Saturday, November 5, 2016

Federal judge orders "no harassing or intimidating" voters at the polls; cites Trump and Roger Stone

A federal judge in Ohio has issued a temporary restraining order against the Trump Campaign and Roger Stone's political group, Stop the Steal.    Stone's group has been actively recruiting Trump supporters to go to the polls as "exit pollers" and "citizen journalists" to interview voters and conduct exit polling.

The order outlines forbidden activities, including unauthorized poll watching, loitering at polling places without intention to vote, passing out literature or talking to people in line about voting fraud, taking photos of voters.  It puts specific restrictions on people associated with Roger Stone's Stop the Steal organization.

This is a big win for the Ohio Democratic Party, which filed the lawsuit.   Similar suits have been filed -- to be heard Friday -- in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, and Michigan.


Better than polls, which get volatile at this point

No doubt, polls show a tightening of the race, causing much gnashing of teeth.  Here's some reassuring news.  Polls notoriously get volatile this close to the election, especially this year with many late-deciding voters not wanting to vote for Trump or Clinton but also not committed to one of the alternate candidates.

Some of the polls coming out now are of questionable reliability.  And it's particularly troubling that guru Nate Silver's prediction of Clinton's win has dropped significantly.   But it's still at 63%.   That's pretty good, if we hadn't gotten used to it being in the 80s.  Both the Princeton Election Consortium prediction and the Huffington Post model put her chances above 90%.

So let's calm our fears and look at what David Plouffe calls the fundamentals in the race that are not based on volatile polls.

1.  The first is from Moody's Analytics Election Model, which has correctly predicted the winner in each presidential election since it began in 1980 (see footnote below).  It does not includes polls at all.   They look at six factors, three economic and three political.

Economics, done individually for each state:   (1)  growth of family income;  (2)  increase in  home value;  (3)  price of gasoline.

Political factors:  (1) the incumbent's share of vote in the last election;  (2)  incumbent's approval rating;  (3)  fatigue factor -- people usually want a change of party after two terms.

By these measures assessed for each state and adding up electoral votes, they predict that Clinton will win 332 electoral votes to Trump's 206.

2.  In early voting, each county election board puts out a daily list of the people who have voted that day.   Not how they voted, just their names.  A tracking survey, done by TargetSmart and the College of William and Mary, then contacts a sample of these early voters to do an exit poll on how they voted.   It's far more reliable than the random exit polling done on election day, because they have the whole list and can construct a representative sample, which can then be interviewed and extrapolated.

In Florida, as of Monday evening, almost 4 million people had voted, either by absentee ballots or early poll voting.   Surveys of voters found that 48% had voted for Clinton and 40% for Trump -- in Florida!!

But then here's the startling thing.   They found that 28% of registered Republicans in their sample had voted for Clinton.

These are votes already cast, and they won't change, no matter what new leaks may come from the rogue Trumpsters in the FBI.  If she wins Florida's 29 votes, especially if it's anywhere near this 8%, then it will be a landslide.  Never mind those recent polls showing a tie in New Hampshire with its 4 votes;  Florida has 29.

3.  This one is not scientific but it has the advantage of having picked the wrong winner only twice since 1940, and one of those was the year even the next-morning newspaper headlines were wrong, proclaiming that Dewey had beat Truman, it was that close. 

This is a nation-wide educational exercise with school kids, the Scholastic Student Vote.  It combines information about democracy, our civic process, and the election.   Then kids are asked to pick their choice for president.   If you want to know more, here's the link:

Whatever its worth, Clinton wins overall with 52% to 35%, and she wins every battleground state except Iowa and Missouri.  She even wins Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas.

One can certainly be skeptical, because it is non-representative and non-scientific.   But look at their record:  two wrong predictions in 75 years.  My guess is that her win won't be that big but that she will win decisively.   And it is in line with another straw vote taken through schools here in Georgia, which includes parents and teachers as well as children.  In that, Clinton won 54% to 29%, compared to the Scholastic Student Vote, where she won Georgia by 48% to 37%.

Another thing to remember, if those recent close polls scare you:   a good percentage of voters have already voted, before Comey dropped his bombshell, before these polls came out.   Besides, the bad news was Thursday;  on Friday, polls from the highly respected PPP put her ahead 5% in NH, 3% in NV, 7% in WI, 4% in PA, 2% in NC, 5% in CO, 5% in MI, and 5% in VA.   Good news.   It seems the FBI leaks caused a slight dip for a day, and then a rebound.


fn 1:  Professor Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, has a similar model based on fundamentals.  His is based on three predictors:  the incumbent president's approval rating at midyear, the growth rate of real GDP in the second quarter, and whether the incumbent president's party has held the White House for one term or more than one term.   This model also has an excellent record of correct predictions since it's beginning in 1988.

In mid August 2016, Abramowitz's model predicted a narrow victory for a generic Republican candidate.   However, Abramowitz gave a nuanced discussion that cast doubt on the efficacy of his model with such a non-typical candidate as Donald Trump.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Chicago Cubs' first World Series win since 1908.

And what a game it was.   Coming into the decisive seventh game, tied with three wins each, the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians faced off for the showdown.   By the time it ended, well past midnight, the Cubs had finally won by 8 to 7.

Congratulations, Chicago Cubs -- World Series Baseball Champions for the first time in 108 years, having last won the title in 1908.

For a little perspective:   since then we have fought World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the VietNam war, the unending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and sort of the whole Middle East.   In 1908 there were only 46 stars on the U.S. flag:  New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii were added since then.

The stock market collapse and the Great Depression were yet to be;  FDR's New Deal and Social Security were not even on the horizon.  Commercial air travel, skyscrapers, expressways, movie theaters, television, and the whole digital revolution were way in the future.

Or, get this.   Women wouldn't have the right to vote for another 12 years, when the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1920.  Anyone alive when the Cubs were last world champions is now at least 108 years old, all five of them.

But . . .  back to the game, which was just about everything you'd want in a championship game.   A home run by the first batter up, knocking the fourth pitch of the game out of the park.   Later another Cubs home run by the oldest player ever (39) to knock one out of the park in the seventh game of a world series.  Along with good pitching, stolen bases, off the wall catches -- it all led to a strong Cubs' lead of 6 to 3 going into the bottom of the 8th inning.

But the Indians weren't going to let them have it that easily.   Just four outs away from the game being over, they scored a run, then topped that with a two-run homer to tie the game, 6 to 6.

Then to complicate things, it started to rain.   They rolled out the tarps over the infield . . . and we waited. . . .  But only about 20 minutes.    The score remained tied at the end of the ninth inning, now well past midnight.   But the Cubs came roaring back in the top of the 10th, scoring two more runs;   then the Indians had another go in the bottom of the ninth.   Down to their last out, they managed one run, but that was it.    The Cubs won by 8 to 7.

I'm something of a fair weather fan -- or, really, a watching-with-family fan.   For this game, we followed a family tradition of watching baseball together.  And that's always fun.   It takes me back to fond memories of my father, who was the biggest baseball fan of all, having been a semi-pro player himself in a small, local minor league.   In later years, he habitually watched one game on tv while listening to a different one on the radio.   He knew everyone's batting average and the pitchers' stats, and he could predict what everybody was going to do in any situation.   This was before computers spit out more data trivia than you can use.

For the record, my father would have been 7 years old when the Cubs last won a world series.  His family were farmers, and I'm pretty sure that in 1908 they didn't even have electricity.  So even if there had been television (not for another 40 years), he couldn't have watched, or listened to that game on the radio.

He would have loved this one.   And we would have loved having him there with us -- watching and interpreting the game for us.

And my grandkids would have had the opportunity to get to know their great-grandfather in the best of all possible ways -- through watching baseball with him.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

The state of the election five days ahead

Josh Marshall reports a new Marquette University poll (the most respected poll for Wisconsin) showing Hillary Clinton leading by 6% in Wisconsin.   Why is this so important?   Because Trump has a slight lead in Ohio, and it's too close to call in Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina.

Here's the payoff according to Marshall.  Even if Trump wins Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada -- the battleground states where his chances are best -- he would still be short of the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the election.   He has to win one of the states considered safe for Clinton.  So this poll showing Wisconsin still holding strong for her is good news.

Even if Clinton wins only Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado and Pennsylvania of the battleground states -- and she has definite leads in all of them -- she still wins the election.   With Wisconsin still strongly in her camp, as this poll shows, it's looking good.


Gov. Deal's "dishonest" claims about his school deal

Jim Galloway, who writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Political Insider" column, recorded this that Gov. Nathan Deal told a group of educators two years ago:  My family has experienced when politics becomes a dominant factor in public education. . . .  My family actually had to move on one occasion, because of internal politics within a local school system.”   Galloway recently revisited this in his column and added that in 1942, before Nathan Deal was born, his father, as a teacher in Treutlin County, GA "ran afoul" with a powerful political family who "ran" the local school board" -- and Mr. Deal had to leave.  

They subsequently moved to Sandersville, where I had some knowledge of the Deal family and their son Nathan, who was about 10 years younger than I was.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Deal finished out their careers as teachers there, and I never heard of any troubles they had with the school board or administration.   My aunt was a teacher in the same school;  and, as far as I know, there no discord between the teachers and the local school board in Sandersville.

So we don't know what caused the trouble in Treutlin County, but Gov. Deal apparently thinks of this -- or at least he's using this personal experience, that occurred before he was born -- as justification for his seeming antipathy toward local school boards in the design of his Opportunity School District, which voters are asked to approve in constitutional amendment 1.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's columnist Jay Bookman has some strong words to say about this proposed amendment and the way Gov. Deal is pushing it, starting with the headline of his Wednesday AJC column:   "Gov. Deal selling his school plan through deception."  Some excerpts from Bookman's column:

"The calculated, cynical and brazen deception behind the effort to sell Georgia voters on Amendment 1, the so-called Opportunity School District proposal, is something to behold and to beware. . . .

"You can see that cynicism on the ballot, where the Amendment 1 preamble — largely written by Gov. Nathan Deal and his staffpromises that it will improve failing schools “through increasing community involvement.” You can see it echoed again in the pro-amendment television ads featuring Deal, where phrases such as 'Enhance local control' and 'Empower teachers and parents' are splashed prominently across the screen.

"Those phrases tell us a few things, but the truth is not one of them. They tell us that Deal and his allies have done polling, and the polling tells them that preserving local control of schools is important to Georgia voters. The polling also says that most Georgia voters believe that parents and teachers — the people with the most at stake in public education, and the most committed to its success — ought to have considerable influence. So proponents of Amendment 1 have built their marketing campaign around those popular themes.

"Yet that campaign is an obviousmagnificent lie. The primary purpose of Amendment 1, its complete reason for existence, is to wrest power away from parents, teachers and locally elected school officials. If approved by voters, it would give the governor the unchallengeable, unchecked power to seize control of local schools, including local tax money, and to put that power in the hands of a superintendent whom the governor appoints.

"The English language is remarkably flexible, but it cannot be twisted and tortured enough to claim that Amendment 1 will “enhance local control.” It clearly destroys local control. Amendment 1 and the legislation that accompanies it contains no mechanism for local control whatsoever, and no means for challenging the dictatorial powers it places in the hands of the governor. And it certainly doesn’t 'empower parents and teachers.'

". . . . Selling an approach like that under the banner of 'enhancing local control' is like advertising black coffee as a sleeping aid or cigarettes as a cure for asthma. It’s just astoundingly dishonest, and it explains why delegates to the Georgia Parents and Teachers Association voted 633-0 to oppose Amendment 1 . . . . They don’t feel empowered by it, they feel undermined. . . . 

"However, if Deal wanted to make an honest argument on behalf of his proposal, he would have to stare into the camera and explain to Georgia voters that somehow, he and his appointees would be so much better at running local schools than are parents, teachers and locally elected school board members. He would also have to explain what magical, school-transforming power resides in the governor’s office that would be unleashed by Amendment 1.

"By relying instead on lies, he tells me that no such power exists."

That is very strong, condemning language from Bookman -- and every word, I believe, is correct -- and damning.    Damning, not just of the amendment, but of Deal himself.  This is exactly why I've said I do not trust Nathan Deal.  This is typical of his whole approach.   Even when he has what seems like a good basic idea -- to improve schools and help children -- he can't take an open, honest approach.

He is a master at exploitation of government operations and loopholes;   he weaseled out of an ethics investigation of his campaign financing, when he was a member of Congress, by resigning early to run for governor.   That ended the investigation.    He engaged in some dirty campaign tactics which potentially endangered teenagers at the Youth Pride Center for LBGTQ kids, trying to smear his opponent for having made a contribution to this valuable community resource.  Why?  To exploit the homophobic vote.

Let's not let him get away with giving away control of our schools to private enterprise, which I truly believe is his ultimate goal.   At least there's a lot of out-of-state money of undisclosed source, funding his ad campaign.  Opposition money is coming from national associations of teachers.  There hasn't been much polling, but one about 10 days ago showed 59% of voters opposed it.

I do not disagree at all with the goal of improving Georgia schools.   I can't think of many things that I would rather support.   But this is not the way to go about it.   Why not do something like hire a cadre of community organizers and teacher-consultants to fan out over the state and work with local schools to energize parents and communities, help them plan for changes, and enhance local involvement.   And guess what?    Getting local communities involved in the schools would make citizens willing to pay more taxes to benefit their schools.  That's what works.    Deal's plan is the opposite of that, taking it out of the hands of local boards and parents -- despite what his deceptive, dishonest ads say.


PS:   Late Wednesday, Fox News reported from an October 3rd speech by Gov. Deal, where hs said:   "The irony of some of the groups who are opposing doing something to help these minority children is beyond my logic.  If you want to advance the state of colored people, start  with their children."

There is so much that's wrong and so tone deaf in those two sentences.   First, opposing this wrong-headed plan is not "opposing doing something to help these minority children."   We think there are better ways to help than following plans that have not worked in other states, that fail to address problems in ways that are known to help, that would turn our schools over to out-of-state, commercial enterprises.

Next, does the governor really equate failing schools only with "minority children?" If so, then maybe the problem isn't with the schools so much as it is with their living conditions at home.   For one small example:   maybe if the governor hadn't blocked the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, it would have helped.  And what of the blatant racism evident in his choice of words:   "colored people"?????    That condescending term harks back to the days of paternalism and separate-but-equal -- and suggests that Gov. Deal is stuck in that kind of thinking.   Yes, NAACP uses the term in their organization's name, but that is because it was founded in 1909, and it is proud of its history as an early attempt to combat racism.

I'm afraid the Gov. Deal's true colors are showing, as his pet project faces failure, and he becomes desperate.   The majority of Georgia voters may be more advanced in our racial understanding and attitudes than is our governor.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mea cupla

In my October 30th post, about Georgia amendments on the ballot, I made a mistake in what I said about Amendment 3, in the last two paragraphs.

I thought the amendment had to do with an ethics commission that dealt with complaints against elected officials.   It turns out that, instead, it is the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which deals only with state court judges, their qualifications and performance in office. It is about qualifications and ethics, but only judges, not other elected officials.  That's a different commission.

It doesn't change my argument, however.   From what I now know, the presently constituted JQC does not function well and perhaps needs to be reformed.   But the solution should not be taking the power to fill three seats away from the state bar association and giving it to the legislature.  That would be replacing professionals (lawyers) with policitians, and likely make it even more of a political mess than it is now.


Republicans lacking in principle on SCOTUS

Remember the pious rationalizaton the Republicans trotted out when they declared that "the people should decide"?   That is, they would not even hold hearings on any nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court in an election year.   Because the people should have their say through their choice of a new president.   Let the next POTUS fill the empty SCOTUS seat, they said.

Of course, that's a bogus argument on the face of it.   If that's the principle, then one year out of every four, we could have up to a full year or more with an empty seat on the highest court, handling the most important constitutional questions.

Well, not to worry that this is a principle they will stick to.    Not when it looks like Donald Trump is going to lose.   It seems there was an unstated footnote to their principle:  "but only if a Republican wins the presidency."

Here's their latest line, unabashedly espoused by North Carolina incumbent Sen. Richard Burr -- a Republican, of course.    He has a strong challenger and may not be returned to the senate, if Hillary Clinton carries North Carolina.'

But, if he does, Burr is making this a signature campaign promise. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court,” he said.

Get what he's saying?  He would rather leave the court with only eight members (or even less, if someone else should retire or die) than allow Clinton to appoint a replacement. He's not the only one.  John McCain made the same pledge, not to vote for anyone Clinton nomintes.  And Ted Cruz said it's "something we'll have to have a discussion about."

What a difference losing makes.   When President Obama first nominated Merritt Garland, McCain put out this press release:

“This issue is not about any single nominee ― it’s about the integrity of the Court. With less than a year left in a lame-duck presidency and the long-term ideological balance of the Supreme Court at stake, I believe the American people must have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court by electing a new president.”

Well, in just one week, the American people are going to speak with that voice.  And, if they elect Hillary Clinton, then the people are saying they want her to nominate the next Supreme Court justice.

But these Republicans are revealing their true, unprincipled colors.  It's time to stop letting them get away with pretending to have principles, when their behavior keeps revealing that they have none -- except demonizing the opposition, suppressing voters, and lying to the people as their only hope of winning.

Don't let them get away with it.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

David Plouffe: Clintons path to WH is "rock solid."

David Plouffe was the genius who managed Barack Obama's presidential bids with cutting edge use of digital data, analysis, and precision strategic planning.   If anyone knows electoral vote strategy better than Plouffe, they haven't shown up yet.    He knows it down to the precinct level.  

Several weeks ago, Plouffe was on MSNBC as a guest, and he was unshakable in his assurance that Hillary Clinton has a clear, almost-impossible-to-lose electoral path to the White House.   On Sunday, he sent out this tweet, in response to the FBI Director James Comey's political hand grenade:

"Clinton path to 300+ rock solid.  Structure of race not affected by Comey's reckless irresponsibility. Vote and volunteer, don't fret or wet."

His 300+ refers to electoral votes;   270 are required to win.


Comey's double standard for Clinton and Trump

It has required almost constant reading just to keep up with all the former FBI and DOJ officers who are castigating James Comey for his bad judgment in talking about emails that, at the time, he had not even seen and that reportedly were neither from or sent to Hillary  Clinton.    At least two former Attorneys General, one Democrat and one Republican, and numerous FBI investigators and DOJ prosecutors, have weighed in with sharp criticism.

Terry Smith, a research professor and legal analyst, has described Comey's action in a way we can all understand -- as if it had happened to us.    Suppose you were applying for a job (as Clinton is doing) that required a background check.  Although you have never been charged or convicted of a crime, the FBI Director includes in the background-check report the fact that your name turned up in a cache of emails from a completely unrelated case they are investigating.  Your only connection with that case is that the emails were on the laptop of the man being investigated;   and his wife works with you.

Further, you have no way of refuting any involvement, because the FBI has supplied no evidence;  they haven't even examined the emails themselves yet.   References to you could simply be copies of emails the wife wrote you about totally unrelated matters of a personal nature.    But this vague association taints you enough, in the mind of the person hiring, that he gives the job to someone else.  That's essentially what Comey has done to Clinton.

Smith sums this up:  "Do you believe you have been treated fairly? Of course not. Do you feel that the FBI has acted properly in spreading innuendo about you that you cannot possibly rebut because you have no idea what evidence, if any, it is basing its innuendo on? No."

Comey's action, Smith says, "debases any notion of due process as well as the Constitution itself. . . .  Most harmful of all, Comey leaves voters to make a negative inference from evidence that they’re not likely to be made privy to prior to casting their votes. . . . only speculation that there might or might not be some evidence at some point in the future."    Then this legal analyst writes:

"In the coming days, there will be plenty of innuendo against Director Comey, such as the reputational threat that Republicans must have hung over his head to make him take the unprecedented step of trying to influence the outcome of our country’s free elections. Will this innuendo be fair? Perhaps no more so than Comey’s innuendo against Clinton. But Comey built this glass house, so it’s fair that he see his reflection."

On another front, Richard Painter, the former chief White House Ethics Lawyer in the Bush Administration (2005-2007), actually filed a formal complaint against Comey with the independent Office of Special Counsel in the Department of Justice.  His charge is abuse of power under the Hatch Act, which forbids, under any circumstances, the use of a government official's position to influence an election.    He notes in a New York Times op-ed:  "Such violations are of even greater concern when the agency is the FBI."

Speaking for President Obama, Press Secretary Josh Earnest, declined to defend or to directly criticize Comey's action;  but he called it "potentially damaging to our democracy" and made it clear that the decision was made by Comey alone.  Earnest added that the president regards Comey as a man of integrity and does not think he was trying to influence the election.  But he also stressed how important it is to temper great authority with "adherence to longstanding tradition"  that limits public discussion of what is collected in investigations.    Ryan Grim, Huffington Post's Washington Bureau Chief, called this a White House "arm's-length rebuke" of Comey, essentially telling him to repair the damage, noting that in breaking the tradition, "the predictable results have occurred."

And then, late Monday, Eamon Javers of CNBC reported from a source who is a former FBI official that in early October Comey argued privately that it was "too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election."  Comey argued for, and ultimately was successful, in keeping the FBI's name off that announcement, which was made by the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence.

This source said government insiders "are perplexed" as to why Comey would be concerned that an announcement might hurt Trump, but not when it would hurt Hillary Clinton.   According to this official, Comey agreed that a foreign power was trying to undermine our election, but he was opposed to announcing it before the election.   As a result he did not allow the FBI name to be included in the announcement.

From what we know about Comey's meticulousness about the law, it's hard to believe he would actually have such a different approach for partisan reasons.   But, at this point, it's hard to come up with another answer.    If it was too close to the election in early October, why is it not too close in late October?

It's time for some answers, Director Comey.


PS:   Just heard a discussion about this on MSNBC later on Monday night.   It seems there are strong and divisive feelings in the FBI about how the Clinton investigations have been handled.   Some want to be much more aggressive and were dismayed when Comey did not bring charges.   This leads some to think that Comey was afraid that, if he did not advise Congress about the new emails, some of these FBI officers might leak it -- and then Comey would look like he was covering it up.    Others have thought the pressure came from the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, before whom he testified and assured that the investigation was full and complete.

It's very troubling to hear of such dissension within the FBI, with people turning against each other, and using information leaks as a tactic in internal war.    It' also troubling to think that Comey can be swayed in his decisions by threats to his own reputation, over the good of the country.  Is this also a problem of Comey's ability to manage the agency?    On the other hand, some have said this explanation is overblown;  that you always have some eager investigators out there in the field who chafe at the restraints that their superiors impose from their larger-picture perspective.

Monday, October 31, 2016

What if Comey had done this to Trump?

Think how loud the screams from Donald Trump and his angry supporters would be if James Comey had done to him what he has done to Hillary Clinton.    The charges of "rigged" and "using the power of the FBI to defeat me" would be astronomical.

The Clinton campaign, in contrast, has shown remarkable restraint.   First, simply insisting -- as she did with the committees investigating her on Benghazi -- don't just release cherry-picked, misleading bits;  release the whole thing, so people can see what the context is.   That was such a smart move on her part to refuse to testify in secret -- but only in public so all of her testimony would be open to the public.

Now, Democrats are standing up for her.   A number of senators have demanded that, no later than Monday, Comey should at least tell what he has, what he has seen, and what seems to be the impact for Clinton herself.

They've already said that none of the emails were either sent or received by Clinton.  So is this just ordinary email exchanges between Huma Abedin and her husband, having nothing to do with the campaign?   Abedin says she has no idea how they got on her husband's computer or what is in them.

Comey should also explain why he took this step, especially now that we know that he did it in direct opposition to advice from the top level of the Justice Department, presumably Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself.

As of Sunday evening, the FBI was still in negotiations with the Justice Department to get a warrant to examines the emails.   With no likelihood that this can be cleared up by election day, it is incumbent on Comey to do something to repair the damage his letter has caused.

Let's grant him the fact that he would have faced tremendous criticism, even censure, if something incriminating for Clinton had emerged from these emails after the election.   Still, he could have done some kind of notification that would have covered his culpability, while not inciting a political frenzy of misusing the information.   But it looks like he is putting the rather small risk to his own reputation for integrity ahead of the integrity of the FBI's long-standing reputation for not saying anything that would affect the presidential election in the last 11 days.

Comey may be a purist in following the law, but he is lousy at recognizing and taking account of the political implications of how he reveals things and how he says things.

Meanwhile, Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald is reporting from sources inside the FBI that Comey's  own troops are furious.   One told Eichenwald that Comey "has mishandled public relations from the git-go."  Another called it, "Outrageous incompetence," while another said:  "If Comey doesn't get ahead of this, [we're] going to have a mutiny at FBI.   This is why we don't talk about investigations."

It's sad.  Comey was such a hero when he stood up to the Cheney-Bush diktat.   I was delighted when Obama later nominated him to head the FBI.   Now it seems that some character trait that made him the hero in one instance makes him a villain in another.

Unless it is that he already knows there is something very damaging to Clinton in the emails -- and therefore he would be even more vilified if he had not alerted Congress.   But that seems unlikely, given the reaction from the Justice Department and from Comey's own comrades.   I'm left to conclude that he gave in to pressure from Republicans who threatened to destroy him, if it later turned out that he had withheld incriminating evidence against Clinton -- that he did it for selfish reasons rather than for the good of the country.

The only other possibility seems to be that he crassly interfered for partisan political reasons.   And even now I don't think it is in his character to do that -- but it could have affected his judgment in a close call on the integrity issue.   Any way you slice it, it reflects very badly on his judgment and the neutrality we need in an FBI director.

Josh Marshall wrote something similar:
"At best, Comey combined extremely poor judgment with a decision to place a near absolute priority on protecting himself from criticism over carrying out his professional and ethnical obligations. . . .  What seems inescapable is that Comey has made avoiding criticism from Republicans . . . his top, almost his sole priority. . . .  It amounts to some professional equivalent of reckless disregard, perhaps with a smattering of generally irrelevant naïveté thrown in. . . . In this case, there seems to be no basis at all. Just the existence of other emails from Huma Abedin, which may even be duplicates of ones already investigated."

And to cap this off, some later news released Sunday evening:  The FBI now has a warrant to examine these emails, which had not yet been looked at for content.   Also in the news, some Democrats are saying that Comey has damaging evidence about Trump's Russian connections, so why isn't he leaking out innuendos about that?


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Georgia voters: Turn schools over to the governor? Very bad idea. Vote No on amendment 1

Amendment 1 for Georgia voters to decide this year is presented on the ballot in terms that would be hard to argue with, if you knew nothing else about the proposal.   Here's what the ballot asks you to vote on, yes or no:
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?"
Who would oppose motherhood and apple pie, huh?  But Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed is opposed (as am I, vehemently).  Reed recently told the Buckhead Rotary Club why.  As quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reed said:
"I oppose this proposal because I believe it will inevitably result in the diversion of public funds for public schools to private entities, with inadequate oversight, and without accountability to parents. . . .I believe such a change in our state, through the permanent measure of a constitutional amendment, will weaken our public schools and create conditions where they become the last resort for desperate families, rather than a symbol of excellence and source of community pride."
What would the amendment actually do?   It would create a new "Opportunity School District," and the governor would appoint a Superintendent for the district, answerable only to him.   This new authority can take chronically failing schools, remove them from control of the local school boards, and place them in the Opportunity School District.   The superintendent would have the authority to choose which schools and either to close them, or to reform them as charter schools, or other models.    That person alone could fire and hire teachers and superintendents.

This is Gov. Nathan Deal's signature project for his second term agenda.   I am not questioning his sincere wish to improve education in Georgia.   Both of his parents were teachers in my home town of Sandersville, where Gov. Deal himself grew up.   But I do question Gov. Deal's solution, which will undoubtedly increase privatization of public schools.   Why else would his campaign to sell this amendment to the voters be funded so heavily by out of state groups that are in the business of running schools?

I am also opposed because I do not trust Gov. Deal.   The proponents of the amendment intentionally wrote the ballot description to be maximally deceptive, and he knew it and apparently approved.   Gov. Deal is actively campaigning for it, and at the same time has forbidden any local school boards to expend any school money expressing their opinion about it.   A majority of local boards and a heavy majority of teachers are opposed.   They are getting some money help to fight it from national teachers' organizations.

I also think it's a bad idea to take troubled schools out of local community control.   Active involvement of parents is one of the most important factors in successful schools.   Now, it's true, that one of the possible models the new plan could decide on for a particular school, is to work in partnership with local schools.    That's good, but that's the more difficult step to take -- and I don't trust an authoritative regime to choose that, rather than one of the private, school management firms that are lining up for the jobs.  In essence, what this does is take these schools out of the hands of educators and hand them over to politicians.

This plan is said to be modeled after similar projects in Louisiana and Tennessee.   The LA one had some initial success, in the wake of Katrina, but now most of them have been converted to charter schools.  The Tennessee plan has not been a success.    Wouldn't it be much better to put the same effort into more money for public schools, plus a vigorous plan of working with local communities to improve parent participation?

In addition, I do not trust Nathan Deal on this, because he has a history of using government for his own purposes, whether it is financial deals, or gaining power over the levers of government.   There are just too many examples of his working to change the makeup of various state entities, from ethics boards to the state Supreme Court -- that give him more power -- the power of appointment.

For the same reason, I oppose Amendment 3 on the ballot, although I know less about the details of this one.  But on the face of it, it sounds like a terrible idea.    Three members of the ethics commission (which handles ethics complaints against state office holders) that are currently appointed by the Georgia Bar Association would, instead, be appointed by the legislature.   Again, replacing professionals with politicians.

This opportunity school district would be one more new power center for the governor.   Possibly the ethics commission appointments would be also.  Please consider voting No on amendment 1 and amendment 3.