Thursday, June 9, 2016

Two Macs and a Trump-Hold the Principles

A precedent embalms a principle.

Benjamin Disraeli, 1848 Speech

The rock has cooled. It happened on May 30, 2016, when Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said it would be “disrespectful” not to support the presumptive nominee of the Republican party whom a majority of Republican voters had selected. That surprised voters who recalled that the New York Times reported that, at a February 19th luncheon of Republican governors and donors, Mr. McConnell said that if Mr. Trump were the party’s nominee, it would “be catastrophic, dooming the party in November.” In the event of his nomination, Mr. McConnell said: “We’ll drop him like a hot rock” in the general election. He went on to say that if candidates felt their own elections were threatened by a top of the ticket Trump, they could run negative ads about him. That was then. This is now and it all shows that a lot can happen in four months if you are Mitch McConnell. A lot less if you are Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is still saying the sorts of things he was saying at the end of February that so offended Mr. McConnell but Mr. McConnell had forgotten all about them until Mr. Trump began making racist comments about the judge who is presiding over the Trump University lawsuit in California. Those comments did not, however, cause Mr. McConnell to withdraw his support. It caused him to express the hope that Mr. Trump would apologize and “get on script” whatever that script may be. Seeking an apology from Mr. Trump is probably a fool’s errand but nonetheless, another senator has embarked on that same errand. He is one-time presidential candidate and and long time senator, John McCain.

Mr. McCain is in a tough fight in Arizona to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate. Because ambition trumps principle in Mr. McCain’s case, the Senator has endorsed Mr. Trump, although he coupled his endorsement with a request for an apology. The request made because of comments Mr. Trump had earlier made about service personnel who were captured in Viet Nam. Although Mr. Trump was deprived of the opportunity to serve his country during the Viet Nam war years because of student deferments and a medical deferment he received because of a bone spur on one of his feet, (although he could not recall which foot it was when asked) he attended the New York Military Academy in high school and knows what it takes to be a good soldier and knows what traits define war heroes. And it is that knowledge that enabled him to comment on Mr. McCain’s military service. In an interview that took place in June 2015, Mr. Trump said of Mr. McCain that: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” Later in the interview he moderated his comments by saying: “If a person is captured, they’re a hero as far as I’m concerned. . . But you have to do other things also. . . .” (Mr. Trump did not limit his attack on Mr. McCain to his status as a POW. Mr. Trump said that not only was Mr. McCain a loser for having gotten captured, he was also a loser for not having defeated Barak Obama for the presidency. As Mr. Trump explained: “He lost and let us down. I’ve never liked losers.” It is impossible to know whether Mr. Trump’s self esteem will be affected should he lose the election in November.

Mr. McCain is a generous man, not one to withhold support from a candidate just because the candidate has insulted him. On May 8, 2016, he announced his support of Mr. Trump’s candidacy saying it would be “foolish to ignore the will of voters.” Nonetheless, Mr. McCain’s endorsement came with a wish for an apology. As he explained: What he said about me . . .that’s fine. I don’t require any repair of that. But when he said, ‘I don’t like people who were captured’ then there’s a body of American heroes and I’d like to see him retract that statement.” Not that Mr. McCain’s support of Mr. Trump depends on a retraction. He’s just indulging in wishful thinking.

There’s a lot of wishful thinking going around in Republican circles. It’s expressed differently depending on who’s talking. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has said she will support the Republican nominee. That does not mean she is not concerned about Mr. Trump’s racist remarks about the judge in the Trump University lawsuit. Her concern has not, however, caused her to withdraw her support. As she explained, she believes in redemption.

Call it belief in redemption or wishful thinking, there’s a lot of both going on in Republican circles these days. For good reason.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Alabama Redux

Old times there are not forgotten. . . .

— Dixie’s Land, — A song from 1859

In early April this space was devoted to a discussion of the assorted political adversities that were being inflicted on those seeking to govern the state of Alabama, going from the Governor of the state, to the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and finally to the Alabama Speaker of the House. It has, however, been more than two months since those events were described and it is time for an update, if for no other reason than to reassure my readers that Donald Trump is not the only clown in town. The following events occurred within days of each other during the merry month of May.

Starting at the top, readers will recall that Governor Robert Bentley admitted making what were described as “inappropriate and sexually charged remarks” to one of his female aides. It was hinted that the behavior might have included more than just sexually charged remarks. In Alabama, where perceived sexual misbehavior is taken seriously, news of the Governor’s behavior shocked his constituents and their elected representatives, even though the governor insisted there had been no sexual improprieties between him and his aide. Following the revelations there was talk of impeaching the Governor. As of this writing those proceedings have not been initiated. However, at the end of March, the state auditor of Alabama filed an ethics violations report against the Governor. In that report he said he was investigating the “misuse of state property” by the Governor, an allegation that may have been, in part, the result of a recording in which the Governor is heard to say, presumably to his paramour, that “If we’re gonna do what we did the other day, we’re gonna have to start locking the door.” If what they did the other day is what it sounds like, and if it took place in the Governor’s office it would, of course, clearly be a misuse of state property. In his report the auditor said: “The Governor continues to disgrace the state of Alabama. . . .” (The auditor is also concerned with whether the paramour is a public official or a lobbyist, although that would probably not affect the propriety of using the Governor’s office for what they may have been doing in it.) The auditor issued an order to the Governor that he appear in the auditor’s office on May 2, 2016 to produce documents. The Governor did not appear and the auditor said that, as a result of the failure, he would file proceedings with the state court ordering the Governor to appear or face contempt charges. There is no word on whether or not the proceedings have been filed.

From the Governor we go to Roy Moore, the now-suspended Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Chief Justice Moore is, in all likelihood, the first Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court to have been removed from office for refusing to follow a federal judge’s order. That occurred in 2003 when a federal judge ordered him to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments that he had commissioned and had installed in the Alabama Judicial Building. He refused to remove the monument and, as a result, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him from his position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In 2012 he ran for the same position, was once again elected Chief Justice and, once again engaged in conduct that has caused him to be suspended. On May 27, 2016, the Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended him for, among other things, not respecting a federal court order authorizing gay marriage by telling the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Since the Chief Justice does not want to be remembered as the only Alabama Chief Justice to be removed from office two times, on May 27, 2016, he filed suit alleging that the state law that authorizes his suspension is unconstitutional. The entire state eagerly awaits the outcome of those proceedings. From the Chief Justice we go to the Speaker of the House.

Mike Hubbard is the Speaker of the House. It was he who led the Republicans in their takeover of the Alabama legislature in 2010, the first time they had had control since Reconstruction. Following that success, Mr. Hubbard wrote a book entitled: “Storming the Statehouse” in which he said that “Ethics was a subject that set Republicans apart from the Democrats,” the setting apart being a result of pre-election indictments and scandals involving Democrats. On June 1, 2016, Mr. Hubbard’s criminal trial began. He faces trial on 23 felony ethics charges as a result of his conduct while Speaker of the House.

For the casual observer it is intriguing to speculate on what will happen next in Alabama. Will the governor be impeached? Will the Chief Justice be removed from the Alabama Supreme Court? Will Mike Hubbard go to prison? Stay tuned!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Quiz

It was as true as turnips is . . . It was as true . . . as taxes is. And nothing is truer than them.
—Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

This week’s column is a quiz. For purposes of the quiz, assume that you are in charge of running a business. Your business makes money by providing services to your customers for which the customers are expected to pay. Most of your customers pay as they are billed but, as in almost all businesses, there are a few people, known as deadbeats, who do not want to pay, and sometimes there are customers who need help in understanding how to calculate what they owe. One of your tasks is to decide how to deal with people who don’t pay for services they have received and as you analyze the situation, you realize that you have two choices.

Choice number one is to turn over the accounts of people who owe you money to a collection agency. It agrees to keep one-third of all the amounts it collects and to turn over the rest to you. Choice number two is to hire additional employees whose job is to collect the money your customers owe. Although you have to pay salaries to those employees, you keep all the money they collect and their salaries are not affected by their success rate. You know from past experience that for every dollar you invest in the in house collection process, your return is almost $5.00. What do you do?

Now an additional element is added to the quiz. Some years ago you hired an outside collection agency to collect the money you were owed. You were owed $1.4 billion. The collection agency led you to believe it would be able to collect that entire amount. Instead, it collected only $49 million, missing the goal you had set for it by $900,551,000. Do you keep working with the collection agency or bring the business in house?

Here is the next question. When the board of directors reviews the foregoing statistic one member of the board says: “the real choice is whether we use private collection agencies or let these tax debts go uncollected. I hope we don’t take an enormous step backward in our efforts to close the tax gap by eliminating a program that’s working.” Do you ask the board member what he means by “working” or do you just ignore him?

Now we introduce another factor. A majority of your board agrees that debt collection should remain in house and should not be farmed out to outside firms because of the very poor performance by the outside firm used in the past. But some members of the board are unhappy with a high ranking employee.That employee has tenure and has engaged in some activities that have nothing to do with the company’s collection efforts since they do not fall under the disliked employee’s jurisdiction. Since you lack the ability to fire the employee described above, do you express your displeasure with the activities of that employee by cutting funding for the collection department?

Here are your last two questions. Because the product you are selling is complicated, similar to, for example, a furniture product sold by Ikea, those dealing with your product frequently have questions as to how to assemble the information they have to provide you so you can tell them the cost of the services they have received. In order to make the process simpler you have historically hired people to answer questions on the telephone. In a typical year you got as many as 110 million calls from people wanting to pay their bills and needing help. Some of your board members are still unhappy with the above described employee. Do you reduce funding for the collection department so it can only answer 43 percent of the calls you receive each year? That is the end of the quiz. Here are the answers according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget has been cut by 17 percent since 2010, after adjusting for inflation, forcing the IRS to reduce its workforce, severely scale back employee training, and delay much-needed upgrades to information technology systems.  These steps, in turn, have weakened the IRS’s ability to enforce the nation’s tax laws and serve taxpayers efficiently . . . . As seven former IRS commissioners from both Republican and Democratic administrations have written:  “Over the last fifty years, none of us has ever witnessed anything like what has happened to the IRS appropriations over the last five years and the impact these appropriations reductions are having on our tax system.” Here is an additional bit of information: ignoring past experience Congress has decided that in some circumstances the IRS can once again use private debt collection agencies. Go figure.