August 31, 2016

Wondering on Wednesday (v63)

Wondering, tonight, about money, meetings, foreigners, and lots of pots calling kettles black. 

We’ve been hearing conspiracy theories about ‘pay for play’ between donors to the Clinton Foundation turning around asking for meetings, dinner invitations, and the like from the Department of State when Hillary Clinton was Secretary. 

Most of the reports I've seen so far (and I haven't seen them all, so don't yell at me) have indicated that there really wasn't anything of any significance given to any of the donors, many of whom had requested and gotten meetings with Secretaries of State, their staff, or ordinary State Department bureaucrats under previous administrations.

That there are foreigners looking for meetings with State Department people only makes sense, since that's who the State Department deals with, right?

Nah - see, the reason why we have to talk about foreigners is that we are supposed to be scared of them generally, and we are supposed to be scared into thinking that 'evil Killary' would be beholden to foreigners and foreign interests, or put foreigners or foreign interests ahead of Americans and American interests. That's the evil plan, right? 

So I'm wondering why the same people who are all concerned about 'pay for play' with Clinton are not at all concerned with Trump's finances and the fact that he is #JoeBidenLiterally beholden to foreign banks,Wall Street companies including the dreaded Clinton-speech-buying Goldman Sachs, and lord only knows who else? 

In case you missed it, an investigation by the NY Times disclosed that Trump businesses have some $650 million in debt. As the report notes,
As president, Mr. Trump would have substantial sway over monetary and tax policy, as well as the power to make appointments that would directly affect his own financial empire. He would also wield influence over legislative issues that could have a significant impact on his net worth, and would have official dealings with countries in which he has business interests. 
To say nothing of the risk that pretty much any of the lenders, including the Bank of China, could call the debt at some point when Trump inevitably pushes their buttons, like when he personally negotiates a trade deal that includes terms they don't like.

We're familiar with presidents putting their business interests in a blind trust, so that their decisions cannot be influenced by any potential impact on personal holdings. How that typically has happened in the past, we learn in the Times article, is that the assets are sold and replaced with new assets with similar value, which are 'blind' to the politician. Given that the Trump Organization is basically a family business, and Trump has said his children will run it when he's elected, it's unlikely they'd take that route.

The whole thing is mind-boggling, frankly. It's hard to imagine how there'll be any kind of Chinese wall between Trump and his businesses and properties, or that he could somehow not talk about business with his children, who are his top executives and most trusted advisers. 

On the other side, we have the Clintons and their Foundation, and people in their circle of close advisers.Yes, they press the ethical boundaries all the time, and they walk a much finer line than most of us do in that regard. I've made no secret of the fact that I didn't want her to run, or to be the nominee, one reason being the ethical baggage she carries, and how that would become the focus of the campaign, and likely of her presidency, should she get elected.

But I wonder, as we look at Trump and his maze of financial statements and business deals and leases and loans and debt, and an unwillingness on his part to clarify any of this, or to release his taxes, which of these two poses the greater risk?

The Clinton Foundation is in the process of finding ways to significantly reduce its footprint if Hillary gets elected; the process has been underway for some time. I wonder if even these major steps will be enough for Clinton critics?

I wonder if the Trumps are even thinking about, or talking about, how they're going to plan for their financial future should The Donald get elected.

But more than any of the wondering above, I wonder at the bald-faced audacity of a bunch of politicians who live and die by their donors, who take donations from outside their districts on a regular basis, who open their doors to lobbyists, who put forth legislation written directly by the companies that will benefit it, and who sign loyalty pacts with special interests --

I wonder, how can they spew all of this righteous indignation with a straight face?

Quick Takes (v11): You Can't Have it All

Quick Takes
Myke Tavarres, an unsigned rookie linebacker trying to make the roster for the Philadelphia Eagles, announced Monday that he would join Colin Kaepernick in protesting racism and oppression in America by sitting during the national anthem at his next football game.

In a conversation with ESPN, he noted
Oh, I thought about it. Believe me, I definitely thought about it. And usually I'm front and center on the line with the rest of the guys, and that's since pre-K all the way up. Saturday's game, I stepped back, I was in the background and it didn't feel right to me at all, and so I will be taking a stand -- or sitting down -- for the fourth game.
We've got an issue in this country in this day and age, and I feel like somebody needs to step up and we all need to step up. We've got that right. There's just a lot going on that people don't want to talk about, and I feel like us as athletes, we're looked at as role models. and I feel like with Colin Kaepernick, he's doing a great job for standing up in what he believes in, and most people may not like that, but that's his opinion, he's entitled to it, and I respect him for doing it.
 In this situation, I've really got nothing to lose. I'm a rookie free agent, haven't signed any major contract, so there's not a lot of money on the line, I don't have any big endorsement deals on the line. Really what's at stake is my pride and what kind of man would I be and what kind of African-American would I be if I didn't stand my ground on this issue we have today?
Will there be backlash? Probably. I don't think anyone has bought my jersey, so I don't know if it's going to be burned, but it's a major issue and I'm definitely going to stand my ground for this one.
Definitely standing his ground, that is, until he had a talk with his agent after the ESPN interview hit the airwaves.  For we have learned that Tavarres plans to stand, and likely sing his heart out for the cameras, at Thursday's game.

Corey Williams, his agent, agreed that he advised his client to change his position.
Myke's goal is and will always be to make the Eagles' 53-man roster and help the team win a Super Bowl.
Here's the statement released by his agent.
I want to apologize for the distraction I've become for all of Eagle Nation. I feel passionate about racial issues going on in our country and I thought that sitting during the National Anthem would bring more awareness to the issue and encourage more constructive discussion to find solutions, but I feel I only made things worse. I want to make change in this world but sitting down during the national anthem just isn't the best way to do it. With that being said, I do plan on finding a better way. I'm young and I still have a lot to learn about saying and doing the right thing. For now, I will stay focused on football, but I will definitely look for opportunities to do what I can to prevent injustices. I am so blessed to be an American and I just feel a responsibility to do what I can to make thing better.
Make things better by sitting down and shutting up?

What that really means is, Myke Tavarres was given a choice: you can apologize for having an opinion, and try and have a career, with an agent that supports you, or you can go stand on your soapbox (or sit on it, as the case may be) and try to change the world.

And it appears it was made clear to the rookie that the best time to do the latter is when you're older. Out of football. When you're not worried about having endorsements. Or an agent. When you've exhausted your physical prowess and don't have anything else to offer the NFL, you go be a stand up guy, and have your pride.

Because trying to have it all: an agent, and a career, and an opinion, and the courage of your convictions? Yeah, that's not gonna work.

August 28, 2016

The Update Desk: Grains of Salt (V13)

You may remember a discussion in these pages about Wendy Long, the New York City lawyer who's running as a Trump Republican to unseat Chuck Schumer in the US Senate.

She might have made a few friends in her recent visit to Syracuse's North Side, where she pretty obviously tried to make a connection between a Muslim group purchasing an abandoned Catholic Church and a neighborhood filling with "crime prostitution money laundering," however I'm not one of them, as I made clear in my post.

Long doubled down in an opinion column a few days later, in which she noted, among other things,
that her tweets were sent "in no particular order" as if to excuse the obvious connection she implied between the mosque and the degradation of the neighborhood, and the extremely offensive "Welcome to Syracuse" tweet, shown here, of which I'm sure she's very proud.

She continues her Trumpian focus on 'political correctness' and says that's preventing positive change on the North Side, where refugees, including Muslims, are being settled; then pivots, as if she had seen the proverbial 'shiny thing' that often distracts me, an adult Attention Deficit Disorder sufferer, to job losses.
Companies that provided good jobs moved away, like General Electric to Massachusetts and Carrier to Mexico.  What can we do to help the community now? What is best for all human beings, whose God-given rights to life, liberty and property American was founded to protect?
Um, a couple of things.

Carrier Corporation's exodus from Syracuse started back in 1979, when United Technologies Corporation purchased the company and moved the corporate headquarters to Connecticut. Later, when Carrier closed two plants and laid off 1200 employees who worked on container refrigeration units and compressor parts, effectively ending their manufacturing presence here, the jobs didn't head to Mexico --  they went to Georgia and Asia, as noted in this New York Times article:
More than 80 percent of the container manufactures who buy Carrier's refrigeration units are in Asia, (Carrier spokesman Johnathan) Shaw said in a telephone interview. "It doesn't make any sense to ship a product 6,000 miles when you have a plant in the same hemisphere," he said. So Carrier plans to make the refrigeration units at a plant in Singapore. 
As for the compressor parts, sales have fallen by half over the last five years as technology has changed, so it made sense to consolidate manufacturing at plants in China and Stone Mountain, GA.  
It's true that Carrier is moving jobs from Indianapolis to Mexico, but that's happening this year, long past the time that those great Carrier jobs in Syracuse were impacted. It's also true that, in 2018, General Electric is moving  its headquarters to Boston, but that too has little to do with us. When GE pulled manufacturing out of Syracuse (impacting jobs that mattered), it was to go to Virginia and Asia, in keeping with the exodus from most of the Rust Belt states, and it happened many years ago.

I can give Long credit for at least knowing that Carrier and GE used to be big here, but tying unrelated moves in other states to what's happening on the North Side? Not so much. The changes that pulled good manufacturing jobs out of our area all happened 15, 20, even more than 30 years ago. We can lament the changes all we want, but they don't really have any correlation with what's happening in the neighborhood that includes the mosque in the 500 block of Park Street, or with refugees who have been settled here in the past five or six years.

On her other point, about those "God-given rights to life, liberty and property"(property being the new word for "the pursuit of happiness"?) for "all human beings,"one of her policy positions is to
Stop illegal immigration and reexamine whether we can even sustain one million legal immigrants per year.
Again, not seeing the relevance to the legal immigration that is behind the refugees coming into Syracuse, particularly the immigrant Muslims on the North Side who exercised their right to life, liberty and property by purchasing the empty Catholic church and against whom there have never been accusations of illegality.

Long is not unreasonable to suggest that there is much work to do in Syracuse and other places across New York to help get people out of poverty, or that 'crony capitalism' is an issue on every level. She's well within her rights to complain about Schumer, who's been in office since 1998; and she's entitled to her opinions of how to make the situation better. I'm fine with her blaming Democrats for the problems of inner cities; even though everyone knows there's no exclusive right of ownership to that problem, she can have her opinion and express it freely.

Where she's still lacking, in my opinion, is trying to make illegal immigration the flash point when she's talking about Syracuse generally, and Muslims in particular. Her initial comments were designed to be inflammatory, and they were. Her follow up explanation fell short.

Maybe before her next trip here, she might spend some time looking into the Syracuse University Program for Refugee Assistance (SUPRA) or Interfaith Works, a local organization that works to improve communication and relationships across races and faiths, and she might actually talk to the folks at the North Side Learning Center, located on the campus of the Mosque of Mary, Mother of Jesus, to get their opinion on the neighborhood where they've staked a claim.

You know, the place where there are "Crosses down, crescents up" in Syracuse.

August 25, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v2)

Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times
In my post the other day, the first in a new occasional series focused on what's going on in New York's capital,  I talked about the limited number of days our part-time legislators are required to spend in in Albany, how much time they seem to spend fundraising, and how we can't account for the time they spend on the job when they're not in session. All of that leads us to today's post, where I take a look at some of the pros and cons of giving the NY Legislature a raise.

First, the cons:
  • The senators and assembly members know what the pay and benefits are going in; it's not a secret.  They also know that they job will require them to be away from home off and on during six-month legislative season during which time they'll be expected to participate in committee meetings, caucus meetings, and legislative sessions.  
  • They are officially a part-time legislature. Sure, they'll be expected to put in some time after hours, when their constituents are home from work and have time to call with some complaint or another, but they have a light official schedule. 
  • Their current salary (not counting per diems and lulus) is already the third highest among the state, behind California and Pennsylvania.
  • Other than days the Legislature is in session, we have no idea what they're doing on our behalf, or how much time they spend on our business.
  • The legislators receive a pension for what is, in effect, a volunteer position, and something many of their constituents don't have for their full-time jobs.
  • Many of them have outside income, which is not unexpected given that the legislature is supposed to be a part-time job.
  • At any time, a legislator can not run for re-election if they feel they can't live on the salary they make.

Now, the pros:
  • The salary has not gone up since 1999, which admittedly is a long time to go without a pay increase. 
  • The salary is not competitive with other public sector jobs, such as those earned by say, unionized government workers, or with comparable private sector jobs.
  • We can't get good people to run because the pay is too low; this is particularly true for legislators from New York City or other areas with a high cost of living.
  • The salary is so low, elected officials will fall victim to schemes of personal enrichment because they need the money.
  • What they do is worth more than what they get.
  • They are really a 'full time' legislature because of everything they do outside the official calendar, and so deserve more money.
  • The outside income they receive could also lead them ethically astray, because they might legislate on behalf of their own interests rather than those of the rest of us. 

Have I missed anything in either of the lists, or does that pretty  much cover it?  

Coming up, we'll look at the proposed increase, and some conditions that might be attached to the raise to get the commission working on it to come to a recommendation. 

August 22, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v1)

Nathaniel Brooks/New York Times 
It's been awhile since I've looked at Albany in the pages of veritable pastiche.

I tried to get excited about the legislative session that ended back back in mid-June, I really did. As is usually the case, the end of session is a jam-packed, fun-filled time. In the first twelve days of June alone, there were nearly 700 bills introduced or amended, some more than once, according to this article. And of course, the end-of-session is where the rubber meets the road. As the article notes:
This is crunch time, when the power reputations of lobbyists and special interest groups are put to the test, and when rank-and-file lawmakers face a traffic jam to get their pet bills onto the floor, where legislation is rarely defeated. 
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn't it?

Some things did get accomplished this session. There were some changes made to breast cancer screening practices, including more user-friendly hours, time off from work, and some insurance changes. There was increased focus on the opioid epidemic, and some opportunity for stripping ethically challenged legislators of their pensions, assuming the legislature approves it again in the 2017 session, and then New Yorkers will have the chance to vote on it -- in 2018.

We can serve alcohol earlier on Sundays, helpful to restaurants that are in the brunch business and for sports bars that carry European events which sometimes are shown live here at 8AM. And daily sports betting has been determined to be a game of skill instead of a fool's errand, so we're going to be back in business there, barring a successful legal challenge.

And, we got a very complicated process for increasing the minimum wage, over a period of years, to something that more closely resembles the 'living wage' we've heard so much about during the presidential campaign.

So, why does this all leave me and so many other New Yorkers less than thrilled with our state legislature?

The NY Legislative calendar (matching versions are published by the Senate and Assembly) reflects that, from the early January through the end of May, there are 48 session days and 8 days of 'legislative activity/budget hearings.'  Add in the nine days scheduled for June, and you've got a total of 65 days during which our part-time representatives, who are all paid at least $79K annually (plus a per diem for each day they travel) are officially at work in Albany doing the people's business. Or waiting to do the people's business, as the case may be. And fundraising.

According to the NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) in a June 3rd press release, there were at least 167 'out of district' fundraisers by State Senators, State Assembly members, and by their respective committees. About a third of them were held at the Fort Orange Club, which must be a pretty special place to get all of that business.

I don't know if anyone keeps track of the other fundraisers that are held within the districts to help raise the necessary cash to run for re-election; these at least would seem on the surface to be OK, since the legislators would be asking for support directly from the people they represent.

They do more than fundraising and attend a few sessions from January to June. There's 'constituent service' that keeps these folks and their staff busy at least some of the time when they're not on the clock in Albany. There are ribbon to cut and signs to unveil, and those ever-present banners to unfurl - you know, the ones thanking them for "bringing home our tax dollars" in support of events and festivals for us, and stuff like that.

I get that the job doesn't have regular hours. My mother was a member of her local town board for one term, and I know she took some calls 'off-hours' but it was hardly a 24/7 job, and I don't think being a state legislator is one, either. But with no required accounting of the work these folks do, it's hard to get a sense of how much time they actually put in as legislators.

So now, hearing that our part-timer lawmakers might be in for a big fat pay raise, and a possibly a designation as full-time legislators, I have to scratch my head. I just have to scratch my head.

I'll try and take an objective look at the pay raise issue in my next post. No promises, but I'll do my best. 

August 18, 2016

The Update Desk: Grains of Salt (v12)

In my post the other day about the Great New York State Fair, I mentioned that our Sonofa Governor had come in to save the day and prevent a doubling of the price at the Rainbow Milk Bar from 25 cents to 50 cents. Fair profits will be used to cover the $90,000 shortfall the price increase would have resolved.

(And yes, I also mentioned that the name was changing to simply the Milk Bar, but old habits die hard - it will always be the Rainbow Milk Bar to me.)

In the same post, I noted the consternation over changes being made by Centro, our regional public transportation company, to the park-and-ride locations. The one for folks on the east side of the county, and beyond, was being eliminated. I ended the column that there might be a chance that the issue could be resolved, just as the price increase for one of the Fair's biggest attractions was resolved.

Initially, I figured it was the Governor, but it seems it was County Executive OnJoanie Mahoney, the go-to gal in our area whenever the Gov has a plan or needs a plan. who was the white knight who made the deal with Centro to have the Shoppingtown park-and-ride restored.
The people who called me, I took their concerns to the State Fair - they said we've kind of hear the same thing - let us talk to Centro and then the three of us came together to make the decision. If you look at a map, the eastern part really had a hole in it. 
Folks who want their Fair stop restored at the Seneca Mall seem to be out of luck.  Centro's statement notes that, while service at Seneca Mall ran every hour, service from the new park-and-ride location will run "about every twelve to fifteen minutes" meaning more people get to the Fair faster, and there's a much shorter wait time if you miss the bus.

The Fair starts a week from today -- got tickets?

August 17, 2016

Grains of Salt (v13): Wendy Long's "NY Values"

Who is this Wendy Long person, and why is she coming to Syracuse to sow the seeds of hate?

According to the slick video with it's appropriately doomy-gloomy soundtrack on her US Senate campaign website, here's her story.
I'm a wife, mother and an attorney. America has given me so much. I was blessed with great, hardworking parents, and I had a rare opportunity to learn from some of the best about what makes our country great. I clerked for one of them at the US Supreme Court (note - she's referring to Clarence Thomas).  
I believe in real New York values: individual freedom, hard work, personal responsibility, strong families, generosity to our fellow citizens, and love for our neighbors. I'm running for the United States Senate to bring those values back.
She goes on to quote the patron saint of GOP, Ronald Reagan, who I'm sure is spinning in his grave at what's become of the Republican Party.
Ronald Reagan said, "Government is supposed to be the people's servant, not its master." We have got to put government back in its place and let free people and free markets create opportunity and prosperity for all, not just the privileged few. And right now, in 2016, there's an energy I've never seen, to reclaim our freedoms and the limited self-government that our constitution gives us.
I won't hit her on the last part, but I do have to question the middle part, about hard work, personal responsibility, strong families, and particularly generosity to our fellow citizens and love for our neighbors.  Why? Because based on her tweets about Syracuse, she clearly has not watched her own video since it was filmed in her kitchen, and needs some reminding.

Here's what she posted about us.  The first tweet is a beauty, for sure:.
Welcome to Syracuse. Holy Trinity Church, beautiful church of German and Italian immigrants, is now a mosque.  
Pardon my language, but what the hell is that?

Ms. Long fails to tell her presumably avid followers that Holy Trinity had sat empty for a few years, leaving a gaping hole in the neighborhood, as the diocese of Syracuse started reconfiguring their real estate portfolio because of declining enrollment. 15 churches were closed.  It would likely still be empty today, had it not been rescued.

The North Side Learning Center is a non-profit group that teaches English to adults and children on the North Side, where immigrants - including the Germans and Italians Long mentioned -- have long found refuge and have long built a life for themselves and their families. Initially, they were interested in the school and not the church itself, but they got both for $150,000. It was then that talk turned to using the church as a mosque, and that Masjid Isa Ibn Maryam was born.

"Welcome to Syracuse" where we'll help you learn the language and allow you to practice your religion in an empty building built by people who came here and learned the language more than a century before practiced their religion. Horrible place we have here, I guess.

Here's another of the tweets from the woman who wants to replace Chuck Schumer in Washington.
Neighborhood where the mosque displaced the church. Crime prostitution money laundering. Nice Dem control of cities.
So, again, let's review the facts.  The church was empty -- so the only thing 'displaced' by the mosque was dust and cobwebs.

Next, the house with a street address of 2020 doesn't seem to put it in the neighborhood of the mosque, which is located at 501 Park Street. I'm not sure any of the streets in that neighborhood (I used to live not far from there) has numbers that go that high.

Furthermore, a search of the crime database shows a total of three reported crimes in the general area of the mosque, none of them prostitution or money-laundering. We do appreciate that you admit there's "probably not" a direct connection between the Muslims and crime, but did you share that with your Twitter followers? I doubt it.

"Welcome to Syracuse" where out-of-town politicians who know nothing about our community come to town, spew lies, and move on.  Yes, Wendy, I'm talking about you.

The last one of your tweets is the worst of all.

It's designed to inspire hatred and fear and, frankly, it says much more about you than it does about Syracuse. It says much more about you than your slick video ever could.
Crosses down, crescents up.  
That's so insightful, Wendy. Thanks for sharing.  But don't let the actual story get in the way of your hateful narrative.

Because the actual story is one of "individual freedom, hard work, personal responsibility, generosity to our fellow citizens and love for our neighbors," which you proclaim to be "real New York values" and which, I'm sure, you think you practice.

The story you missed on your visit here?  That the people running the mosque have reached out, over and over, to the neighbors and to former parishioners of Holy Trinity, and that they have invested time, money, hard work, well beyond what they ever thought they would do. That they have made the transformation from cross to crescent as respectfully as possible. That even the diocese is OK with the change.
The diocese acknowledges that changes to a former parish building may be difficult for some, however the building is once again being used to meet the needs of a growing population on the North Side, just as Holy Trinity Church did as it served the Catholic faithful.
And you know what? The whole Ronald Reagan thing? It was the free market that allowed the free people of the North Side Learning Center to create opportunity  and purchase the former church in the first place. So yeah, I'll hit you on that part too.

"Welcome to Syracuse," Wendy?  "Real New York values," Wendy? You say you talked to neighbors, but did you talk to any of the folks from the mosque? Maybe you were afraid one of those crescents was going to fall on your head?  Or maybe you were afraid that your hate and lack of knowledge would be exposed?

Thanks for stopping in Syracuse, Wendy.  Don't let our real New York values hit you in the butt on your way out of town.

August 14, 2016

Trump and the Media

Biased. Dishonest. Mean. Unfair. Disgusting.  Not nice.
Those are the common terms Donald Trump uses to describe "the media" which, coming from a media creation, seems sort of odd, doesn't it? I mean, his campaign is entirely a media creation, right?

Imagine if his birtherism had been ignored back in the day.

Or imagine if he had been covered the same as other unlikely candidates are covered.

Take Tom Hoefling, the America's Party nominee, or Prohibition Party nominee Jim Hedges.  These fringers have had zero coverage; if Trump's campaign had received the same attention,  we'd most likely contemplating a race between unenergetic Jeb! Bush or Lying' Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.

(And conversely, imagine of those two parties, or any of the others that are fielding candidates, had received the kind of coverage Trump has gotten? We'd be staring democracy in the face, right?)

But because Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump, there was no way the media could resist his campaign, any more than the Republican party could resist it. Without him, there would have been significantly less attention paid to the Republicans; we would have been bored to tears with their circular firing squad and their 'kid's table' debates and all the rest.

Of course, Trump is helped by the 'biased' media, whom he loved when they were stroking his ego and feeding his madness during the primaries, accepting his calls at all hours, interrupting other coverage to hear what he has to say.  On the other hand, you recall he's banned several news organizations from his rallies, because they were 'mean to him' or dishonest, to Trump's way of thinking - but even then, he gets the coverage he covets.

Here's the latest from His Hairness, speaking at a rally in Connecticut on his media coverage, which, as of May, had been measured at $3 billion in 'free' advertising:
I'm not running against Crooked Hillary, I'm running against the crooked media. That's what I'm running against. I'm not running against Crooked Hillary.  
I'll tell you in particular lately we have a newspaper that's failing badly, it's losing a lot of money, it's going to be out of business very soon: the New York Times. Maybe what we'll do, we'll start taking their press credentials away from them.  
He's also continued his assault on CNN, which his supporters refer to as the Clinton News Network:
CNN is so disgusting And by the way their rating are going down big league, you know why? Because I refuse to be interviewed. And I get high ratings, what can I say. 
These people are so dishonest.  
Ah, yes. So dishonest, those dastardly people at CNN. They're so dishonest they've started fact-checking Trump in the screen crawl. Here's just one example; there are more.

But here's the thing: CNN's ratings are suffering. Trump's supporters are boycotting, they say, (although they seem to know an awful lot about what gets said on the network) and they make no bones about it. Take a look at a sampling of the comments on the ratings article, and you'll see what I mean.

Trump's love/hate relationship with the media is a very carefully planned and meticulously coordinated thing, it's not an accident.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken, especially now that Trump has basically admitted it.

During his CNBC interview with host Hugh Hewitt, a Trump supporter mind you, he argued repeatedly about his statement that Barack Obama is "the founder of ISIS." No matter how hard Hewitt tried to temper the comment, or explain it in some way that would soften the blow and the reaction to it, Trump wasn't having it.

When Hewitt finally gave up and said he would have used different language, here was Trump's response:
But they wouldn't talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?
Finally, some honesty from the Trump camp.

August 12, 2016

Grains of Salt (v12): The Great NY State Fair

The Great New York State Fair is just around the corner.  The twelve-day extravaganza of food, music, rides, games, competitions, and people-watching starts on August 25th, and as might be expected, things are moving a furious pace to get ready.

We all remember the implosion of the Grandstand, and the resulting landscape changes - sort of our version of someone coming in to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. When the Fair is not in town, that's what it looks like - a giant stone parking lot, with a few street lamps and not a whole lot else.  This helps make the midway bigger and allows for more rides, but it's hard on the eyes, and harder on the reminiscing.

Of course, had they not taken down the Grandstand, there would be no Lakeview Amphitheater, the new venue for paid Fair concerts. I think this will be an interesting test for the Fair. Will people still come and spend hours on the grounds before their concert and then head over to the Amp for a show, or will they skip the Fair and go straight to their concert?  And how will either of those scenarios impact the bottom line for Fair vendors?

Other changes that have made the news include two of the most popular attractions at the Fair.

First, there was the threat to double -- double! -- price of the 25-cent cup of milk at the Rainbow Milk Bar, a long-time Fair staple. Not only that, but we learned that the powers that be are changing the name to just the Milk Bar, since there are only two flavors now. The name change will likely go through, but there's been a reversal on the price change.

David Lassman photo/
Why, you ask? Because ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes sometimes come when politicians see an opportunity, and our Sonofa Gov is no slacker in this department. In a statement announcing that the state will kick in $90,000 for the non-profit that runs the milk bar, Governor Cuomo noted
The Great New York State Fair showcases the very best New York has to offer, which includes milk and dairy products that are second to none. This action will help ensure more visitors drawn by the Fair's $50M renovation will taste the difference for themselves.
I'd have paid the 50 cents for a cup of nice cold New York chocolate milk, one of the highlights of the Fair for me, but I admit it'll taste better at half the price.

And -- this is a big one - they're moving the baked potato booth to the empty restaurant in the Horticulture Building.

Readers not from around here might wonder what the attraction is of standing in line for a long time -- I mean, a long time -- to get a piping hot baked potato in the heat and humidity of late August or early September in Central New York, but this is a huge draw and, next to four cups of chocolate milk, it's the best dollar you can spend at the Fair.

The latest kerfuffle involves the park-and-ride spots. Centro, our public transportation company, has long offered State Fair shuttles from various locations. This year, three spots in Onondaga County are being consolidated into two, including one moved from a mall to a park somewhat off the beaten path. Centro is facing some pressure on this, as they do with every change they propose in the area's transportation schedules.

Will everything work out in the end, like the battle over the milk prices? There's less than a week to get everything squared away, so one can only hope.

August 10, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v62)

A bunch of random wondering tonight:.

Did they figure out, I wonder, how they're going to have blue water in the Olympic diving pool going forward? I know they said it was a pH balance issue or something like that but there seemed to be a healthy dose of skepticism. Kudos to the divers who couldn't even see their partners in the water during the synchro diving competitions.

I wonder how it is that the gymnasts do what they do?  There's a Vine of one of the Americans, Aly Raisman executing her tumbling run, and I'm blown away by the speed, the control, the height of the tricks - it's mind boggling. And science, I'm sure, which was not my forte, and to this day remains not my forte. So this has to be science.

How surprised are you, I wonder, to find out that a majority of Republicans still don't think that President Obama is eligible to be President Obama?  In an NBC/Survey Monkey poll taken at the end of June and into the beginning of July, 80% of Democrats believe that Obama was born in the United States, but Republicans have a different opinion. While 27% of them agree that Obama was born here, 41% disagree and another 31% neither agree nor disagree.  Taking it a step further, 40% of 'knowledgeable' Republicans believe he's not a citizen, compared to 42% of' 'lower-knowledge' Republicans. I wonder how they made the determination on who's knowledgeable and who's not?

If someone had told you a year or so ago that there would be political campaign event where these words were prevalent, would you have wondered what the person was smoking?
Kill her.
Trump that bitch.
Build a wall...kill them all.
Those words open a brief article in the NY Times a week ago that accompanies Voices from Donald Trump's Rallies, Uncensored, a video that includes shots and words from inside Trump rallies, and from outside the rallies as people head back home. It's not what we usually experience from an American political campaign, for sure.

Oh yeah - that was all made worse by Trump's comment that "Second Amendment people" might be able to do something if Hillary gets elected and started naming Supreme Court judges.  Here's what he said, without spin:
Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.  Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.
Now, I know the Trump campaign says it was a joke, or it was a comment meant to point out how strong the NRA lobby is, or how powerful the gun rights voting block can be, or whatever else they've said to explain this one away.

I'm left wondering if he even knows why he said it? Or what he meant? And I wonder, does he ever regret these absurd comments?

Another 10 days or so for the Olympics, another 90 days or so until the election. That's a lot of room for wondering.

August 8, 2016

Grains of Salt (v11): New Flood Maps

Quite a while back, it seems, FEMA came into Syracuse with a flood map that seemed to scare the bejeezus out of half the people in the city, who suddenly found themselves in the unenviable position of facing having to purchase flood insurance for their homes.

Among the most heavily impacted areas were poor neighborhoods along Onondaga Creek southwest of downtown; Armory Square, the hip bar, restaurant, retail and residential neighborhood downtown, and the Meadowbrook neighborhood on the East Side.

When the maps came out back in 2012, we were happy to learn that our house was spared. Our property is separated from Onondaga Creek by a soccer field owned by Faith Heritage School, three doors down from us. The creek is in a pretty deep ditch, if you will, when it runs behind the properties on our block, which is anchored by Ballantyne Ave to the north and Seneca Turnpike to the south.

The City and elected officials, including Senator Chuck Schumer, have been going back and forth with FEMA for the past several years (this article is from 2010, for example), trying to have adjustments made in the map, trying to limit the number of homeowners and businesses impacted by the sudden need for flood insurance, which for many would be prohibitive.

The 2012 maps added about 1,100 properties to the flood zone; with the updated information and the fighting back and forth between our local folks and FEMA, the numbers have shifted a bit. The latest data shows some 876 properties added and 237 removed, resulting in 1,602 properties in the final flood zone.

I checked the map again today, and was delighted to learn that we're still not in the zone. But what's mind-boggling is that Faith Heritage School (the large structure at the bottom of the Google Earth image here), the owners of that soccer field behind us?  They're in the zone.

At the other end of the block, near Ballantyne? The Syracuse Alliance Church,  the building with the red roof at the top of the image -- yeah, they're in the zone too.

And all of my neighbors, between the school and the church? Not a single one is in the zone. Not one.

I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth -- I'm thankful that we don't have to come up with the extra money for flood insurance, and I'm sure my neighbors feel the same way.

What's hard to imagine, though, is what happens next for folks that are in better neighborhoods and find themselves in the flood zone.  How is their property value impacted? How much of a hit will there be if they go to sell their property which wasn't in a flood zone when it was built or when the current owners purchased the house, but now is? Would they be able to fight for - and win - a reduction in their property tax assessment?

For folks who weren't topographically fortunate, like we were, seems there's more to come on all of this.

August 3, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v61)

So, what was the most memorable moment of the 'Dems in Philly' love-fest?

It wasn't the taking down of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or the protests of the Berners, or the extraordinarily well orchestrated signage deployed by convention staffers and volunteers (they were really good at that, though). 

It wasn't the videos that were shown to introduce some of the speakers, or to introduce Hillary, a woman who's been in the public eye for half my life, to the audience. It wasn't the general who warned us how scary it would be if the other guy became president, or even Kareem Abdul Jabbar pretending he was Michael Jordan. It certainly wasn't Katie Perry.  

No, the most memorable moment for me was the speech by Gold Star father Khizr Khan, and of course the endless reaction of Donald Trump. 

Comparisons have been made between the appearance of the Khans, who lost their son in Iraq in 2004, and the appearance in Cleveland of Pat Smith, the mother of one of the soldiers killed in the attack on the American embassy in Libya. I saw both of them, but was left with completely different emotions after watching them. At the time, I was horrified for Smith; I couldn't imagine her pain, or the pain of being trotted out by the Republicans in yet another chapter of the ongoing Benghazi investigation. You don't have to agree with me, but that's honestly what it felt like watching it.  The Republicans will not let go of Benghazi, ever - and it felt (again, to me) as if they were victimizing Smith all over again. 

My feelings on this were to some degree validated, if that's the right word, when I saw that Ambassador Chris Stevens' mother had some advice for the Republicans, published in the NY Times. 
As Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens's mother, I am writing to object to any mention of his name and death in Benghazi, Libya, by Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican Party.  I know for certain that Chris would not have wanted his name or memory used in that connection. I hope that there will be a permanent stop to this opportunistic and cynical use by the campaign. 
That's how quote unquote Benghazi makes me feel. But that was not how the Khans made me feel.

I was moved by the silence of  Captain Khan's mother, and moved by the words of his father, but not horrified by them as I was a week earlier. I  was struck by his comment that Donald Trump "had sacrificed nothing" and no, I did not start ticking off a list of Democrats who also had not made similar sacrifices.

Why, you might be wondering? Because, for example, the list of people I'm aware of  who compared their sexual exploits in the 80's as their 'personal Vietnam" only has one name on it. That name is Donald Trump.
I've been so lucky in terms of that whole world. It is a dangerous world out there. It's scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier. 
Why, you might be wondering? Because Trump has been parading his love of "the veterans" throughout his campaign, with mixed results, which you can read about here and here on this blog, and all over the Internet.

Why, you might be wondering? Because at precisely the time Smith was on stage at the Republican convention, Trump called in to the Republican News Network, Fox, and so they cut away from what was happening on stage and focused their attention on Trump instead of on the clearly grieving mom.

Why, you might be wondering?  Well, it seems clear in the days since the convention ended that Trump has doubled down, tripled down, even quadrupled down on the Khans with his own comments and those from his surrogates, including one who placed the blame on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, apparently not realizing that Khan perished in Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2004.

Do I wonder, has this all spiraled out of control? No need to wonder on that - of course it has. Do I wonder whether that spiral was instigated by the Khans or by Trump? No need to wonder on that, either, at least for me; I think the culprit here is clear.

Do I wonder whether I was less than empathetic to Pat Smith? No need to wonder on that, either.

Because I was.

August 1, 2016

Post-DNC Musings

Regular readers will remember that I was feeling underwhelmed heading into the Democratic National Convention, and that I was hoping to be at least 'whelmed' by the end of it.

I can say that without a doubt, the DNC was more uplifting, more moving, more motivating than the darkness on the edge of Cleveland that preceded it. Both conventions were evocative, there's no doubting that; but the America the Dems evoked was vastly different from and more welcoming than that of the Reps.

Was it a perfect world? Of course not. I've long said that if this was a perfect world, I wouldn't be in it (and I wouldn't be the only one, I can assure you). There was the aftermath of the Debbie Wasserman Schultz dismissal. There was the scandal of the emails being hacked, and of course there were the Ber ners.

Ah yes, the Berners. They protested silently, colorfully and even loudly. Sometimes they made it onto television, and sometimes they sat in the dark in the far reaches of the convention hall. They cheered, and were cheered over; much ado was made of how the convention folks managed to have alternate cheers for every trick in the book.  At least inside the hall, at least during the evening hours when I was watching, they were well managed, as you would expect to happen if someone crashed your party. Bernie did his best with them, I think. Some wouldn't have listened to him no matter what he said.

As far as the speeches go, Michelle Obama was the winner of the professionals, followed closely by Joe Biden, President Obama and then, well, I think the former governor of Michigan, she was pretty good, very energetic, and made her point.  I don't know that we'll ever see a husband-and-wife speaking team like the Obamas. I ave enjoyed listening to both of them for the past seven years.

Michelle's speech included a line that Fox's Bill O'Reilly couldn't figure out how to factor a reasonable response -- the notion that the White House was built by slaves.

His response was that (only slight paraphrasing here) fine, they were slaves, but they were well fed. Because that's kind of the answer from the right on poverty, homelessness, hunger and the rest. A cardboard box is a roof, right? Ketchup is a vegetable, right?

For his part, POTUS will be remembered for three little words, Don't boo. Vote.

Tim Kaine was all over the map, speaking alternately in English, Spanish, and gee-whiziness. He'd be great at a kid's party. Kaine and Biden are sort of like the difference between going to Chuck E Cheese and going to the corner bar or the local barbecue joint.

And the Clintons? Had I not known the subject of Bill's speech, I would likely have gasped at his opening line: In 1971 I met a girl. He spent a long time talking about his love for Hillary, and their relationship, and I wondered a couple of times whether he was trying to convince me or himself that she was really the best possible partner and change maker he'd ever met.  Chelsea quietly talked about her mother, in a way that some thought were effective.  Neither of the first two Clinton speeches really moved me, but I'm not the voter they were trying to reach.

Hillary's speech was reasonably effective; if you knew nothing about her before she spoke, I think you had a lot of new information to digest. She  hit strongly and directly on target with her "a man you can bait with a tweet" line, which we know to be true, and which we should all know is a serious risk. That, too, was not news to me.

Trump's speech had higher ratings than Clinton's, prompted in part I'm sure by people like me who had and have no intention of voting for him, but felt compelled to see if there was any hope. I saw none in Cleveland. I felt much better after watching what happened in Philly, and I was not alone.

I didn't change my opinion of Hillary, but I also did not change my position on how and why I'm going to cast my vote in less than 100 days.  I guess in that case, you could call me 'whelmed', which was my goal.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about what has become the most lasting moment of the Democratic Convention.