Haunted House
Rob Rogers

The following editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer on Tuesday, Oct. 24:

It should come as no surprise that a commission — created by President Donald Trump and headed by Vice President Mike Pence — to investigate voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election is floundering.

Even when created, the group lacked a well-defined mission. And it was no mystery, even to Trump’s top-level advisers, as to why he created the group in the first place. Trump wants to be able to proclaim himself a winner of a landslide victory in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.

And he simply refuses to believe that he could have lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million to Clinton, whom he despised and railed against on the campaign trail, to the exclusion of any discussion of serious issues or any specific plans for policy changes. Trump was just blustering from city to city, enjoying the cheers of his most ardent supporters as he talked about “Crooked Hillary.” But Trump, whose understanding of the finer points of the American electoral system is sketchy, never believed he would be elected.

And when he was, by a substantial majority in the Electoral College despite a substantial shortfall in the popular vote, Trump was determined to prove that his victory was overwhelming in all ways, and that the only way he could have lost the popular vote was through a fluke that was the product of voter fraud.

So enter his commission, which is supposed to be proving Trump’s viewpoint, though its stated purpose is to investigate fraud.

Vice President Pence, who likely isn’t all that happy with the endeavor, now finds himself astride a horse that seems to be going nowhere but is plagued by internal strife. The Associated Press reports that some commission members (there are only four Democrats on the 11-member panel) are complaining they’re not in the loop and have a hard time finding out when meetings are. In addition, Democratic U.S. senators say the commission isn’t responding to requests for information from Congress and some are even saying they want an investigation of the commission.

President Trump, in claiming election fraud — how else, in his mind, could he have lost the popular vote? — really didn’t appoint a group to conduct an honest inquiry. He built windmills and ordered members of the commission to tilt at them, and then report to him upon completion of their mission that he actually won the popular vote by a huge margin.

But it’s always a mistake to decide what the outcome of an investigation is going to be before the investigation has been completed — or, in this case, has even begun.

The appointment of this group was a mistake from the beginning, a silly exercise designed by a president whose own ego and desire to aggrandize himself dominates his every statement, his every action, in public life. If Trump were politically savvy, which he is not, he would quietly disband the group and dismantle the windmills.

 

Why won’t the GOP fight for the little guy?

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday, Oct. 27:

The Senate on Wednesday yanked away one of the few remaining tools that consumers can use when banks and other financial corporations abuse their authority and unlawfully victimize customers. Despite a growing list of such abuses, the Senate voted 51-50 to prohibit consumers from joining in class-action lawsuits against those institutions.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote, which now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature. Republican maverick-wannabes — Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Bob Corker of Tennessee — disappointingly joined the pack on this one. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., previously led the fight for passage on the House side.

The effect of their prohibition is to force customers — folks like you — to deal individually with very wealthy and lawyer-laden financial corporations when disputes arise. You cannot band together with other aggrieved parties and go to court, even if there’s a demonstrated pattern of abuse by the corporations affecting millions of customers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established after the 2007-2008 financial crisis to impose greater scrutiny on the banking industry, had determined that mandatory arbitration clauses gave big financial corporations an unfair advantage over consumers. Such clauses typically are contained in the fine print of credit card or bank account agreements.

The CFPB in July declared that banks could not restrict customers from banding together in class-action lawsuits. It was a victory for the little guy.

Because of the Senate vote, big financial corporations will be able to behave with impunity. The worst that’ll happen to them is a few individual customers will get disputes arbitrated behind closed doors for a relatively small payout.

Consider a few of the recent scandals, such as Wells Fargo secretly opening credit accounts in customers’ names without their permission, then billing them for the service. Or Wells Fargo billing car-loan customers for insurance they didn’t need or want. Or Equifax, the corporation that accesses your entire financial background to tell lenders whether you’re credit-worthy, allowing a data breach that exposed roughly half of Americans’ Social Security numbers and other vital information.

Whatever harm consumers suffer in future cases will have to be hashed out in an arbitration session instead of a court of law. The results of such sessions are sealed, so there’s no way to know how the little guy fares against corporations and their hordes of lawyers.

But rest assured, it’s an unfair fight from the start, and that’s by design.

Trump organized his presidential campaign to appeal to the Regular Joes and Janes out there who feel no one in Washington is fighting for their interests. But when he signs this bill, it’s the Joes and Janes who will suffer. The Republicans have declared with this vote exactly who they’re fighting for: Wall Street fat cats.

In post-Harvey Houston, the Astros’ win is especially sweet

The following editorial appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday, Oct. 24:

For only the second time since they joined Major League Baseball as an expansion team in 1962 as the Colt .45s, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series, facing the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” That poignant line from Field of Dreams takes on a special meaning for the Astros and their fans in Houston and throughout Texas.

Less than two months ago, baseball was a distant thought in the Houston area. Residents were battered by nearly 50 inches of rain dumped by Hurricane Harvey, fighting to save their possessions — or even their lives. For five long days, they suffered but also endured. Finally, on Aug. 30, the sun appeared.

All during that time, baseball continued. The Astros built what would become an insurmountable lead in the AL West, one that carried them to a division title.

As the cleanup in Houston continued, the baseball playoff picture began to come into focus. When the regular season ended Oct. 1, the Astros knew they’d face a tough task in their march to the World Series.

They were up to it, though. After dispatching two baseball giants in the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the Astros will attempt to bring the World Series trophy to Texas — and a city eager for a happy diversion.

As the final out settled into the glove of Astros center fielder George Springer on Saturday night, the eruption of cheers by Houston fans took on a special meaning. For so many of those fans, it meant setting aside, at least momentarily, thoughts of repairs and rebuilding and ruin. It was time to savor that win — and the possibility of an even larger victory to come.

Baseball — the one constant through all the years — endures. Whether it is in the midst an earthquake like in 1989, or watching players take the field after the horror of the 9/11 attacks, the sport gives people reason to dream about the joy of a championship for their city. It gives them a little respite from the realities of life.

From veteran players like Jose Altuve to newcomers such as Justin Verlander, the Astros recognized what a trip to the World Series meant. They had seen the devastation and responded. They visited shelters, donated money, stocked food banks.

They want to do more, to bring the World Series championship home to fans, too.

Count us among the fans rooting for that win, too.

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