November 30, 2017

The Truth is Out There

The title of this post, of course, comes from the X-Files. It's also been commonly referenced when describing White House press briefings with Sarah Sanders at the podium, as it was in this Forbes article.
"The truth is out there."  That's the tagline of the new TV show The X-Files, and it's a good thing the show is coming back in 2018, because its premise couldn't be more timely.
The latest example of this timely premise came about after the president retweeted the anti-Muslim videos which had been shared by a far-right group in Britain. Sanders maintained that anyone questioning the tweets was barking up the wrong tree. Here's an example:

She reiterated that again today, in her press briefing, as many times as she could, and with only limited success.
Q: ...I want to ask about the videos that the president tweeted yesterday. Firstly, does the president feel that he has an obligation to ensure that the information that he shares on his Twitter feed to millions of people is accurate?
A. I think the president feels that bringing up important issues of our time, like extreme violence and terrorism, are important to do. That was what he was doing in that process, and I think he's going to continue to do that in a number of venues whether it's through speeches, whether it's through Twitter or other social media platforms. 
That went well, don't you think? Here's part two.
Q: But does he understand, though, that sharing those videos might incite violence against Muslims? And does he understand that he's elevated a fringe political group that many people outside of Britain didn't even know about until he tweeted?
A:  Look, I think what he's done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that's extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the president feels strongly about talking about, and bringing up and making sure is an issue every single day, that we're looking at the best ways to protect Americans. 
Whoa. He's going to be spreading lies and hate every single day, officially?  Someone tell Twitter and Facebook, so his accounts can be suspended!

And not for nothing, but this particular conversation has not been 'elevated' because no one's talking about terrorism as result of the president's tweets. They're talking about how embarrassing it was, to America and to our allies; they're talking about the fact that one of the videos was a fake and the other two were unverified; they're talking about how none of them happened in Britain, and not in the US, for that matter.

And people are talking about the reaction from Prime Minister Theresa May and others, including this one.

And from someone else named Theresa May Scrivener who was tagged (instead of the Prime Minister) in that follow up tweet. And how that tweet, which said that "we're doing fine" is the total opposite what he's been telling us all along, ever since his 'total ban on Muslims' speech.

Sanders kept going, though, after giving us the 'elevate the conversation' line, with a straight face, no less. And she contradicted the "We're doing just fine!" remark in her response.
Q: On that point, Sarah, did the president, when he retweeted Jayda Fransen, know who she was?
A:  No, I don't believe so. But again, I think he knew that what the issues are, and that is that we have a real threat of extreme violence and terrorism, not just in this country, but across the globe, particularly in Europe. And that was the point he was making and I don't really have very much to add beyond that. 
He didn't even know who he was retweeting? And it didn't occur to him to look at the woman's profile?

Well, actually, tonight you can't do that - her account has been suspended, but several people have posted a tweet Fransen supposedly sent which claimed that WWE wrestlers were Islamic hate preachers.

I'm not posting it because I can't verify it was one she really sent - I guess that's just one more thing that differentiates me from the president.

Back to the Forbes article, which notes three things about the truth:
  1. There is such a thing as truth.
  2. Evidence is how we discover the truth.
  3. Truth is the basis of both democracy and capitalism.
After explaining those three things, it goes on:
The president uses a misleading, mislabeled video as evidence that Islam poses a grave threat to the United State, and his press secretary backs him up. The real threat to our democracy isn't a religion and its millions of followers but the Trump administration's abuse of power and utter contempt for the truth. 
Now, that is something we should "be making sure is an issue, every single day."

November 29, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v112)

How's everyone doing tonight?  Anyone wondering about anything in particular?

Maybe you're wondering why the president would retweet a fake video, causing trouble with our closest ally?  Yeah, me too.

I wonder, where is General Kelly and why isn't he keeping the lid on the child that is the tweeter in chief? I thought he was supposed to be exerting control over this mess? He seems to have clipped Jared's wings pretty quickly.

Maybe you're wondering how a person who has been accused of sexual harassment by a dozen or so  women  and who was recorded talking about assaulting women, forcibly kissing them, groping them, would (again) manage to carve out a slice of higher ground from which to attack others facing similar accusations?  That's right -- the president used the abuse of women by men in power to attack NBC for 'fake news'. Here's just one of today's examples; the other promoted a (long-solved) 'mystery' that is clearly fake news.

Yeah, I'm wondering about that too.

And, by the way, have you seen the reports where Trump pretends the voice on the tape that he apologized for is not his? Here's how Access Hollywood responded:
We wanted to clear something up that has been reported across the media landscape (said Natalie Morales). Let us make this perfectly clear: the tape is very real. Remember, his excuse at the time was 'locker room talk'. He said every one of those words.
I swear, this man has some serious issues.

Maybe you're wondering about Angela Lansbury's comments on sexual harassment?  Here's what she said in an interview with the British company Radio Times.
There are two sides to this coin. We have to own up to the fact that women, since time immemorial, have gone out of their way to make themselves attractive. And unfortunately it has backfired on us - and this is where we are today. 
We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that. Although it's awful to say we can't make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.
Whoa.  I wondered about that one myself.

Men abuse women because the women try to make themselves attractive? Is that why priests abuse altar boys? Teachers abuse students? Doctors abuse patients? If that were the case, wouldn't the 'average' abuse victim be a Victoria's Secret model?

She continued (fortunately, I think.)
Should women be prepared for this? No, they shouldn't have to be! There's no excuse for that. And I think it will stop now -- it will have to. I think a lot of men must be very worried at this point.
I don't have to wonder about that last part - I think she's as right about that as she is about women "must sometimes take blame" for being harassed, assaulted or abused - in the workplace or any other place. The victim is not the person of power in harassment situations  - whether it's the priest, the teacher, the doctor -- and these situations about power, not physical attraction. 

And as to blame, my husband has said that a woman could be drop dead gorgeous, stark naked walking down the middle of the street, and that's STILL not a reason to sexually assault her.  I hope there's no wondering about that.

And finally, I'm wondering about a piece of fairly late breaking news.  Would it surprise you to learn that the Trump administration's new opioid czar is none other than Kellyanne Conway?
In 2016, 50,000 Americans lost their lives to the opioid epidemic, according to the federal government’s preliminary count. That’s more than the number of Americans killed in combat in Vietnam, or that died during the worst year of the AIDS crisis, or that die annually from car accidents or gun violence.
In response to this mass death, public-health advocates have implored the Trump administration to mount a more comprehensive effort to the opioid crisis. One of their proposals was for the president to appoint an opioid “czar” — an official with the time and expertise to coordinate the federal government’s response to the worst drug-overdose epidemic in American history.
The administration has decided to honor this request. In a gesture meant to convey just how seriously President Trump takes his responsibility to combat the opioid emergency, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Wednesday the appointment of America’s first opioid czar — Kellyanne Conway.
Yep -- I have to say, I'm now speechlessly wondering. 

November 28, 2017

OrangeVerse XXI: How Far Away?

This morning, in advance of a meeting with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, the poet in chief offered this warm welcome:

In response, "Chuck and Nancy" released a statement of their own:
Given that the president doesn't see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead. If the president, who already said earlier this year that 'out country needs a good shutdown' isn't interested in addressing the difficult year end agenda, we'll work with those Republicans who are, as we did in April.
And then, after a "love fest" with Republicans, there was poetry.

So Far Away
...Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi
did not show up
for our meeting today.
I'm not really
that surprised.
We have a lot of differences.
They're weak
on crime,
They're weak
on illegal immigration. 
They want
the illegal folks
to come pouring 
into our border
and a lot of problems
are being caused, 
although we've stopped it
to a large extent as much
as you can without
the law,
which we're going to get.
Before this meeting and
before this missile launch,
they've been weak
on military. In terms
of spending they're
very hard to get
the military -- they 
want it for a lot
of other things but
the military is always secondary
to them. The military
to me is number one...

It Would Be So Fine to See Your Face at My Door
They want tax 
increases and we want
major tax decreases so
they decided not to show up.
They've been 
all talk and they've been
no action and now it's
ever worse now it's
not even talk so
they're not showing up
to the meeting.

It Doesn't Help to Know that You're So Far Away
Well, we are very
far apart
because our views on crime
and our views on immigration
and the military - 
so many are different.
But a lot of things
 have happened, even
over the last two hours
with respect to the 
missile launch.
We want
our military funded and
we want
it funded now.
It's going to be
bigger, better, stronger
-- it already is -- 
than ever before. But
we want
to get going on that
now. So that
is a difference
in all fairness
from this morning
when I told them that
we're way, way

Nothing Else to do but Close My Mind
If you look
at the military we
want strong funding
for the military. They don't.
So many things.  As an example
they want
high taxes
We want
to cut taxes.
We're going
to cut taxes.
We're going
to reform.
We're going
to simplify.
They want
 high taxes
We want
low taxes.
...nothing to them
is important other
than raising taxes.
That's the
only thing they like
doing is
raising taxes.

Cue the Applause
Thank you all very much.
Appreciate it.
Thank you. 

November 27, 2017

Need the Address for A Special Place in Hell?

I last wrote about "a special place in hell" about a year and a half ago, when some prominent feminists let me know that as a woman I was obligated to help another woman - Hillary Clinton - get elected, otherwise I'd end up in that special place.

At that time, I identified some of the people I thought deserved such a place.
People who harm children. People who kill animals, like the two most heinous recent cases in my neck of the woods one involving a horse, another a family's dog. Pedophile priests. The folks who put Bruce Springsteen and Beethoven on Muzak. The people who 'gummied' the world. Those who prey on senior citizens. The people who make up drug names. Whoever it was who decided that sagging pants and side boob are fashion statements.
Ivanka Trump apparently agrees that people who harm children, particularly child predators, belong in that special place. In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month, the president's special advisor said this of the controversy swirling around Alabama Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore:
There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I've yet to see a valid explanation, and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts.
Her comment is laudable and remarkable, particularly given it is in sharp contrast to her father's statements, including a recent bout of indecision on whether he would actually campaign with Moore.
I'll be letting you know next week. But I can tell you, you don't need somebody who's soft on crime, like Jones.
Well, the president let us know today - or, he had his mouthpiece let us know - his plans in that regard.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. On the Senate race in Alabama. Does president Trump plan to campaign for Roy Moore?
A. The president is not planning any trip to Alabama at this time. And, frankly, his schedule doesn't permit him doing anything between now and Election Day. 
Q. Over the weekend, the president weighed in about this race on Twitter. Does the president continue - does he have plans to continue his campaign against the Democrat in Alabama, Doug Jones?
A. Look, I'm not going to get into a back-and-forth from the podium. As you know, I've declined that opportunity many times. But I can tell you that the president obviously wants people to make America better -- to improve our education system, to grow our economy, to continue to fight against ISIS, continue growing the economy. Those are the president's priorities, and he wants people in place that are going to help and support those priorities.
Between announcing his indecision before Thanksgiving, and now letting us know he wouldn't be going on the campaign trail with Moore, the president didn't have any issues campaigning for Moore on Twitter.

So - back to that special place in hell Ivanka mentioned? Well, it's clear her father has an idea where it is: East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, DC 20004.

November 26, 2017

Sunday School 11/26/17

I only visited one classroom today -- Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace at the helm. Today, Wallace and the gang were mostly talking about sexual harassment allegations - both generally and specifically.

One of the guests was former Presidential candidate and HP CEO Carly Fiorina, about whom our current president said:
Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, shes a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?
Wallace asked Fiorina about Trump's changing positions on Judge Roy Moore. Initially, he said that if the allegations were true, Moore should step aside. That became well, Moore denied the allegations, which were from 40 years ago, and he deserves to be heard. Which has now become this:

Fiorina's answer was spot on.
Well, that's politics, isn't it, Chris? This is all about politics and that's why when politicians talk about this, it doesn't have a lot of credibility.  This has been going on in politics for a very long time. Democrats try and defend their own. Republicans try and defend their own. It's a little bit like George Washington warned us 200 years ago. The problem with politics and political parties is they care about winning above all else. Donald Trump cares about a vote in the Senate, no more, no less.
Wallace followed up by wondering what should happen to Moore, and to Senator Al Franken and Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress. Franken has apologized for his conduct; Conyers paid a settlement (from his campaign funds) but has denied all of the allegations against him; both are awaiting ethics investigations. Fiorina's response?
Well, first of all, this behavior goes on all the time. It has for a long time, unfortunately. In politics, in the workplace, in athletics, and when we politicize it -- it's not my team vs your team, Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of it. 
I tell you the most helpful thing would be for Congress to change its own process and procedures If someone wants to come forward and allege harassment or abuse in Congress, they must go through a mandatory 30 days of counseling, mandatory mediation led by a lawyer whose express purpose is to protect the institution, and then maybe if they're lucky the get a secret settlement paid for by taxpayers from the Treasury.
That whole process is designed to protect politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, to protect the institution and make it next to impossible for a women, or in some cases a young male page, to come forward. That ought to change, that would actually help.
When Wallace asked if  someone should resign just because there were allegations, Fiorina noted that it isn't just one woman coming forward, it's multiple women. Then, she raised the complicity aspect of so many of these cases.
And I think what's most - I think what we all need to think about, but particularly men need to think about, and in virtually all these cases, people knew. People knew this was going on. You can't tell me that no one knew what was going on with Roy Moore and John Conyers or Al Franken or Charlie Rose or Roger Ailes or Howard Weinstein. People knew. Men knew and women knew.
And so, while we all express outrage now and people say, should they step down or should they not, I think the question going forward is, when are we going to stop tolerating this behavior and respecting the men who do it? Because all of these men have been respected, despite the fact that people knew. 
And, she called on men to stop respecting their peers who do this - because that's the only way anything is going to change.
Men, not most, but enough, abuse their positions of power in return for sex. And what happens is, women step up but men continue, unfortunately, in too many instances to respect the men who are behaving this way. Every single one of the men who has been exposed in the last several weeks has been respected. And so, I think men need to decide, 'I'm not going to respect a man who disrespects women. I'm going to withhold my respect from him, unless he respects others' - that will be a watershed moment.
As you might expect, Fiorina has her own experiences with abusive men, stories of what happened to her or to her friends or coworkers. It's not pretty, as many women can confirm. She described feelings of rage which led to her vowing never to feel that way again.
So, yes, women go through all of these emotions and unfortunately, many of the women who have come forward recently didn't feel they were in a position to confront because the men had power over them, the power of their career, the power of their future. These women, when you watch them come forward, they obviously feel humiliated. They are embarrassed, it's not easy. 
Women have been coming forward for decades. The point of my post (which you can read here) was it to say it's men's turn now.
Wallace closed the interview by asking about Trump's comment about Fiorina, and more recent ones about how wonderful women are and that it's good they're coming forward. Wallace asked her which was the real Donald Trump.
Oh, you know, we could endlessly analyze Donald Trump. What I focus on always is someone's behavior, how do they behave? Are they leading or are they not leading?
I don't think he has (met the test of leadership ) often enough. He won't be the first president to fail the test of leadership, and he won't be the last, unfortunately.
Proving Fiorina's point about politicians talking about sexual harassment not having a lot of credibility was Wallace's next guest, Senator John Thune (R-SD), head of the Republican Conference.

Thune was asked about Trump's tweet, which I shared above, and whether Trump is a disappointment now that he's siding with Moore. Thune's response, in all its glory, is below (with some emphasis added).
Well, I would like to see the president, Chris, come out and support what many of us have said, and that is that Roy Moore needs to step aside, allow somebody else to be a write-in candidate. We can win that seat. 
He is right. If a Democrat wins, it's going to be a vote for the Pelosi-Schumer agenda, which is going to be against tax reform, against constitutional judges, against smart borders. 
But the other alternative is, if Roy Moore wins and he comes into the Senate in January, there's going to immediately be an ethics investigation, which is going to be a cloud that he'll be operating in, and it's going to be a distraction for us and for our agenda
So, you know, ultimately the decision's up to the people of Alabama, but it strikes me at least that it would be in their best interest and in the country's best interest, and certainly the best interest of our agenda, if the president would use his influence to try and get Roy Moore to step aside. 
 Notice no mention of the women who came forward? No mention of  Moore's behavior? No mention of not wanting an accused child molester representing the Republican party? No mention of having to serve with someone with Moore's ethical issues, aside from the sex abuse charges?

Nope. Just we, us, our agenda, a distraction, our agenda, our agenda. Fiorina is so right with her assessment.

See you around campus.

November 25, 2017

I Hereby Proclaim: November 2017

Like his predecessors, president Trump has a penchant for proclamations. I last looked at some of them he made in June, and thought it was time to drop in and take another look.

Here are a few of the ones relating to the month of November.

It's National Entrepreneurship Month!
National Entrepreneurship Month celebrates one of our Nation's proudest qualities: our innovative, hardworking, entrepreneurial spirit. American entrepreneurs invent and sell fascinating and endlessly useful new products and services, creating millions of jobs and driving American global leadership along the way.... we must ensure that entrepreneurs have access to the capital, markets, and networks they need to get off the ground, to finance and build helpful innovations, and to export their products and services around the world. My Administration will continue its work to eliminate unnecessary, burdensome regulations and to fight for a simpler, fairer tax code that eases the burdens on doing business and enhances access to capital... this month, I call upon Americans to recognize the entrepreneurs who strengthen our economy, drive creativity, and increase the vibrancy of our great Nation.
We should absolutely celebrate entrepreneurs, ensure they have access to capital, and do something about our problematic regulatory environment that at times makes it hard for businesses large and small to function well. Although, next month, when it's expected that net neutrality will be wiped out, it might get more difficult for many of our small businesses to function. But heck, forcing service providers to allow everyone equal access to the internet? That's just not vibrant.

Similarly, November is Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month!
During Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, we emphasize the importance of safeguarding our Nation's infrastructure. Critical infrastructure systems are those physical and virtual assets that are essential to our physical security, economic security, or public health.  We need resilient, well-maintained critical infrastructure so that all Americans have access to safe food, reliable electricity, clean water, convenient transportation systems, quality public health and medical services, and instant communication every day... Our critical infrastructure also faces threats from capacity-induced strain, terrorist attacks, accidents, pandemics, space weather, and cyber attacks... My Administration will help our businesses invest in needed capital and research and development by reducing burdensome regulations and enacting comprehensive tax reform.
Except, of course, for having a freely accessible internet. But having ready access to capital, no burdensome regulations, and comprehensive tax reform will help secure our infrastructure. Or something.

And, November is National Native American Heritage Month!
My Administration is committed to tribal sovereignty and self-determination. A great Nation keeps its word, and this Administration will continue to uphold and defend its responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The United States is stronger when Indian Country is health and prosperous. As part of our efforts to strengthen American Indian and Alaska Native communities, my Administration is reviewing regulations that may impose unnecessary costs and burdens This aggressive regulatory reform, and a focus on government-to-government consultation, will help revitalize our Nation's commitment to Indian Country.
Dakota Access pipeline, anyone?  Removing national monuments that protect Native heritage sites? Denying climate science? Abandoning environmental protections?  Let's do more to revitalize our commitment to 'Indian Country' -- or, are all of these things happening outside Indian Country? And where or what exactly is 'Indian Country' anyway?

I hope you celebrated November 13 through November 19, 2017 as National Apprenticeship Week.
During National Apprenticeship Week, we recognize the important role apprenticeships play in unleashing the American workforce... our Nation can renew one of our greatest assets - the American worker.
My Administration has taken important steps to promote and expand apprenticeships. The Department of Labor is fully implementing my Executive Order on Expanding Apprenticeships in America, which direct it to work with other Federal Departments and agencies to make it easier for companies to create and grow apprenticeship programs...
This week, I challenge businesses, educational institutions, and government entities to expand apprenticeship opportunities and other quality job-training programs to help open more doors for more Americans... Together, we will build an even stronger workforce and provide new and exciting opportunities for generations of Americans to learn, earn and succeed. 
I'm a big fan of these programs, and a bigger fan of companies starting them on their own, without burdensome regulations directing multiple governmental departments and agencies to make it happen. Creative, innovative companies who need skilled people are free to collaborate with high schools, BOCES and similar programs, technical colleges, state universities, unions - to develop the kind of programs that will help create the workforce we need. We shouldn't have to encourage them to make this investment in their future.

At almost the same time, we were celebrating November 12 through 18, 2017 as American Education Week.
During American Education Week, we recognize that the foundation of the American Dream is a quality education that instills lifelong skills and develops strong character... As parents, teachers, and advocates, we recommit to ensuring that all children in American have a meaningful opportunity to harness their full potential...  Parents and guardians are the best advocates for their children's success. Through engagement with teachers and local school boards, parents have the power to shape their children's education. The importance of family and community involvement is why I signed an Executive Order earlier this year to protect and preserve State and local control over the curriculum, administration, and personnel of our country's schools... By promoting lifelong learning and continuing to ensure relevant post secondary education is more accessible to students, we can help all Americans achieve their dreams... There can be no greater investment than into the success of our children.
There's a lot to unpack in there, as they say, but I'll only say this: complete local control over curriculum will not help ensure the success of our children, it will create a giant, unwieldy patchwork quilt of regulations which might actually hinder our children and the efforts at getting a relevant post secondary education. So I guess it's good that the federal government is helping to develop apprenticeship programs -- we're going to need them if the Department of Education is successful with its reforms.

November 24, 2017

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v12)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
Remember when New Yorkers voted to amend the state Constitution to add casinos?

It's hard to believe it was four years ago - back in 2013 - that we had the opportunity to vote on, and ended up overwhelmingly approving, this change.

I have long felt that it was a combination of two things: the promise of a sure thing from the government, and the hope for a long shot personal win - that led to the approval of the initiative.

The potential for a personal win? Go to your local casino (not to one of the ones owned and operated by Native Americans or, heaven forbid, one in another state), try your luck, and walk away with a ton of cash. After all, it happens all the time -- we see the billboards and the TV ads of the winners, and the beautiful people in their fancy clothes having a ball at the casinos, right? And who would be having that much fun if they were losing?

The sure thing the government promised us? Let's look back at that ballot initiative:
The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenue generated.
Fun times, right? Hopes were high back in those days. Not so much now, though. According to an article from earlier this month,  all three of the first licensees are underperforming. 
  • del Lago Resort and Casino, down the Thruway a bit from Syracuse, opened earlier this year with projected gaming revenue of $263M for its first year.  As it stands, they'll probably fall about $100M short.
  • Rivers Resort and Casino also opened earlier this year in Schenectady, and is expected to fall about $80M short of its $222M projection.
  • Tioga Downs, which upgraded from a racino to a casino that opened in December 2016, had lower projections - $103M - and is also expected to fall short, by around $30M.
An Associated Press article out today goes into more detail on why we may not be seeing the 'elusive' jackpot we were all waiting for.
Analysts blame a crowded market for the disappointing new casino revenues. Aside from the five full-scale Indian casinos, New York is home to ten 'racino' horse tracks with video lottery terminals. The Oneidas, who operate the Turning Stone casino in central New York, also run a mini-casino in a strip mall near Syracuse. 
That competition is going to be increasing, too.
A fourth $1.2B casino resort selected by state officials is set to open in March in the Catskills, about 90 miles northwest of New York City. Another casino less than an hour from the New York border in Springfield, Massachusetts, is set to open later in 2018. And the Oneidas are set to open a second mini-casino near Syracuse in the spring. 
For casino hosts like Schenectady, which budgeted for revenue that's not coming in, things are not looking good. Here's Councilman Vince Riggi:
It's a plus (the new revenue that is coming in), but it's still a disappointment, that's the way I see it. We were told to expect much more.
Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural, who also owns the Vernon Downs Racino, has a different take on things, and focuses on the economic benefits of the casinos instead of on the less-than-projected revenues.
It's been a huge success. Whatever has been promised from an economic development standpoint has been delivered by the casinos. The real losers, frankly, are the owners of the three casinos. 
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Gural asked for and received a bailout from the state to keep Vernon Downs open; it gets to keep more of the money that would have gone to the state, and they get to use capital improvement funds for operating expenses. The racino was losing about $5K a day, state officials were told; competition was one of the main drivers of the losses, Gural noted.

Meanwhile, back in Albany, legislators are not happy. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Dem from Westchester  County, wants the state comptroller to investigate, as he's concerned the state will be asked to step in and help. His letter to Tom DiNapoli, he noted (in part)
When our state passed legislation to expand gaming, our decision was based on projections of robust revenues and promises that casino development would not place new burdens on taxpayers... The last few months, however, have called into question those projections and promises.
And, he noted
It is critically important that we have reliable and realistic long-term revenue projections - so we can prevent the recent gaming expansion from creating an arms race to more and more tax subsidies.
I would add that it's critically important that local governments budget responsibly, which would include not betting the farm that all of the promised gaming revenue would actually come in - but maybe that's just me.

Oh -- about that gaming expansion Pretlow mentioned? It's going to get worse.

Here in NY, we've got another billion dollar casino resort opening in the Catskills in March, and another mini-casino from the Oneidas opening in Bridgeport, at the outer reaches of Onondaga County, also in the spring. Another is scheduled to open in Springfield, MA, a relatively short hop from the NY border.

This will be one to watch going forward. With our appetite for bailing out gambling facilities already demonstrated, this could all turn into one really ugly crap shoot.

November 23, 2017

OrangeVerse XX: Thanks Be to Me

The president talks to the military on Thanksgiving. I kid you not.

Better Me than You
Hello everybody and Happy Thanksgiving.
You're very very special
people to me and to
everybody in this country, 
that I can tell you...
We're going on live now,
and surrounding me
is a lot of press.
Better me than you, 
fellas, better me than you...

Giving Thanks
It's an honor to speak
with you all and
to give God thanks
for the blessings of freedom
and for the heroes who really have this 
tremendous courage that you do
to defend us and to defend freedom
so we want
to thank you all
very much,
very very special
people, like it
doesn't get more special.

Have You Seen My Colonel?
Representing the Army...
Colonel Toby and where is Toby?
Raise your hand Toby
where's Toby
Thank you Toby
 I hear so many good
things about you Toby
that's good news 
that Toby Magsig...

Everybody's Talkin' Bout Me (1)
I have to say just directly
to the folks in Afghanistan:
everybody's talking about the
progress you've made in the
last few months since I
opened it up. 
We opened it up we
said go ahead we're
gonna fight to win we're
not fighting anymore 
to just walk around we're
fighting to win and
you people are really
you've turned t around over
the last three to four months like
nobody's seen and 
They. Are.Talking.
about it so thank you very much.
Brave. Incredible. Fighters.

My Own Private Marine
Semper Fi. Semper Fi.
I have a great Marine
who's the chief of staff
as you know
John Kelly
doing an incredible job
just like any Marine would.

Everybody's Talkin' Bout Me (2) you and all the Marines
doing this great work 
in delivering defeat
after defeat to ISIS
what you're doing with ISIS 
is again, being talked about.
We're being talked about
again as an armed forces. 
We're really winning.
We know how to win.
But we have to
let you win.
We weren't 
letting you win before.
We were letting
 you play even.
We're letting
 you win.

The Power of Positivity
The fight against ISIS,
it's coming our way.
They're coming our way -
big, big difference.
A lot of things
 have happened.
They say
we've made more progress
against ISIS
than they did in years
of the previous administration.
And that's because
I'm letting you
do your job.
We're very very proud of you
and believe me
everyone in this country
is watching and they're seeing
and they're seeing positive reports
for a change instead of
the neutral and negative reports.
It's all positive

One Two Three Four What the Hell are You Fighting For?
For each of you I know
it's hard to be away
from home at this time of
the year. We're doing well at home
the economy is doing really great
when you come back
you're going to see
with the jobs and the companies
coming back into our country and the
stock market just hit a record high
unemployment's the lowest 
it's been in seventeen years so
you're fighting for
something real
for something good.
 A lot of things
 have happened with
our country over
the last very short
period of time
and they're really good,
 they're really good.
I especially like
saying that companies
are starting to come back.
Now we're working on tax cuts,
big fat beautiful tax cuts
and hopefully
we'll get that and then
you're really gonna see things happen.

In Closing
So as we give thanks
for this holiday I know
I speak on behalf of
all Americans when I say that
we totally support you - in fact
we love you, we really do
we love you and this is a 
Thanksgiving that you won't forget.
You're in a very different part
of the world than you
 were used to but boy,
you're doing a job there and
thank God for you, thank God for you.
We also want to
give thanks to your loved ones
our amazing military families. 
I know they miss you and 
they miss you so deeply
and so badly.
They're every bit as
important as everyone
else who you work with
because they put up 
with so much they put up
with the time away
and all of those things
that they have to endure and 
they endure it
because they love our country 
and because they love you 
and believe me
I know so much 
about military families...

November 22, 2017

Trump in Transition (v24)

The president had the opportunity this week to lead the nation in its first big holiday since the inauguration. 

Oh sure, there was Valentine's Day, and Good Friday, and Memorial Day; Independence Day and Flag Day (his birthday, I think I read somewhere); Labor Day, and Columbus Day and even Veteran's Day - but this is the first bigly darn deal holiday for Donald Trump, and he has done everything in his power to rise to the occasion.  Take a look:
As we gather together with our families on Thanksgiving and give thanks for our many blessings, we are reminded of the national family to which we all belong as citizens of this incredible country. This Thursday, as we give thanks for our cherished loved ones, let us also renew our bonds of trust, loyalty and affection between our fellow citizens as members of a proud national family of Americans.
This is not the first time Trump has echoed the desire that we renew our affection for each other. For example, here's one set of his comments in response to Charlottesville:
And as I have said many times before: No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.
Here's another example, again from his Charlottesville comments:
...We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection - really, I say this so strongly, true affection for each other. 
The problem is, no matter how hard he tells us that we have to have true affection for each other, he simply cannot find a way to do this himself. 

Ask Jeff Flake:

Or Al Franken:

Or Hillary Clinton:

There are more, of course - the examples come almost daily, sometimes more than once a day, from the president of the United States.

My Thanksgiving wish for him is that he find true affection, - I cannot state it strongly enough - true affection for his fellow man while he's at his Winter White House and that he come back refreshed and fully transitioned into presidential mode after his holiday.

November 20, 2017

Poll Watch: The GOP Tax Plan

It appears that Americans continue to be less than delighted with the GOP tax plan, if the results from the latest Quinnipiac poll are any indication. 

Here's some of the small print stuff, with understanding how the poll worked:  the survey was conducted on land line and cell phones November 7 - 13, 2017, and included 1,577 people self-identifying as registered voters. The overall margin of error is +/- 3%.

So, let's dive into the tax questions of the survey, which also asked about guns and Russia:

  • By a margin of 52% - 25%, voters disapprove of the GOP tax plan. Only Republicans approve (60% - 15%), all other demographic groups (Democrats, Independents; men and women; those with college degrees and those without, all age groups, all income groups. and all economic classes). 23% are undecided on the plan.
  • For the most part, people think the plan will have little impact on them personally (36%); of the rest, more people think their taxes will go up (35%) than think their taxes will go down (16%). That's true across all age groups and all economic classes. 
  • By a pretty wide margin, more people disapprove of how president Trump is handling taxes (55%) than approve (34%). And, that number is trending poorly for Trump; in October, the percentages were 37% approve and 49% disapprove.
  • Voters don't believe the tax plan will lead to an increase in jobs and economic growth, either. 52% say no; 36% say yes, and 12% don't know. And while 78% of Republicans think we will see jobs and economic growth stemming from the tax plan, that enthusiasm is not shared. The highest income group - those making more than $250K/year - and those who consider themselves upper middle class - do not believe that'll be the case. Only 33% of the highest wage earners and 32% of the upper middles are optimistic on this one.

And, again almost universally, with Republicans the outlier, survey respondents believe the wealthy will benefit more than anyone else. Overall, 6% think the low income will benefit most; 24% think the middle class will, and 61% think the wealthy are the big winners. Here are some of the other breakdowns.
  • Republicans:  53% middle class; 
  • Democrats:  88% wealthy; 
  • Independents: 65% wealthy.
  • Men: 58% wealthy; 
  • Women: 63% wealthy.
  • 18 - 34 year olds: 62% wealthy; 
  • 35 - 49 year olds: 66% wealthy; 
  • 50 - 64 year olds: 60% wealthy; 
  • 65+: 59% wealthy; 
  • < $30K annual income: 66% wealthy; 
  • $30K - $50K: 56% wealthy; 
  • $50K - $100K: 60% wealthy; 
  • $100 -$250K: 66% wealthy; 
  • > $250K: 70% wealthy.
  • Working class: 57% wealthy;
  • Middle class: 61% wealthy;
  • Upper middle class+: 65% wealthy

These results are interesting, especially when contrasted with the president's comments before his cabinet meeting today. You know, those little made-for-TV adventures we get to see every now and then?  Here's a snippet of what Trump had to say.
We're going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas. Hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present.
With the Democrats giving us no votes for tax cuts, for purely political reasons - obstructionists - it will be up to the Republicans to come through for America. I think they will. I hope they will. It's up to the Senate. And if they approve it, the House and the Senate will get together - I'll be there right in the middle of it -- and we will come up with a bill that will be spectacular for growth and spectacular for the people of this country.
It seems there's a disconnect between the White House and the rest of the world; it also seems that the Republicans may want to run for the hills to keep the president out of the middle of their discussions.

November 19, 2017

Taxing Benefits (Again)

Another hit for the education community is nestled in the House tax plan. In Saturday' post, I talked about the plan to tax tuition benefits for dependents of college employees and a couple other changes. Today, it's collegiate athletics that stands to lose - and lose bigly.

According to this report on ESPN, the House plan would eliminate the charitable deduction on the premium that donors pay for the privilege of paying for tickets to college athletic events.
In the proposed measure, Section 1306 would cut deductions associated with charitable contributions for tickets. Not allowing fans to deduct for donations that give them the right to buy tickets would immediately cost college programs hundreds of millions of dollars, according to athletic directors who spoke with ESPN.
The article goes on to note that
For years, college athletic programs have relied on donations associated with season tickets to fuel their budgets. While the price of the season tickets themselves are not tax deductible, fans have been able to write off up to 80 percent of the donation that was required to buy those tickets, a fact that has been heavily marketed by the programs themselves. If the provision winds up in the final tax bill that passes, the ability to write off anything related to the donation would disappear.  
Another YOWSER! from the House Republicans that, at least so far, is not included in the version of the tax plan the Senate is drafting. This is a big darn deal for big-time college athletics.  Here are a few examples cited in the article.
  • a 50-yard line seat at LSU cost $425, with a $1, 025 donation.
  • $4,000 would get you the rights to purchase a single season ticket to Duke basketball games; the ticket itself is $3,000.
  • $4,000 would also give you the opportunity to buy one of the best seats for Alabama football.
Those examples pale in comparison to what it costs for the best seats for an NC State basketball game: $25,000 per seat for the best center-court seats -- for life -- along with $7,200 per year in additional donations, not counting the price of the tickets.  I'm not sure on this one whether it's better to live fast and take chances, so you don't have to spend so much to enjoy Wolfpack hoops, or be like the people in those Glucerna commercials where 'steady' is the goal and you'll live forever, writing the checks year after year after year after year...

Now, as I was with the free tuition benefit that's also at risk in the GOP plan, I'm not sure how aggravated I'm going to get about this one.

I've been called foolish by my husband for never deducting my charitable contributions from my taxes before we got married. I've always donated, but not because of the tax break. Frankly, I'm one of those crazy people who thinks that, if we're going to have an income tax, it should be based on our income and not our outgo - meaning, I should not be rewarded for how I spend my money. If I want to give to charity, bully for me. If I want to gamble it away, bully for me -- but don't reward me for either of those behaviors, because it has nothing to do with my income. (And yes, we do deduct all of our charitable contributions now -- that's one of those compromises married couples make.)

Here's House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady, the author of the tax plan, on the reasoning for the proposed change:
I don't believe the deduction was ever intended to apply to donations related to season tickets.
I have to say I agree with him. Charitable donations aren't supposed to give the donor special benefits and access that personally enrich the donor - they're supposed to enrich others, right?
Brady said that the majority of season -ticket holders in college athletics don't have to pay for the rights to their seats; they just pay the cost of the ticket. Since deductions technically cost the taxpayer at large, Brady reasons that the average fan is actually disadvantaged by the deduction at the hands of the wealthy, who deduct the price of their large donations for the right to sit in the best seats. 
I agree with that too, except for one thing. Many of the people who do make these donations, and do take advantage of the tax deductions? They're middle class folks like you and me.

My brother-in-law was not a rich man when he was working, and he's certainly not a rich man now that he's retired. He's just a middle-class guy who managed to get in the mix for season tickets for Syracuse University football and basketball years ago, and he's held onto them ever since he got his foot in the door. So no Chairman Brady, it's not always wealthy people who do this - it's lots and lots of ordinary folks who enjoy supporting their alma mater or their home-town team (or their state's team, in the case of SU...).

I'm all for closing loopholes in the tax code -- I think that's much more important than cutting taxes, particularly when the Republicans find it in their hearts to raise the deficit to do that; if we collect all of the taxes we owe, we will have a better chance at understanding the mess we're in, and be able to focus on a couple of things: cutting spending, paying down our debt, and being able to reduce taxes for everyone, when everyone pays their fare share.

But what will this do to colleges and universities, many of whom stand to lose in the tens of millions of dollars annually for this change, on top of the proposed change to start taxing their endowments? Will this mean cuts in scholarships? Higher costs (when many are already charging more than the country's median salary for a single year of tuition alone)? Fewer people going to college?

What does this do to all of the claims that we need an educated workforce to fill the jobs of the future, which will begin streaming in the second the ink is dry on this tax plan?

And finally, how does this help sell the plan as being a tax cut for the middle class? 

November 18, 2017

Taxing Benefits

As we learn what might end up in the Republican tax plan, eyes are being opened. Or, at least, I'm willing to admit that my eyes are being opened.

This article highlights a number of the changes that made it through the House plan earlier this week that will certainly have an impact on families and institutions in my neck of the woods. For starters,
Hundreds of employees at Central New York colleges and universities would see one of their more valuable benefits taxed as income under a sweeping tax overhaul bill...
What tax-free benefit will these folks be losing? It's a big one:
The college employees who receive free or reduced tuition for their children would have to begin paying federal income tax on the value of that tuition.
Whoa.  Or, as my sister-in-law says, YOWSER!

It's a somewhat common practice at many colleges and universities to offer reduced (even totally free) tuition to children of college employees -- that's one reason these institutions don't have that difficult a time getting applicants for open positions.  And it not just here in Central New York; the reciprocal Tuition Exchange program lists hundreds of schools not only in the US but also some in other countries that participate in the program, which makes it even more attractive for families and their eligible dependents.

Le Moyne College, for example, covers the full tuition - over $32,800 each - of the eligible dependents who choose to be Dolphins and up to $35K to those who go to participating Tuition Exchange member institutions. Hamilton College, just down the road a bit, covers half of the tuition for their almost 90 eligible employee dependents; full tuition at the school this year is $52,250. The cost of the benefit? Around $2.5 million for Le Moyne employees, and over $2.2 for Hamilton employees. Syracuse University didn't provide details on their program, but we can surmise it's probably a similar number.

I admit I never really thought all that much about it, but when we do think about it, it's really a bonus for the employees, right? Well, if I get a bonus, it's taxed - so why shouldn't this pretty rich benefit be taxed as well? Wouldn't that be more fair? I know it's contrary to the concept of a tax cut, but it does kind of make sense.

That's not all that's changing if the House provisions hold.
  • College endowments  are going to be hit with a 1.4%  excise tax; for Ivy Leaguer Cornell, that's a $10M hit; Hamilton will pay around $650K for this one.
  • The deduction for interest paid on student loans would disappear.
  • Students working as teaching assistants and researchers would have to pay tax on any tuition that is waived while they serve in these roles. 
According to Mary Beth Labate, head of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities,
The short-sighted tax plan passed by the House this week will hurt ordinary New Yorkers by erasing critical tax benefits related to higher education and dashing the college dream for thousands of students and families.
The total cost nationwide is estimated by this group at $111 billion.

We need to collect all of this extra money, of course, because the GOP agreed to increase the deficit by as much as $1.5 trillion to pay for the tax cuts, even as they insist that won't be necessary because the economy is going to explode with growth.  Maybe we'll have three jobs for every American, just like we there are three guns for every American?

The folks who are going to be taking the tax hit on the tuition and the student loan interest? They'll need those extra jobs to pay their taxes if this cut goes through.

November 17, 2017

TGIF 11/17/17

What was memorable about this week that we're putting in the books?

The president made it back from his Asia trip in one piece, and no no natural or unnatural disasters occurred here, or there, which is a good thing. He talked of major deals that would bring us benefit; the first of those was the release of the three goofballs from UCLA who decided to shoplift at a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou near their hotel. 

Trump interceded with Chinese President Xi, and the players were able to return home, avoiding a potential 10-year sentence. The president then did what he does best - he tweeted, of course,  questioning whether the players would thank him - barely giving them a chance to, since they still had to face the 'indefinite suspension' music with the Bruins. And yes, if you're wondering, they did thank him. Which he knew, and we all knew, they would.

What else happened this week?  Well, the House passed a tax plan - but they didn't get a Rose Garden celebration this time, like they did when they passed the ill-fated Affordable Care Act repeal and replace bill that eventually died in the Senate. Perhaps they're waiting for the Senate to do their part this time before they all gather and back-slap? 

As with the healthcare bill, the tax bill faces a slightly more uphill climb in the Senate, with one declared 'no vote' already: Wisconsin's Ron Johnson. And, we hear, there are significant differences between the bills, which might make the conference committee process difficult assuming the bill does pass. The president is looking for something by the end of the year, if not sooner, so we'll have to see what's going to happen.

Staying in Congress, we learned that there have been $15M in payouts to unnamed people related to harassment of one sort or another by unknown elected officials or staff. Which is not a good thing, at all. 

Also not a good thing at all? More women have come forward with allegations against Judge Roy Moore, the wannabe Senator from Alabama. He's denying, his wife is denying, people came forward to say that Moore and his missus are the happiest married couple since peanut butter met jelly on two slices of white bread - which surely means there's no way he could have done what they say he did 40 years ago because... he loves his wife?

Another not a good thing at all is what's going on with Minnesota's Senator Al Franken. He's been accused of forcibly kissing young woman as they rehearsed for a skit on a USO tour back in 2006. There's also a picture where Franken pretends to fondle the woman's breasts through a flack jacket as she's sleeping. The picture is absurd and stupid and childish at the very least. Franken has apologized and is welcoming a full ethics investigation into the situation. I haven't yet heard whether Franken and his wife have a terrific marriage with  eyes only for each other.  Calls for his resignation have started. 

Back to the president and his absurd and stupid and childish behavior. You know he can't help himself, right? I mean, what 71 year-old, self-confessed abuser could be expected to rise above this opportunity? 

TGIF, everyone.