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Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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  • SOUTH BEND – Two big political mistakes by Democrats in Congress, compounded now by seeking to blame it all on Sen. Joe Manchin, leave the shaky Democratic chances of retaining control of the House near zilch. And they depend on Donald Trump successfully backing really strange GOP Senate nominees to keep the 50-50 balance in that chamber. Big mistake No.1 for Democrats was thinking they were operating from a position of strength after Trump was defeated. With Joe Biden in the White House, Kamala Harris able to break ties in the 50-50 Senate and a Democratic House majority, exuberant party leaders began talking up, actually promising, a transformative progressive change to rival Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. That was totally unrealistic. Roosevelt and Johnson had large Democratic majorities in Congress, essential for sweeping changes. 
  • SOUTH BEND – It’s not dirt cheap. It really is dirt. But it’s not cheap. The cost is $110 plus shipping for a baggie containing four and a half ounces of this dirt, hailed as miracle stuff in fighting the effects of COVID-19, promoting a healthy heart and improving brain function. Those who buy it really need improved brain function. The miracle dirt from a Canadian bog has been selling through online ads attracting attention of anti-vaccine and COVID-denier folks. Then U.S. and Canadian health authorities restricted our freedom and trampled on our rights, imposing recalls and holds at the border. So, the pioneering provider of real medicine rather than fake vaccines closed down under pressure of the health Gestapo. Is all of this as clear as mud? Actually, mud is important. In quest of cures, it’s useful to muddy the waters. This very special dirt, sold as Black Oxygen Organics, popularly known as BOO, is billed as effective when mixed with water for a muddy drink. A toast: “Here’s mud in your eye.” Some of the enlightened users found cures by bathing in the muddy water.
  • SOUTH BEND – Politically, for what it’s designed to do, the Republican gerrymander in St. Joseph County is a beautiful thing. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. For Republican political purposes, it’s a beautiful plan, designed to perfection, drastically changing the three county commissioner districts to draw one district with as much of South Bend Democratic strength as possible, making the other two very likely to be won by Republicans. It’s aimed at providing a 2-1 Republican majority on the board of commissioners for a decade, until redistricting again in 2031, by surrendering completely one district to solidify chances of winning the other two. It’s also calculated to prevent the Democratic-controlled County Council, as it draws its districts, from a retaliatory gerrymander to assure that at least six of the nine council members will be Democrats. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Polls show that voters, when asked about a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, are signaling a tossup, with Trump slightly ahead in some samplings. This is a reflection of the plummeting approval ratings for President Biden. On June 1, the Real Clear Politics average approval for Biden in national polls was 53.32%, with a plus percentage over disapproval of 11.3%, higher than Trump ever approached. By the middle of last week, Biden’s average polling approval percentage was 41.3%, with a negative gap of 12.1%, down where Trump dwelled. Now, to put this in perspective: The 2024 presidential election is three years away. Whether there will be a Trump vs. Biden rematch is uncertain. Polls, even a few days before an election, don’t always show the outcome. They certainly can’t be regarded as highly accurate forecasts this far out.
  • SOUTH BEND - Mayor Pete brought smart streets, smart sewers and other infrastructure improvements to South Bend. Some constituents preferred the streets the way they had been, dumb or not. They liked fewer bike lanes and when streets offered more speed, less aesthetics. But the downtown was revitalized, population grew and civic pride was enhanced. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg now faces other needs for infrastructure improvements. This time, the scope is nationwide, involving everything from replacing crumbling bridges to modernizing our third-world airports, from improving safety of water and power systems to meeting highway needs and providing widespread internet service. Funding will come from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill finally passed by Congress. President Biden will sign the bill Monday. Buttigieg will use some of the same approaches he relied on locally to get things done. Challenges are a heck of a lot bigger. How he meets them will determine not only his political future, but also how successfully the nation tackles problems neglected for decades. He described himself as “a tech-oriented mayor,” with data-driven decisions, but with realization that more than just efficiency must be considered in evaluating the impact on people. He will be a tech-oriented secretary of transportation, but with realization that politics must be considered in seeking to do anything in Washington. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Progressive Democrats in Washington, thinking they were maneuvering from a position of strength, insisted on including just about everything but the kitchen sink before permitting votes on historic infrastructure and social safety net legislation. The result was passage of nothing as President Biden’s approval ratings plummeted and Democrats lost the Virginia governor race and almost blew the “sure thing” contest in New Jersey. If they actually had promised new kitchen sinks, they now would be blaming Sen. Joe Manchin for sinking the sinks. Failure to deliver on infrastructure and Build Back Better legislation certainly wasn’t the sole reason Democrats lost all in Virginia, where Biden had won by 10 percentage points, and struggled in New Jersey, where the Democratic governo
  • SOUTH BEND – I’m often asked about hate mail. Do I get much? And, if so, what do I do about it? Apparently, a lot of folks assume that a political columnist gets a lot of angry criticism, especially these days. True. Although, since I don’t get into social media wars, source of so much vituperation, the volume of denunciations is no higher than in decades past. It comes of course in e-mail now, not in an envelope that used to signal at times the tone of the message before the letter was opened. An address in crayon was a tip about content. One envelope contained ashes. The writer explained that the smoky content was the burned remnants of my column. There’s big difference between just an expression of disagreement, which is fine, and what reflects actual hate, the stuff of vicious bigotry and advocacy of violence. While I get some rather nasty stuff, most of what crosses the line to hate mail doesn’t come from any area readers but from afar. That’s when a column lands on a website of some group displeased with what I wrote. Like a militia group. My comments about gun violence once were posted on an NRA site. I quickly received over a hundred replies and an apology from an NRA official for the obscenity and suggestions. Not all the replies were outrageous. There’s room for disagreement even about gun violence. 
  • SOUTH BEND - How do you defend the Big Lie without lying? That’s a problem for many Republicans in Washington. They know, after all the failed court challenges, recounts, audits and lack of any suspicious traces of bamboo on Arizona ballots, that Donald Trump lost the presidential election. They also know that Trump continues to promote the Big Lie that he actually won. And he demands obedience in furtherance of that delusion from Republicans in the House and Senate and other elected offices around the nation. Trump stresses that his base won’t support Republicans who reject harping about a stolen election. Woe to any admitting that fraud allegations have been thoroughly and conclusively disproven. Trump warned bluntly in a recent statement: “If we don’t solve the presidential election fraud of 2020 - which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented - Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”
  • SOUTH BEND – Former Sen. Joe Donnelly appears to be a perfect choice for U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Perfect for representing President Biden, described by Donnelly during the presidential campaign as someone he knows to be sincere in faith “because I know Joe Biden, and I come from the same Irish Catholic faith tradition.” Perfect for Pope Francis, who can express church concerns for moral issues from climate change to world hunger to an ambassador who knows the president and knows the faith. Perfect for Senate confirmation prospects, with quick bipartisan support from Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young, who said: “Joe is a devout Catholic and longtime public servant, and I know he will serve the nation well and represent the best of our Hoosier values.”
  • SOUTH BEND – St. Joseph County Democratic officials are aghast over the Republican-controlled Board of Commissioners hiring a former Republican House speaker and other attorneys that challenged Donald Trump’s election loss to redistrict in the county. Aghast, I say, aghast! They are aghast that what they expect to be a blatant Republican gerrymander of the three commissioner districts is paid for by the taxpayers, with a commissioner-approved contract paying the attorneys up to $35,000 plus expenses. Aghast, I say, aghast! They already were aghast over the Republican-controlled state legislature’s redistricting that leaves Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski with even a slightly more favorable district in which she could win reelections for a decade. Aghast, I say, aghast! Should Democrats have been surprised? No. In the famous, oft-quoted words of William Marcy, a New York senator defending patronage clout of Andrew Jackson in 1832, “To the victor belong the spoils.”
  • SOUTH BEND – Democratic progressives seem to think they are operating from a position of strength. They aren’t. While Joe Biden got over 7 million more votes than Donald Trump – a fact, despite Trump’s protests – Democrats did poorly in congressional races, with 13 seats flipped from Democrats to Republicans, leaving Democrats with a weak and precarious control of Congress. They likely will lose control of the House in 2022. They will for sure if they make the same mistake made by Trump, costing him reelection as president. Trump concentrated on energizing his base, which he did successfully. But he rejected pleas of some of his own campaign advisers and Republican leaders to reach out beyond the base to moderates in the party and independents, particularly in crucial suburban areas. They wanted less strident rhetoric in tweets, rallies and coronavirus briefings. Democratic progressives could make the same mistake, energizing their base with uncompromising demands for all they cherish, but failing to reach out beyond to moderates in both parties and independents.
  • SOUTH BEND – Should we remove George Washington’s picture from the dollar bill? Why honor an authoritarian who mandated immunization, setting the precedent for overreaching mandates that threaten personal freedom and liberty today? Washington mandated that all Continental Army troops be immunized against some disease called smallpox. If it was “small,” was it that dangerous? So, he did worse than chop down a cherry tree. He stoked fear for political purposes, claiming smallpox was “more to dread” than the British. Treason! Washington got away with it. The stage was set for all the mandates to come for vaccinations. Parents thus are forced to vaccinate their children against all kinds of allegedly serious diseases. Polio is an example. Some guy named Jonas Fauci or something like that claimed he developed a polio vaccine in the 1950s. Parents have been forced ever since to have kids vaccinated against polio in order to start school. 
  • SOUTH BEND – The former vice president from Indiana comes across looking very good in the long-anticipated book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa on the final months of the Trump presidency. I’m not surprised. The former vice president looking so good is Dan Quayle, not Mike Pence. Excerpts from the book “Peril” include revelations about Pence being less resolute than previously portrayed in refusing to overturn election certification and how Quayle helped to stiffen Pence’s backbone, telling him to do the right thing in a phone conversation prior to Jan. 6. I’m not surprised. The authors – Woodward, legendary journalist of Watergate fame, and Costa, a 2008 Notre Dame graduate emerging as a top national journalist – tell of Pence calling Quayle, who presided in the constitutional role of vice president in certification of his own loss on the ticket with George H.W. Bush in 1992. Here’s the account of that pivotal call: Pence was asking repeatedly if there was some way to follow Trump’s demand to throw out election results. “Mike, you have no flexibility on this,” Quayle told him. “None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”
  • SOUTH BEND – Ready or not, it’s time for the first quiz of the new school year.

    1. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski called for President Biden to resign because he:
          a. Went along with President Trump’s deal with the Taliban to pull out of Afghanistan.
          b. Pulled out of Afghanistan amid chaos.
          c. Tried to bribe Ukraine officials to provide dirt on President Trump.

    2. After the Florida State game, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly:
          a. Called for expanded capital punishment.
          b. Praised sportswriters for their sense of humor.
          c. Referred to an old joke about a team’s poor execution.
  • SOUTH BEND – That upcoming special session of the Indiana General Assembly for redistricting is the subject of many words, spoken in legislative hearings, written in editorials, and uttered in presentations by citizen groups. But what’s the word about what will happen? Q. Will the Republican-dominated legislature refrain from partisan politics in drawing districts to reflect 2020 Census population changes? A. No. Q. So, will they draw districts that slither around like a salamander, just as in the first described gerrymander, named after Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, who drew the salamander shape in his redistricting plan while governor of Massachusetts? A. No. Q. Wait. Will they or will they not gerrymander? A. Gerrymandering now is defined as drawing districts to give a political advantage. They will do that. They will gerrymander quite skillfully. But with computers to analyze each precinct change, it’s possible to draw partisan districts that are compact, no salamander shapes of the type Gerry drew in 1812. Q. Then will most of the new Republican-drawn districts look nice and compact? A. Yes. Current districts, drawn in the Republican-controlled gerrymander after the 2010 Census, were mostly nice in terms of being compact, and very nice politically for the GOP, leading to continuous super majorities in both houses of the state legislature and election of Republicans in seven of the nine congressional districts.
  • SOUTH BEND – The Trump vaccine is amazing, developed more quickly and with more effectiveness than once thought possible, already saving hundreds of thousands of lives here and around the world. The former president’s Operation Warp Speed for vaccine development deserves praise from all in this divided land, including from Democratic critics who scoffed at the name and warned that Trump could be dangerously rushing development to save his faltering reelection bid. So, give Trump some credit. But wait. He doesn’t want it. He doesn’t boast about the speed and effectiveness of the Trump vaccine or urge unvaccinated Americans to take the life-saving shots. On Saturday at a MAGA rally in Alabama, Trump was booed when he mentioned the vaccine. “And you know what? I believe totally in your freedoms. I do. You’ve got to do what you have to do,” Trump said. “But I recommend take the vaccines. I did it. It’s good. Take the vaccines.” Some boos rang out from the crowd, who were largely maskless. “No, that’s OK. That’s all right. You got your freedoms.” And in a strange twist, vaccination rates are much lower in states Trump won than in states he lost.
  • SOUTH BEND – Indiana is not a good neighbor. It’s a deadly neighbor, exporting guns to gangs in Chicago, where every weekend and on many weekdays, too, a blizzard of bullets threatens and often kills little kids as well as intended gang targets. Most Hoosiers aren’t complicit, of course, but there is blood on the hands of those, including a lot of state legislators, who proudly point to the state’s lax gun laws that make buying a gun so easy, so fast, sometimes with no questions asked. They say they want it easy for “law-abiding” citizens to get guns for protection, for hunting, for collecting. Nothing wrong with those purposes, if those were the real purposes of all the purchasers. Too many have no intent to abide by the law. They want to get away with murder. “Straw purchasers,” as they are called, obtain in Indiana many of the weapons used in violence in Chicago, where stiffer regulations make it more difficult to buy guns.
  • SOUTH BEND – How many Americans believe the Big Lie? A lot. I hear from some when I write about the Big Lie that Donald Trump actually won reelection and soon will return as president, following vote “auditing” and searching for bamboo in Arizona and “discovery” of massive vote fraud in other states. After a column about a company called Cyber Ninjas conducting its pro-Trump Arizona “auditing,” including testing for bamboo on ballots to see if they came from Asia, and pursuit of other nutty conspiracy theories, a reader had this evaluation: “You are a liar.” Those who want to believe QAnon theories about Trump’s presidency being restored – though predictions on dates for this keep getting missed – aren’t going to be swayed by facts. But belief in the Big Lie that Joe Biden actually lost isn’t as widespread as sometimes portrayed. Most Republicans in Congress, even ones who voted against accepting the certified election results, know better and will say, perhaps reluctantly and in terms to avoid angering the Trump base, that Biden won and is president.
  • SOUTH BEND – Three years ago, in a column published on July 29, 2018, I wrote that Pete Buttigieg, then mayor of South Bend, should run for president. Shows what I know about politics. Mayor Pete ran for president. He lost. He could instead have easily won a third term as mayor. And he would not now face pressures of dealing with the nation’s roads, rails, airports and bridges and seeking a trillion dollars to fix them. Actually, I said in that column that I thought Buttigieg would indeed run for president, “and will not win.” But he would win by losing. I never thought Buttigieg would win the presidency in 2020, although it seemed possible after his spectacular showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. Even before that, he had some chance. If Donald Trump could be elected, who couldn’t be president? Buttigieg became one of the finalists for the Democratic nomination.
  • SOUTH BEND – Joy would abound in post offices throughout the land if it were not for the “De” before “Joy.” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Donald Trump’s appointee last year in strategy to sabotage delivery of absentee ballots, still directs the postal slowdown we all experience. President Biden can’t fire DeJoy. That can be done only by a nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors, all of whom until recently had been appointed by Trump. Slowly replacements are being confirmed. It takes time. “Get used to me,” DeJoy told critics at a congressional hearing earlier this year. He’s not planning to go anywhere but to stay on, playing a part in Trump’s revenge. He’s unpopular with many Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress. They all hear complaints from constituents about slowdowns in postal service and concerns about further cutbacks. Many families had problems last Christmas with packages arriving after the holiday even though mailed in time for promised pre-Christmas delivery. My family did. 
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  • South Bend Mayor Mueller hopes pandemic ending
    “And to get even bolder, I hope this is the last community event, big community event, hat is delayed or canceled because of COVID-19. We are weeks away from turning the corner and putting this behind us once and for all. I know we are excited to get there, and right now it is a little disappointing.” - South Bend Mayor James Mueller, speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. event on Monday. St. Joseph County Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox: “I think we are certainly weeks away from being through the worst of the omicron phase. We may have crested now or sometime in the next week, probably, we will hit our peak at omicron. And the recovery from that should almost be as rapid as the rise was. While it’s caused a lot of infections, the duration is going to be relatively short-lived.”
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