Are States Outmoded?

Indiana residents who follow state economic trends probably know the name Morton Marcus. Marcus–who sometimes comments here– used to head up a business school think tank at Indiana University, and even though he’s retired, remains a popular public speaker–not just because he is very knowledgable, but because he’s always been willing to speak his mind and share his often “unorthodox” opinions.

When I first joined the faculty at IUPUI, Morton’s office was down the hall, and he would sometimes pop in to discuss those opinions. I still remember a conversation in which he argued that states–whose boundaries have always been artificial–no longer made sense. Instead, he thought the U.S. should be governed through designated areas of economic influence: the Chicago region, the Boston region, etc.

I thought back to that conversation when I read a recent paper issued by the Brookings Institution. Many years later, Brookings scholars have evidently come to the same conclusion.

The paper began by noting the country’s haphazard response to the coronavirus pandemic, exacerbated by the failure to coordinate governance across local and state lines.

There are a number of ways in which the patchwork of state responses–and the tendency of many Republican governors and legislators to treat the pandemic as a political and economic problem rather than a public health crisis–is leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths. The recent majority decision by Wisconsin’s conservative Supreme Court justices to the effect that the state’s Democratic governor lacked the authority to order a uniform state response is just an extreme example of the chaos caused by internal state political struggles.

Even without the politicization of Covid-19, however, state lines complicate government’s response. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explained the problem during a  briefing about plans to deploy contact tracing:

“If I turn up positive, yeah, my residence is in Westchester County, but I work in New York City, and I would have contacted many more people in New York City than I did in Westchester…If you’re going to do these tracing operations, you can’t do it within just your own county, because you will quickly run into people who are cross-jurisdictional.”

The paper pointed out that the multiple governance dysfunctions caused by state lines aren’t limited to those highlighted by the pandemic:

Before the arrival of the coronavirus, our planning processes formalized many inequities within and across regions, ranging from hospital bed availability to housing inventory to environmental racism…

Before the coronavirus arrived, both established metropolitan regions and “megaregions”—combinations of two or more metro areas—were consolidating at unprecedented levels. This brief presents evidence documenting these trends, and makes the case for new state and federal policy frameworks to address cross-jurisdictional equity problems that emerge when everyday activities happen in a mega-region.

The paper describes the changes in residential and commercial activity over the past decades, resulting in the creation of what the authors call “large polycentric regions, or a “megapolitan America.” Jobs, housing, and consumption now occur across multiple state and municipal jurisdictions. Significant numbers of people commute between cities or town centers. Etc.

The paper describes several of these regions, and the inequities within them, and I encourage those of you who are interested in the data to click through and read the entire paper. But living in Indiana, I was particularly struck by this description of one problem caused by the mismatch between legal jurisdictions and contemporary realities:

The lack of regional governance institutions is particularly problematic for addressing equity problems within regions. For example, a worker may live in a lower-cost municipality and work in a wealthier one. The revenues generated in the wealthy area will not normally support the services available in the worker’s lower-cost neighborhood if it is in a different county.

We have the opposite situation in the Indianapolis region: workers who commute to Indianapolis from wealthy suburbs in other counties. These commuters use the infrastructure and public services paid for by cash-strapped Indianapolis (where state government agencies and nonprofit statewide organizations occupy roughly 25% of the real estate and are exempt from property taxation), but their taxes go to their already flush home counties.

The Brookings paper provides one more example of an over-arching and increasingly dire problem–the failure of America’s governing institutions to keep pace with contemporary realities. Structures like the Electoral College, the filibuster, the way we conduct and finance elections, and the way we allocate governance responsibilities among local, state and federal authorities are just a few of the systems that no longer serve their intended purposes.

A blue wave in November is an absolutely essential first step toward addressing America’s creaky governing infrastructure.  Given the percentage of voters who remain in the cult that was once the GOP, however, I don’t have high hopes for the thoroughgoing reforms we need.

My Endorsement

This post is mostly for readers who live in Indiana’s 5th District–or anyone who has friends and/or families who vote in Indiana’s Fifth. The primary election, which was postponed until June 2d, is approaching. (If you haven’t done so, be sure to apply for your absentee ballot by May 21st!)

As Hoosiers know, the district’s incumbent Representative is Susan Brooks, who (wisely) decided not to run again. To say that Brooks has been a huge disappointment to those of us who thought we knew her and expected her to be at least reasonably moderate would be an understatement. (To be a Republican these days is evidently to be a devoted Trump sycophant…)

Christina Hale is one of five Democrats running for the Fifth District seat, and in my admittedly biased opinion, she should be the slam-dunk choice. (There are fourteen candidates in the GOP primary, and– with the exception of Mark Small, who is valiantly trying to save the party from itself– they all seem to be emphasizing how Trumpy they will be if elected.)

I met Christina when she served in the Indiana legislature, where she was a highly effective advocate for women and girls  and small businesses, among other things. (Of the five Democrats running, Christina is the only one with legislative experience.) She’s a Latina  who put herself through school while she was a single mom, and she brings that same determination and capacity for hard work to her campaigns and legislative work.

When Christina ran for the Indiana State House in 2012, she defeated a 20 year Republican incumbent–flipping the seat from red to blue– and when she got to Indiana’s Republican-dominated statehouse, she got things done: during her legislative career, she had over 60 bills passed with bipartisan support.

I got to see more of Christina when she was John Gregg’s running mate in 2016, and I was further impressed with her campaign skills and her ability to communicate what is very clearly her passion for good government.

Can she win in the fall? Yes.

So far in this campaign, and despite the weirdness of running for office during a pandemic, Christina has outraised all of the other candidates– Democrats and Republicans–in every single quarter.  The reason that matters is because no matter which Republican emerges from that primary, you can be sure that person will be very well funded. But it also matters because those donations reflect donors’ excitement for Christina’s candidacy, and their belief that she can win.

I’m not the only person enthusiastic about Christina; so far, she’s been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, Latino Victory Fund, and a number of unions, including United Steelworkers, Sheet Metal Workers, IBEW, AFSCME and, most recently, the Serve America PAC.

You needn’t take my word for any of this. You can read about Christina at the campaign website.

I’m writing about Christina’s campaign because I can’t help her by voting for her–I live in Indiana’s 7th Congressional District, where I have a Congressperson with whom I am supremely happy, Andre Carson. (Andre is effective, intelligent, and responsive, and in our blue city, he is highly likely to be re-elected. He doesn’t need my help.)

The 5th District used to be solidly red, but it includes a significant number of educated professionals and solid, middle-class voters who have given evidence of re-thinking their allegiance to the GOP under Trump. In 2018, for the first time in forever, three Democrats were elected to municipal offices, and the incumbent Democratic Senator– who lost statewide– carried the district.

If the 5th District is ready to turn light blue–and I think it is–a candidate of Christina’s caliber and demonstrable bipartisan skills has the best shot of keeping it that color.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. But no matter who, VOTE. And VOTE BLUE.

It’s Jim Lucas’ Party Now

Indiana has a Republican state representative named Jim Lucas. Lucas has a history of quite overt racism (among other things, he’s posted a noose to a story about a black man accused of rape), and a few days ago posted to Facebook a truly disgusting picture of black babies, in diapers and with exaggerated features,  dancing and singing “we gon’ to get free money.” It was a meme straight out of the 1950s South–and so patently offensive that a few Republican officeholders (for the first time) offered tepid condemnations.

If Lucas was an aberration, that would be one thing. But he seems to be genuinely representative of his party and district. Our daughter says that when she needs to break out of her own Facebook “bubble,” she checks out Lucas’ Facebook page and is always appalled at what he and his constituents evidently feel is appropriate to post there.

Lucas is right at home in today’s GOP. As we see the 2020 Presidential race shaping up, it is impossible to ignore the evidence: the party of Lincoln has become the party of white supremacy.

Trump quite clearly intends to run on his “Obamagate” conspiracy theory, hoping that it will both distract from his disastrous bungling of the pandemic and once again solidify his racist base.

Let’s look at the signs.

When the FBI confiscated Richard Burr’s phone, pundits left and right saw it as the beginning of a justifiable effort to punish what was widely seen as Burr’s insider trading. They ignored the fact that there was no similar raid on Senators Loeffler or Feinstein, despite the fact that both had also made suspicious trades. Burr, however, had done  something far worse; he had presided over the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election–and had been instrumental in the issuance of preliminary reports confirming that interference.

Thanks to Barr’s Justice Department raid, Burr has now stepped aside, and his replacement will be selected by Mitch McConnell. It is widely anticipated that the final volume of the Intelligence Committee report will be “amended.”

Meanwhile, lapdog Lindsey Graham is conducting a separate Senate “investigation” of Trump’s “Obamagate” fabrications.

It’s true that Trump is unable to articulate exactly what he is accusing the Obama folks of doing, other than investigating Intelligence reports that found Russia had interfered with the election. It’s also true that there is absolutely no evidence that the investigation was in any way improper. Of course, the fact that Hillary Clinton had been cleared of any intentional wrongdoing–or any breach of security–didn’t stop “but her emails.”

And Obama’s black. Allegations confirmed!

Trump began his campaign with birtherism. He called Mexicans “murderers and rapists” at his announcement. He’s been endorsed by David Duke and Neo-Nazis. Ergo, you can expect “Obamagate” to be embraced by what is left of the Republican Party–the party of Jim Lucas.

Think I’m exaggerating? Think “nice” Republicans are distancing themselves from the racist messaging?

As the Indiana primary approaches, we’ve been “treated” to political spots from local candidates for the GOP nomination in the 5th district. (Some 14 candidates are vying for the GOP’s nomination in that district–it’s an open seat.) The candidate spots I’ve seen range from stupid to offensive. None are as overtly racist as Lucas; instead, they all include an explicit pledge of devotion to Trump–the current “dog whistle” for Trumpian bigotries. The absolute worst is one by a sanctimonious woman named Victoria Spartz, whose ad says she was born in the Soviet Union so she understands how awful socialism is (!), and touts her endorsements by both Right to Life and the NRA. Irony is dead.

The Republican Party I served for 35 years is also dead. The many good people I worked with have conceded defeat and abandoned the field, leaving the Cult of Trump to the Jim Lucases, William Barrs, Mitch McConnells and their clones.

In November, we’ll see whether Trump’s “Johnny One Note” campaign strategy–White Nationalism focused on his still-seething racist resentment of Obama–still works.

 

 

 

 

Here Comes The Judge

This is why ethical, competent Judges matter.

The linked article from The Washington Post is one of many similar stories we awoke to on May 12th. The “back story” –William Barr’s frontal assault on both the rule of law and the integrity of the Department of Justice by petitioning to drop the case against Michael Flynn–enraged patriotic Americans; it outraged lawyers in particular. (Lawyers and former lawyers tend to think that the rule of law matters. A lot.)

When news broke of this unprecedented and dishonest pleading, my hope was that the judge presiding over the case–who had shown no particular sympathy for Flynn–would deny it. I assumed that Barr knew such a denial was probable. However, Barr also knew that the mere fact that the DOJ had filed such a pleading would add plausibility to the President’s multiple lies about the Mueller investigation and the wacko conspiracy theory he’s calling “Obamagate.”

In other words, no matter what the judge ruled, the mere fact that Barr submitted the pleading would be a “win/win” for the forces of obfuscation, and would become part of  Trump’s Big Lie about a nefarious “Obamagate” plot.

The judge outsmarted him. Bigly.

A U.S. judge put on hold the Justice Department’s move to drop charges against Michael Flynn, saying he expects independent groups and legal experts to argue against the bid to exonerate President Trump’s former national security adviser of lying to the FBI.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said in an order Tuesday that he expects individuals and organizations will seek to intervene in the politically charged case. Having others weigh in could preface more aggressive steps that the federal judge in Washington could take, including — as many outside observers have called for — holding a hearing to consider what to do.

Sullivan also appointed a retired judge to argue against the DOJ’s request.

Judge Sullivan said he will set a schedule for outside parties to argue against the claims made in the Justice Department’s effort to drop the charges. Amicus briefs will be allowed from parties who believe they have interests that would be affected by the ruling, or from
parties or organizations with “unique information or perspective that can help the court.”

The nearly 2000 lawyers who formerly worked for the DOJ and recently signed a letter demanding Barr’s resignation would certainly qualify as having a “unique perspective.”

So would a group that identified itself as “Watergate Prosecutors,” who had filed a unique request a day earlier. They asked permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief addressing the need for independent scrutiny and oversight to “ensure that crucial decisions about prosecutions of high-ranking government officials are made in the public interest.”

“The integrity of prosecutorial decision making is a cornerstone of the rule of law,” they wrote. “Amici have a special interest in restoring the public trust in prosecutorial decision making and in public confidence in the viability of future independent investigations and prosecutions if the results of such work are likely to be subjected to reversal by transparent political influence.”

What is especially gratifying is that the Judge’s order not only allows these and other parties to file objections to the Justice Department’s move, but that such objections could open the door for adversarial proceedings in which arguments for and against Barr’s effort to dismiss the case would be heard.

Especially gratifying is the conclusion that such objections would also permit, if the judge chooses, requiring both sides to produce evidence and revisit the case for and against Flynn.

Instead of allowing Trump to use Barr’s pleading to confuse voters and sow even more distrust of the government he was elected to manage, the Judge’s move might allow re-litigation of the charges and re-airing of the evidence–something quite contrary to what Trump and Barr were hoping to accomplish.

As Jean-Luc Picard might say, “Make it so.”

Karma’s a bitch. I love it.

 

“Becoming”– Versus Unbecoming

Indiana readers: If you haven’t already requested your absentee ballot for the June 2d Primary, don’t forget that you have to do so by May 21st. 

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After several people recommended “Becoming”–the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s book tour– my husband and I watched it. Now, I’m recommending it too–albeit with a caveat.

If–like me–you are already pretty depressed about what Trump and his toxic base have done to this country, you might want to skip “Becoming,” because it was truly painful to be reminded that we recently had an administration headed by a thoughtful, caring, sane and competent First Couple.

Could you fault some of President Obama’s policy decisions? Sure. Show me the political figure with whom you agree 100%. (If there is one, you aren’t thinking, just following.) What you couldn’t fault–at least not if you’re intellectually honest–was the integrity of his approach to the office. Both he and Michelle consistently elevated the interests of the country over political partisanship. (Actually, that triggered several of the criticisms I hear about his presidency; people wanted him to “play more hardball” with Republicans, who were clearly more invested in partisanship than patriotism.)

What I found both touching and illuminating was Michelle’s response to a question about how she felt the day they left the White House after spending eight years there. Her answer: vast relief that she no longer would have every single thing she said and/or did scrutinized and criticized.

For eight years, she had tried to be perfect, to meet the onslaughts of  slander and racism by “going high.”

The documentary underscored the vast differences between the Obamas and the Trumps without ever mentioning the latter.

Both Obamas are articulate, knowledgable, and civil. From all accounts, they are truly nice people. It’s impossible to imagine either of them bullying staff members, mimicking disabled people, or calling critics offensive names. But by far the most significant difference concerns empathy.

The Obamas have it; Trump doesn’t.

Several times, the documentary focused on Michelle’s frequent sessions with young women, and her encouragement that they “tell their stories” and follow their dreams. In another example, she recounted how excited she was when the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality, and how she and Sasha “snuck out” to join the celebrating throng in front of the White House (where, as many of us recall, rainbow lights played across the facade).

That celebration came just a few hours after the Obamas had returned from services for the nine African-Americans gunned down in a church during bible study in Charleston. The documentary showed footage of the part of that service where President Obama broke into an impromptu “Amazing Grace” and then left the pulpit to hug and console the survivors and family members of those who’d been killed.

It is absolutely impossible to picture Donald Trump comforting anyone. Or showing respect for others. Or speaking eloquently (or using words of more than two syllables). Or ever acting like a mensch.

The documentary reminded me of a column by a British writer, who wrote it in response to the question “Why don’t most English people like Donald Trump?” It’s been making the rounds, and you’ve probably seen it, but the first few paragraphs perfectly encapsulated the distinction this documentary highlighted.

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

The contrast between Obama and Trump is the contrast between self-aware, civilized behavior and immature boorishness. Dim as he is, Trump knows that Obama (a black man!!) is vastly superior to him-intellectually, morally, and ethically. That recognition eats away at him; it’s the reason he’s so fixated on destroying anything Obama did, even when dismantling Obama’s legacy will clearly hurt the country he took an oath to serve.

Watching the documentary about Michelle Obama–as classy and brilliant and thoughtful as her husband– was a stark reminder of what we’ve lost–and the disaster that is the boorish ignoramus now defiling the Oval Office.

It hurt.