Wednesday, February 12, 2020

On to Nevada

Senator Amy Klobuchar in Concord, NH on election night
Former Vice President Joe Biden skipped town before the polls closed in New Hampshire, but Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar stayed around to bask in her surprising Third place finish.  Senator Elizabeth Warren and Biden, two of the early Democratic front runners, finished distant fourth and fifth, respectively.  Biden's 8.4 percent share of the Democratic vote was even surpassed on the Republican side by former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld's 9.1 percent.  For those of you keeping score, President Donald Trump got 85.5 percent of the GOP vote, compared to former President Ronald Reagan's 86 percent in 1984.

The race now moves to the Nevada caucuses on February 22nd and the South Carolina primary on February 29th.  Biden is banking on a strong showing in Nevada, followed by a win in South Carolina, but the strength of former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar may put a big dent in the Bidenmobile.  Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden appeal to a similar demographic on the political spectrum (they're the perceived moderates, whereas Senator Bernie Sanders and Warren are the liberals.)  Since Warren has had some wind taken out of her sails in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders may be in a stronger position in this fickle, momentum-driven primary process.

What's Next

New Hampshire has winnowed the Democratic field.  Businessman Andrew Yang, Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick have all "suspended" (dropped out) their campaigns.  On the Republican side, former Congressman Joe Walsh dropped out before New Hampshire, but Weld will continue his long-shot effort.

Biden has a 3.5 percent lead in the average over Sanders, but there has been no serious polling done in Nevada in over a month.  Back when the last polls were taken, in early January, Biden was leading in almost all national polls and the public had not seen his poor finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.  There has also been an apparent drop in Biden's African American support, a key constituency for Biden, and a group that can make up to 60 percent of South Carolina Democratic primary voters.

Stay tuned for a special onevotecounts campaign diary with a heck of a lot of photos.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

As Goes Dixville Notch, so Goes the Nation

Dixville Notch polling place
Dixville Notch, New Hampshire may have the first say in the nation in Presidential politics, but it is certainly not the last.  The tiny hamlet in Northern New Hampshire, just a few miles from the Canadian border cast their ballots in the Presidential election and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg won on both sides. 

After failing to secure a single vote in Dixville Notch, President Donald Trump immediately tweeted that the residents of Dixville Notch are "stupid" and should "good back to Canada."  Just kidding.

Dixville Notch

Dixville Notch first jumped into the national spotlight with its midnight voting in the 1960 Presidential election, when then-Vice President Richard Nixon shut out Senator John Kennedy nine to zip.  Since then, the residents of Dixville Notch continue to vote in the Presidential primary and general elections at the stroke of midnight.  They vote, the polls are closed, they count the votes, and then they announce about 10 minutes after midnight.  As always, the voters are greatly outnumbered by members of the media.

The voting takes place on the grounds of The Balsams, a beautiful 11,000-acre mountain resort originally built-in 1875.  Until this year, the voting took place in the main building of the resort, which has been shuttered since new owners took over in 2011.  The new owners have been trying to obtain financing to renovate and expand the resort's ski area.  As of last night, none of the expansion or renovation has begun, and it was a very eerie feeling driving up to and passing the shuttered resort.  Civilization re-appeared when we saw lights, about fifty cars parked alongside the road, and the satellite news trucks.

Bloomberg wins

Bloomberg garnered the only vote on the Republican side and two of the four votes on the Democratic side.  Senator Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg both captured a single vote.  The Bloomberg votes were write-ins, because Bloomberg entered the race too late to qualify for the New Hampshire primary. (There were 33 candidates on the Democratic side and 17 on the Republican side.)

Bloomberg has pretty much ignored New Hampshire, unlike the multitude of candidates who hve been holding events throughout the state for more than a year.  Bloomberg has, however, spent over $200 million on television advertising, primarily in Super Tuesday states.  (Super Tuesday is the Super Bowl of primary days, where more than one-third of the Democratic delegates are up for grabs in states like Texas, Virginia, California, and Massachusetts.  Super Tuesday is March 3rd this year.)

The results of Dixville Notch are not always are a good predictor of who will win the nomination, and if you don't believe us, just ask President Wesley Clark (he won in 2004) and President John Kasich (he won in 2016,) but the votes and the interviews afterward are telling.  The fact that Bloomberg won both sides as a "write-in" candidate shows at least some dissatisfaction with the major candidates on the Democratic side and President Trump.  We know it's a very small statistical sample, but the fact that Bloomberg is on the minds of the voters in this small hamlet in extreme Northern New Hampshire shows that the millions of dollars that Bloomberg is pouring into advertising is having an effect.

Stay tuned.  We're off to see Andrew Yang.

Monday, February 10, 2020

On the ground in New Hampshire

Hopefully, the rain won't hurt the rhubarb or Mayor Pete Buttigieg's impending New Hampshire primary victory.  Buzz and I decided to do what any good reporting duo would do when inclement weather hits, we hit Castro's Backroom in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire for a cigar.  (We're not Jim Cantore and this ain't the Weather Channel.)  And by the way, for our conservative readers, despite the Castro name, we didn't find Bernie Sanders here.

Mayor Pete's momentum has seemed to slow in the daily tracking polls, but Buzz's calculations on the Univac 3000 still predict a Mayor Pete victory. Although the more intriguing stories are the rise of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and the fall of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.  Klobuchar is looking to finish a strong third, while Biden and Warren are looking at fourth and fifth place.  Biden is looking to salvage his campaign with a respectable showing in the Nevada caucuses (February 22nd)  and a win in the South Carolina primary (February 29th,) but New Hampshire may be the end of the road for Warren.

For a brief shining moment a few months back, Warren was looking good, but she seems to be a victim of 21st Century politics.  She is one of the best candidates on "paper," but, for better or worse, we are living in a sound bite era.  All the position papers and well-formulated policies aren't hitting home with the current voters who are more influenced by their hearts than their minds. 

Buzz has crunched the numbers, and here's his bold prediction of the order of finish in the Granite State.  Buttigieg, Sanders, Biden, Warren, Klobuchar, Yang, Gabbard, and Steyer. 

We're going to hit the streets and look for some buzz. 

On the Republican side, President Donald Trump supporters have been lining up outside the arena for Trump's rally since early this morning.  Although there are 17 candidates on the Republican ballot, Buzz has predicted that Trump will see upwards of 94 percent of the Republican vote.  Former Massachusetts governor WilliamWeld will finish a distant second.  Buzz has calculated his finish at 1.7 percent of the vote.

We're going to brave the weather and hit the streets.  God willing and the creek don't rise, we'll end our day in Dixville Notch.  The votes will be in shortly after midnight from this little hamlet near the Canadian border.  All five voters cast their ballots and the votes will be counted by 12:10 AM.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

We're off to New Hampshire

Mayor Pete is the guy to beat.  Even though the results of the 2020 Iowa caucuses are still a bit muddled, there are two things we learned from Iowa that are certain --- Former Vice President Joe Biden is in trouble and Pete Buttigieg came away with the big MO.

Buzz has fueled up the VW Microbus and we're off to New Hampshire to see for ourselves.  This is the third New Hampshire Presidential Primary for Buzz and me, and it may be the most exciting yet.  We look to a recent poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic voters that found 62 % would rather see a giant meteor hit the Earth and wipe out human existence than see President Donald Trump re-elected on November 3rd as proof of the enthusiasm.

Recent polls in New Hampshire have shown Mayor Pete on the rise and Biden dropping like the face of the Old Man of the Mountain.  The Boston Globe/Suffolk University daily tracking poll has seen Mayor Pete rise from eight percent to 22 percent in the past week.  The same poll showed Biden drop from 24 percent to 10.  Other polls show similar trends. 

Senator Bernie Sanders, who won the 2016 Democratic primary in New Hampshire over Hillary Clinton by 22 points seems to have a ceiling and a floor in not only New Hampshire but across the country, especially with multiple candidates in the race.  Mayor Pete has risen in the numbers apparently by grabbing former Biden supporters.  Sanders's support has remained pretty steady over the last few months in New Hampshire.

Both primaries (the Republican and Democratic) are contested, with 33 candidates on the Democratic side and 17 on the Republican side.  Most of these candidates will only get a handful of votes statewide, and most of them are and will remain political unknowns.  The requirements to get on the New Hampshire Presidential Primary ballot is to file a "declaration of candidacy" and pay a $1000 fee.  Unfortunately, our good friend Vermin Supreme will grace neither the Republican or Democratic ballot this year.  He's running in 2020 as a Libertarian.  We hope to see him in New Hampshire.

Watch for entries as our trip begins.  See you in the Granite State.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Nothing to see here

Should we believe President Donald Trump or our own lying eyes?  Plain and simple, Congress needs to start an impeachment inquiry into the country's chief executive.  Trump was not "completely exonerated" of obstruction of justice.  The road map to impeachment is in the Mueller report and, despite what Attorney General William Barr says, Special Counsel Robert Mueller intended Congress to take up the process from here, because he believed his office could not indict a sitting President no matter how compelling the evidence.

Mueller concluded his investigation, closed the Special Counsel's office, and rode off into the sunset, but not before telling the country that the torch has been passed on to Congress. (Listen to Mueller's full statement here.)

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Like many concepts and terms in the United States Constitution, the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" is not defined.  The United States Constitution is a relatively brief document when it comes to constitutions, and that was the way the framers intended it to be.  The wisdom of the framers was that times would change and so would our understanding of the Constitution.  Anyone who believes that the Founding Fathers intended us to be stuck in time and to the absolute four corners of the United States Constitution does not understand the history of the early Republic.

The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" generally means any serious matter that violates the "public trust."  Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 65, that impeachment "offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust."

Article I of the President Richard Nixon articles of impeachment charged that Nixon "prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice..."  All the Articles of impeachment never came to fruition, because Nixon saw the writing on the wall (Republican Senators Hugh Scott and Barry Goldwater telling him he didn't have the votes to stop a conviction) got the hell outta Dodge and resigned.  Scott, the Senate minority leader told Nixon that he had, at most, 15 Senators that would vote for acquittal (34 were needed to save the Nixon Presidency.)

Findings of the Mueller investigation that support impeachment

Nixon directed the Central Intelligence Agency to force the Federal Bureau of Investigation to shut down its probe into the Watergate burglary, he directed subordinates to pay hush money payments to subjects of the investigation, then he fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.  All of these actions provided the basis for Article I of the Nixon impeachment.

Trump repeatedly tried to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation so Sessions could shut it down, he fired James Comey as FBI Director in order to attempt to stop Comey's investigations into Russian influence on the 2016 election, he ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, and he urged Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen to "stay strong" and they would be rewarded (a Presidential pardon down the road.)  If this isn't obstruction of justice, the term obstruction has no meaning.

“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct,” the Mueller report said. “The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

Thursday, April 25, 2019

It depends on what the meaning of is is

Former President Bill Clinton famously said "it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is.  Republicans were appalled by Clinton's lawyer-speak, after all, words have meanings and to play games with words are not what the "strict constructionists" believe.

Strict Constructionism

Republicans are big fans of strict constructionism.  They say time and time again that Judges should not "make law," but should interpret the law as it was written.  Look to the statute and don't pull a Bill Clinton "is is." Strict constructionists look at the literal meaning of the words in question, or at their historical meaning at the time the law was written. Congress' demand to see President Donald Trump's taxes are grounded in an unambiguous statute which empowers them to do so.

Trump's taxes

The House Ways and Means Committee has requested the Department of Treasury (the IRS) to turn over six years of Trump's.  Trump has said he is not obligated to turn over his taxes and is directing the IRS to not turn them over.  Trump believes that the Democrats are acting "politically" and therefore Trump is not obligated to turn over his taxes.  Apparently, the President who appoints strict constructionists the federal bench doesn't believe in strict construction when it pertains to him.

Tax information is generally between the IRS and the individual.  There are a few exceptions to this general rule.  States, for example, can access your federal tax information if they deem it necessary to reconcile the information you sent your state versus what you sent the Feds,  Congress (the Ways and Means Committee in particular) has the power under a 1924 law to get tax returns and related tax information on any American if they ask for it.  This is an absolute rule.  Congress need not state a reason.

The 1924 law states, "Any committee (such as the Ways and Means Committee) shall have the authority ... to inspect returns and return information at such time and in such manner as may be determined by such chairman..."  This provision applies to anyone who files taxes, and the origins of this law had its impetus in scandals under the President Warren Harding administration.  Congress did not have the power to get tax returns prior to the 1924 law, so Congress granted themselves the power.

Why we need to see the tax returns

Congress needs to see Trump's tax returns for one simple reason --- we need to know if his business interests conflict with the interests of the American people.  If we don't know the exact extent of Trump's financial interests, we cannot know for sure whether Trump is acting in the best interests of the American people or in his own best financial interests.  Trump either does not understand this or doesn't care.  In either case, that's conduct inconsistent with the job of leader of the free world.

We do have precedent and a perfect example of what full disclosure looks like.  In 1974, President Gerald Ford (himself appointed to the job of Vice President) appointed a man whose name is synonymous with wealth --- Nelson Rockefeller. 

Rockefeller was Governor of New York for 15 years and a man who sought the Presidency in his own right a number of times.  Rockefeller was also extremely wealthy, with business interests all over the world.  When he was nominated by Ford, Congress had serious concerns that Rockefeller's job could be affected by his vast business interests.

Did Rockefeller give Congress the middle finger?  No, that was a couple years later and not directed at Congress.  Rockefeller engaged in a procedure foreign to Trump.  It's called "full disclosure." Rockefeller submitted himself to months of Congressional inquiry.  He was nominated by Ford on August 20, 1974, and was not finally approved by the Senate until almost four months later on December 10, 1974,

We need to know the exact extent of Trump's financial interests, and the fact that he won the 2016 Presidential election does not mean this issue has been already litigated.  The Republican Congress woefully neglected their oversight duties in 2017 and 2018 by not asking for the financial information. 

Checks and Balances

Congress is a co-equal branch of government, and in fact, it can be argued that the Founding Fathers actually believed that Congress was more important than the other two branches.  Congress' powers and duties are addressed in Article One, the President in Article Two, and the Judiciary in Article Three.  The Founding Fathers were afraid of any branch having too much power.  Each branch was directed to "keep an eye" on the other. 

As outlined in the Federalist Papers (No. 51), James Madison explained that "the biggest threats to the government of the United States would be the ability of one governing branch to obtain too much power over another..." 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Get Over It, Obamacare Is Here To Stay

In 2010, the GOP kicked some electoral butt as a result of Obamacare, now they're about to get their butts kicked if they keep up efforts to appeal it.  The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is here to stay, and it is and always was the signature accomplishment of the Obama administration. To quote Joe Biden, it's a "big F**KING deal."

How does it work?

The Affordable Care Act is officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but has become known as the "Obamacare."  Obamacare was the classic "law by committee." President Barack Obama took a hands-off approach to the crafting of the law and allowed Congressional Committees to craft differing versions of a law whose main goal was to cover as many Americans as possible.  The result which is by no means perfect was light years ahead of the messed up system that was in place.

Despite attempts for a single payer system or even a system with a "public option," the overall plan is still primarily a private insurance company based system.  Most Americans (excluding those over 65, disabled, or covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program {CHIP}) have some form of employer-based healthcare.  Obamacare made it mandatory for employers with over 50 fulltime employees (30 hours or more a week) to offer "affordable" and "minimum essential coverage." The rest of the public (excluding the aforementioned seniors and the disabled) fell under mandated Obamacare insurance.

Without getting into the specifics of federally run exchanges and state-run exchanges, Obamacare gave monetary subsidies to individuals making between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (around $12,000 a year per individual and an additional $4000 for each dependent.)  The Advanced Premium Tax Credits amounted to large "gifts" to the health insurance companies which allowed individuals to pay reduced premiums for health insurance.  The subsidies allowed millions of people the chance at health coverage.  This was the "carrot."  The "stick" was the individual mandate (a monetary penalty if you didn't buy health insurance.)

If your income is under 133 percent of the poverty level (about $16,000  a year for an individual or $32,000 for a family of four) you are eligible for Medicaid (the Medicaid Expansion.)  If you make over $48,000 as an individual or $96,000 for a family of four, you do not get any financial help buying insurance, but you still have to purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty assessed by the IRS on your next year's taxes.

All of this, by the way, is paid and did not increase the deficit.

The Supreme Court mucks it up

As soon as Obamacare became the "law of the land," Republicans (the guys and gals who abhor the courts "making" laws) filed legal challenges to strike down Obamacare.  The thrust of their argument was that the mandate to buy insurance was an unconstitutional use of power by the federal government.  It was argued that the Commerce Clause did not allow Congress to force people to buy health insurance, which, of course, lead to the crazy legal discussions by the late Justice Antonin Scalia about the federal government forcing individuals to buy broccoli.

In the end, Chief Justice John Roberts saved the day, by declaring Obamacare good to go constitutionally, but not under the Commerce Clause, but he reasoned that the individual mandate was a "tax" and Congress certainly has the right to tax.  He also threw a bone to the conservatives by saying that states were not required to enact the Medicaid expansion, because that was a bridge too far constitutionally.  A number of states (those controlled by Democratic legislatures or Governors,) took the federal money and expanded Medicaid.  Those under Republican control said "we don't want your stinkin' money" and shafted its poorest residents by refusing to expand Medicaid.  The number of states expanding Medicaid has steadily increased, and currently 37 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid (the most recent few by popular referendum.)

The Supreme Court may get another chance to muck things up if the case which is working its way through the federal court system makes its way to Washington. Before the GOP got its butt handed to them in the 2018 election, Republicans repealed the individual mandate as part of their tax "reform" legislation.  This afforded those diehard Obamacare haters to file suit which basically says that since there is no more individual mandate, there is no tax, and thus the whole of Obamacare is unconstitutional.  A federal judge in Texas agreed, but his ruling is on hold pending appeal.

Repeal and Replace

Repeal and Replace has been the mantra of Republicans for years when it comes to Obamacare.  While this slogan carried some weight when the GOP first coined the phrase, it no longer excites crowds, except for true believers.  This lack of favor came for two major reasons --- Republicans had no "replacement" and Obamacare now usually polls at least fifteen points on the positive side.  It seems like people are happy with the law's prohibition of discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, keeping children on their plans until age 26, the subsidies, and the elimination of junk insurance plans.  The jury is also in on premium costs because even though health insurance costs continue to rise, the rate of increase has slowed dramatically.

The basic reason for passing Obamacare was to increase the number of individuals with health coverage.  Health insurance would no longer be a luxury only for those who could pay the bill.  Hard working individuals would now be able to go to get medical care without having to "tough it out" and pray for the best or get medical care and then seek bankruptcy protection.  At least 20 million people now have health insurance who wouldn't without Obamacare, and the GOP and President Donald Trump have no plan to cover these people.  Health Savings Accounts ain't gonna do it.

Where do we go from here?

Obamacare is here to stay, and thankfully so.  Millions of Americans now have health insurance who could never afford it.  One of the groups who benefit the most from Obamacare are those "small business people" the GOP loves to canonize.  It is not uncommon for a family health insurance plan to cost as much as $3000 a month, that $36,000 a year for those of you scoring at home.

A small businessman (making $60,000 a year) with a family of four would have to pay about $2000 a month for a family health insurance plan.  Under Obamacare, that small businessman would now get that same coverage for about $400 a month.  Now he can make that business grow and not have about being forced into bankruptcy by health insurance premiums or bills from an unexpected illness.

President Trump has promised a "really good" health insurance plan both on the campaign trail and now since he's instructed the Justice Department to join GOP Attorneys General in support of striking down Obamacare.  He recently said, the GOP will become the "party of healthcare."  This ain't gonna happen if you don't have a plan.  Trump's die-hard bases might take him on his word about healthcare, but a good majority of the American people won't.

Buzz and I are in agreement with a vast majority of the American people.  Fix Obamacare and don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Obamacare is not perfect, but it is so, so much better than what we had before.  Millions of more Americans are covered, and that's a great start.  Let's start tweaking it to cover even more Americans.