October 30, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v7)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
I shared excerpts from a letter written by Assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte to the  Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation in v6 of this series.

Bichotte noted, among other things, that there's a pretty significant difference in how much it costs to live in New York City than it does in other areas of the state.

That difference was recognized in the decision of the Legislature earlier this year when they crafted the law on the minimum wage, which I explained a few months back. In a nutshell, the new minimum wage in New York State will not be the same for all minimum wage workers, will rise faster in areas where the cost of living is highest, and may never reach the full amount the legislature established this year.

Why? Well, if I remember correctly, the Republican-controlled NY State Senate acted responsibly and realized that things are not exactly the same across New York, and that it doesn't necessarily make sense to pay everyone exactly the same. The cost of living here in Syracuse or in Binghamton, Geneva, Tonawanda or Malone simply is not the same as it is in NYC or in the nearby commuter counties, and people who live and work there should earn more money for the same work as folks up here. As Bichotte pointed out, state employees are reimbursed similarly.

I believe that's an appropriate way to address the pay raise for the Legislature. In fact, I think it's the perfect way to address the pay raise issue, regardless of what percentage of increase is ultimately considered reasonable by the esteemed committee.

Here's how it would work:

  • State Senators representing districts in New York City would see their salaries go up incrementally starting in January 2017 and reaching the full raise approved by the Commission beginning in January of 2019. 
  • New York City Assembly members would see a slightly smaller initial increase in January of 2017, and they would reach the full raise beginning in January 2020, a year after their Senate counterparts. This mirrors the large business/small business distinction for New York City employers included in the minimum wage law.
  • Senators and Assembly members who represent Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties would see their salaries rise beginning in January 2017, but not reach the full amount until January 2022. 
  • For those representing Senate and Assembly districts in the rest of the state, things will be very different. The first incremental increase will still occur in January of 2017, but it will be a much smaller increment. By January of 2021, these legislators would be increased to 83.3% of the amount paid to their NYC counterparts, as is the case with the minimum wage ($12.50 upstate compared to $15 downstate).
  • The rate for the upstate members would continue to increase on a schedule set by the Director of the Division of Budget, provided that an analysis by the Department of Labor determines that the economy can support the increases and has not been ruined by the incremental increases already experienced. 

As I said, this salary structure would work regardless of what percentage the Commission eventually decides is appropriate. 

We know that, at least in recent years, the number of legislature members who have outside income has dwindled. Common Cause reported that some 60% of those elected before the 2014 elections had no outside income, and only about 17% reported outside income between $50K and $515K (a range that truly defies description), so there's likely more justification for a significant bump that there was when we had a higher percentage of folks in that high outside income bucket. 

In exchange for the big bump in salary, which will bring with it the formal designation of 'full time' legislators, let's also ask that monthly time sheets be filed by all of the legislators. 

Not down to the nitty gritty - these folks are adults, after all - but let's see them at least track all of the town hall meeting they hold, all of the community events and meetings they attend, and things like that. I'm thinking it would be pretty easy to verify that they did this stuff, because most of the time there's media coverage, and there's always an 'official' photo for the campaign brochure or for a quick note to a constituent. 

Yeah, even a cynic like me can see the need for a raise, give how long it's been since the salary was increased. However, I do not support making up for all that lost time in one swell foop, as my Dad would say.  And since the Legislature and our Sonofa Gov have established the clear precedent that it's OK  - and even, dare I say, logical  - to make geographical delineations and different incremental changes in the minimum wage, we should apply the same logic to how we pay the people who made that decision.  

I know the folks that represent me are doing the same work as the people who represent folks in NYC and the surrounding area - no disputing that. But there's also no disputing the fact that it's more expensive to live downstate than it is upstate, and if an across-the-board increase was wrong for the minimum wage, it's wrong for the legislature.

So let's celebrate the minimum wage increase logic, and put that economically thoughtful thinking into practice for any raise given to our elected representatives. 

October 29, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v6)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
Members of the Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation have been butting heads over whether or not the NY Legislature deserves a raise.

In order to consider how much of an increase should be given to our officially part-time legislature, they have to get past the issue of whether the perceived lack of interest shown by members of the Assembly and the Senate is indicative of anything more than election year jitters, or if they really think that staying out of it and not commenting will help.

One member of the Assembly, Rodneyse Bichotte, has been paying attention to the proceedings, including comments by Commission member Fran Reiter who, as we learned last time, had entered into the record a statement that, in a nutshell, a raise was not deserved, in part because no one was willing to come before the Commission and fight for one. Bichotte submitted a letter in which she volunteered to testify before the Commission on why a raise was not only desired, but necessary.

As promised, let's take a look at some excerpts from her letter.
I write to you as someone who takes their job seriously, and as someone who has lived the true reality of the struggle to make ends meet... I write to you as a legislator that has suffered from the ill perception that people have of those who hold elected office, particularly in light of the recent scandals that have plagued both houses of the New York State legislature.
The face of Albany has changed dramatically with people of color approaching 50% and women topping 25% of the legislature. What you will fine is that there is a major discrepancy in terms of where outside incomes are a factor and where they are not. For example, they tend not to be a factor amongst members of color, women... the majority of legislators are not independently wealthy and struggle to pay their bills like many of their constituents... We cannot allow those ...who earn significant outside income to dictate the incomes of the majority of legislators whom are living off a relatively low base salary that has not been touched for decades.  
Bichotte goes on to explain her background - five degrees in the math, engineering and finance arenas; a co-op purchased with savings from previous jobs; a mom-to-be staring at a stagnant wage set by people who just don't get it.
Like former legislator Tim Sullivan once said, "a legislator cannot feed their family with honor." In the case of present-day elected officials our wages are not commensurate with the work we do, the hours invested,the miles traveled, and they myriad of other responsibilities associated with our work.
The figures to increase the legislature's salaries are not based in reality. The increase is based on figures that show that for almost two decades the legislature's salaries were not increased proportionally and with regard to the rate of inflation, the cost of living, and as a measure of the type of work we do as executive leaders. 
Referencing others who are paid more - professors in the SUNY and CUNY systems and NYC council members, among others, she continues
This is all the while being away from their families for at least half the week, and then needing to travel to constituent events on weekends and any time they are available, not to mention the large volume of law making with one of the highest State budgets in the country. 
The reality for the majority of the legislators is that the work we do is full time. Our priority is to answer to our constituents and their issues do not only exist six months out of the year... Although at one point in time, the NYS legislator's position was part-time, to say that legislator's jobs are part-time now would be egregiously inaccurate. The time when there is no session is the time that many legislators spend building relationships in their communities, going to community events, and getting to see issues up front and on the ground. This is far from downtime... 
 Other points raised in the letter?
  • the high costs of living in NYC, Westchester and Long Island, in comparison to upstate cities like Utica;
  • NYC Council members are paid $148K, but state legislators have to deal with both state legislation AND legislation specifically and solely related to NYC;
  • Members represent between 130,000 and 260,000 people (dealing with them directly as they don't have sufficient staff,), and write much of their own legislation 
Bichotte recommends a salary in the $140,000 to $160,000 range for full-time positions, "in line with legislators in the NYC Council and Congress as good comparable models."  That also seems to be in line with the latest suggestion on the table for the Commission.

So - do any of her points ring true? Should we consider these folks full time, based on what an actual NY politician says, rather than on some comparison to what they do in California and Pennsylvania, or on some scholarly writing?

And if we accept her position that she and other members of the Assembly and the Senate are full time, and are not crooks, and do not have outside income, and struggle like many of their constituents across the state, do we also lend credence to her position on what a reasonable salary looks like?

My answer, and a recommendation, come tomorrow. 

October 25, 2016

Grains of Salt (v17): Retirement Planning

Is it really only here, in Onondaga County, that the government could offer an incentive to retire to - wait for it -- elected officials?

I kid you not.

They did make the offer, and as luck would have it,we have a member of the Onondaga County Legislature - Kathy Rapp - who's going to take the $10,000 incentive and run.

I. Kid. You. Not.

Here's how it all played out:
  • Back in August, the County came up with the buyout package for certain employees who left by the end of the year. The intent of the package was to save the county oodles of noodles for each of the up to 800 eligibles who took the offer.  They cost the county around $50K,each, so give them $10K to get out, and voila -- we've got a $40K savings per retiree!
  • Not surprisingly, looking at the numbers, the Legislature unanimously approved the buyout deal in September- one lawmaker missed the meeting, or it the vote would have likely been 17-0 in favor. The person missing? Kathy Rapp.
  • And in October, Rapp advised she's going to retire at the end of the year. 
Cha-ching! There's another $40K for the county coffers, right?  Well, not exactly.

Rapp, who is the county's longest-serving legislator, has a year left to go in her term -- and since it would be unfair to leave her constituents without representation, her position will have to be filled, there go the savings we were supposed to get. And, the way the rules work, her constituents won't actually make the decision on her replacement. That will be left up to the County Executive.

Onondaga County previously offered a buyout, several years back, and that one correctly excluded elected officials. This time around, instead of just using a state law for the retirement incentive proposal, they wrote one of their own, which did not have the exclusion. As long as the person was vested in the pension system, and the they be eligible for retirement benefits.  When Rapp's name, and that of a couple of other elected officials appeared on the list of eligibles, it was an Aha! moment, according to today's article.

Aha, indeed.

How exactly do you un-ring a cha-ching? I don't know that you do -- I think the trick is to not ring it in the first place, if it doesn't ring true.

Rapp can retire, and spend time with her grandchildren. OnJoanie can appoint her replacement. And folks in the county law department, and their outside counsel, can fight over who missed the part about the elected officials.

And Casey Jordan, one of the elected officials who's eligible for but not taking the deal, can have his comment made into a plaque for everyone's office.
We're voting in support of this incentive, and it seems self-serving to be approving it and then taking advantage at the same time.
I kid you not.

Pay for Fray?

Did some Hillary Clinton supporters purposefully disrupt Trump rallies, perhaps even egging on some violence?

Quite possibly they did. It would not be surprising, given the rhetoric and level of aggression in his speeches, and the levels of passion shown by both his supporters and detractors.

Now, did they egg on those passionate supporters because they were paid to do so by some nefarious six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon plot cooked up by Democratic Party and/or Clinton campaign operatives? That's the story we're told to believe by the Project Veritas videos.

For those that don't remember, Project Veritas (PV) is the same group that alleged voter fraud and other crimes against ACORN, a group that was involved in advocacy efforts for the poor and underserved going back to the late 1970s or early 1980s, and of course with voter registration and advocacy efforts back in 2008 - you know, when America elected President Obama the first time.

The 'other crimes' included some bizarre "gee, we can't wait to get involved in sex trafficking with you" allegations against ACORN people by the PV actors. See, the PV actors passed themselves off as being interested in starting a brothel or similar pursuits, and pretended to be looking for assistance with their business. Appearing normally dressed during the conversations, James O'Keefe afterwards edited the videos with clips of him dressed as the picture-perfect Hollywood pimp straight out of a blaxploitation film.

Great stuff, honest stuff right there, trustworthy documentary film-making right there.

And while O'Keefe, the brains behind the current 'rigged system videos', ultimately paid a $100K fine related to his actions with the 2008 films, charges against ACORN  were not proven. But it didn't matter. Congress shut off funding to ACORN, similar groups, and allied groups, which caused a dry-up of corporate and charitable donations.

ACORN went bankrupt and is no longer in business, to the delight of folks who find their greatest happiness restricting the voting rights.  And, apparently, to the dismay of Republicans, who continued to specifically include mention of the group in legislation as recently as 2013.
Yes even though ACORN has been dead for over three years, so meticulous are the Republicans at keeping federal funds away from this organization that helped the poor and has never been convicted of a crime that they, in 2013, prohibit ACORN and its successors in interest from ever receiving federal funds.
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) illustration
Mission Accomplished! Those Thousand Points of Light right there were snuffed out, in the true spirit of Compassionate Conservatism.

Thank you, ALEC, for carrying the voter suppression mission forward!

Project Veritas lives on, although given their track record and that of other right wing groups that make similar videos, one can reasonably question why they're still in business to parade around their videos.

Would you be surprised to learn that the Donald J Trump Foundation, a charity that appears to exist solely to pay personal bills and buy artwork of the Donald for the Donald, made a $10,000 payment to James O'Keefe in May of last year, one month before The Escalator Descended in New York City? Would that cause you any concern? Would you maybe take one and one and one and get three?

I won't mention a whole lot about O'Keefe and Breitbart news, other than to mention that Breitbart is where Donald Trump's current campaign chairman comes from.

Was there some kind of 'pay for fray' here involving the Clinton campaign? As is his M.O., O'Keefe has not released the full videos, only heavily edited versions so for now, at least, we really have no idea what actually happened, who actually did what, who actually said what, and well, you can actually get the drift.

Or, was there some kind of pay for fray on the part of the Trump campaign? Why would his charity make a payment to a discredited right-wing inflammatory video maker?  What charitable purpose is being served here? O'Keefe can get funding from any number of people or organizations - why Trump, why then?

Maybe that's no more a smoking gun than O'Keefe's videos - but there is proof that someone has been inciting violence in this campaign.

Donald Trump personally encouraged violence at his rallies, he surely did. And he personally incited violence against Hillary Clinton herself, with his comments about Second Amendment people being able to stop her from making Supreme Court appointments, and his suggesting that if her security detail was to disarm, well, you know...

Choose your poison: shady videos produced by a compromised right-wing activist alleging a candidate paid people to disrupt the opposition's rallies, or a candidate who personally incites violence and, it seems, paid a compromised right-wing activist to make some shady videos accusing his opponent of  paying people to be disruptive?

October 23, 2016

The System is Rigged (Part Three)

Is the system rigged? I remember fondly the days when Trump first spoke of a rigged system --It was to try and coax Bernie Sanders supporters over to the dark side.

Now, though, in the World According to Trump, there is not a single independently-thinking person who believes we are #StrongerTogether, no one who decided on their own to purchase an #ImWithHer t-shirt or plant a Clinton/Kaine yard sign, and certainly no one who is a #NeverTrump thinker has become one without being influenced by the Clinton Machine. Only Kool-Aid drinkers and indiscriminate Skittles eaters buy into that stuff.

No, all the Dems are in bed with Clinton, who is in bed with the media, when the media isn't in bed with itself, or digging up liars (whom Trump will sue as soon as the election is over and he's done suing the New York Times), or being banned when they say something mean or nasty.

Need proof? Look at all of these media contributions to the political candidates! 96% of those who contributed gave to Clinton, not Trump. Clearly the election is rigged by these television critics, sports and fashion editors, restaurant reviewers, local beat and tech gadget reporters, and so on, especially by those in, say, Shelter Island, NY and Liberty, MO.

Missing from the list: Any national political reporters or anchors. No George Stephanopoulous or Keith Olbermann here - because if there was, we wouldn't be reading about Russia Television's Larry King donating to HRC. The study did not consider talking heads and paid gabbers to be journalists, but if the finance director of the Washington Post is included, how is a talking head not?

I believe there should be a wall between journalists and the people and stories they cover, but absent a connection between donors and articles they wrote or influenced, what are we to make of this? Is 'the media' against Donald Trump, and complicit in creating the 'rigged system' of which Trump recently grown so fond?

Well, that might not be the case, or at least, not the way Trump thinks. There's an interesting study, released back in June without a lot of mainstream media attention; folks at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy looked at coverage in 2015 leading up to the primaries, or what they called the 'invisible primary' season, and found that
...during the year 2015, major news outlets covered Donald Trump in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers - a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump's rise in the polls... The volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of the Republican polls. 
The Democratic race in 2015 received less than half the coverage of the Republican race... For her part, Hillary Clinton had by far the most negative coverage of any candidate. In 11 of the 12 months, her "bad news" outpaced her "good news," usually by a wide margin, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings in 2015.  (Note: all emphasis added.)
Huh?. Rigged system, you say?
So what explains the news media's early fascination with Trump?...Although journalists play a political brokering role in presidential primaries, their decisions are driven by news values rather than political values. Journalists are attracted to the new, the unusual, the sensational... Trump fit that need as no other candidate in recent memory. Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch. 
But wait - it's gets better.
Journalists seemed unmindful that they and not the electorate were Trump's first audience. Trump exploited their lust for riveting stories. He didn't have any other option...The politics of outrage was his edge, and the press became his dependable if unwitting ally.
Here's another interesting finding, that goes to what was reported. For Trump, a mere 12% of his coverage was about the issues, with 43% of the coverage being negative (particularly after the Muslim ban comments). For Clinton, more than double the amount of coverage was issues-related (stil a meager 28%) but the negative coverage was an overwhelming 84%.

In 2016, things continued on the same general level; Trump's overall coverage was 49% positive to 51% negative, with most of the negative coming after both Ted Cruz and John Kasich had dropped out of the race, when the balance tipped to 61% negative/39% positive.  Making things worse, the 2016 study notes,
The press did not heavily cover the candidates' policy positions, their personal and leadership characteristics, their private and public histories...Such topics accounted for roughly a tenth of the primary coverage. 
And yet, Trump is the one making the 'the media is against me' claims; it seems likely that argument could most substantively by made by the Clinton campaign, based on the Harvard studies and on the amount of free media the campaigns have received. According to this analysis published in The Economist,
Data from mediaQuant, an analytic firm, show that Mr. Trump has enjoyed a healthy advantage in 'earned media' or free media coverage, throughout his campaign....And Mr. Trump has consistently dominated the news compared with Mrs. Clinton - sometimes by margins as large as six to one.  
Trump's plan - hog the limelight "by crossing a sacrosanct political line, bask in the attention for several days, then do it again before your opponents have a chance to get noticed." - worked well against his 16 Republican opponents, but Clinton's free media eventually caught up with Trump after the Democratic convention, when his strategy was proving less successful.

What does this all boil down to?

As noted in The Economist's article, which was published in mid-August but still rings true today,
As his polling numbers drop, Mr. Trump is doubling down on his media bashing... this seems an unlikely strategy to win votes. After decades in the spotlight, Mr. Trump may at last be learning that not all publicity is good publicity.
I would only add that not all negative publicity is a sign that the system is rigged against you.

October 18, 2016

The System is Rigged (Part Two)

Is the system rigged?

Are dead people planning on voting at your polling place?

Is someone trying to influence the election?

No, no -- and of course they are!

The candidates are trying to rig the system in their favor, by focusing the conversation on what they're interested in, and not talking about things that can be vigorously debunked or fact-checked or talked over by the other guy or gal. They make stuff up; they tell obvious lies; they fire up their base and some actually buy votes although they'd never admit it.

They quote polls that show they're doing great (or at least not doing horribly), and talk about their path to victory and all that, and there are actually some people out there who believe every word they say. 

The DCCC and the House Majority PAC and the NRCC and a whole mess of other PACs and Super PACS are trying to rig the system in their favor, by putting up ads in districts where they don't belong, trying to con voters into voting against their own best interests, spending millions and millions of dollars taking words out of context and slamming them on television over and over and over and over and...well, you get the point.

Heck, even the New York GOP is trying to rig the system - and they're not alone. GOP money from states where Trump is expected to do well, or to lose big, is headed off to scare the crap out of people in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and other states in to voting correctly.

Governors and state legislatures are trying to rig the system, by gerrymandering and creating bizarrely shaped districts that centralize all of the opponent's base into fewer districts that they will win handily, leaving other districts to the gerrymanderers.

States are passing voter limitation laws right, and right and right and, well, you get the drift.

Republican-controlled legislators in states with Republican governors are bending over backward to make it harder for poor people, people of color, old people, and other traditional Democratic voters to actually cast a ballot.

Not because they fear dead people voting or anything like that - because they fear live people voting, And that's a pretty big difference, if you ask me.

Is the system rigged?  Sure, if you look at it with your eyes open. It's been this way for a long time, it's not new because it's Hillary Clinton running against Donald Trump. It's politics as usual.

It may appear rigged because Trump hasn't paid attention in the past, but for someone coming from the cut-throat world of Manhattan real estate development -- you know, bid-rigging, and shady backroom deals, lawsuits, people advancing their own agendas and narratives -- is what he's seeing now really all that shocking?

Is anyone really shocked? 

October 16, 2016

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v5)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
Let's refresh where we were when we last visited Albany, before my vacation and before we were so rudely interrupted by those corruption charges against developers, lobbyists, and Mario Cuomo's third son.

I had been talking about the deliberations of the Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation, and touched on the legislative session's accomplishments and the challenge the Commission faced in part one, the pros and cons of giving the Leg a raise in part two, and that godawful 'good people' discussion in part three.

I had been waiting for an update from the Commission on the part time vs full time legislator discussion, which was to have taken place in September, I thought at a meeting on the 13th. Instead, the group had a public hearing on the 22nd.

Per the meeting transcript, they didn't get all that much accomplished, sad to say, and they didn't spend all that much time on the hours our elected officials work; rather, they focused on information from folks within the NYS Budget Department who noted they're having difficulty recruiting people to work for the many and varied commissions in New York, because the pay is so lousy.

Roman Hedges, an appointee of the Assembly Speaker and the one who has been putting numbers on the table, has upped the ante from a 2.2% salary increase across 17 or 18 years. The new numbers are based in part on comparison with California, which pays their commissioners (and their legislators) a heckuva lot more than we do here.
If I said that's the number, then my 136 ($136,000) for A commissioners goes to 240 ($240,000). Well, wow, that's a pretty big number increase, but as an annual number it's 3.2%. It's not a big percentage increase. It's a pretty startling number, so I guess I would reframe my observations of last time as how about something in the range of 200 to 240 as the range that we should be considering for the A commissioners and everything else should be proportionate; the Legislature, lieutenant governor, governor.
James Lack (appointed by the Senate Majority Leader) seemed amenable.
I think a lot of the things he's (ed note:Bob Mujica from the Budget office)  and Roman is saying makes a lot of sense, and obviously, vastly increases the numbers we've talked about, and I don't mind thinking about it. I'm certainly not going to finish the thinking of those thoughts today in doing so. I've said we just got this letter. It is very interesting, it is very good... I'd like some time to digest it and we'll have to come back and discuss it. We have almost two months (a recommendation is due this year) and I think it's a very, very good idea.
On the other side, as has been consistent, sits Fran Reiter (one of Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo's appointees). Reiter has been asking for people from the Leg to come and justify why they need a raise and has expressed frustration that so few of them seem willing to defend themselves on this issue. In comment she prepared before the September meeting to have read into the record, she notes, after talking about the level of participation from interested parties in the discourse on judicial raises,
The events surrounding our investigation of potential legislative salary increases have been very difficult...To date, we have heard from only three legislators, one of which who testified in support of a salary cut. We have neither heard nor received written testimony from the leadership of either the Assembly or Senate making an institutional argument for a salary increase. During the time of these hearings, it appears that more legislators are making public statements against the raise than for it. And some legislators are actually saying they won't accept it, said why would this Commission ever recommend it. At the same time, public sentiment via testimony and written submissions has been unanimous in its rejection of any legislative salary increase.
Based on all we have heard, it is my opinion that there is no possible justification for this Commission to recommend any legislative pay raise, whatsoever.
She's not completely giving up though -- she's willing to try one more time to get input from the people who stand to benefit from the monster pay raise that's being considered, and which has now grown a full percentage point per year over 18 years.
Therefore I am requesting that we reach out formally to the leadership and members of the New York State Assembly and Senate and invite them to provide the input so sorely lacking from our deliberations. Among the basic issues that need to be addressed if we are to consider a pay raise:  Do you believe the annual salary and/or allowances of members of the Legislature warrant an increase? If so, why and how much. And to what extent should dues and travel expenses be considered?
Gary Johnson, another of Cuomo's appointees, agreed with Reiter.
... it's a political process. And right now we find ourselves in the circumstance where what we've heard from the electorate is that they are opposed to legislative pay raises. And we've essentially heard from the Legislature silence. So the Legislature's position is essentially the status quo at this point, and I don't think -- I mean, even though we will not stand for election ourselves, nor go out of existence when we make this report, we have to be responsive to the electorate. And if that ball is going to be moved at all, I think it's necessary for the Legislature to weigh in and make a case for why this is appropriate and why it is something that the electorate perhaps needs to be educated to understand why it is an appropriate thing to do to raise legislative pay. 
On and on it went, for a while longer, ultimately landing that a formal request would be made to the State Senate and Assembly to put some cards on the table, if they dared do so during an election year, and decisions would be made after that, whether or not anything came or anyone else came forward.

I say "anyone else" because one junior Assembly member, Rodneyse Bichotte, submitted a letter addressing how difficult is it to make ends meet on the salary, and volunteered to testify in person, which is what Reiter has been looking for. She'll have the chance to do that, hopefully, at the next meeting.

I'll take a deeper look at Bichotte's letter in the next post.  And, by the way, I'm close to offering my recommendations, too.

October 15, 2016

The System is Rigged (Part One)

Is your perception that "the system" is rigged?

Donald Trump tells us the system is rigged, especially the tax system, and only he knows how to fix it. That's what he told us at the Republican National Convention back in July. The tax system, mind you, which allowed him to legally take a $900M loss and erase his federal tax obligation for maybe eighteen years or so.

Trump has said half of Americans don't pay taxes despite crippling government debt. He has complained about hedge fund managers not paying taxes, people 'leaving the country' to avoid paying taxes, companies lobbying to not pay taxes, companies moving business outside the US to avoid paying taxes, deductions that allow people not to pay taxes, complained that 20% is not enough tax for President Obama to pay, and has even said that the more money you earn, the more taxes you should pay.

And yet, even as he has complained about OPT (other people's taxes) or the lack thereof, he took his $916,000,000 single-year loss, stretched that across many years, and then proclaimed himself a genius for doing so.

You follow that, right? He's a genius for taking advantage of something on his personal taxes but when other people take advantage of legal mechanisms to reduce their tax burden, those people are, well, I guess, the equivalent of poor people who don't pay any taxes at all because they don't make enough to live on. He's a genius, but everyone else needs to pay up?

Not only does he proclaim himself a genius, the one who knows more about our tax system than anyone -- anyone! -- but he accuses other people of doing the same thing, taking the crazy huge deductions, as if they all do it, those rich people.

Like Warren Buffet, currently the planet's fourth richest person, according to the Forbes real time calculation as I write this. (Trump is currently tied for #324, in case you were interested, with an estimated $4.5B, or around half of his announced wealth.) Trump said that "Warren Buffett took a massive deduction" however that appears to be a comment with which Buffett would beg to differ, as noted by his response.
Answering a question last night (note: referring to Sunday's debate) about his $916 million income tax loss carryforward in 1995, Donald Trump stated that "Warren Buffett took a massive deduction." Mr. Trump says he knows more about taxes than any other human. He has not seen my income tax returns. But I am happy to give him the facts. 
Trump hasn't seen them, but it's not because Buffett won't show them -- in fact, a couple of months ago, he offered to sit down with Trump, and have a chat.
I'll bring my tax return. He can bring his tax return...Just let people ask us questions about items on there. Nobody is going to arrest us. There are no rules against showing your tax returns. 
Back to Trump's comment in the debate, implying that he's not the only one who does this - as if that matters at all, since Trump is the one who's running for President and he is the one who has chastised others for not paying taxes. And are you noting a trend here? Trump admits to sexually assaulting women (even though he denies that's what he said) and apologizes for it, by saying Bill Clinton was worse. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised that he takes a tax break and 'justifies' it by saying others did too.

Here's the rest of Buffett's statement on his own taxes.
My 2015 return shows adjusted gross income of $11,563,931. My deductions totaled $5,477,694, of which allowable charitable contributions were $3469,179. All but $36,037 of the remainder was for state income taxes.
The total charitable contributions I made during the year were $2,858,057,970, of which more than $2.5 billion were not taken as deductions and never will be. Tax law properly limits charitable deductions.
My federal income tax for the year was $1,845,557. Returns for previous years are of a similar nature in respect to contributions, deductions and tax rates.
I have paid federal income taxes every year since 1944, when I was 13. (Though, being a slow starter, I owed only $7 in tax that year). I have copies of all 72 of my returns and none uses a carryforward.
Finally, I have been audited by the IRS multiple times and am currently being audited. I have no problem releasing my tax information while under audit. Neither would Mr. Trump - at least he would have no legal problem. 
Why is it that politicians who think something is 'wrong' or 'needs to be fixed' feel compelled to take advantage of the very same wrong, broken thing? And yes, folks, Donald Trump is a politician. Don't be fooled when he says he's not.

Here's another famous New Yorker, our Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo, who is a lot like Trump when it comes to saying one thing and doing another.

Cuomo, too, has told us the system is rigged. He has told us over and over that we need campaign finance reform in New York state, and particularly that we need to do something about the LLC loophole (allowing every LLC to contribute $150K annually to politicians and campaigns - in essence, encouraging people to establish multiple LLCs so that almost unlimited contributions can be made to elected officials, you know, to 'get their point across').

He says that, and he has proposed legislation to fix it, but it fails every time, in part, I'm sure, because while he's railing against the loophole, he takes millions from LLCs -- because it's legal to do so.

That's right. Just like Trump, Cuomo has a history of complaining about the very thing he is so adept at using to his advantage. With both of them, we are supposed to listen to the ire in their words, all the while ignoring the irony of their actions.

They tire me out, these glib politicians. Had they the courage of their convictions, they would not be taking  the 18-year carryforward or the $6M in LLC money, nor would they do any of the myriad other things they say are bad for us and need changing.

They tire me out.

October 13, 2016

Grains of Salt (v16): Cross-town Development

Grains of Salt
You all know how much I just love crazy economic development incentives.

You know, the kind that allow companies to create one or two jobs and get millions in tax breaks?

Or that encourage companies to move across town, leaving one group of taxpayers in the lurch when the business leaves, and keeping those same taxpayers plus all of the rest of them from getting tax dollars that could have been gained had the company just moved on its own and paid sales taxes and other costs associated with renovating or building their new headquarters?

Or that give tax breaks to companies they admit they don't need? Or to build apartments because there are plenty of people who want to pay to live in little boxes in the suburbs?

Yeah, politicians and the economic development folks in my neck of the woods, in Central New York,  are notorious for this type thing - most have never met a tax break they didn't like. Which is why I really shouldn't be surprised to have found this latest plan upon our return home from vacation.

BlueRock Energy Holdings, a local company started by a guy who used to work for Niagara Mohawk (now National Grid), sells energy to commercial and residential customers in New York and, in December 2014 announced they were expanding into Pennsylvania and Connecticut. They also created a second company, one that focused on "energy efficiency consulting." All good stuff, right? Local guy, home-grown company, and a growing business - expanding from 47 to 87 employees "over the next two years" they said back in 2014.

In September of this year, they announced that they had outgrown their office space in Syracuse's Franklin Square and would moving to larger space in what's now called Barclay Damon Tower (the old Marine Midland Tower on Warren and Jefferson). They're going to have around 13,800 square feet of space in their new location, compared to around 8,600 in their old space. We also learned that the company now has 67 employees and "expects to create at least 13 more jobs over the next five years."

Do the math with me. If in December 2014 they said they'd add 40 jobs in the next two years, they should be pretty darn close to 87 people by now, right? But they say now they have only 67 and don't expect to get to 80 for another five years -- which would still be seven fewer employees than they said they'd have by the end of this year. The current projections are that they're have more than 100 employees within 10 years.

What is the point of economic development funds? They should be used to help businesses expand, add jobs, improve the overall economy of the area, right? And should go to companies that really need the help, right?

Well,  maybe not.
BlueRock has applied to the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency for an exemption from sales taxes on the $485,000 it expects to spend on furniture and fixtures and other equipment and materials for the new office (emphasis added). The sales tax exemption, if approved, would save the company $38,800 though it would have to pay the agency $5,850 in fees.
To no one's surprise, OCIDA approved the request, unanimously, this week.

So a successful business, an awarded business, a business that supports multiple professional sports teams, is moving less than a mile driving distance, and we're paying them $32,950 to do it?

Does BlueRock really need taxpayer help purchasing office furniture and fixtures?  My guess is no. Would they be stupid not to take advantage of our overly generous economic development programs? Most folks would say yes.

I would say no -- because sometimes you're the better person, the better company, if you do what you need to do using your own resources, rather than taking resources away from others.

October 12, 2016

Wondering on Wednesday (v67)

Wednesday - again?

No wonder I have a headache, with all this weekly wondering.

While we were on vacation last week, I attempted to keep track of political signs. We spent a little bit of time in New York's Hudson Valley, and most of our trip traipsing up and down the roads of Central and Coastal Connecticut. We spent very little time in any major cities - drove through and around Fishkill and Poughkeepsie in NY, and Hartford, CT but other than that we were more off the beaten path.

Big winners for signs?  In NY, John Faso and Zephyr Teachout seemed to have the most, with Faso having more. Locked in a battle to represent NY's 19th Congressional district in Washington, they seemed to have the most coverage of any candidates.

Trump vs Clinton in that neck of the woods? Trump -- but we only saw a handful of signs for him and a finger or two for Clinton.

In Connecticut, signs for the local races dominated the landscape -- they were everywhere: multiple signs on every corner, in every empty lot, even on abandoned buildings. I don't remember any of the names, other than a woman named Diane, this many days later (and it doesn't really take all that many days to forget things lately) but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the local signs outnumbered the national signs by probably a hundred to one.

The few national signs we did see favored Trump, again. We might have seen ten of his to two of hers, roughly a similar proportion to what we saw in New York.

While I'm wondering a little about why we saw so few signs for the national candidates in our more than a thousand mile journey, I'm excited that people are paying so much attention to the races that really matter. The local races - village and town seats, county seats and the like, are far more important than the Presidential race. So are State and Congressional races.

Voting for the people that you can actually talk to, call on the phone, drop in and visit - those are the ones that make a difference. And even better, many of them can be voted out if they're not responsive to you. That makes this whole voting thing all the sweeter.

Why so few for Trump or Clinton, or Johnson or Stein, for that matter?

I've heard stories that Clinton people are afraid to put up signs, afraid that over-zealous Trump fanatics (that's the correct word, I think?) may, shall we say, react badly and take steps that shouldn't be taken; that may or may not have any validity. Johnson and Stein don't have the visibility that would give them the money to purchase the visibility they need. And Trump? He may have finally gone too far with his 'unique' candidacy, and people may not want to publicize their support any more.

The other thing is, if I've heard one, I think I've heard 100? 1,000? 10,000? people say that they have no one to vote for at the top of the ticket, which could also be a reason we're seeing so few signs for either of the major party choices we have.

Also noteworthy? If you did not know the candidate's name, you would have no idea whether she was a Republican, a Democrat, a Green, or a Libertarian. I'm old enough to remember that political signs always told you which party you were voting for - heck, back in the day they told you what row on the ballot to pick.

I wonder when, exactly, it was that candidates decided it was no longer advantageous to publicize their party affiliation on signs?

Or, maybe, it's a sign of our poor economy, that candidates can't afford to stick an R, D, G or L on their signs?

Or, maybe, I wonder, is it a sign that our melting pot is back on the burner, instead of on the back burner, and people are trying to be more representative of all of their constituents, and becoming less partisan?

And then I laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

And wondered, how the heck did it get to be Wednesday again already?

October 10, 2016

It's Not Too Late to Fix Things

October 10, 2016.

To Whom it May Concern:

While I appreciate to some extent the benefits of having a famous name and face or two sitting at the moderator's desk for the Presidential debates, and the potential positive impact on interest and ratings, we have seen this year a continuation of the moderators getting in the way, interjecting themselves and their interest in 'getting a story' into the debates, rather than facilitating the conversation in an objective manner. 

Note that I say this as a #NeverTrump person; I don't support him or his positions, but like many of his supporters, all of his campaign team, his family, his closest advisers, and many of my own friends, I believe he has undeniably been treated differently by the moderators in the first two debates. 

When that happens, soundbite collection goes up, but real discussion on the issues decreases correspondingly.

It's clear that we have no opportunity to fix the candidates our political parties bestowed upon us this year, but we do have an opportunity to fix the debates so that they are more effective in educating the voting public on where the candidates stand on important issues, and significantly less focused, as a friend of mine put it, on sharing the candidates' respective baggage. 

So how do we fix it? Here are a few ideas.

First: officially define, or re-define, the role of the moderator to include the following activities:
  1. Introducing the candidates.
  2. Explaining the rules, such as how much time is allowed to respond, who goes first, opportunities for rebuttals, and so on.
  3. Reading the questions, or introducing the people who are to read the questions.
Second: the moderators should be prohibited from the following activities:
  1. Fact-checking the responses from the candidates.
  2. Arguing with the candidates.
  3. Controlling the time allocated to the questions and rebuttals.
Third: moderators should be pulled from the ranks of judges who have been deemed qualified and have actually participated in events held under the auspices of the National Debate Tournament, and not from the media.

Regarding how the debates are structured, here are some suggestions for the 'town hall' debate format: 
  1. Only audience members who were invited to participate in the town hall are allowed to pose questions to the candidates.
  2. The moderator role in the town hall format is limited to (a) introducing the questioner; (b) ensuring the question (and any rebuttal) goes to the right candidate based on established rules; and (c) at the end of the responses, asking the questioner whether or not, in their opinion, the question was answered.
  3. A designated timekeeper, who is qualified and certified as a judge in the National Debate Tournament, will maintain the visible clock for response and rebuttals times; the clock will include an indicator at 20 seconds, 15 seconds, 10 seconds, 5 seconds, and when time has expired. All candidate microphones will be disabled at five seconds after time expires.
When the 'traditional' presidential debate format is used, I suggest the following:
  1. Candidates are required to defend their own policies in response to questions falling within larger topic 'blocks' such as national security (immigration, crime, terrorism); foreign policy (military deployments, treaty support, the Middle East); economics (budget, debt, taxes); public policy (education, the environment, energy, and climate change,  jobs and trade, health care, safety net programs, the Supreme Court, speech and religion, gun control/gun rights) and so on.
  2. Because the candidates are discussing their own policies, there will be no rebuttals in this format. 
  3. These debates will be held without an audience present. Pooled media video/audio will be employed, as they are at many other aspects of the campaign. Viewing areas will be provided for those wishing to attend and watch the debate from outside the hall. 
  4. Time will be kept in the manner described above, with the countdown indicators and automatic microphone shut off at five seconds past the expiration of time. 
Finally, to expand the discussion of ideas in the country, I believe we need to expand the presidential debate stage to include participation from minor parties, with some restrictions.
  1. Minor party candidates who are on the ballot in at least 26 states by July 1st of the election year are allowed to participate fully in the town hall debates.
  2. In order to participate in the 'traditional' presidential debate format, the minor party candidates must meet the ballot line requirements and also must have published policies in each of the topic blocks. 
  3. Moderators and the timekeeper will review websites for all of the candidates meeting the ballot requirements to determine whether the candidates have defined sufficient policy positions to allow participation in the topic block discussions.
  4. The review is not intended to assess the validity or viability of the policies, but rather to ascertain whether the candidate has defined enough of a platform to be included, and to determine whether there are any topic blocks where a candidate cannot compete based on the lack of policies.
Is this perfect? Nope. 

Is it boring? Perhaps, if you're more interested in a mixed martial arts event or some politicians-vs.-lion kind of thing. 

But for all of the people who actually want to understand what the candidates stand for, as opposed to hearing what they say at rallies without having to really say anything other much at all about what they stand for, or hearing talking heads make their opinions known, these might be acceptable options.

There's one more debate. It might not be too late.

October 9, 2016

50 Shades of Disbelief

After a few days of "boys will be boys" and "it was just locker room talk" and "they all talk like that" and "we know he's boastful and a braggart so why would you believe what he said about women, you know it's just talk" and similar reactions to the 2005 audio of Donald Trump talking to Billy Bush about how he treats women, today my Facebook feed is full of references to 50 Shades of Grey as it relates to the Trump situation. I kid you not, I saw it six times this morning as soon as I signed on.

I could belabor the obvious, that the book is fiction and Trump has said we're living in the real world; that the characters in the book existed in the author's imagination and that Trump is an actual person; that the book is about consenting adults (or so I've been told, never read them) and that Trump says he assaults women without their consent, he just moves in, doesn't wait. 

And that, we know, is not fantasy, because he never lies or makes things up. Or so he has told us.

If I were interested in writing them all down, I could probably list close to 50 Shades of Orange, comments that Trump has made about women, towards women, about his own daughter, about women in the media, women on the Apprentice, women on the Celebrity Apprentice, Rosie O'Donnell, women who have been divorced, women who have small breasts, women who keep their husband's name when they get divorced, women who are not bleeding from their eyes but could be bleeding from other places, women who breastfeed, women who are ugly inside and out, how important is to have a young and beautiful piece of ass around, and on and on and on and on. 

Instead, let's do this. Pretend you were one of the women Trump groped between the legs; is it a funny meme now?

Pretend you've got a son in high school or college. And let's say he's all excited to tell you that at a party he forced some kisses on female students who had not consented to being kissed. Do you laugh it off, Dads? Chip off the old block, is he?  And what about you moms out there? Would you be proud of your son? Is that what you how you want him to treat women?

Are you still laughing when he tells you that he went even further than forcing a kiss, that he grabbed her between the legs? Still laughing? Is this the point where you and your son sit on the couch reminiscing about passages in the 50 Shades trilogy where women enjoy being raped, beg to be raped and so on? Maybe thumb through the pages looking for a really good section, maybe something he can try when he goes back to school?

How hard are you laughing when he gets charged with assault? Thrown out? Registered as a sex offender? Are you going to respond like the father of the Stanford kid, the one who lamented his poor son's life being ruined for 20 minutes of action?  Would you give even a passing thought to the victim (because that's what she would be), or would you think back to the book and say, well all women want that, it was right there in the book and it sold 80 million copies?

Or maybe, it's your daughter, your perfect princess, the light of your eyes. How hard, exactly, are you laughing when SHE comes home and tells you that some star athlete or rich kid tossed back a couple of Tic Tacs, forcibly kissed her, and groped her between the legs? Would you pull the books out then, and talk about how it's OK because all women want that?

The answer is no. You're not laughing.  You are a million times more likely to be crying your eyes out, and then heading for the school or the boy's parents or maybe even the local police than you are to be looking for the books to remind yourself that deep down, she really welcomed the behavior.

Because, all fantasies aside, the last thing you would ever want is for your daughter to be on the receiving end of a person who thinks "because he is a star" that it's OK to sexually her. The last thing you would ever want is to read an article about your daughter's sexual assault and see, in the same article, the athletic statistics of the person who assaulted her. Or, how famous her attacker was, how many buildings have his name on them, or how rich the parents are, or any of the rest of it.

Because at that exact moment you find out your child has been assaulted, nothing else matters.

More than two years ago, I posted about comments Republicans have made about rape, all the different ways they describe it to make it seem like it's OK. At that time, I noted that we are not our sexual fantasies, we don't enjoy being raped. 

The same thing is true, obviously, that we don't enjoy being groped, either. And yet, here we are in 2016, using a sexual fantasy meme to justify not what Trump thinks, but what he said he does. I'm dumbfounded.

I'll close with this last piece of mind-boggling dissonance, which I think is the perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with all of this.

Watch this video and see Scottie Nell Hughes, a mom, a Republican, and a Trump defender, ask the other Republicans on the CNN panel to stop using the P-word, the word Donald Trump used to describe the location he likes to grope.

Because her daughter is watching the show. 

October 8, 2016

Riddle Me This on Trump's Apology

Donald Trump "apologized" again, this time on video, for his comments about sexually abusing women via grabbing them in their nether regions and forcibly kissing them, which he could do because he's a star.
I'm not sure whether his apology was meant to include complaining about women who reject him and then allegedly go out and purchase plastic boobs, he wasn't all that clear on that part.
I've never said I'm a perfect person nor pretended to be someone that I'm not. I've said and done things I regret and the words released today, on this more than a decade old video, are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.
Note that Trump was alleged to have been involved in a sexual abuse situation with an underaged woman; he has made downright creepy comments about his own daughter, there were allegations of forced sex in his marriages, his own appearances in Playboy videos, and his allegedly trying to force his wife and maybe an employee to do a nude shoot for Playboy, and of course his comments about women, their looks, their intelligence, and the rest, are part of the public record which seems to grow on an almost daily basis

While it's certainly possible for some of these allegations, which pre-date the 2005 conversation the newly married Trump had with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood to be false, it's also equally possible some of them may be true, in which case it would not seem true that the words "don't reflect" who he is.

But then, nothing says I apologize than deflecting from the apology with your campaign speil.

I have traveled the country talking about change for America, but my travels have also changed me. I've spent time with grieving mothers who've lost their children, laid-off workers whose jobs have gone to other countries, and people from all walks of life who just want a better future. I have gotten to know the great people of our country and I've been humbled by the faith they've placed in me.
And of course, I've made an ass out of myself attacking a Gold Star family, including the grieving mother  -- for days, he did that, in case anyone has forgotten.
I pledge to be a better man tomorrow, and will never, ever let you down.
Um, that horse is so far out of the barn it might as well be Secretariat in the Belmont. Or Forrest Gump, running, running, running, running...
Let's be honest, we're living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we're facing today.
We're losing our jobs, we are less safe than we were eight years ago and Washington is totally broken. Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. I've sad some foolish things but there's a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.  We will discuss this more in the coming days.
See you at the debate on Sunday. 

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you're always a day away.  Which is when I can start being a better man.

I pledge to be a better man tomorrow, starting with the debate, where it seems I'm going to talk about this no matter what. I pledge to be a better man starting tomorrow, but first I'm promising to be a worse man.

I pledge to be a better man starting tomorrow, because you all know I showed remarkable restraint in not talking about my opponent's husband and his picadillos in the Oval Office, or about how my opponent reacted to all of that, because that's a true measure of how I'm going to lead the country.

I pledge to be a better man, by focusing even more attention on this thing, this "nothing more than a distraction for the important issues we're facing today" because while I've already proven that I can be distracted for days and focus my attention on things that are completely inconsequential, you all need to be reminded of my childlike attention span. We need that in a president, you know, that stamina to deal with all of the things I'll be facing that I'll ignore while I focus on this distracting stuff. 

Riddle me this, people: I'm not religious, but even with my limited understanding of sinning and confession -- which, I must point out, I was re-educated on just yesterday on a Facebook post that sinners confess and everything's OK then --  but I think there's maybe more to it than that? 

I would think that there would be some kind of requirement that there was honesty, sincerity, and real thought and feeling behind the confession or apology, and I'm sure as hell not seeing anything like that here, are you?

Apologize by saying that other people are worse? I'm pretty sure when I was a kid, that didn't pass muster with my parents.  Although, I guess that must be different now, "let's be honest. We're living in the real world" where a half-hearted apology is all it takes? 

Come on. Just come on.

October 5, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v66)

Well, last night we had the first (and only, thankfully) vice presidential debate, and boy did a lot of minds change or what?

Um, that would be "or what" I think, how about you?

The VP debates are a relatively meaningless adventure where the national media sets aside 90 minutes for us to see if the underlings can first, do no harm; second, prove how much they know about the person at the top of their own ticket; third, show how much they know about the person at the top of the other party's ticket; and fourth, get in a memorable line at the expense of the other side.

You know what I mean:
  • Lloyd Bentsen, running mate of Michael Dukakis, talking at Dan Quayle in 1988:  Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
  • Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, introducing himself at the 1992 VP debate: Who am I? Why am I here?
  • Joe Biden, squaring off in 2012 against Mitt Romney's choice, Paul Ryan: With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey.
  • Sarah Palin's abuse of  maverick in her debate with Biden in 2008, and Biden's takedown of her: Listen, let's talk about the maverick John McCain.
We do know, of course, that the GOP told us in advance that Pence won; I'm not sure there ever is a real winner in a political debate, because we don't have a 'debate.' We have question and answer sessions, that typically don't include anything new and original. Mabye we should call them FAQs instead? 

What was most interesting to me were the discussions on religion. Under normal circumstances, I think a person's faith is their business and I don't pick my politicians based on that. I might not pick one who lies about his faith, for example, but in general I think it's not a political thing. 

Moderator Elaine Quijano, hitting on the fact that both Kaine and Pence are devout, asked them to talk in detail about a time when they struggled to balance their personal faith and a public policy position. 

Tim Kaine gave possibly the best possible answer to this question. Jeb! Bush came close, but Kaine nailed it. After talking about his upbringing and faith background, he dove into the struggle part of the question, the actual heart of the question he was asked. Take a look.
I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teaching of my church in my own personal life. But I don't believe in this nation - a first amendment nation where we do not raise any religion over the other and we allow people to worship as they please - that the doctrine of any one religion should be mandated for everyone. 
For me, the hardest struggle in my faith life was the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so am I. But I was governor of a state - and the state law said there was a death penalty for crimes that the jury determine to be heinous. So I had to grapple with that...
It was very difficult to allow executions to go forward, but in circumstances where I did not feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law and I did.
That was a real struggle - but I think it is really important that those of us who have very deep faith lives don't feel like we can just substitute our own views for everybody else in society - regardless of their views
Pence, in his response, talked about his upbringing, his personal decision for Christ in college, and his belief in the sanctity of life. He talked about being well on the way to making Indiana the most pro-adoption state in the country, and offering alternative to abortion, and so on -- but mentioned not a single thing about a personal struggle or having to balance faith and public policy. He used his time to struggle with Kaine's faith.
But what I can't understand is with Hillary Clinton and now Senator Kaine at her side - is to support a practice like partial birth abortion and to hold the view - I know Senator you hold pro-life views personally, but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me... So for me, my faith informs my life. I tried to spend a little time on my knees every day. But it all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life. 
Kaine's response?
Elaine, this is a fundamental question. Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds - her Methodist church experience was really formative for her as a public servant. But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm with the commands of your faith - but is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else. 
I wonder why more politicians don't understand that? And why they spend so much time trying to promote one religion over another? And why they spend so much time trying to pass laws allowing people and corporations the right to discriminate against others who may have differing beliefs?

So, I wonder, what did we really learn from this debate? On the four things that candidates are supposed to accomplish during a veep debate, here's my scorecard:

  • First, do no harm: neither of them did any real harm to themselves, or the top of their tickets. Kaine was the aggressor, certainly, interrupting Pence and Quijano on several occasions to make a point or to try and get Pence to answer a question. If you wanted to pick a winner on that basis, on who was the more polite, Pence was your guy.
  • Prove how much they know about the person at the top of their own ticket: clearly, Kaine won this hands down. He spoke easily about Clinton on a personal level, as if he actually connects with her, without struggling to do so. And he mentioned her name, it seemed, much more than Pence mentioned Trump. Isn't that what they're supposed to be doing, promoting their ticket?
  • Prove how much they know about the other guy (or gal): here again, Kaine seemed to be in better command, and certainly mentioned Trump more than Pence did. 
  •  Get in a memorable line: I don't remember any -- so sorry, no zinger winner this year. 

Win McNamee/Getty Images
One day, I would like to see a read debate, the way debates actually work. You know, give the candidates a statement (not in advance, mind you) and let them run with it. Do four of those on the show, allowing time for an introduction so that the answer to the first question doesn't get lost in the thank yous to the host, the crowd, the weather, and so on. These two could have had fun with that format.

Some experts said that Kaine was running for vice president in 2016 and that Pence was running for president in 2020. If that's the case, Kaine won - because he is running for vice president in 2016.

You can read the transcript, and some commentary, and judge for yourself whether there was a clear winner.

And finally, I wonder does Tim Kaine's left eyebrow have it's own zip code?

October 2, 2016

Talking about a Revolution

There she goes again, that darn Hillary Clinton. She just doesn't know when to keep her mouth shut, does she?

Back at a fundraiser in February, Clinton was recorded speaking and answering questions for 45 minutes or so (STAMINA!) without falling down or anything. She did cough though, so clearly she's not healthy enough to sit at a desk in the Oval Office and help guide the direction of the free world, or so a certain orange-tinted politician would have us believe.

Notably, there were other coughs in the room too, so I'm thinking whatever jobs those folks have, they should immediately go on disability or get themselves on Dr. Oz or something.

The audio of her comments has been leaked (of course) and the media is all a-buzz (of course) and the Trump campaign will use this quote against her (of course). It's all so predictable, isn't it?

I'm going to do exactly what the 'real' media did, which is to present the quote out of context -- and then, I'll present the quote in context.

I actually thought about censoring the heinous comment, maybe bleeping out the worst of it, but I think my readers can handle the truth, as they say, and so I'm presenting it unedited.

Please be warned - some of you might find her words disturbing. 
Some are new to politics completely. They're children of the Great Recession. And they are living in their parents' basement. They feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don't see much of a future.

OMG and WTH and throw some more letters in the sky and let them rain down as acronyms, Elizabeth!

While it's being presented that her comments were specifically about #Berners, truth be told, she was answering a question about young people and cynicism about government in general, not specifically about Bernie Sanders voters.

Here's the question she was asked:
My concern is the criticism that has been placed in government, and our young people seem to be buying into listening to promises being made to them (on both sides) and not understanding that you can't get from here to there without going there incrementally, and I worry that that feeds into people saying they didn't get it therefore government doesn't work for them it. It buys into cynicism by not letting them live up to the promises that are made to them. Can you speak to that at all?
Well, yes she can, and yes she did. Here's her full response, minus some chitchat about George McGovern's ill-fated run for the White House and some minimal editing to exclude specific policy proposals, which instead are summarized.
Here's what I think is going on and I think we'll have to do more research and understand it better. I think you're really on to something. I think there's a sense of disappointment among young people about politics and there are a lot of different reasons for it. You know, some take the position that they were for President Obama and he didn't revolutionize our country. The  poor man faced implacable hostility and got a lot done and deserves an enormous amount of credit. But the idea that, somehow, the Affordable Care Act and saving the economy were not big enough accomplishments is just bewildering to me because I know how hard it was and how touch and go a deal it was. 
Some are new to politics completely, they're children of the Great Recession. And they are living in their parents' basement. They feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don't see much of a future. 
I met with a group of young black millennial today and one of the young women said "you know, none of us feel like we have the job we should have gotten out of college and we don't believe the job market is going to give us much of a chance." So, that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so if you're feeling that you are consigned to being, you know, a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn't pay a lot and doesn't have much of a ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing.
So I think we should all be really understanding of that and we should try to do the best we can not to be a wet blanket on idealism, you want people to be idealistic, you want them to set big goals but to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals. 
She went on to describe some of her plans - 100% universal coverage, making the Affordable Care Act work better for people, bringing costs down, climate change, infrastructure and so on -- and finished up with this:
And so what we have to do, and what I'm trying to do, is to make the case that we have ideals, we've got big goals, but we also believe that the path to progress is one that you just have to get up every day and work on. You have to make it your life's work if you do this full time, you have to make it part of your civic responsibility for others, and just keep making that case.
It's not as glamorous, it's not as exciting, it doesn't promise a revolution. I mean, I'm still trying to understand the revolution part, because here's how I think about it. I mean Senator Sanders sort of alludes to this. In order to have a revolution, first we have to take back the Senate and get to 60 votes. Then we've got to take back the House. And that may require some redistricting in order to get people out of safe Republican seats (note: the safe Republican seats came about because of redistricting) so they can be competitive again. I think we're already in year six or seven of a two-year term. 
So, you know, those of us who understand this, who've been experienced, who've worked in, it know that it's - it's a false promise. But I don't think that you tell idealistic people, particularly young people, that they bought into a false promise. You try to do the best you can to say, you know, "hey, that's his view, that's what he is offering you, but here's another way where actually we can achieve a lot of what we have said, starting day one and make a real difference in people's lives and I tell them all the time, a lot of the people I meet, they can't wait - they can't wait for a revolution (note: meaning, they don't have time to wait, not that they're so excited for a revolution to occur.) We have to live in this space of where we say here's what we can do, here's what's achievable, and here's a lot of people we can help right away.
Wow. Was that a crushing, derogatory, horrible, unkind, cold-hearted thing to say? Well, no -- it's a comprehensive, nuanced answer by a former idealistic young person in response to a question from another former idealistic young person.

And was that a slaughtering of Sanders supporters? Well, if you think mentioning Bernie Sanders some 465 words into a 700 word response - and mentioning his name only once - is slamming his supporters, you clearly are working towards a different goal than simply reporting the news.

And here's a news flash: not every millennial is a Bernie Sanders supporter. Not all of the millennials living at home with Mom and Dad, whether in the basement or in their childhood bedrooms painted with Teen-aged Mutant Ninja Turtles or My Little Pony, are Bernie Sanders supporters.

Clinton was spot on, in my opinion, but her message will be lost.  The campaign is already having to 'defend' her comments, and the articles all, of course, talk about the basement, as if that was the most important thing she said. In reality, there's nothing for her to defend.

So, I'm thinking, maybe the revolution we need to have is the one where we get mad as hell at the news media for trying to fit news items into soundbites in the first place, or for trying to move the conversation in the direction they want it moved. Maybe the revolution we need  is that we all take responsibility for getting our news ourselves and stop relying on people who, frankly, are just dying for a close election come November 8th.