October 31, 2017

Grains of Salt (v26): Paychex Paychecks

Well, how about that!  It seems Joanie Mahoney, our County Executive, actually does know who her
Grains of Salt
campaign was paying all this time. 

For some time now, going back at least to July, Mahoney has been hiding the identity of the person or people her campaign paid almost $60,000 over the past year, even though Mahoney last ran for office in 2015 and is not up for re-election again until 2019. 

Now, when I say hiding, I mean that on her campaign finance disclosure statements, Paychex is listed as the payee. For those who may not be aware, Paychex handles payroll processing for businesses and, apparently, campaign committees. But in the case of Mahoney's filings, they are not the payee, they are merely the pass-through.

Early on, Mahoney argued that her filings were OK, they were compliant, and of course they were ethical, because it wasn't "government money" being used. The State Board of Elections disagreed, as we were told by John Conklin (on behalf of the Board).
The point is, the thing that needs to be disclosed is who is ultimately receiving the payment, who the payee really is. The payroll processor is not the one who is really the payee. It's the employee who receives the wages, and that should ultimately be disclosed.
Mahoney, a lawyer, would only say the money was for her campaign staff, pointing out that
I have people who continue to do work on behalf of the campaign. I have disclosed everything the way I am required to do.
She further noted
We will discuss with the Board of Elections to ensure our filings continue to be compliant in the future. Our campaign committee has always taken pride in our timely and accurate disclosure filings.
Moving ahead a few days, the Board was advised by Syracuse.com that Mahoney's campaign was not the only one - there were others too, from across the state - who were filing similar disclosure statements. An eye opener, it was for them -- because the people who review filings had never questioned it before. Here's our friend John Conklin again
There was not a consensus that it was a common enough deficiency to spend limited staff time on the issue.
Later in August, the Board ordered Mahoney's campaign, and the others, to amend their filings to accurately reflect who was the actual end recipient of the wages paid by the campaigns.

Finally, we arrived at the outcome that was ordered back in August.  Earlier this month, Mahoney released the name of the person who was being paid almost $60K to work on the campaign: Lesley B. Dublin.  Dublin is the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Onondaga County - so while she's not an elected official, she works for county residents. In that capacity, she earns around $79K.

In her spare time - nights and weekends, we're assured - she earns $57K as she
organizes special events and fundraisers for Friends of Joanie Mahoney, and coordinates the campaign's charitable contributions.
Mahoney pats herself on the back for paying one of our employees to be her campaign's employee:
Most elected officials expect their government employees to do campaign work for free and I have never done that. I have always believed that anyone, particularly county employees, who perform campaign responsibilities on their own time should be compensated by the campaign.
I guess we have to give Mahoney credit for her generosity with campaign workers, even if we disapprove of her pretending that it was compliant, or ethical, to hide their names.

October 30, 2017

What They're Saying: The Manafort Shoe Drops

So, Paul Manafort and his right hand man, Rick Gates, were indicted on a variety of charges, from money laundering to conspiring against the United States. And some overzealous Trump campaign foreign policy advisor volunteer named George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty and is now a source for the Robert Mueller investigation.

Against that backdrop, what are people saying? Here's a sampling.
But look, today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity. The real collusion scandal, as we've said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS and Russia. There's evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election. We've been saying from say one there has been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all. ~ Sarah Huckabee Sanders
They've made an indictment. I really have nothing to add because I haven't even read it, so I'm not going to speculate on something I haven't read. So there's just no point in doing that. ~ House Speaker Paul Ryan
The special counsel has found a reason on criminal violations to indict two individuals, and I will leave that up to the special counsel to make that determination. It doesn't change anything with our investigation. We received document from and had interest in two of the individuals named, but clearly the criminal charges put them in the Special Counsel's purview. ~ Richard Burr, (R-NC), Senate Intelligence Committee Chair. 
The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel's work in any way. If he does so, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues. ~Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus?????
... Also, there is NO COLLUSION! ~Donald Trump 
And finally -- you thought I was going to close with the president's profound punctuation, didn't you?  Nope - not tonight. 

And finally,  I'll leave you with this:
It's clear from Mueller's court documents -- if you read between the lines with your head in a microwave - that the Russia-connected "overseas professor" who met Papadopoulos was actually Clinton wearing a costume. She is known as a master of disguise, which explains how she hid her identity while killing President John F. Kennedy, raiding the US consulate in Benghazi and being Charles Manson. ~Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune

October 29, 2017

Sunday School 10/29/17

So, what was happening in the NBC classroom this morning?

Chuck Todd had Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman and Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill on  Meet the Press.

Todd and Portman talked a little about president Trump; Portman didn't vote for him, he said, but it is his job to work with the duly elected president - as he did with Presidents Obama and Clinton, people with whom he didn't always agree. And, Portman said, character does matter.
Of course. Yeah. Of course character counts. And I don't agree with every tweet. As you know I've spoken up on occasion. And yet, if you're focused on the tweets and not focused on actually accomplishing what people are looking to have happen for them and their family, I think you're getting out of touch with the American people.
They also talked about tax reform, and about the deficit spending that will allow that reform to happen. Todd wove together a few old Portman quotes:
The American people are rightfully frustrated by the fact that we have the biggest deficit in the history of our country and the biggest debt ever.
Debt and deficit will end up in a fiscal crisis and an economic crisis.
It's a question as to whether we're going to just sort of turn our heads and allow this to occur or whether we're going to actually deal with this issue in a way that's responsible for current and future generations. 
Here's what today's Portman says:
First, I'm really excited about this tax reform because I think it will generate a lot more revenue. I actually think it will over the ten-year period. Chuck, you're talking about (what will) result in deficit reduction. Why? Because for the first time in over 30 years we're going to reform the tax code to provide a middle-class tax cut,which is really important. 
But also to encourage more investment for more jobs, more earnings and to improve the economy And what we've said is if we can just improve the economy slightly instead of the 1.9% growth that the Congressional Budget Office says is going to happen let's take it .4% more. If we can just do that, then we begin to actually reduce the deficit. And I think that will happen.
Todd asked what many people outside of DC ask:
Do you realize it's hard to really believe the idea that somehow cut revenue, cut taxes and somehow that's going to increase taxes into -- 
Portman's answer?
Not if you do tax reform... It's not just tax cuts, it's tax reform...  We have a tax code now that actually encourages jobs and investments to go overseas. And this reverses all that. And it's going to result in more investment coming here to this country, more economic activity. Everybody (who) looks at this tax reform proposal will be able to say, "I think across the spectrum this is going to change behavior and it's going to change behavior in a way that encourages more job creation and economic growth..."

McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, was also asked about taxes and about what Trump said to Democrats he met with. McCaskill noted that it's hard for Dems to support the plan when they have no idea what's actually going to be in it. (Like the rest of us, its seems they'll find out when the GOP unveils the darn thing.) But she did hold out hope.
It's hard for me to take seriously that they want Democrats to participate when they won't show us the bill... So I want to work with them. If we can make this about the middle-class and make this not trickle down but deliver to the middle-class and small businesses, then I think they could get a bipartisan vote on this, and that would be so much better for the country.
Todd pressed her on what she would support, knowing that the minority will not have a ton of chances to get what they want.
I certainly support lowering the corporate tax rates so we're globally competitive. I could live with something in the low twenties. And depending on what they would do on a child tax credit or on making sure that kids can afford college, retirement income - the notion that they're going to mess with the retirement accounts in order to give a tax break to millionaires and billionaires, that just doesn't work. So yeah, I'll compromise. But Chuck, I've had a front-row seat to what happened in Kansas... And they said exactly what Senator Portman said, "Well, we're going to have growth. It's not going to be a problem." It's been a huge problem in Kansas...
We'll close out with  a statement from McCaskill that made Chuck Todd, well, chuckle.
You referenced a couple of cable news hosts. And you said 30% of Missouri is worrying about (what) one cable news host says. 20% is worried about another. And you said half the state's watching Dancing with the Stars. And you focus... you say "I try and focus on the folks watching Dancing with the Stars."
There's some common sense in that statement, for sure.

One other thing we learned today: Trump's approval rating is singularly noteworthy.
Our brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this morning shows president Trumps approval rating at a low for his presidency. 38% approve, 58% disapprove. It's actually down considerably from where Mr. Trump was just a month ago in the first aftermath of those hurricanes.  It's also the lowest in modern times for a president in the first year of his presidency.
It's going to be a busy week -- an indictment expected from Bob Mueller, the tax bill, and of course, there'll be tweets, for sure. Maybe not about that approval rating, though.

See you around campus.

October 27, 2017

TGIF 10/27/17

Time to put another week to bed.

We'll have a tax bill to look at next week, it seems, and it can pass as long as there no more than a couple of Republican defections, even though many Americans don't think it's a priority

The House this week narrowly approved  their budget bill, kicking off the opportunity for the Senate to do tax reform as part of 'reconciliation' instead of through regular order, which would require the participation of Democrats to reach the 60-vote majority needed for passage. It'll be fun to see how well Mitch McConnell herds his cats this time, after the debacle on health care.

So, other than yet another opportunity for vice president Mike Pence to cast the most important vote of the day, what does the tax reform plan really mean? If rumors are true, folks like me in blue states are apt to lose, while folks in deeply red states are apt to win - no surprise there. And those other people, the bricks and mortar ones, will win as well. it seems.

I'm doing my best to remain patient and see what actually ends up in the plan, though isn't it kinda cool that we mere citizens in the cheap seats are being treated the same as most members of Congress, who also have no real clue what's headed their way? Stay tuned on this one.

What else did we have this week? Well, there was the fascinating tale of the two-dude energy company from Whitefish, MN who landed a $300M contract to restore power to Puerto Rico. There is no reason to think that the company being from the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had anything to do with their getting the contract, but there are LOTS of reasons to look into the deal, including these little nuggets:
  • it was a no-bid deal
  • it contains a no-audit clause
  • it contains a 'no claim against the contractor' clause if work is delayed
  • it includes a $330+ per day per worker accommodation payment
  • the Governor of Puerto Rico says he wasn't involved in the deal
  • FEMA says they weren't involved in the deal
Zinke said he had nothing to do with it either, although he did talk to someone at the firm and that relevant documents would be turned over to the "appropriate officials." Can't you just hear Trey Gowdy (R-Benghazi) saying Whitefish! Whitefish! Whitefish!  Nah --- me neither. 

Rumor has it that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Senate Republican since sliced bread, is not going to run again -- and that Mitt Romney, who is the most popular politician and possibly the most popular human in the entire state of Utah will be his replacement. One good thing about Romney? I've already got a Mittenverse tag in the veritable pastiche inventory.

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't wish Lee Greenwood a happy birthday. 

I know pretty much nothing about Lee Greenwood, except his Proud to be an American song, but because I follow the Tweeter in Chief, I now know it's his birthday. 

In case we missed it the first time, there was a second tweet to remind us.

I'm proud to say TGIF.

October 26, 2017

Poll Watch: Taxes, Politics and More

The House of Representatives passed a budget bill by a slim but safe margin, making for the government to borrow up to $1.5 trillion bucks to pay for their "middle class" tax reform program.

How do everyday Americans think about the plan? Well, we don't know any more than Congress does about what will actually be on the table - loopholes will be closed, and we'll be able to file our taxes on  a postcard, or at least on a single sheet of paper depending on whether you listen to House Speaker Paul Ryan or president Trump - but we don't seem to be very excited about it.

According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, we really wish our elected officials would do something completely different. First, some information about the poll itself.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It gathered responses from 1862 people, including 1079 who said they were aware of the Republican tax plan. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points.
(I feel kinda like the small print voiceover lady on car commercials.)

Here are some highlights, first looking at the relative importance of deficit reduction and tax cuts for the three populations: poor, rich, and corporations:
  • more than two thirds of registered voters said reducing the deficit was more important than cutting taxes for the wealthy or for corporations;
  • even 63% of Republicans favored reducing the deficit over corporate tax cuts, and 75% felt that way about tax cuts for rich people;
  • more than 50% of adults in the survey said cutting taxes on poor people was more important than reducing the deficit; by party affiliation, both Democrats (68%) and Republicans (47%) agreed 
About the tax plan itself, what did respondents think?
  • only 15% of registered voters think Congress should be working on tax cuts instead of other priorities; 
  • of those who said they had heard of the plan, only 28% support it; 41% oppose, and 31% don't know;
  • a small 14% thought their taxes would go down; 30% thought their taxes would go up, and 35% expect no change;
  • unsurprisingly, Republicans (56%) are more enamored of the plan than are Dems (9%)
We'll have to wait to see what the tax plan actually ends up bringing us middle class tax payers - I do know that a couple of the 'no' votes in the House came from my neck of the woods, in Central New York. That makes me feel a little better.

Did you hear about Dubya's speech, and Obama's comments, on our current political climate? The folks at Rasmussen Reports asked a question about that, and got an interesting answer. First, the fine print:
The (national) survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted (by telephone and online) on October 22-23, 2017 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/-3 percentage points, with a 95% level of confidence. 902 of those surveyed were white.
In the part of the poll you can see outside the Rasmussen pay wall,
63% of likely US voters agree with Obama's statement: "If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you're not going to be able to govern. You won't be able to unite them later if that's how you start."
That one's kind of curious, I think. Rasmussen trends more conservative than many other polling outlets, so that's a pretty big number who appear to think that Trump won't be able to govern. And since we know Paul Ryan has little control over the House, and Mitch McConnell has little control over the Senate, who, exactly, is supposed to be governing?

Finally, let's look at another hot topic, discrimination. A new poll has come out, showing that people from all races, including whites, believe their group faces discrimination.
The NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey sampled 3453 adults in the US from January 26th to April 9th.
Results for whites show that 55% believe there is discrimination against whites in America today,and further that
19% say they've personally been discriminated against because they are white when applying for jobs; 13% say they experienced discrimination regarding fair pay or promotions, and 11% have felt discrimination when applying for or attending college.
There is some fascinating first-person information accompanying the survey; the information is being reported in the NPR series you, me and them: experiencing discrimination in the US.

I have never felt discriminated against for being white; I'm curious -- what's been your experience?

October 24, 2017

Complicit No More

Arizona's other Republican Senator, Jeff Flake, announced today he would not be running for re-election. Flake had long been a lightning rod for the Tweeter in Chief,  but in an emotional speech on the Senate floor, he lit into the president like a man who had just found his cojones voice.  

Here are a few excerpts.
...let me begin by noting the somewhat obvious point that these offices that we hold are not ours indefinitely...Sustained incumbency is certainly not the point of seeking office...
I rise today with no small measure of regret. Regret because of the state of our disunion. Regret because of the disrepair and destructiveness of our politics. Regret because of the indecency of our discourse. Regret because of the coarseness of our leadership. 
That we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue with the tone set up at the top. We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency. 
The reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve... 
...we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as 'telling it like it is' when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. 
And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength... It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness...
... I must say that we have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner, a return to civility and stability right behind it...We know better than that. By now, we all know better than that..
Were the shoe on the other foot, we Republicans — would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course, we wouldn’t, and we would be wrong if we did...
...And as a matter and duty of conscience, the notion that one should stay silent — and as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters — the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is...profoundly misguided.
...Leadership knows that most often a good place to start in assigning blame is to look somewhat closer to home. Leadership knows where the buck stops... Humility helps, character counts. Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly or debased appetites in us...
... politics can make us silent when we should speak and silence can equal complicity. I have children and grandchildren to answer to.
...To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess that we’ve created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.
There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle...
We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake...
.. A political career does not mean much if we are complicit in undermining these values. 
Some may say this was a self-indulgent act; some will say it's easy to have cojones a voice when a man is walking away from a re-election fight he was apt to lose, thanks to his enemy in the Oval Office. But even some Republicans applauded Flake's message, not just his leave-taking.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been looking for his own cojones voice since before the election, said this today:
All this stuff you see on a daily basis, on Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it.

Sidebar: National Bullying Prevention Month (1)

October 23, 2017

National Bullying Prevention Month

The First Lady and the Secretary of Education are off to Michigan, we're told, as part of National Bullying Prevention Month.

They are kicking off a "Week of Inclusion" at West Bloomfield's Orchard Lake Middle School, with plans to participate with students on topics including respect, kindness and inclusion. They'll also visit students in the cafeteria to promote making sure no one eats alone and that new students are made welcome.

A statement attributed to Mrs. Trump said (with emphasis added)
As part of my ongoing commitment to the overall well-being of children, I am looking forward to today's visit. By our own example, we must teach children to be good stewards of the world they will inherit. We need to remember that they are always watching and listening. It is our responsibility to take the lead in teaching children the values of empathy and communication that are at the core of kindness, mindfulness, integrity, and leadership.
Meanwhile, her husband, well, you know. Her husband...

Additional statements made by the First Lady included these, reported by CNN:
I always believe that you need to treat each other with respect and kindness and compassion, but also stay true to yourself. Just listen to your heart, but be yourself. 
I can't help thinking that the "also stay true to yourself" is acknowledging, in some way, her husband's atrocious behavior? Because clearly, he doesn't always remember the respect and kindness and compassion part - at all.

When she met  and talked with 7th and 8th graders in the cafeteria on how they can make new friends, she encouraged them
Ask them what they like, what their hobbies are, so nobody becomes sad or stressed and everyone feels included. I think it's important we choose kindness and compassion.
Perhaps her husband could take the time to learn something about, oh, I don't know, Senator Patty Murray? I hear one of her hobbies is bipartisanship?

I don't envy First Ladies or other political spouses; no matter what they do, someone will doubt their honesty, sincerity, or both. They will always be compared to their predecessors, and it will likely be unfavorable.

But Melania Trump has the added cross to bear of being married to Donald - a man who relishes in doing the exact opposite of what her message is all about. I have no idea how he explains his behavior to her, or to his son Barron, or even to his baby girl Ivanka. I don't know that it matters to his older sons, but I think it does matter to Ivanka, maybe not.

The First Lady's anti-bullying campaign is at least as worthy as the campaigns of other first ladies, and at least as necessary. I hope her message reaches the kids, and I hope that one day, if one of the children she's talking to asks about the behavior of the president, she'll ask the child to want to be better than Donald Trump, and to actually be better than him.

That would be a huge success.

October 22, 2017

Sunday School 10/22/17

I took a stroll over to the middle school complex today, to check in with Maria Bartiromo, who had an exclusive sit down with president Trump which was broadcast today on Sunday Morning Futures. Here are some highlights.

First, they chatted about the chances of getting tax reform; here's Trump's take on things:
We’re doing very well, we had a fantastic vote as you know and with the budget, is, indirectly passed, it’s going to go through a little bit of an iteration but I think it’s going to end up I think again doing very well and I think we’re going to get our taxes, I think it’s going to be well, hopefully, before the end of the year but maybe much sooner than that.
You know there’s a great spirit for it, people want to see it, and I call it tax cuts it is tax reform also but I call it tax cuts, it’ll be the biggest cuts ever in the history of this country and I think that this tremendous appetite, this tremendous spirit for it not only by the people we’re dealing with in Congress but for the people out there that want to see something $5000, it can be $5000 average per individual, per group, and so I’m really looking forward to it, let’s see what happens.
Bartiromo noted that today is the 31st anniversary of the Reagan tax reforms, which as we've been told was the last time we had anything of this magnitude coming forward. And, she wondered if Trump had the votes.
I think we have the votes, I think that Rand Paul actually is going to vote for the tax cuts. I think that other people – you know, we had tremendous enthusiasm this time, you know health care I was told was tougher, but it was close. I mean so far I would say it’s not even a contest and I will tell you, speaking of health care, I believe we’re going to get that also. It’ll be in the form of block grants to the different states and it’ll be a wonderful healthcare, it’ll be a tremendous health care managed properly in smaller doses where you can really do it much more individually so I think we’re going to get that also in a little bit later probably in three or four months from now but I do believe we’ll have that long before the election in ’18. As far as taxes are concerned you see what’s happening it’s really doing well, great enthusiasm. 
Recognizing that Trump had favored, then opposed, then favored and finally opposed again the Alexander/Murray bipartisan effort on healthcare, Bartiromo asked him about his 'souring' on that.
Well, I’ve looked at it very very strongly and pretty much we can do almost what they’re getting. I think he’s a tremendous person, I don’t know Senator Murray, I hear very very good things but I know that Lamar Alexander is a fine man and he is really indebted to do good for the people. We can do pretty much what we have to do without, you know, the secretary has tremendous leeway in the, under the Obama plans, that’s one of the things that they did because it was so messed up they had no choice but to give the secretary leeway because they knew it had to be he or she would have to be changing all the time and we can pretty much do whatever we have to do just the way it is so, uh, this was going to be temporary prior to repeal and replace, we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and I think we actually have the votes.People are criticizing me for saying that I think we actually have the votes for that, you know we were basically one short and I think we’re gonna have the votes for that also Maria.
As to his petty squabbles with everyone, noting that his supporters feel the "bickering and the feuding" get in the way. She asked if she thought that was the case.

Here's what the Arguer-in-Chief had to say about that.
No and sometimes it helps to be honest with you so we’ll see what happens in the end but I think that actually sometimes it helps, sometimes it gets people to do what they’re supposed to be doing and, you know, that’s the way it is. I just want what’s right and for the most part they want what’s right too so we’ll see what happens but I do believe we have the votes for healthcare at the appropriate time and I think that we’re going to have the votes for taxes and I will say the fact that healthcare is so difficult makes the taxes easier and the Republicans want to get it done and it’s a tremendous tax cut I mean especially for the middle class and especially for business. We have, you know we’re losing our companies we have companies leaving and I have to say since I’ve been elected that’s really stopped that’s really slowed down. There’s a tremendous enthusiasm for business in this country so a lot of things have changed.
Bartiromo came dangerously close to declaring a war on Christmas - she nearly did.

She asked Trump whether, if Congress doesn't get the tax thing done, "should they forgo Thanksgiving and Christmas, should they be here if they don't have a bill on your desk by Thanksgiving?"
Well I think they should have and I think they will, I think a lot of things are happening unless you know it’s going to be right after that but I don’t even like them leaving but I will say this, I want to get it by the end of the year but I would be very disappointed if it took that long. It could be substantially less than that depending on what happens when we send the bill back to the House, you know they’ll send it back and people are gonna go and make 200 suggestions as opposed to maybe no suggestions because it’s a great bill, it’s going to be a great bill and we’re adjusting, we’re adjusting so that there’s no way that the middle class doesn’t greatly benefit. Every once in a while there’s a method under which, you know it could be that there are some people in the middle class won’t benefit as much as we want them to benefit and we’re making certain adjustments but I think we’re going to have it sooner rather than later.
After talking about a Paul Ryan interview in which Ryan said Trump was looking for a "fourth bracket" Trump pointed out there are already four brackets, it's just that no one will talk about it.
Well he really said that on the basis that I wanted it or was thinking about it because I wanted to make sure that the middle class gets taken care of so in that way yes, but actually we do have four brackets because we have a zero bracket and people aren’t including that so actually it would make it a fifth bracket as opposed to an eighth bracket on the - on the other side, on the other way I call it our competition which is the competition of the past No I think that, I think that when Paul says that we may not have that but I would rather do that than do anything to hurt the middle class.
The last question in this part of the interview had to do with Trump's fear of cutting taxes for the rich. She asked, "If the top earners pay 80% of the taxes, why are you so afraid to cut taxes on the top earners?" Trump's answer was, well, classic Trump.
I think this, look, you know I’m very happy with the way I’ve done prior to this in my civilian life, other people... look, it’s about me and representing rich people, let’s say, you know, representing, being representative of rich people. It’s very interesting to me, you know Bob Kraft was down, he was very nice, you know, he owns the Patriots, he gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago which was very nice…he left this beautiful ring and I immediately give it to the White House and they put it someplace and that’s the way this, but he said to me, he’s a good man, he said to me, 'you have to do us all a favor, give the tax decrease to the middle class, we don’t need it, we don’t need it, we don’t want it, give it to the middle class'. And I’ve had many people, very wealthy people tell me the same thing. I’ve had very few people say “I want more, I want more” they really want to, see, you know the middle class has really not done very well over the last long period of time and so when Paul mentions maybe one more category which I’d rather not have, it may not happen but the only reason I would have and he does say this he’s very plain nobody said, if for any reason I feel the middle class is not being properly taken care of. 
The interview continued, but I'll be honest, I haven't finished watching it. It was challenging enough to transcribe the part I did. But I promise, I will give it a shot, and will let you know what he said about corporate taxes, if nothing else.

See you around campus.

October 20, 2017

TGIF 10/20/17

Oh, what a week it was...

In no particular order:

The president was questioned on why the White House hadn't made any comment on the death of four American soldiers in Niger, and on whether he had reached out to the families of the fallen.

Paraphrasing here, he said he'd call the families when it was possible for him to do so and (apparently) falsely accused President Obama and his predecessors (most of them/many of them) of not making these most personal Commander in Chief calls.

But then he said he had no proof (I'm SHOCKED!) but that someone told him that was the case and then Trump politicized the death of the son of his chief of staff, General Kelly, in an attempt to slam Obama one more time.

Then, there was a huge she said he said about a call he did make, in which there was a strong perception by the soldier's family that they had been dissed by Trump, who said he had proof but presented none (I'm SHOCKED!) and even worse, General Kelly then joined the fray, name calling and (apparently) lying about a Florida congresswoman who was close to the soldier's family way before she was a Congresswoman and way before the soldier was a soldier.

And it's still going on. (I'm SHOCKED!)

The Republicans in the Senate passed a budget bill that will allow tax reform to go through reconciliation (we remember that term from the healthcare debacle, right) and pass with only 50 votes instead of 60, eliminating the need to have Democrats on board.

The budget also approved $1.5 trillion in deficit spending (I'm SHOCKED!) to make up for money that the government won't receive from the 1% once the tax reform package goes through.

No, seriously - we don't know for sure what's actually going to be in the tax plan, other than pain points for people who live in blue states and bonuses for people who live in red ones.  At least, that's what we've been told to expect, and I have no reason to doubt that instruction.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, our Lying Attorney General, went to Congress today and ran into more questions about Russia, and why he keeps changing his story. Senator Al Franken reminded Sessions that the Russian Ambassador is in fact a Russian; you can imagine how SHOCKED! Sessions must have been to learn that.

Sessions also said he would not be able to guarantee that reporters would be allowed to do their jobs without risk of being jailed for doing so.

Trump spoke out in favor and in opposition and in favor and in opposition of the bipartisan bill, cobbled together by Lamar Alexander from the right and Patty Murray from the left, to fund the cost sharing reductions that insurance companies are forced to pay under the Affordable Car Act to reduce the out of pocket cost burden on lower income Americans.

Oh wait - the CSRs line the coffers of insurance companies, sorry. Which would be a good thing, for any other industry, because of all the winning that's going on right now economically.

And finally, former President George W Bush gave a speech this week which was interpreted by many to be about the Trump administration, but which the Trump administration said was not about them, because if it was really about them, Bush would have called out Trump by name. Which, of course, the president would have tweeted. (I'M SHOCKED!)

TGIF, everyone.

October 18, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v108)

Below is a copy of the post from tonight on the veritable pastiche Facebook page. I'm not wondering at all, tonight. There is no question, no doubt, in my mind.

"Revelations about Donald Trump surfaced well before the Presidential election, and 62 million Americans armed with this information—summarily responded by elevating him to the highest position of leadership in this country. They chose the “grab them by the p*ssy—move on her like a b*itch” dude. Their vote then nullifies their outrage now."

While Pavlovitz does not name anyone who both supports Trump and condemns Weinstein, we really have to look no further than Fox News - the network of Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, of whom Trump said "he's a good man" and "I don't think he did anything wrong" - they've been pretty vocal about Weinstein, less so about their own predators.

The bottom line is this behavior has to stop. It has to stop. We kid ourselves if we think it's just Hollywood, or that it's just billionaires behaving badly.

It's small business owners and doctors and pastors and accountants and sports stars and tech people and insurance agents and restaurant owners and teachers and school administrators and musicians and agents and lawyers and judges and scientists and politicians and newspeople. And yes, it's Bill Clinton - of course it includes him. But the fact that it includes him does not relieve Trump of accountability for *his* actions or his words.

Bill O'Reilly didn't do anything wrong in Trump's eyes ($13,000,000 in settlements notwithstanding) and Trump dismissed his own actions as "locker room talk." Harvey Weinstein is allegedly receiving treatment for sex addiction - what a crock. He is addicted to power, not sex.

They are not the same thing, and we do everyone - adult men and women,and teenagers, and children, a disservice if we pretend they are, just as we do everyone a disservice if we pretend that this is 'just talk' or that it's OK, or that it's part of doing business, or somehow, that it's the victim's fault.

It has to stop.

… Continue Reading You Don’t Get to Support Donald Trump and Be Outraged at Harvey Weinstein

He Knew What He Signed Up For

In a call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson who was killed October 4th in Niger along with three others, president Trump reportedly said "he knew what he was signing up for... but when it happens, it hurts anyway."

The four Americans were killed when their unarmored vehicle was ambushed by Islamic militants. Sgt. Johnson's body was not recovered for almost two days after he was killed, according to this report.

In addition to his wife, who was pregnant with their third child, Johnson leaves behind his six year old daughter and his two year old son.

Trump's twitter feed was remarkably silent after the Americans were killed; the man who tweets about everything did not have any comment at all on the incident in Niger. The NFL was important; the stock market was important; taxes and how great his FEMA was doing were important, and of course fake news was important. But not the deaths of four Americans in the middle of the African desert. 

As the article linked above noted,
The US military held a return of remains ceremony when Johnson's body arrived at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Oct. 7, while president Donald Trump was playing golf with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
I hope that the reports of Trump's comment are wrong. Or, if they're not wrong, the full context of his remarks comes out, to add some insight to what on the surface seems an incredibly insensitive remark.

In the meantime, in this Twitter thread, Brandon Friedman explains things from a veteran's perspective about the expectations one has when signing up for service.

October 17, 2017

Poll Watch: It's Time

It's hard to believe I haven't officially delved into any polling since July. What was I thinking? 

Tonight, let's look at the most recent Quinnipiac poll, the results of which were released late last week; the polling was done between October 5 and October 10, and used both land lines and cell phones.  

So, what did they uncover about guns and Las Vegas, Trump and the media, and North Korea? Let's take dive in. 

Las Vegas and Gun Control
50% of respondents approve of president Trump's response to the Las Vegas massacre; 34% disapprove and 16% are unsure. By age, the 18 - 34 year olds were the most disapproving - 48%, while by race, blacks (54%) and Hispanics (45%) were more likely than whites (29%) to disapprove. 

Americans continue to support additional gun control (60% to 30%), by the highest margin the poll's ever reported. Specifically:
  • 79% support mandatory waiting periods on all purchases;
  • 73% support a ban on anything that will make a semi-automatic act like an automatic;
  • 64% support a ban on assault weapons;
  • 86% support a ban on sales to those convicted of a violent crime;
  • 58% want stricter rules on ammunition sales;
  • 64% support banning magazines holding more than 10 rounds;
  • 94% support background checks for all purchases
  • 63% think we can have more gun laws without infringing on the rights of gun owners - even gun owning households agree, (57%)
  • by a margin of 4% (47% to 43%), respondents think the NRA supports policies that are bad for America.
It remains to be seen whether Congress will act in accordance with the wishes of the people, or if the gun lobby will continue to hold elected officials in their grip.

Trump and the Media
Every demographic - political party, gender, education level, age, and race - disapprove of how the media covers the president, except one: Democrats. Shame on them. In general, across all demographics, 60% of people disapprove. 

On the flip side, looking at how Trump talks about the media, the results are similar, but Trump garners support from three demographics: Republicans (77%) non-college educated (52%) and men (51%) think the president is doing just fine with his incessant and often unwarranted bashing of the media. (I say often unwarranted because there are times when I agree with his criticism - when he's legitimately criticizing vs. just whining about things with which he disagrees).

All the 'who's nicer to whom' stuff aside, when it comes to trust, the media continues to maintain a slight edge there, but only slight. 52% think the media is more trustworthy, which is quite an indictment of the press, I'd say. Or, perhaps more reasonable, people fall for Trump's #fakenews claims hook, line and sinker. 

North Korea 
The percentage of people thinking we can reach a diplomatic solution with North Korea, which dropped from 64% on August 24th to 50% on September 28th has crept up to 54%, and by a margin of  52% to 41%, respondents think it's more important to avoid war with North Korea than it is to take their nukes. 

All demographics think it's worthwhile to negotiate with them, and by fairly wide margins, all but Republicans oppose a preemptive strike. The Rs favor that option, 46% to 41%. Even I don't believe that one.

One more thing
There is little hope that Congress and president Trump will accomplish anything major by the end of the year; only Republicans - 52% to 40% - think that any significant legislation will be passed. 

Tick tock.

October 15, 2017

OrangeVerse XVIII: Keep on Truckin'

The president took himself and his entourage off to Pennsylvania to talk to truckers about taxes last week. And he did talk about the Trump tax plan at length: lower corporate rates and lower personal rates, eliminating the death tax, repatriating foreign profits, and so on.

But as always, it's the rest of the story that's so interesting. Let's check in and see how well versed the president was at this event.

Why Here? Why Now?
We are here
today to
our vision
for America's 
economic revival
which has already started
It started
on November 8th.

Nothing Happens
Nothing gets done
in America 
without the hardworking
men and women
of the
trucking industry.
Do we agree
with that?
Do we agree?

Moving is Growing is Firsting
When your
trucks are moving
America is growing
Do you agree?
That is why
my administration has taken
historic steps
to remove the barriers
that have
America First
means putting
American truckers

If You Knew Susi
Joining us today
is Susi Schlomann
a retiree...
Where's Susi?
Where are you Susi?
Where's Susi?
Hi Susi. 
How are you doing?
You're going to be
with this right?
Because you know
I'm going to say.
Thank you

What I Want
I've had rich friends
of mine come up
to me and 
say, Donald,
you're doing
this tax plan - 

Give It Up
So many people
have come up
to me and say
give it to the
middle class.
Give it
to people
that need it.
Give it
to people
that want to
spend it.
You would be

Give It Up, Redux
But you 
have a government
and frankly you
have somebody
who has
given up
a lot.
My other life
very good. 
I have to be - 
I had
a very good life.
I had
a very good life.
But you know what, 
I'm having
a better life
and I'm helping

It's a Grand Old Flag
The American flag
do we love
our American flag?
I think people forgot
how patriotic we are...
how much we love our country.
But American flags
will soar
high above the roads.
Our cities and towns
will proudly
that flag.

We Built this Future
Our children
will be raised
in homes
filled with love,
filled with airplanes
that are going
back, and forth,
that's OK but 
filled with hope
and a nation
filled with pride.
We will build
this future
as one people
and one nation
under God.

October 14, 2017

Trump in Transition (v23)

The transition continues. Or not...

Donald Trump, who has been touting his economic successes since even before he was elected, has been particularly vocal about them lately.

His speeches, interviews, and weekly addresses have been dotted with glowing reports about how great companies are doing, how great the economy is doing, how many jobs have been created and so on for months.

Here are a couple of his retweets from earlier this month, one from Trump Business News and one from his daughter Ivanka:

And here's a string of his own tweets from earlier this week:

Now, don't get me wrong, it's great that the American president is championing the American economy - one of the many hats the president wears should be cheerleader for the country. But this president?

Well, we know he's not shy about slamming American companies - ask Macy's.  And he's not shy about slamming entire industries - ask the solar energy sector where, if Trump's suggested tariffs go into effect, we could lose more jobs - perhaps 88,000 -  than are employed in the entire coal mining industry - about 54,000. Not bad for the greatest jobs producer God ever created.

Now, it's the health insurance sector which is under presidential attack. Here's a tweet from this morning, proudly taking credit for the "plunging' of insurance stocks after he signed his Executive Orders  on the Affordable Care Act this week:

Yeah -- sometimes this president's the cheerleader, and sometimes he's the guy who pees in your pool.

October 13, 2017

TGIF 10/13/17

Boy, I'm glad it's Friday - and I bet I'm not the only one.

For example, how'd you like to be the folks in charge at NBC, the network that gave us the Donald Trump is a bleeping moron story and the Trump talked about a ten-fold increase in nukes story, but didn't give us the Harvey Weinstein story?

At least the Peacock network wasn't alone in that last part.

While Meryl Streep made it clear that not every single body knew about Weinstein and his decades of alleged predatory behavior, it seems to have been a incredibly poorly kept secret. A joke at the Oscars; a joke on 30 Rock; an undercover investigation in which the NYC District Attorney did nothing... Opportunity lost, over and over and over.  How, or why did that happen? That will have to come out in the post mortem.

Meanwhile, reports are that Weinstein is seeking treatment for a problem he doesn't have: sex addiction. That we have to remind people in this day and age that predatory behavior such as that alleged against Weinstein is about power, not about sex, is almost as sad as the apparent willingness of all those everybodies to cover up his behavior for all these years.

Meanwhile, did you hear that Trump has pulled us out of UNESCO?  This United Nations organization, which now seems to focus on designating heritage sites, was once more focused on battling extremists and promoting peace. The US is leaving, we've been told, because of the anti-Israel biases exhibited by UNESCO, particularly in naming part of the West Bank city of Hebron a Palestinian world heritage site.

What was less publicized in reports I heard today is that we have a checkered history with UNESCO, going back decades.  After leaving in 1984 during the Reagan Administration, we  rejoined in 2002; stopped paying our annual dues in 2011 over the admission of Palestine as a member; and lost voting rights in 2013.  I point this out so that people know this isn't just another case of Trump undoing what Obama did. Had that been the case, he would go all in, pay twice what we owe and welcome Palestine to one of the Trump White Houses for a spin on a golf cart.

He did, however, strike two blows against the Affordable Care Act. One will make it easier for 'association' plans to form, across multiple states in some cases; these plans may offer fewer benefits than required for other products under the ACA, along with some other changes. The other was to end the cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurers. Under the ACA, insurers are required to provide subsidies to many subscribers for out of pocket expenses; those costs have been  reimbursed to insurers by the federal government - until now. Barring action by Congress o formally appropriate the money at least in the short term, the CSRs are done.

Trump noted that these were merely subsidies to boost insurance company profits and hey, look at their stock prices! Darn -- he's been tweeting like mad about how the stock market is up and our retirement plans are doing great as a result -- which I thought was a good thing in his worldview, but I guess not when it comes to something that has 'Obama' in its name.

TGIF, indeed.

October 11, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v107)

Boy oh boy - I'm sitting in Wonder Land tonight, for sure -- I even wonder where to start, there's so much to wonder about.

Let's tackle "doing something about guns" in the aftermath of yet another act of domestic terrorism, the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Whenever we have one of the heinous acts, the initial and forceful reaction from both sides of the aisle is that we do something.

On the one hand - let's call it the left/middle hand - there is a desire to make it harder (but not impossible) for people to get their hands on guns and ammo. On the right/middle hand, there's a corresponding desire to maintain the status quo, because laws won't stop people from doing bad acts, so more laws won't make us safer.  (On the fringes, left and right, the positions are more extreme, of course.)

So, it was interesting to hear that even the NRA was OK with some kind of action on 'bump stocks,' the thing used by the killer in Vegas to make his semi-automatic weapons function more like automatic ones. Now, before you get all excited, the NRA would not support a ban on those things, mind you, but they would be amenable to 'regulating them differently.'  Meaning, as Paul Ryan clarified,
We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix.
Which really means, he has no intention of having House members have to go on the record supporting additional gun controls, and he has no problem pinning the action on the president.  And that makes me wonder, which two existing gun regulations will face the firing squad to allow for the new one on bump stocks to be put in place?

Let's segue to another major issue of people behaving badly: immigration. The president announced a list of DACA tradeoffs that many Dems (and even some Reps) have identified as deal breakers, including funding the beautiful, well-endowed see-through wall, and cracking down on sanctuary cities.

I do wonder whether Trump the deal maker thinks this is a good way to start negotiations, or if he simply forgot that he's got to finish his first term before he needs to run for his second (which I wonder regularly, truth be told). But more than that, I wonder why the answer on immigration is not "cracking down and enforcing the existing laws" instead of trying to get new laws - and that multi-billion dollar wall -- on the books?

I mean, if that answer is good enough for when dozens are killed and hundreds are wounded at a concert, or when school children and teachers are murdered, or when members of a bible study group are murdered - by Americans, by the way - why wouldn't it be the answer when a bunch of illegal immigrants come here to steal American jobs?

Moving on, how hard must it have been, I wonder, for Hillary Clinton to issue her statement about Harvey Weinstein? I mean, after going through what she did with Bill...?

And finally, what are the Boy Scouts up to, I wonder? On International Day of the Girl, they decide to announce that girls can become Boy Scouts, including Eagle Scouts?

Donald Trump Jr is wondering about that one, too.

What's got you wondering?