Welcome to Thunderdome

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Agreeing Loudly’s Empiricist-In-Chief correctly predicted the naming of a Special Prosecutor, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named just prior to this going to publication.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and Girls. Dying Time is Here…” — Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

By Justin Norris

As we watch the slowing moving car crash that is the Trump administration, and as we watch the GOP in Congress react to said car crash, it is important to remember a few important points.

First, Trump was never popular with most of the GOP elite writ large. Not just in Congress, but across the nation.

Second, like much of the country, it is doubtful that the GOP political establishment believed Trump was going to win the 2016 election.

Third, The Republican civil war was, and is, real.

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When you take these things into account it goes a long way towards explaining the peculiar predicament we find ourselves in today. There was no real plan, and the political establishment for both parties are playing it by ear.

To lend some context here, we should discuss the nature of governance in the American political system. As any student of American politics can tell you, eliciting lasting change within the separation of powers system is difficult under the best of circumstances. Because of how our system is structured there are numerous choke points throughout the legislative process for which bills can die. Indeed, the most likely outcome for any given bill is an unceremonious death. If one has any hope of getting bills enacted into law it requires large enough political coalitions in both chambers of Congress to circumvent the many different choke points, and then it must get past presidential action. And things have only become more difficult as political polarization has increased in recent times.

Since the political parties have become increasingly ideologically homogenous, and because the political parties have moved farther apart both ideologically and politically unified government has become critical for the political parties if they have any hope of enacting their agendas. This is why the GOP elites have been willing thus far to seemingly ignore anything approaching principles. They know this may be their only real chance to push through their agenda for some time. So like any good political opportunists, and most of the denizens of Washington are political opportunists, they know they would be fools to not at least try to take advantage of the hand they’ve been dealt.

This is precisely why folks like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and much of the GOP rank and file in Congress have been willing to play along up to this point, and why most of them will continue to play along. They have their eyes on the prize.

Like all good cons, this includes a gamble. The GOP elite know that Trump is deeply unpopular. They also know that Trump is incompetent. They’re hoping that despite this they can get through much of their agenda before everything implodes. They hope that winning the legislative victories their political base so deeply craves will be sufficient to shore up enough political support as to withstand the likely backlash they will face in the 2018 midterm elections. And even if the majority does not survive the midterm, they will have at least moved the agenda forward and hopefully put some points on the board by making lasting policy changes.

As far as plans go in American politics this is not a bad one. Indeed, if these were normal times, and if this was a normal president, I’d say this plan would have better than fair odds of working.

But these aren’t normal times, and this isn’t a normal president.

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Some people will read the preceding statements as partisan or ideological. I want to be crystal clear on this point. They are not. Yes, I absolutely have my own political preferences, but I am not discussing those preferences here.

If these were normal political conditions we would not have a sitting president with record low approval ratings for this point in a presidency. We are only a little more than 100 days in, and to date the president has fired an attorney general, fired a national security advisor, fired the head of the FBI, given code word intelligence to the Russians (in the White House no less), and if reporting is to be believed, the president is likely going to fire more members of White House staff by the end of the week. And these are only but a handful of the things that have happened thus far.

Within a little more than 100 days we have had John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, state in a public forum that things are starting to look a lot like Watergate. Jason Chaffetz, the epitome of political opportunism, and chair of the House oversight committee has gotten the Speaker of the House to sign on to a letter formally demanding that the FBI hand over all materials related to communications between former director Comey and the president.

This is not normal. Not by a long shot.

As previously stated, the Republicans in Congress knew Trump was inept. To be fair, Trump is, by all accounts a complete and total political amateur, so some ineptitude would likely be inevitable, even he had good instincts for governance. However, Trump has shown a shocking level of ignorance as it relates to the separation of powers system in general, and the nature of governance for the executive branch in particular. In other words, the GOP had no idea just how incompetent Trump really is. Nor did they know how petty and vindictive he really is. And they are all together unprepared to deal with it.

Another wrinkle in the plan is the lack of a plan. Since the GOP didn’t think they were going to win, they did not have any cohesive policy initiatives ready at the starting gate. Paul Ryan has had a list of talking points and unscored, half-baked, initiatives he has been selling for years, but none of them were ready for them to pull the trigger. This has left the GOP scrambling to cobble things together as they have gone. And the results have been disastrous.

Part of the reason the GOP was left flat footed stems from the nature of the GOP caucus in the House, and to a lesser extent, the nature of the GOP conference in the Senate. The GOP, especially in the House, has been fighting its own intraparty war for years now. Though it is cliché to say, the different party factions really do believe they are fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. For outsiders, the differences between the GOP factions may seem trivial, but for insiders they are deeply important, and within the more extreme factions there is a rallying cry for purity at all costs. In other words, there is a lot more disagreement among Republicans than many realize.

This conflict was apparent in the fight waged between House Republicans to get the healthcare bill through the House. The party nearly ripped itself to shreds getting the bill through to the Senate, and the resulting bill is so unpopular the Senate GOP essentially declared it DOA. And repealing and replacing Obamacare was supposed to be the easy part of the agenda. It will only get harder from there.

Despite this, the Republicans in Congress are still largely standing by the president, at least publicly, because they know they may not have this kind of opportunity again for some time. Trump may be deeply flawed but he is still the only viable political option they have at this juncture. But as the scandals deepen, and the drip, drip, drip of news stories continue, the likelihood of political derailment increases. And the longer this goes on, the harder it will become.

Which begs the question, what now?

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As the public moves farther away from Trump, and as his unpopularity deepens, the likelihood that Trump will take the GOP down with him increases. The signs are already coming into place that the 2018 midterm elections could be disastrous for the GOP in Congress.

For example, despite flooding special elections with unheard of amounts of money Republicans have either narrowly held on to a seat that they normally carry by over 20 points, or the race has been forced into a runoff. The GOP will not be able to defend all of their districts this way in the midterm, and some analyses suggest that if the midterms were held today only between 100-150 ‘safe’ Republican seats could withstand the backlash.

Moreover, several credible polls have come out in the last two weeks suggesting that Democrats hold a double-digit lead in the so-called ‘generic ballot,’ a routine polling question asking respondents to either state their preference for who should run Congress or state which party they would vote for. One poll puts the gap at sixteen points. To put this in context, an eight to nine point gap often signals a defeat for the majority party.

However, the election is not being held tomorrow, and a week can be a lifetime in American politics, let alone almost two years. The Republicans have time, and unless things get worse, or even if they stay the same, the GOP in Congress will have little incentive to break away from the Trump administration for some time.

But what about Watergate? This is a question I’ve heard often in the last few days, and I readily admit that the comparison easily comes to mind. It is true that the Republicans in Congress turned against Nixon, and stood for the republic against their own president. However, it’s important to point out that the Republicans were the minority party at that time, and most Republicans did not turn against Nixon until the end, after two long years. Even still, some Republicans stood with Nixon to the bitter end. It is entirely possible that if Republicans controlled Congress the situation would have played out quite differently.

That being said, cracks are beginning to form. Some rank and file Republicans are openly discussing impeachment, and some GOP leaders are calling for more stringent investigations. But that’s all it is at this point, talk. If things remain as they are, and do not get worse, it is possible that the GOP will stick with Trump and take their chances in the midterm elections. But if things continue to get worse, which I think is likely, I fully expect more and more rank and file Republicans will break ranks and openly run against Trump because they want to try and save their seats. If things continue to get worse we will reach a point where congressional leadership will cut their losses and turn against Trump to try and salvage the party brand, if not the majorities themselves.

And this may not result in impeachment. At this juncture impeachment is a real possibility, which is not something I was willing to say two weeks ago, but I still don’t think it’s likely. At least not soon. I think it’s more likely that if things continue to deteriorate GOP leadership will cave and put together a bipartisan commission to investigate. If things get really bad they may move to appoint a special prosecutor. It is also possible that events will connive to take things out of their hands.

For example, the Justice Department could conceivably appoint a special prosecutor, or the different grand juries could deliver indictments. In which case the calculus for the GOP largely remains the same. Except now they have some additional cover, because they can point to the nonpartisan investigations and say, ‘we should not be hasty until the investigations conclude.’

However, I think it’s likely that most of the GOP’s legislative agenda is dead. Credible polling data consistently shows that a solid majority of likely voters are strongly opposed to Trump and the GOP legislative agenda. Solid majorities also favor thorough nonpartisan investigations. And as the media dedicates more time and resources to covering the cascading Trump scandals it will destroy any momentum behind legislative prerogatives, regardless of whether there is ultimately an independent investigation(s).

Given how egregiously the GOP in Congress broke from norms, protocol, and traditions during the Obama administration I don’t feel bad for them.

Unfortunately, as it was during the Obama administration, this is bad for the republic.

But if Republicans in Congress are indeed reaping what they have sewn then my response is this:

Welcome to Thunderdome.  

Agreeing Loudly’s Allan Branstiter Receives Accolades for Coverage of Veterans’ Issues

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LOS ANGELES, CA—Agreeing Loudly columnist Allan Branstiter received the accolades for his deft and insightful coverage of veterans issues. Jack and Jason, two prestigious and influential New media, poured praise for Branstiter’s work.

“I have been browsing online more than 3 hours nowadays,” Jack remarked about Branstiter’s article covering the obvious plight of a Minneapolis veteran who spend days soliciting the thanks of civilians on Memorial Day , “yet I by no means discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is beautiful value sufficient for me.”

Jason was evidently more impressed by Branstiter’s journalistic bravery, explaining “I believe that you simply could do with [just] a few p.c. to power the message house a bit, but instead of that, this is an excellent blog. . . . I will certainly be black.”

Both urged Agreeing Loudly’s editorial staff to pay Branstiter market rates for his contributions to their website. His peers universally agree.

“To be honest,” mused Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, “as exceptional as Troy Olson and Carson Starkey are, you can find writers just like them pretty easily. Allan Branstiter’s the unicorn of online journalism. You’re not going to find another Allan Branstiter.”

“Forget once in a generation,” stated David Brooks, “he’s more of a once in a lifetime talent.”

Retired public radio personality Garrison Keillor was more subdued in his praise for Branstiter’s growing influence. “I consider it an intensely personal failure on my part that Allan Branstiter hates me,” he said, “I worked for decades under the apparently misguided conception that I was good at my job; however, I’m clearly the embodiment of bad white liberalism and a stain upon the very term ‘entertainer.'”

While the Agreeing Loudly editorial staff could not be reached at press time, Branstiter’s colleague Carson  Starkey offered his praise. “Allan Branstiter is the Ta-Nehisi Coates of America’s veteran community,” he remarked. “Inequality and injustice flee at the sound of his keystroke.”

The Associated Press attempted to contact Jack and Jason; however, a “trojan horse” cracked their internal email server and emptied the organization’s trust fund.

Local Man Excited Encyclopedic Knowledge of Clinton Scandals Once Again Politically Relevant

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WABASSO, MN — Firing up the wireless transistor radio duct-taped to the roof of his Bobcat skid-loader, local man and long-time conservative talk radio enthusiast Bruce Haldorson, is optimistic that his extensive knowledge of 1990’s Clinton Administration scandals will propel him back into political relevancy. Haldorson, who subscribed to the the Wall Street JournalLimbaugh Letter, and American Spectator from 1994 to 1999, looks forward to fervidly espousing his contention that the Clintons got away with tens—if not hundreds—of criminal acts during the 1990s. “A lot of people forget that Slick Willy sold nuclear secrets to the Chi-Coms for campaign contributions,” Haroldson, who once sold food stamps to fund a trip to Dayton Beach in 1995. “Thanks to Donald Trump we’ll finally have an open discussion about Hill and Bill’s involvement in Troopergate, Travelgate, Whitewater, the Vince Foster murder, Filegate, Pardongate, and Able-Danger, and I’ll be able to participate fully at the local Cenex station.” Haroldson went on to assert that Chelsea Clinton’s real father is actual Hillary Clinton’s former law partner Web Hubbell, while repeatedly asserting that Secretary Clinton is actually a “crypto-lesbian.”

Kleiner Mann Joe Blue Collar, Was Nun?: The Way Forward for Those Who Don’t Care About The Heritage Foundation’s Agenda

By Carson Starkey

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Darren McCollester | Getty Images

Hans Fallada’s “Little Man, What Now?” was first published in 1932. Johannes Pinneberg, the protagonist, faces constant economic anxieties, petty humiliations, and social disillusionment in post-World War One Germany. He travels through a broad range of emotions, but most of all, he feels disconnected and abandoned…abandoned by faceless, uncaring “leaders.” As he sees it, somebody should be looking out for him. He doesn’t hold grandiose, sophisticated ideas about public policy, history, economics, or politics. He wants a steady job, a place to live free from his repulsive mother-in-law, affordable healthcare for his wife Emma, and food for his son Horst. He’s not angry about socialism, trade unionism, or fascism. He’s angry that self-declared “serious” people in government can’t or won’t protect him from avoidable misery. A fair number of scholars assert that the book acts a broad explanation for the future political success of fascism in Germany. Johannes Blue Collar wasn’t obsessed with waging expensive, seemingly endless warfare or subjugating everyone that disagreed with him politically. He just wanted to pay his bills and maintain some measure of human dignity. Of course that was true in 1932. It has been true throughout the course of human history. It’s true today. Which brings us to Joe Blue Collar in contemporary America and his broad interest in, if not sympathy with, Donald Trump.

What has been most intriguing, in my view anyway, about the rise of Trumpism (broad, detail-free populist declarations about making America great) are the reactions among Establishment or respectable conservatives. “Establishment conservatives” has come to mean Republican Party voters that favor millionaire welfare checks, eternal warfare with Muslims, and racial segregation without the burden of supporting a politically inexperienced, orange-skinned, toupee-adorned grifter who plies shoddy products at Macy’s. Now that Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee, respectable conservatives are melting down in highly public, Mel Gibson-esque spectacles that reveal the ugly yet honest ideological foundations of American conservatism. Respectable, establishment conservatives claim to care about intellectually serious matters like Supreme Court nominees, small government, or fiscal restraint…although no evidence exists to support the contention that those same conservatives have ever worried about such matters in the past three quarters of a century, unless we mean preserving low tax rates for rich people or criminalizing the existence of non-white people. No, what rankles self-proclaimed grown-up conservatives about Trump is that he’s giving away the inside game by verifying an uncomfortable suspicion that Heritage Foundation “scholars” have always attempted to suppress during campaigns. That is, most self-proclaimed conservative voters don’t care about the Ayn Rand agenda. While abolishing taxation, dissolving social insurance, and building Pax Americana are important causes to people who work at The Wall Street Journal, all that Jane or Joe Blue Collar care about relates to making financial ends meet. Which makes conservative aristocrats angry bordering on hysterical.

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We Could all Learn a Thing or Two from the Smarter Bush

by Allan Branstiter

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The Associated Press released a video of America’s favorite idiot hitting the campaign trail on behalf of this under-performing wet noodle of a brother. I know a lot of liberals still really hate Dubya, but I’ve got a special place in my heart for this affable war criminal. I mean, really – watch him work this room in South Carolina:

Don’t you miss this guy? George W. Bush is everything his brother is not: engaging, approachable, self-deprecating (in a good way), and comfortable. Liberals have underestimated this guy’s political savvy  to their own detriment for years, but I love the guy and his late-life painting hobby to pieces.

Can Dubs save Jeb(!) from a bloodbath in South Carolina at the hands of Trump and Cruz? This #JebNoFilter video doesn’t give me much hope:

*shudders*

Who’s advising this guy? It’s like someone made a check-list of things they think Millennials are into. Coffee? Check. Minimalist logo? Check. Mark Zuckerburg? Check. Hashtag? Check. Hoodie? Check. Also, how can we trust a guy who can’t figure out a zipper with the presidency?

Yeah, I know my boy G-Dub is so dumb that he was nearly assassinated by a pretzel. But he made it look so bad-ass in the process! And who among us ISN’T being slowly killed by the garbage we’re constantly shoving down our gullets? Don’t you miss the guy?

I know I do. We could all learn a thing or two from George W. Bush. Especially Jeb…

…and at least he didn’t say “We’re all Africans.”

The Ridiculous Notion of the “Business & Industry” Candidate

 

by Troy M. Olson

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After the article: check out the Iowa-centric “Agreeing Loudly” Flagship Podcast. 

It is safe to say we’ve all underestimated the popular appeal of Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States. Left, center, or right, inside or outside the beltway, Main Street, Wall Street or Evergreen Terrace – anyone who pays nominal attention to American politics has to be somewhat surprised by his recent political fortunes. We’ll find out this week just how much that appeal in the polls translates into actual results of course, but we’ve all been just a little bit wrong about Trump.

What I’m interested in taking a look at is not so much the story this week but what the story and Trump narrative could be looking forward. Thus far, Trump’s candidacy is the closest you can get to the “internet comments” running for President. On one hand, his candidacy has been characterized as George Wallace-like in its level of cynicism. On the other hand, as Carson Starkey pointed out this week on Twitter: “Strange times when both parties feature candidates demanding fair trade, higher wages, and economic mobility.”

People forget that the ’68 Wallace candidacy featured similar xenophobia for one group (segregationists and white supremacists in the South), but economic populism for another group (working class voters in the North). Wallace carried the staunch segregationist hold-out states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. He was competitive in border states like Tennessee, Kentucky as well as the eastern old confederacy states of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. But where else did Wallace play outside of the South? The rust belt. Industrialized and working class states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. With Trump as GOP nominee, this type of campaign can only take him so far. This is why I think any ultimate Trump candidacy, especially once the larger GOP establishment gets involved, will be based first and foremost, on his life spent in business. In other words: Willard Romney 2.0 Real Estate Edition.

If you are hoping for a third consecutive Democratic administration, this is a good thing. After all, how is President Willard Romney doing? Every time the GOP has trotted out the so-called “business & industry” candidate that candidate has lost and lost badly. Donald Trump, if he is the GOP nominee and if they take his message in that direction, will go into the dustbin of losing Presidential campaigns. He would be better served strategically by playing to his strengths. Many of Trump’s supporters consider him like themselves: the “unpolished” or non-political “outsider” who disdains “political correctness.”

For someone who inherited a real estate fortune via contacts, businesses, and eventually, the Trump estate itself, this is a remarkable feat that Romney could have never pulled off.

Prior to Trump, Romney and GOP establishment attempted to position Willard as the problem-solving, turnaround artist of the private sector during the 2012 Presidential Election. Romney had spent most of his career in private equity; an impenetrable and unexplainable profession disdained by most voters from both sides of the aisle. Romney came off as overly patrician, too East Coast for a modern day GOP nominee, and compounded this image with his tone deaf 47 percent gaffe at a private fundraiser in front of millionaire and billionaire funders, who did not seem to appreciate the irony that they were the biggest recipients of “welfare” in the country in the form of tax cuts, subsidies and giveaways to choice-industries, friendly inheritance and estate tax laws, and immediate access to the best accountants and tax lawyers in the country to take advantage of every last rule in our convoluted tax code.

Prior to Romney, Herbert Hoover was elected President in 1928 during an age where so-called serious people thought that “boom and bust” business cycles were a thing of the past. Hoover was an actual good version of the “business & industry” candidate image. Coming from a considerably more humble background, Hoover really did “bootstrap” himself upward to the extent that exists in a time when upward mobility, at least for those who had access to it (i.e. White Males), was actually more viable. Hoover had considerable success in the mining industry and was Secretary of Commerce during the 1920s. It seemed sensible to the GOP “Dukes and Earls” of the day to select Hoover to succeed Calvin Coolidge.

Less than a year into Hoover’s first year in office, the stock market crash, the Great Depression began, and it was the humble-pie background Herbert Hoover that played the role of the weak, apathetic, or ineffectual leader in history just prior to a great leader, FDR. Hoover’s philosophy that the economy will run and reboot itself, and that government should take little role in influencing the economy or ensure the economic security of people, fit in well with the “roaring twenties”, but became a tone-deaf, do-nothing figure during the early years of the Great Depression. It was FDR, the New Deal, and massive amounts of Government spending and Keynesian economics that characterized the years when conventional wisdom would have told us that a “business, industry, and economic” leader is needed to have a “calm and steady” hand. FDR was not only patrician, but his politics most resemble Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders today. How things have changed.  

 

So why have “business & industry” candidates or leaders fared so poorly? Mostly, it’s a complete fiction. There is no such “business” experience that prepares anyone for the U.S. Presidency. It can be part of a larger story, but it cannot be the story. Most business experiences create a knowledge of that specific industry, but not how other businesses might work and certainly not how macroeconomics works. Call it the Specialists vs. Generalists problem. 

Mr. Trump may know real estate, he may know the deal, he clearly has proven to be a great marketer of himself, but he is no business expert, and certainly no economic expert. His campaign has been razor thin on specifics, but lets look at two of them:

First, the “wall” and Trump’s plan to deport 12 million people. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe, resulting in a considerable loss of “soft power” and respect around the world, his deportation and construction of a wall at the U.S. – Mexico border would also wreck the U.S. economy. Very few U.S. citizens are competing for the same jobs undocumented immigrants are currently doing. This labor shortage in these jobs would have a very real effect on the economy creating a “demand” problem.

Second, Trump’s proposal of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports is a pure economic fantasy. The resulting effect would not be aid to the manufacturing sector, but rather would be importing fewer goods period, which would then result in a loss of manufacturing jobs. A “supply” problem. People forget that the U.S. still manufacturers a great deal of goods, but we do it after importing cheaper raw materials, from countries like China. Trump thinks he is getting the best “deal” and doing good for American workers with this proposal. If he seriously believes that, who knows… but I always argue ignorance is more forgivable than cynicism and pandering to fears and prejudices. This proposal could have other negative effects that spill over into geo-politics. China would seek new trading partners to do business with and the second largest economy in the world would grow more isolated from the largest. Increasing tensions with China is the last thing the U.S. or China should seek in the 21st century.

Like Romney and Hoover before him, Trump would fail miserably as a “business” or “economic” expert candidate. Because he isn’t an expert at either. He is like most of us, a specialist.

Public leaders with high aspirations and ambitions should seek to be good generalists as much as possible, with a decent grasp of not just politics, but history, economics, philosophy, and the law as well, starting with the U.S. Constitution, a document I imagine Mr. Trump has never read all the way through.

The real qualities worth looking for in a President, the qualities that are transferable throughout history: leadership, judgment, and character. 

A subject for another day, perhaps further along in the primary season once we have more clarity.

 

 

The Grift Machine: Episode I – Publicly Funded Sports Stadiums

Taxpayer Funded Sports Stadium Cartoon

by Troy M. Olson

The Rams franchise is heading back to their original city of Los Angeles, leaving the city of St. Louis behind and loyal fans crushed. All of this after the city of St. Louis promised to fund $150 million with more public funding to come from the state of Missouri.

It was a competitive offer and a large amount of the commentary since has been centered around how betrayed these fans feel (understandable) and how the National Football League and their team owners have behaved dishonorably in rejecting that deal to move the Rams to Los Angeles, one of the largest media markets in the country, who have been without an NFL franchise since the 1990’s.

What is lost in all of this is how this is actually the first time in a long while where the most amount of people in these stadium negotiations and deals have won out. Who are these winners? The public.

While it may not be consolation to dry the tears of Rams fans watching their 1999 playoff run on repeat this year, the city of St. Louis now has $150 million more they can allocate toward infrastructure, public safety, utilities, sewer maintenance, public projects, parks, and other areas that are “essential” features of what services are demanded and expected from the taxpaying public. Furthermore, the state of Missouri has millions more to spend on schools, health services, social services, roads, bridges and other infrastructure updates and projects. Those features are societal “needs.” Having an NFL franchise playing in your city, as nice as it is, is a societal “want.”Even that is being generous. Because like so many “grift machines” in American life today, a majority of people do not “want” this.

Simply put, owners have pitted the interests of sports fan’s love for their teams against the interest of the public. In nearly every case, the vocal minority of sports fans have got their way, political leaders could take credit, and the public loses. But the real winner every time is ownership and the league itself. Using threats to relocate the beloved franchise if demands for stadium financing are not met, owners have a stacked deck against both fans and the wider public. In any other factual scenario, especially one between two private actors, we would call this extortion. But since in these instances we have a public entity, either the municipality where the stadium is or would be located and the state potentially contributing funds – it would be fair to call this extortion and misuse of public funds.

It would be one thing if sports stadiums had a positive economic impact, but they don’t. In fact, public subsidies in the form of welfare checks to billionaire sports owners have a negative impact on both the area economy and the budget. Nine out of ten economists agree that public subsidies for sports stadiums is bad. Considering that economists have far less consensus building than scientists do, this agreement among academics and policy analysts is pretty strong.

This is just the latest in a long line of unfortunate episodes of taxpayer funded sports stadiums either in whole or part. Like so many other in American life today issues, it is tantamount to another round of welfare checks to billionaires that goes under-reported, unnoticed, and not acted on by leaders. What makes this issue particularly grating is that this theft of public dollars for private profit is seemingly bipartisan a lot of the time. Big city Democratic mayors and Democratic and Republican Governors have time and again, helped to broker deals to help billionaire sports owners finance new stadiums with public money.

Why? No intellectually honest or accurate assessment could stress the economic benefits, is the answer political? Support from the public? Once again, no.

Most polling for specific publicly funded stadium proposals have not been supported by the public. 69 percent were against public funding in one poll. The most friendly one I could find was in the city of Buffalo, perhaps the most hardcore and loyal football fanbase for an NFL team. The public was split 50/50 on the issue. There simply is no empirical evidence that the public supports taxpayer subsidized stadiums.

For decades the conversation has revolved around team ownership and the league interest, which has been placed ahead of the fans who have in turn been placed ahead of the public interest. For most other issues of heavily public subsidizing of big business, liberals and Democrats are up in arms over it. They have been silent, however, all too often over this issue. But it is the same principle at work. While many Democratic leaders have cowered in the face of billionaire owners threatening to move the team elsewhere, the leader of the party has finally called for some common sense on the issue. He would be right.

For the NFL specifically, the 16 stadiums that held opening games this year saw 3 billion dollars in public funding that will only enable the team ownership to increase the value of the franchise, raise ticket prices, alienate fans and hurt the integrity of the sport, and ultimately, end up with us all right back at the same place, asking for a new public subsidy in twenty years or so. It is time to end this “grift machine.” 

In curbing a world-class, well-oiled, “grift machine” – half-measures like referendums are not the way to go either, because it allows the entrenched interests an opportunity to use their deep pockets and influence the referendum, just like the Koch brothers and many other billionaires use their deep pockets to unduly influence the electoral process in the United States.

There ought to be an Act of Congress; the National Fan Protection and Professional Sports League Integrity Act. This act should lay out a framework to end the possibility of public funding for sports owners or ownership teams unless there is an opportunity for the team to truly become public. Because while teams are (except for the Green Bay Packers, the best franchise in professional sports, and I say this even as a Viking fan, because lets be honest, we’re all jealous of the Packers) privately-owned, they have many public features and become an integral part of many communities. The ownership should reflect this. Or at the very least, public money should not be subsidizing private profit.

Until this day comes, however, and I won’t hold my breath, political leaders (big city Mayors and Governors of both parties) owe it to the public that elected them to serve to say “no” to these taxpayer subsidized stadium boondoggles, even if special interests or a loud minority of sports fans lobby otherwise. It is not that complicated. All it takes is saying “no, pay for it yourself.” All it takes is a little political courage. A quality that is lacking in many political leaders and policy-makers today.

This has been the first in a series of articles on “Grift Machines” that will cover issues that are not necessarily at the top of the National Conversation, but exhibit many of the attributes of what is not working well for the public in terms of policy, economic impact, fairness, and efficient outcomes.