency cannot launch investigations, issue advisory opinions, publicize rules and make decisions on enforcement actions. This includes dealing with cases involving “illegal, undisclosed and even foreign money spending into election 2020,” the Center for Public Integrity stated. 
With the presidential election less than a year away, The New York Times on Thursday reported that intelligence officials warned lawmakers last week about “what appeared to be new information” on Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 election, just like in 2016. Election interference can take on many forms—voting machine hacking, cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns on social media and foreign spending through political action committees. 
Given the ongoing threats of foreign interference in the 2020 elections, "to not have the FEC able to take action right now is deeply concerning,” Daniel Weiner, a former FEC senior counsel, now Brennan Center for Justice deputy director for election reform, told NPR in late-August. He said the agency is on the "front-line" of combating foreign interference and it will be “impossible until that seat is filled” to take up measures to prevent foreign manipulation.
Leaving the FEC without enforcement power means that, should there be a violation of federal campaign finance law that has criminal penalties attached, such as foreign governments trying to aid the Trump Campaign, that law can only be enforced by Attorney General Bill Barr's Justice Department.  Good luck with that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tuesday Thoughts - Federalism, Trump Fatigue, Trump SLAAP Lawsuit, Wisconsin, Arizona, Biden Sexual Assault Allegation

Some random thoughts this Tuesday:

1.  Federalism:  During Monday's Trump Show, the President  declared that he had "absolute authority" to override Governors' stay-at-home orders and reopen the economy.  Of course, the President does not have those "police powers," which, under our Constitution, belong exclusively to the states.  I am interested though in watching how the two political camps respond.  Up until the Trump era, Republicans strongly believed in federalism, i.e. that the Constitution grants states powers independent
of those held by the national government.  Meanwhile, Democrats, at least during most of my lifetime, view states as simply being administrative units of the national government.  My guess is Democrats will find a new appreciation for federalism, while those in the Trump cult will approve his ignoring the Constitution and throwing long-time GOP support for federalism under the bus.

2.  Federalism Redux:  The Covid-19 crisis has proven the benefits of federalism.  Imagine the shape the United States would be in if we would have had to depend on the federal government leading the virus response?  There would be a lot more dead Americans, no doubt.  Governors did notwait on the President. They took the ball and ran.  It is a lesson Congress needs to learn.

3.  Trump Fatigue:  People get tired of watching television shows even the good ones.  Plots repeat themselves as writers run out of ideas.  I thought of that while watching, during yesterday's episode of the Trump Show, the President yell at reporters because he did not want to answer straightforward, legitimate questions.  Trump's act has grown tiresome.  Do not underestimate the desire of many votes to change the channel come November 3rd.

4.  Trump Campaign Files Another SLAPP Lawsuit:  Passing under the radar last week was the  Trump campaign filing yet another defamation lawsuit targeting First Amendment rights.  This time the lawsuit was filed against a northern Wisconsin television station which dared to air a commercial the Trump campaign did not feel was accurate.  (I won't get into the hypocrisy of the Trump campaign filing such a lawsuit while putting out blatantly inaccurate commercials about Joe Biden.)  Make no mistake about it, the Trump campaign knows it is not going to win this Wisconsin lawsuit.  Rather it is a typical SLAPP lawsuit, one which is designed to shut up critics by forcing them to spend a fortune defending their free speech rights in court.  Under the American Rule, even if you win in court, you still have to pay your own legal bills.  SLAPP laws reverse the American Rule on those types of cases.  But you know which state does not have a SLAPP law?  Wisconsin.

5.  Wisconsin:  Speaking of Wisconsin, what in the heck happened?  Republicans were sure that holding an election in the midst of a pandemic would suppress enough Democratic votes (especially in Milwaukee where they only had enough workers for five voting locations) that a Republican Wisconsin Supreme Court justice could win re-election.  Yet, the Democratic challenger won by 10 points.  Democrats found a way to turn out, despite the pandemic, as they mailed in thousands of absentee ballots.  Of the three swing states that tipped the 2016 election - Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania - I always thought that Wisconsin, as  the most rural of the three, would likely be in the Trump column in 2020.  Now I'm not so sure about Trump winning Wisconsin in 2020.

6.  Arizona:  A poll out of Arizona has Biden up over Trump by 9 points.  Trump has not led in any of the Arizona Trump v. Biden polls in 2020.  Biden leads the Real Clear Politics average of polls by 4.4% in the state.  Trump won the state by 3.5% in 2020.

7.  Biden Sexual Assault Allegation:  Occupying the small bandwith not devoted to 24/7 coverage of Covid-19 comes the allegation that a former Senate staffer was sexually assaulted by then Delaware Senator Joe Biden.  Well, okay, the allegation was originally unwanted touching, which later blossomed into full-blown sexual assault.  The mainstream media has looked into the Reade's allegations and found her less than credible.  To summarize, the media found that 1) Biden did not have a pattern of sexual assault or sexual harassment; and 2) Reade's subsequent conduct was inconsistent with someone who had been sexual assaulted or harassed.  I read an article that quoted extensively from Reade's Twitter feed much of which has since been deleted.  Until about 2017, Reade posted tweets praising Joe Biden. Then in 2018, she began expressing a love for Vladimar Putin.  Then by 2019, she turned to attacking Biden, and praising Russia and Putin, even praising the Russian President's physical appearance.  The Twitter transformation was bizarre to say the least.

I doubt Trumpers trying to use the Reade allegation actually believe Biden is a sexual deviant.  Some though are using the allegation to suggest the allegation against Biden is comparable to the nearly 20 women who have accused Trump of sexual assault.   Wrong.  Unlike Biden,  Trump definitely had a pattern of conduct, one confirmed by his own words on the Access Hollywood tape.

But Trumpers are on very solid ground when pointing to liberal and media hypocrisy as to how these types of of "Me Too" allegations are being handled.  The allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh were decades old and not verified.  Yet we were told we must believe Kavanaugh's accuser.  This is despite the fact that Kavanaugh, like Biden and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas before him, had no history of mistreating women.  Further, in Thomas' case, the "victim" Anita Hill followed Thomas to another job after a time when he supposedly sexually harassed her.   Hill's behavior was explained as being typical of someone who is sexually harassment victim.  But when it came to  examining the truthfulness of the Biden allegation, conduct of Reade's, similar to Hill's, was considered to throw doubt on her allegation.

The "Me Too" movement has been a great development as far as encouraging women to come forward and lodge complaints about sexual assault and harassment.  But the "Me Too" movement is not so great when it has been used to insist men be considered guilty upon being accused, regardless of how old those allegations are or despite the lack of a pattern of misconduct or corroborative evidence.  During the 2020 campaign, the "Me Too" movement forced Biden to recant on his handling of the Anita Hill accusation against Clarence Thomas when he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In fact, Biden handled the allegation as well as any Democrat could.  People forget that at the time, the general public overwhelmingly believed Thomas over Hill, including African-Americans.  People also forget that several Democrats voted for Thomas' nomination.

We need to treat conservative and liberal politicians exactly the same when it comes to these He Said She Said allegations.  Right now there is most definitely a double standard being employed.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Republicans Making a Mistake in Opposing Voting by Mail in 2020 Election

I am no fan of mail in voting.  While it does increase the possibility of fraud, the far bigger problem is it undermines the American tradition of the secret ballot.  When a voter receives a ballot by mail, there is no guarantee that he or she will be able to fill out that ballot in private.  Employers, union leaders, friends, spouses and other family members can all exert influence on as the voter is casting his or her ballot.  We do not allow that sort of influence, which can bleed into intimidation, during in-person voting.  Rather it is the voter alone in a booth, cloaked off from the influence of others, casting a ballot.

I know the over-simplistic view both parties have when it comes to voting.  Republicans do not want to make voting easier.  They believe the less motivated voters are more likely to vote for Democrats.  Democrats on the other hand want to make voting easier because they believe voters who often do not show up to the polls would favor their candidates.

Republicans think any effort to make voting easier opens the door to fraud.  While that is true, actual cases of voting fraud are rare, and certainly not widespread.  Democrats, on the other hand, oppose reasonable ballot security measures like photo ID requirements and purges from the voter registration rolls of people who have not voted for years, undoubtedly because they had died or moved..  When I worked as a precinct committeemen, I would see the first hand the list of my neighbors eligible to vote in the precinct.  I would estimate maybe 10% to 20% on the list of eligible voters were people who had passed away or moved.

Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos
on his way to work the polls
Republicans complain about "voter fraud" every election. Rarely is it the case.  Democrats claim "voter suppression" ever election. Rarely is it the case.  Both sides cry wolf and, thus, nobody believes them when the wolf actually shows up to eat them.

The election that took place last Tuesday in Wisconsin though was an example of real Republican voter suppression. Although billed as a "primary," it was actually a general election for some races including a hotly contested election for a Supreme Court justice position.  Republicans who control both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, refused to change the law to allow a delay of the election despite the fact that Wisconsinites were subject to a mandatory stay-at-home order.  Initially the Democratic Governor said he had no legal authority to delay the election, absent legislative action, then at the last minute tried to do exactly that.  Courts ultimately found the Governor had acted without authority and allowed the election to take place, a decision that the United States Supreme Court refused to reverse on a 5-4 vote.

Although I have not yet read the decision, I'm inclined to agree with the outcome.  The purpose of the courts is to interpret and rule on the law, not to act when legislative bodies refuse to pass a "good" law.

The result of the decision was that only five voting locations in heavily Democratic Milwaukee were open on election day and voters who had to cast a ballot had to violate the stay-at-home order and risk their lives.  No doubt turnout in the state's urban (i.e. Democratic) areas was dramatically lower which should no doubt help the Republican Supreme Court candidate.

It was such a foolish, short-sighted decision to hold the election.  No doubt the move will probably help the GOP candidate win the Supreme Court seat.  But what will the consequences be long-term for the Wisconsin GOP that insisted that voters risk their health, even their lives, by holding the election in the midst of a pandemic?  Robin Vos, the Republican Speaker, defended the legislature's refusal to delay the election by insisting  that it was "incredibly safe to go out" to vote.  Then he showed up to volunteer a the polls wearing full hazmat gear.  Apparently Vos and his fellow Republicans think Wisconsin voters are really stupid.  My guess though is Wisconsin voters are going to remember the election in which Republicans insisted voters risk their lives to vote and the GOP is going to pay a price for that.

Wisconsin should be a wake-up call for Republicans considering how voters can cast ballots in the general election.    The concerns over Covid-19 might still be present come November, either because we're still in the first wave of the pandemic or are concerned about a second wave.  No doubt, health concerns could cause a substantial decrease in voter turnout.

I know, according to the playbook, lower turnout generally favors Republicans. That though is an oversimplification and it does not apply to the current situation  Older voters tend to be more supportive of Republican candidates, and especially President Trump, than younger voters. The Covid-19 pandemic though hits older voters hardest   If older voters are afraid to go to the polls and cannot vote by mail, that hurts Trump and other Republicans.

Republicans should compromise with Democrats and support mail-in voting for the November 2020 general election. The negative, i.e. the possibility of increased voter fraud, doesn't begin to outweigh the positive, i.e. ensuring that older people, who are more inclined to support Republicans, be able to vote.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Movement to Play 2020 Major League Baseball Season in Arizona Gains Steam

The Associated Press reports on the growing interest of Major League Baseball to play the entire  2020 season in Arizona, without fans in attendance:
Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.  
Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida. 
Arizona’s advantage is 10 spring training ballparks plus the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field all within about 50 miles. Florida’s spring training ballparks are spread out
by as much as 220 miles. 
“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”
“You’re going to be largely separated from your families and you’re going to have to function in a very contained way. It’s not a normal life, this idea,” Boras said. “You’re going to have an identified group of people. You’re going to have a constantly tested group of people. And you’re going to have a very limited access of those people to the outside world so that you can assure a very uncontaminated league, if you will, to produce a product that is inspirational to our country.” 
Chase Field, with artificial turf and a retractable roof, could be the site of daily tripleheaders, Boras said.   
Both sides have agreed to attempt to play as full a season as is possible, and this plan would enable the season to start while waiting for health and government officials to determine whether it is safe to resume play in regular-season ballparks, with the travel that would entail. 
Unlike popular sports like football and basketball, baseball is a sport that can be played while maintaining a considerable amount of social distancing.  Further, additional steps can be taken by the MLB to ensure player protection.  While I have seen numerous articles on the 2020 MLB season being played in Arizona, without fans, I have yet to see discussion of additional steps that should also be taken to ensure the safety of player safety.  Some ideas I came up with off the top of my head are:
1)  Only players in the game are allowed in the dugout and they are to be six feet apart.  The rest of the players are to be in the clubhouse or bullpen, six feet apart. 
2) Batters wear cloth masks while as well as the catcher and umpire. 
3)  No fans are allowed in the ball park, with the exception, perhaps, of members of the players family.  They must remain six feet apart in the stands though.  
4)  Members of the media are to stay six feet away from players and each others. 
5)  Players must travel to games individually by private automobile.  (The teams won't need to fly to games if they are all playing in Arizona.  And using a bus to transport players needs to be avoided for obvious reasons.) 
6) Roster expanded from 26 to 30 because of fewer days off and possible doubleheaders. 
7) A staff member of each team be required to constantly be sanitizing surfaces before and during games.
Of course, it is inevitable that some players will come down with Covid-19 just because you can't control what they do off the field.  But, with the Arizona plan and taking proper precautions, there is no reason that the possibility of Covid-19 being spread among MLB players cannot be almost completely eliminated.

We have now been about a month without sports with no end in sight.  The 98% of Americans who are now living under stay-home orders are a captive audience for the 2020 MLB season.  MLB could turn the situation into a PR bonanza by offering to provide its product for free to Americans who cannot leave their homes.  (MLB would still make a ton off advertising revenue.)   More importantly, it would provide MLB, sans competition, a welcome opportunity to regain some of the popularity the baseball used to have when it was dubbed America's "national pastime."

This idea can work.  Make it happen, Major League Baseball.

For an alternative view.

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.