December 31, 2017

Sunday School 12/31/17

I was taking a stroll through the hallways today, thinking I'd make one last stop in each of our Sunday School classrooms. But I started - and stopped - with CNN's State of the Union.

Why? Well, call me crazy but it seemed appropriate to end the year with someone interviewing Anthony Scaramucci. 

Yep - that Anthony Scaramucci, the one who once called Trump a "hack politician" and an "inherited money dude from Queens County" and who gave that  super focused interview with CNN back in July, in which he was super focused on telling us what the president was super focused on.

Today, the Mooch was talking with Dana Bash, for reasons that I will likely never understand. I mean, you're CNN - the most reviled network in the country, at least with the president and his followers.  You're number one with a bullet on the #FakeNews list, for cripes sake - and so you end the year talking to a guy who worked for the administration for 11 days before going down in flames because of his inability to control what he says to reporters?  I can only imagine that Ivana Trump or Marla Maples were unavailable to offer their opinions on how the president feels about year one.

That was Bash's first question - how is the president feeling about his first year in office?
Listen, I think the president feels great. I talked to him last Monday. And he's very happy with what happened as it related to the tax reform bill that was put in place recently. And so, listen, I think you got - 2018 is going to be a big year, a big year for the Republicans.
Honing in on the tax reform question, Bash wondered if the president was punishing Blue states in the tax bill, with the SALT provision, which limits the deductions for state and local taxes. Trump implied he could have worked with the Dems on taxes. Scaramucci knows the answer on this one, he does.
I think all the president's saying there is that there are always chips on the table for bargaining purposes. And so, because they weren't willing to deal with him, a lot of the chips that they could have used were left on the table. 
And so that is actually a signal from the president. He's trying to signal the Democrats that he's ready to work with them, and that whatever chips are on the table for health care or for DACA, he's there to negotiate with them. 
I mean, I think that's been the hallmark of his entrepreneurial success as a business leader, is being a great negotiator, and I think he's just trying to signal to these guys, listen, there's stuff that we can do together. 
As it relates to the SALT situation, I know people on the Democratic side will say that was a punishment for the blue states. I don't think anybody sees it that way. I think we're past that as it relates to tax strategy the good relationship with Secretary Mnuchin.
The goal there was just basically to find ways to lower the overall rate, but then also make everybody a little big more competitive and accountable on their budgets at the state and local level.
So -- so to me, I think, long term, that is probably short-term states for - short-term pain for the states like the one I live in, New York. But, long term, I think it will make those states more adaptive, aggressive, and leaner and more entrepreneurial. So I think it's a good thing, by and large.  
They talked a little about the FBI and the president's attack on the agency, as well as attacks from other Republicans; Scaramucci thinks it's just the president expressing some "frustration" but Bash wondered whether it's really Trump being worried about the outcome of the investigation.

After discounting that, and referencing the NY Times interview about how "he expects the investigation of Mueller to treat him very fairly" he offered some insight.
So, I'm not worried about it. I don't think he's woried about it. I think he's frustrated about it. I think he doesn't like the scandals incorporated that go on in Washington, where we find the scandal du jour to try and distract our political opponents from their agendas by picking on them personally.
And so I think that has got to stop on both sides, frankly. I have said that if Senator Clinton had become president, they would be attacking her on her emails, they would be attacking her on Uranium One. 
Washington has this magnificent way of finding scandals to hit people with to distract them from their agendas. The great news about the president is, he's undistracted, he's undeterred and I think he is going to have a phenomenal 2018.
There was more after that, but there's really no point in going any further.

Because while Scaramucci  may have convinced the folks at CNN that he's still close to the president, I'm not sure that's really true. Heck, I could have given any of the answers that Scaramucci did - all you have to do is watch the news.

And the answer about the "scandal du jour" and the fact that if Clinton has been elected she'd be attacked on Uranium One and her emails -- good lord, the email stuff has never stopped and Trump himself has been hammering on the Uranium One issue. News broke today that AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has ordered an investigation, as was promised last month.

The Mooch would know that, and CNN certainly should know that -- and certainly should have questioned it, instead of letting it lie like a sleeping dog.

Closing out 2017 with this guy sort is a perfect way to wind things down. And allowing interviews like this to stand without questioning the easy stuff is something that hopefully we'll see less of in the coming year.

See you around campus.

The Top Five Posts of 2017

OK, we've come to the last day of December, so you know what that means, right?

Yes, the time when everyone does that backwards glance over their shoulder, looks at the year that was, and makes plans for the coming year.

I'm not going to aggravate over it too much; there are professionals who are paid a ton of money to do that. Maybe we'll have the chance to catch up with some of them later, we'll see. 

In the meantime, here are the top five most-viewed posts of the year, with an excerpt from each. Not surprisingly, the president is connected to four of the five.

(1) January 21st: #NeverTrump Answers to #TrumpVoter Questions. I could have included dozens more questions and answers in this post, but limited it to a few of the most common ones that could be strung together in a conversation.
It's January 21, 2017 and it appears that at least a very vocal, and, it seems, a very large percentage of Trump voters are stuck in a 'sore winners' rut and don't know how to get out of it. Which means I guess it's up to people like me, a #NeverTrump, to try and help them out. 
 Wish me luck.
Yeah, we'll need more than luck, I'm afraid. But I won't give up the fight. And I will continue to fight Trump without mentioning Hillary, for this is not about who lost - it's about who won.

(2) June 3rd: Poor, Poor Pitiful Me (v1). Kathy Griffin was upset that she faced a backlash for her hideous 'joke'?  Oh, stop it.
Oh, Kathy Griffin, you poor thing you. Linda Ronstadt understands, she does.
I know you spend your time on the D-list, but does that mean you're living under a rock? Had you no idea that your highly offensive "comedic" video, you slowly raising your arm to gradually display a bloody, severed Donald Trump head, would bring consequences?  
Did you really think that Trump himself, the victim of your prank, would be appreciative? Did you now know that the Tweeter in Chief, his family, staff, friends and supporters would rain down 140-character responses upon your (still attached) head?
(3) October 3rd: OrangeVerse XVII Puerto Rico. The poetry posts did well this year -- apparently I'm not the only one who is fascinated by the president's use of language.
The president held a rally in (oops, my bad) visited hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico today, and boy was he proud of himself. So proud, he made everyone else tell him how wonderful he and his administration are. And then he was bigly very proud. Here he is in his own words.
My People, Tis of Thee
And to all of my people - 
And I have to say
General Buchanan...
there's no doubt about it
you are a general.
There's a reason
 you're a general
But he's not games:
I said
give me a general
I don't have to have any -- 
I don't want
to have a general
that plays games...

(4) June 4th: Sunday School 6/24/17 - this was the one where I didn't have the heart to fight my way through the Sunday talk shows, and instead provided links to arts, music and phys ed - important yet frequently cut courses when it comes to public education spending.
Maybe it's because I've been spending too much time weeding my garden, and I don't have the energy to pull the weeds out of the comments of the people who defend Trump on the news shows.
 Maybe I simply lost interest this week, after all of the absurd tweets send by #NotNowNotEver #NotMyPresident Trump. 
Or maybe, it's just covfefe
(5) November 24th: Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v12), in which we looked at the reality of expanding casino gambling in New York State.  Are we getting the promised benefits from the constitutional amendment? 
The sure thing the government promised us? Let's look back that 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 licencees are underperforming. 
So there you have it -- another year in the books. All the best to you and yours in 2018.

December 29, 2017

TGIF 12/29/17

And so we come to the last TGIF of the year -- incredible, isn't it?

I was going to do one of those Year in Review things, but tonight doesn't feel like the right time to do it.

I mean, it's Friday, for Pete's sake!  We should be celebrating!

So, let's do that - let's celebrate the week that was, using presidential tweets.

Saturday, December 23: Perhaps more has been accomplished by the Trump Administration than by any other president.

Or, perhaps not.

Sunday, December 24: the massive drilling in the ANWR which is opposed by a majority of US voters, according to Trump's favorite polling company? Yeah, that's a n indicator of an incredible year right there.

Monday, December 25: Say it -- I dare you, just say it!

Um, OK, sure - 'our' cherished and beautiful phrase? If you say so.

Tuesday, December 26: Where are the people shouting warnings from the rooftops that the crazy growth in the stock market is unsustainable? What ever happened to good old irrational exuberance?

Wednesday, December 27. This one, I give him. I've seen nothing to dispute that His Generals have done an excellent job on this front.

Thursday, December 28: All I can say is, now is not the time to be talking about global warming and climate change. Remember? Now is the time to be talking about taxes.

Friday, December 29: Let's end the year by bashing one of America's companies, because its founder happens to own a major national media outlet

Completely ignoring the real reason why the USPS is losing money, and missing an opportunity to get rid of a regulation that would make a huge difference. 

Yep - another week in the books.


December 27, 2017

Poll Watch: Looking Back at 2017

In a fascinating look at some of 2017's poll findings, the folks at Pew Research Center put numbers around some of the things we may think we know, or think we see. 

Let's take a look, starting with partisanship. 

If someone asked you about that, would you think that things had gotten worse of late?

You'd be right. According to polls taken in June and July of this year,
The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today. 
And, it seems even when the parties tend to agree with each other, the partisan gap can actually grow; here's just one example.
For the first time, a majority of Republicans (54%) favor acceptance of homosexuality; just 38% did so in 1994. Yet over this period, the increase in the share of Democrats saying homosexuality should be accepted has been much larger (54% to 83%).
Even when they move in the right direction, the Republicans fall further behind... 

What about how the world views America - do you think this has changed in the first year of the Trump Administration? You'd be right if you answered yes.

Looking broadly at global confidence in the US, there was a sharp downturn from the Obama administration (64%) to the Trump administration (22%). There was an even greater shift in the 'no confidence' rate, which went from 23% under Obama to 74% under Trump.

All but two of the 37 countries surveyed noted a decline in confidence in the US president doing the right thing.  The outliers? Israel (+7 for Trump over Obama) - and Russia (+42). No surprise there.  Countries with steep declines in confidence include Germany (-75), South Korea (- 71), France (-70), Spain (-68), Canada (-61) and the UK (-57).

Another interesting finding has to do with the effect of post-secondary education on the country.
Nearly six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) now say colleges have a negative effect. Two years ago, by contrast, 54% of Republicans said colleges were having a positive effect. Democrats and Democratic leaners have consistently held positive views of the effect of colleges on the US: 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this today.
Those negative Republicans? Last year, the number was only 45%.

And the last one we'll look at has to do with the media. Not #fakenews, but opinions on the watchdog role the media plays.

  • 70% of US adults believe that criticism from news organizations keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn't be done; while 28% think that media criticism keeps political leaders from doing their jobs. 
  • But in a survey from March of this year, there's a 47 point gap between Democrats and Republicans on this question, with 89% of Dems thinking the watchdog role is a positive and only 42% of Reps believing the same. 
  • As recently as early 2016 (January/February), 74% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans shared that same supportive role for the watchdog media!
These days, it's almost hard to imagine there being a time when the Rs were more supportive of the media than the Ds, isn't it? 

There are other interesting findings in the report, including opinions about automation; race and privilege; religions; and living without partners.  It's a great snapshot of this remarkable year, helped in large part because the folks at Pew have asked the same questions over time, some of them for decades.  

I'm thinking it'll be fun to look at these same surveys again next year, to see whether the Trump effect continues, or if things establish a sense of balance - even if it's an out-of-whack version of balance. 

December 26, 2017

Random Post-Christmas Noodling

Back from a well-deserved few days off (I did deserve it right?) and catching up on things.

So, raise your hand if you've got battle scars from the war on Christmas.  Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Honestly, I can see people maybe having battle scars from Christmas, especially in blended families where the dinner table conversation can turn ugly like a Christmas sweater, but not so much from the war on Christmas.  Which is why it's probably a good thing the president ended that battle, before anyone got seriously hurt.

Do we know yet which of His Generals was responsible for this Operation Santa Buster?

And at what point did Merry Christmas become OUR cherished and beautiful phrase? Who is the 'our' he's talking about? Americans? White people? Evangelicals? Is it possible he truly doesn't know that Christmas is not an American holiday, or does he simply not care?

Speaking of Christmas, I was able to have my life-size cutout Donald Trump join one of our family Christmas gatherings.  One of our younger family members -- an 11-year-old -- came around the corner and only saw the back of the cut out, and asked me who it was. I turned it towards him and got a "oh, him!" and a monster eye roll, and then it was back to some Merry Christmasing. Cracked me up.

What else has been going on? Well, it seems someone thought a package of horse manure would make a nice Christmas present for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
It was one of those gag cards you can buy in a drugstore. "Merry Catsmess!" read the caption. And in a personal touch, as if for emphasis, Robby Strong had enclosed a box of horse manure. "To Stevie," he wrote on the envelope, meaning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for whose doorstep the manure was bound.
"We're returning the 'gift' of the Christmas tax bill. It's bulls---." Strong wrote on the card. "Warmest Wishes, The American People." 
Strong, who at least at the time he delivered the manure in the general neighborhood of Mnuchin worked as a psychologist for LA County, believed his actions were necessary.
In the long run, if we don't do stuff like this, what are we going to have left? What I did, I would like to compare to what Jesus did when he went into the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers, who were exploiting the people financially in the name of religion. I feel like that's what the GOP has done to the American people.
"If we don't do stuff like this, what are we going to have left?"

We'd have Mike Huckabee, maybe?  We'll have him for a while longer, anyway - although, after he compared Donald Trump to Winston Churchill, not sure how much longer. Reaction was swift after this tweet:

Several referenced Trump's bone spurs (real or imagined). Others called out Churchill's intellect, his service, and that he unified his country - three things which have rarely been said about Trump by anyone other than Trump. Others were sharply critical of Huckabee's comedic skills. It's a fun read, if you have a few minutes. 

The last one I was going to highlight was Orrin Hatch being named Utahn of the Year by the Salt Lake Tribune. Similar to Time Magazine's Man, Woman, Person, thing, movement, word, or hashtag of the Year, the honorific can be given for the best of reasons, or the worst of them. 

According to the paper's editorial board,
The selection of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch as the 2017 Utahn of the Year has little to do with the fact that, after 42 years, he is the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, that he has been a senator from Utah longer than three-fifths of the state's population has been alive. It has everything to do with recognizing:
  • Hatch's part in the dramatic dismantling of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
  • His role as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in passing a major overhaul of the nation's tax code.
  • His utter lack of integrity that raises from his unquenchable thirst for power.  
But, instead of talking about that, I'd rather point you to this guitar composition by Frank Zappa titled Orrin Hatch on Skis -- I kid you not.

I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things.  Happy holidays!

December 22, 2017

TGIF 12/22/17

It's the Friday before Christmas, and that for sure is a perfect reason for some TGIF wishes, don't you think?

We do have other reasons to raise a TGIF glass to this week, though. We've got the beautiful massive tax cut bill signed, sealed and delivered.

If all goes according to plan, we'll start seeing changes on February 1st, according to the president. And then on April 17th we'll start getting giddy about what we won't have to go through in 2019 when we'll be able to file our taxes on a postcard. Or something.

I don't know for sure what it will mean to our taxes -- I can't tell for sure, because the different calculators I've seen are all giving different results. But, boy, some folks must know EXACTLY what it means for them, because Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas has done the math.
Under #TaxCutsandJobsAct a married couple earning $100,000 per year ($60,000 from wages, $25,000 from their non-corporate business, and $15,000 in business income) will receive a tax cut of $2,603.50, a reduction of nearly 24 percent.
Right down to the half dollar, by jeepers! That's some pretty darn good  number-crunching. Think he was using a Texas Instruments calculator?

We also had some testimony from Andrew McCabe, the Deputy Director of the FBI, before Congress this week. Seems he pissed off a lot of people by telling them James Comey let him know the gist of Trump's 'loyalty pledge' nonsense. That shouldn't sit well with Congress, nor with the president.

We had 'taking names' at the UN, and then we invited the countries that didn't vote against us to a party. In case you're wondering, the countries joining us and Israel were Guatemala, Honduras, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and Togo.

But perhaps the most important thing that happened this week was the giant GOPgasm that happened at the White House. Fair warning - this picture may be disturbing. The faint of heart may want to avert their eyes.

There was dancing on the White House lawn, I tell ya! Giddy like children given too much candy by Grandma or something. To their credit, they waited until they actually had passed the darn thing, instead of that mess that happened the last time they tried this, remember the ill-fated health care 'repeal and replace' bill back in the spring?

Do you think next time they pass something, they'll bring in athletes to show them how to celebrate right?

TGIF, and Merry Christmas. Your postcard's in the mail.

December 20, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v115)

Anyone not a corporation or other specific beneficiary of the GOP's 'massive' tax plan celebrating tonight, I wonder?

I hope my friends at AT & T be celebrating when they get their promised $1000 bonus.  The bonus is being paid as a "Hey, about our merger with Comcast? We're promising $1B in investments, and a couple hundred million in bonuses, and we sure as hell hope that makes you like our merger way more bigly than you do now!"

Of course, one could cynically wonder how hard it would have been for AT & T to give this kind of bonus in the past, with or without a merger on the line or a corporate tax cut dangled in front of them. After all, according to this NY Times article from March, the company has benefited handsomely from tax subsidies.

In fact, it was the biggest winner of all companies receiving subsidies between 2008 and 2015:
  • AT & T: ($38.1 billion)
  • Wells Fargo ($31.4 billion)
  • JPMorgan Chase ($22.2 billion)
  • Verizon ($21.1 billion)
  • IBM ($17.8 billion)
  • General Electric ($15.4 billion)
  • Exxon Mobil ($12.9 billion)
  • Boeing ($11.9 billion)
  • Procter & Gamble ($8.5 billion)
  • Twenty-First Century Fox ($7.6 billion)
  • Time Warner ($6.7 billion)
  • Goldman Sachs ($5.5 billion)
Wells Fargo, number two on the list the heavily subsidized and a remarkably ethically challenged company, opening more than three million fake accounts on behalf of unknowing customers, firing 5000+ employees (as if they cooked up the whole scheme to open the accounts), and more, also announced it was raising the company's minimum wage to $15/hour and was planning $400M in philanthropic efforts next year.  Call me crazy, but this is a company desperate to remake its reputation, and oh by the way is (maybe) facing almost $200M in penalties for their continued bad acts. I wonder if that has anything to do with their immediate announcement about how wonderful they are?

And I also wonder if Bernie Sanders is happy about the $15 an hour, or if he's mad about the corporate tax cut?  Talk about being between a rock and a hard place, right?

Speaking of winners and losers, I've lost some respect for Maine's Senator Susan Collins for her votes on the tax bill. You'll remember initially she was a no on the bill, because she had serious concerns about the lack of funding for the cost-sharing reduction payments that were being made under the Affordable Care Act (the president killed the subsidies back in October, you'll recall), and she had concerns about the the anticipated increase in premiums stemming from the repeal of the individual mandate, which was included in the tax bill. In an exchange on the Senate floor, Collins obtained assurances from Mitch McConnell that the Senate would take up her two issues, "ideally prior to the adoption of any tax reform conference agreement and certainly before the end of the year."

That may mean before the end of 2018.  Well, OK, probably sooner -- Collins issued a statement today with Sen. Lamar Alexander talking about maybe Valentine's Day would be more reasonable. I have to wonder what other "ideally" and "certainly" promises McConnell and his team made to other members of his caucus that will not be kept?

Finally tonight, let's wonder a little what the heck was going through Rosie O'Donnell's mind when she tweeted this potentially criminal offer:

I know I'm not the only one wondering if, like Kathy Griffin, O'Donnell will soon be parading her apology for all the world to see? Or, will she get the knock on the door from law enforcement asking if they can have a chat about her tweet before she gets the chance to suitably apologize?

What are you wondering about?

WWYD: Disaster Tax Relief

As we wait for the House to re-approve the "massive tax cut for the middle class" today (after yesterday's SNAFU on a handful of provisions not meeting Senate reconciliation rules), and wait for another 'excitable boy' gavel bang from Paul Ryan, I thought it would be fun to put some of the changes through the What Would You Do? meter.

The Rs have said their plan 'reforms' and 'simplifies' our tax code; they did that by tinkering or massaging a tax benefit here and there. Tax benefits, for the purpose of this discussion, includes those things people derisively refer to as loopholes - things that benefit only certain Americans, primarily 'other people' (hence the derision).

One of these benefits extends to people who suffer losses from disasters such as floods and fires.
Right now, disaster victims can deduct losses that aren't insured and that amount to more than 10 percent of their incomes.
So, think about friends, family and others living in the Gulf Coast or Puerto Rico who were impacted by the hurricanes and floods earlier this year. Think back to Sandy, Irene, Katrina, and Andrew and all of the other storms we remember by name.

Think about all of the people who were impacted by the flooding right here in NY along the Lake Ontario shore, for months. The official declaration was made for most of counties along the shore back in November, but some were left out and are waiting for a review to be finished to know for sure whether they'll be included in the declaration.

It's easy to picture losses from those and other disasters far exceeding 10% of a homeowner's income, isn't it, especially since flood insurance is prohibitively expensive for many people? And, especially since in many cases (my own backyard included) the flood maps don't make a whole heckuva lot of sense outside coastal areas, major rivers, and other obviously flood-prone areas.

Think about all of the people who have lost their homes in the California fires this year - epic and historic wildfires, still burning. Sure, some of them are celebrities, but most of them are just regular folks, right?

So, what's different after the GOP's massaging of this loophole? Well,
Under the new tax plan, the deduction could only be claimed for those disasters that the president declares a federal emergency. The proposed change would go into effect January 1, 2018, meaning disaster victims could file one final deduction this year if they experienced a loss that did not receive Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) support.
What's the impact of the change? It's hard to say for sure, but we do have some historical info.
In 2015, more than 72,000 people filed a casualty or theft deduction resulting in $1.6B in claims, according to the IRS' Statistics of Income Division (The IRS lumps casualty and theft deductions together in its count). 
Most of us can pretty readily recall the big ones, the national disasters that do receive the presidential declaration, but unless we are paying particular attention or are personally impacted, it's harder to remember the ones that don't. Here's a reminder of just one that didn't make the cut.
The historic wildfires that hit Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado last March, however, did not receive a federal disaster designation, meaning those affected would not have been able to utilize the personal-loss deductions if such an event had occurred under the new tax plan... 
Losses to the High Plains wildfires last March were significantly less (than those associated with Harvey and Irma). The fires burned 2100 square miles in the four states, causing about $55 million in fence losses. In Texas alone, the personal losses to farmers and ranchers was estimated at $25.1 million.
While farm and ranch losses to wildfire, tornadoes, etc., pale in comparison to damage from major hurricanes, losses to individuals from either event are the same. 
So,  if you were making the decisions about how our tax plan should work, what would you do about deductions for disasters?
  1. Allow deductions, with no percent of income limitation, regardless of whether a federal disaster is declared.
  2. Allow deductions, with a percent of income limitation, regardless of whether a federal disaster is declared.
  3. Allow deductions, with no percent of income limitation, only when a federal disaster is declared.
  4. Allow deductions, with a percent of income limitation, only when a federal disaster is declared.
  5. Do not allow deductions, but offer low interest federal loans to everyone to cover uninsured losses.
  6. Do not allow deductions, but offer low interest federal loans only to those households with income under $200,000.
  7. Do not allow deductions or federal loans; the homeowner, rancher, businessman, etc. would be responsible for either having enough insurance to protect themselves, or being able to secure loans through state or local governments or their financial institutions.
Have at it, legislators.

December 19, 2017

They Said It 12/19/17

Some random quotes from people who matter. Or, maybe not.

First, in international diplomacy, we've got this:
At the UN we're always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American people about where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us. On Thursday there'll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names. ~UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
 And on the GOP Christmas present, we've got a few:
I oppose this conference report with every bone in my body. This tax bill is a $2.3 trillion holiday gift for Wall Street, the rich, and the wealthy, Conceived in darkness and birthed with the help of donor and funders. This bill is not for the people. It is not tax reform. ~Georgia Democrat Rep. John Lewis
If people are out there on TV telling mistruths, disguising the facts of this thing, that's going to make it unpopular. When you have a slingfest - a mudfest - on TV when pundits are slamming each other about this tax bill before it passes, that's what's going to happen. But when we get this done, when people see their withholding improving, when they see the jobs occurring, when they see a simpler tax code, that's what's going to produce the results. And results are going to be what makes this popular. ~House Speaker Paul Ryan 
While the bill agreed to in conference today makes some improvements, unfortunately, the changes do not go far enough to guarantee tax relief for constituents in my district. Californians need tax relief now more than ever, especially as the tax factory in our State Capitol continues looking for ever increasing ways to take more of our hard-earned paychecks.  Yet I still fear that, even in the revised proposal, many in my area could face higher taxes under this plan. Californians have entrusted me to fight for them. I will not vote to make the incredible tax burden they already endure even worse. California Republican Rep Darrell Issa
We think a lot of good provisions got left on the cutting room floor after the Senate Byrd bath there, so we're going to assess each of them to decide what the path forward is. ~House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady, talking about the provisions that got dropped from the Conference tax bill when it went to the Senate. 
CEOs aren't waiting on a tax cut to "jump-start the economy" -- a favorite phrase of politicians who have never run a company - or to hand out raises. It's pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth, as Republicans have promised. Had Congress actually listened to executives, or economists who study these issues carefully, it might have realized that. ~Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg
And finally, as if the news wasn't odd enough, I'll close with this.
Saying the animals would not pause for a second if given the chance, a new study published by the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday found that chickens would have absolutely no qualms about caging and eating humans. "All the evidence  clearly suggests that chickens would absolutely stuff human beings into poorly ventilated cages and then eat them without any hesitation whatsoever," said lead author Aliyah Carter, adding that the domestic fowls would not waver at all if the opportunity arose to cram people into windowless, disease-ridden coops and overfed them to the point that their legs literally could not support their bodies. ~The Onion

December 17, 2017

Sunday School 12/17/17

I dropped in NBC's Meet the Press this morning.

One of Chuck Todd's guests was Marc Short, the Trump administration's director of legislative affairs, who was there to talk mostly about the GOP's tax plan. Todd started out by playing a number of Trump's promises about tax reform:
  • At the center of our plan is massive tax relief for the American middle class.
  • We're gonna have three brackets instead of seven we're doing a major major major simplification.
  • And we're gonna make it nice and simple. And we're getting rid of carried interest.
  • All of this does not add to our debt or deficit. In other words it's going to cost me a fortune!
And then he asked Short about those broken promises. Here's his answer.
Chuck there are many deliveries here in the bill that the president made promises on. One, it does simplify the tax code, some of the things you're not talking about is that it eliminates oil and gas production credits, it also eliminates many deductions that families and businesses were taking such as specifically lobbying expenses. It's helping to drain the swamp.
 There are promises he made he delivered on. There are certain industries here that made it impossible for us to deliver on every single one of those. But keep in mind what's most important, Chuck, we've lowered the corporate rate from 35% to 21% to bring jobs back to our country. That was a signature accomplishment in this bill, a 40% reduction.
He is lowering and delivering middle income tax relief to families across the country. For an average single mom earning $40,000 with two children, she gets a $1400 tax benefit. For the average family of four earning $70,000 they get a $2000 benefit. He delivered on his promise to focus on middle income families as well as to provide corporate tax relief. The simplification, there are several elements we did simplify. We didn't get as much as we want, it's a part of the compromise here you have to work with. 
Todd asked about Short leading with the corporate rate being the "signature accomplishment" of the bill, and how that part is permanent but the individual aspects are not. In part, short blamed the Senate's budget reconciliation process.
We would love to have the individual side permanent too. The reality is that corporations need to make investments years in advance to know what's going to happen as opposed to numbers continuing to gyrate. You're giving them assurances to where we're going to be 10 years out so they can make long term investments in our country. The budget reconciliation rules in the Senate are somewhat arcane and make it difficult to do both. If we could get the individual side permanent, we would love to do that also and we will continue to try and work to do so.
In response to a question about bipartisanship and real tax reform,  Short noted, among other things
Oh, it is real reform. It's the most significant tax reform we've had since 1986. 
Fast forward past the conversation about entitlements and more Trump campaign promises, which  the cynic in me says will be dropped like hot potatoes once the tax plan is approved, and about the Mueller investigation, to the final round table discussion.

It's not always I find myself agreeing with George Will, but he nailed it
Well, first of all, (Short) said it's the best simplification since 1986 which is rather like being the tallest building in Topeka. The fact is, they took a 70,000 page tax code and made it more complicated. Then the question rises, "well, will the Republicans reform entitlements?" The tax code enriches the entitlement menu by doubling the child tax code and making $1400 of it refundable which means a check goes out to people who don't pay taxes.
Because, well, Republicans are the ones who think paying people to have more children is wrong. Right?

Will also called out something about the corporate tax rate that most folks don't consider - where does the money paying the taxes actually come from?
Lowering the corporate tax rate, the proper rate for corporation taxation is zero because we don't know who pays them. Economists argue about whether it comes out of employees' wages, shareholders, passed onto customers. If you don't know who's paying a tax, don't have that tax.
And finally, he said one of the things I've long maintained.
Reduce it to 21%, it's a great thing to do. But any company that was paying 35% needed to fire its lawyers and accountants. The fact is most companies are paying on average of about 28% anyway. 
What a fantastic accomplishment for the GOP. and Merry Christmas to us.

See you around campus - after the New Year. 

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v13)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo
It's everywhere, the insidious scourge of sexual harassment.

Hollywood. The media. The House and Senate. State governments. Doctors offices and hospitals. Schools. Athletic institutions, including the Olympics. The music industry. The boardroom. Restaurant kitchens.

It's everywhere - including, allegedly, in the administration of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York City, Lisa Marie Cater alleges that William (call me Sam) Hoyt, who worked as head of the Empire State Development Corporation, repeatedly made unwanted advances, and further that the harassment was reported to and ignored by Cuomo's office, which is why Cuomo is a named defendant in the suit. The governor's office  denies ignoring the complaints.

Meanwhile, back in Albany, the governor had the opportunity to respond to a question from Karen Dewitt, a reporter for New York Public Radio, on this issue, and it's safe to say that it didn't go well for the Sonofa Gov.

Dewitt noted the Hoyt allegations and asked Cuomo what he could do differently, and here's how he responded.
You have it going on in journalism. What are you going to do differently?
OK - sure, that's true, but this is a reporter talking to a governor who is a defendant in a sexual harassment case involving an appointee of the governor. There was some exchange after that comment, including a different reporter pointing out that the question was about state government. That didn't sit well.
No, it's about you and journalism (pointing his finger at the other reporter). And it's about you and journalism (turning to Dewitt and pointing again). And it's about state government. And it's about carpentry and it's about training forces... (Note: that last one may not be accurate, it was hard to understand what he said.)
Again, Dewitt asked if there was something that Cuomo could do differently. Apparently, his only option on that was to lecture Dewitt, using his best professorial intonation, especially at the end of this exchange.
We will have policies in state government, obviously, that affect state government, but I think you miss the point. When you "it's state government" you do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you're a woman.
Um... what the hell is that?

Asking the gov about what his administration will do about sexual harassment is doing a disservice to women, "with all due respect?" I don't know about you, but most of the time when someone drops those four words, 'all due respect' is the furthest thing from the speaker's mind.

It's about as condescending a thing he could have said, other than maybe pointing out that the reporter was a woman. Oh wait -- he did that too.

He went on with the lecture, with a heavy emphasis added on journalists and the journalism profession.
It's not government. It's society. It was Harvey Weinstein in the arts industry. It's comedians. It's politicians. It's chefs, right? It's systemic. It's societal. It's not one person in one area. It's not just Charlie Rose, right? It's not just Matt Lauer. It's not just journalists. It's societal.
Finally, slowing down the pace of his answer to something slower than a school closing chyron, hie finished his lecture.
Understand. The. Breadth. Of. The. Problem.
Which, frankly, is exactly what Dewitt and the other reporters were hoping Cuomo would do, specifically as it relates to him, not as it relates to anyone else. To her credit, Dewitt tried one last time to get him to name one thing he'd do to make things different in his administration. In a classic deflection, he changed the subject.
No!  It's called the State of the State. Come and cover it... 
I swear, you could almost hear his feet stamping.

Boy, I miss his father.

December 16, 2017

OrangeVerse XXIV: Tell it to the Marines

Every once in awhile, the president leaves Washington and goes out among the people. Or, 'his' people - you know, the ones in the states that voted for him; he rarely goes anywhere he lost, as we know.  When he's out and about, he 'tells it on the mountain' about how great he is. In this case, he told it to the Marines.

What the Hell?
So they gave me this hat.
It says
Presidential Helicopter Squadron.
Would you wear it? 
No, no other president would do this
But I will because
I'm proud of you.
I'm proud of you.
What the hell. 
Oh you are nice..
You are - you mean
so you're the ones
taking care of my helicopter right?
I better be nice to you
I better be nice to you.

I'm Very Spoiled
I 've had many helicopters
you know I'm very spoiled
I've had helicopters.
And we ordered a couple
of big beautiful new ones
You know about that right?
They paid a lot more
than I would have paid
and I would have had them 
even better but
we won't talk about that.
They paid a lot of money.

My Own Private Marine
Well it is great to be here
surrounded the by the Marines.
You know I have a
four-star Marine.
We just had to get it right
so I picked a four star Marine.
Could have picked a lot of people
Everybody wants to be chief of staff right
But I had to go to the Marines.
Where's Kelly?
Where is he?
Where is he?
Come on over here Kelly.
Come here.
Four stars
Say hello.
Say hello.

There's Another One
In fact, I've been listening
and I have to tell you
it's true with General Kelly
but I have a lot of Marines...
Another one is a man named
Mad Dog Mattis, right?
They like him.
I love that name
I don't know if he likes it
actually. I've never
figured out if he likes
the name
but he really deserves
the name.

I let the do their job.
And I let the colonels and
the majors and the 
all of them - the captains
that's what they do. 
They graduate, 
they're smart they're tough
and they do their job...
Afghanistan is a tough place to win.
But we're winning. We just started winning. 
And I just want to thank
Secretary Mattis and I really
want to thank the 
United States Marines - really special people.
So you're fantastic people.

Dinner and a Movie?
We're working every day on your behalf
and together we are going to
make America stronger than ever before.
You know, I ran a campaign
and it was a very successful campaign
you might have heard about it - and
we won very easily. We won by - 
we had 306 Electoral College votes
to 223 or something like that. 
Remember they used to say
There is no way for Trump
to get to 270.
Remember? Over and over again.
That's called voter suppression.
If you believe that you might say
I love Trump but
I'm not going to waste my time
let's go see a movie
and we'll come home and 
watch the results tonight.
But everybody said
No I'm not going to a movie
we're going to vote
and they voted.

And we didn't get to 270
we got 306.
That's even better right?
So we had an amazing time
But I had an expression
that I think goes down
as the best of all time.
It was very simple.
Make America Great Again.
Make America Great Again.
And that's what
we're doing we're
Making America Great Again.
 And it's people like yourselves
that are doing it.
I am so impressed.

A Big Beautiful Kiss
So, again
I want to thank you all.
Say hello to you families.
Tell them the respect
I have for them because they have to 
put up with everything
so this can all happen.
They don't get
the credit they should get
you know, they don't get the - 
the families
never ever get the credit.
But they have done
 an incredible job in 
this kind of - when they
produce people like you.
So you go home
and you give your
families a big
beautiful kiss from the
president of the United States
because we're
proud of them and we're
really, really 
proud of you.

December 13, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v114)

Let's get right to it, shall we?

Since the president doesn't watch television, I wonder who had the unpleasant task of informing Donald Trump that, thanks to young people, African Americans, women and write-in voters, he was a two-time loser in the Alabama Senate race?

And, like practically everyone (and by everyone I mean all of the real human beings) who follows the president on Twitter, I wonder who it was that wrote the initial tweet sent on the @realDonaldTrump page congratulating Doug Jones?  Clearly these are not the words of the president:
Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people are Alabama are great and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!
Nah - we had to wait until the morning before the real @aRealDonaldTrump put out his own words:
The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!
Of course, we don't know why Trump originally endorsed Big Luther, because he deleted most of those tweets as soon as Strange lost, and became a stranger to Trump.

I wonder, also, why Trump spent so much time talking about Nancy Pelosi in his comments about  Doug Jones. As we learned back in 2010, Nancy is quite athletic, but I don't think that she wields power over both the House and the Senate at the same time, does she?

Switching gears, we're told via #FakeNews that the House and Senate conference group working on reconciling the tax reform bill have come to terms, which include implementing the new 21% corporate tax rate next year. 

That's a tick up from the 20% the House wanted, but it goes into effect a year sooner than the Senate would have done in their version, so it's a win for corporations who will be bringing jobs and billions back to America.

But I have to wonder, are the reports even true, given the source?

December 12, 2017

Trump in Transition (v26)

He's a mean one, Mr. Trump. A jerk, a slime, a pig! Oh -- sorry. I must have been typing out loud again.

The president continues his backsliding, hateful transition to the oafish NYC real estate developer he was before, well, before that fateful escalator ride.

He's a pig, for sure -- by his own admission.  He's rude - countless examples, not the least of which was his Megyn Kelly 'blood coming out of her...wherever' which, as he told us, meant her eyes (yeah, right) or his comment about Carly Fiorina's face. Or Rosie O'Donnell. Or flatchested women the world over.

So who is the latest victim of this delightful man and his petty attacks? That would Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, of course. And what did she do to Trump? Well, let's take a look at her tweets from earlier today.
When it comes to sexual assault, harassment and the general mistreatment of women, we must be able to call out anyone, Democrat or Republican. 
As elected leaders, let's rise to the occasion and not shrink away from it. That is what the larger #MeToo movement is all about. Let's send a clear message none of this is okay. 
 That means Farenthold should step aside. Moore should never set foot in the Senate, and president Trump should be held accountable.
The accusations against more are disgusting. And president Trump has admitted on tape to how he treats women. His campaigning for Moore isn't leadership, it's shameful. 
We are in a moment of reckoning - and the silence from Republicans is deafening. It is long past time for them to join Democrats in holding members of their own party accountable. 
President Trump should resign. But, of course, he won't hold himself accountable. Therefore, Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him. 
Now, I appreciate there are some very strong feelings about Gillibrand's position. She led the charge against Al Franken with her zero tolerance position, which endeared her to many and blew any chance she had of becoming president, according to others. Heck -- some commenters want her primaried for what she did to Franken; they, and others, feel she was both late to the game on calling out Trump, and wrong to call for an investigation of the creep-in-chief but not allowing Franken the same courtesy.  It's a mixed bag, for sure.

And after all of this, there was the Trump response, which was bigly presidential as you might imagine.
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office "begging" for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill and Crooked - USED!
Garbled message aside ("begging"? Disloyal to Bill and Crooked? USED! -- #WhatTheSniff), it's hard not to notice the (and would do anything for them) comment nestled in there, isn't it?  What do you think he meant?
a. This is simply talking about a rigged system that we have that is broken, in which special interests control our government.
b. This is a (fill in the blank) shooting off his mouth because, well, because he's a (fill in the blank) who frequently acts like a (fill in the blank), in the most presidential way possible.
c. This was an attempt to bully, intimidate and slut-shame Senator Gillibrand.
d. This was a statement by a misogynist, compulsive liar, and admitted sexual predator and a bully from whom no one is safe.
Yeah -  no matter which response you pick, the guy's a pig, a jerk, and a slime.

And no, I won't respect the office if the person occupying it doesn't have the sense to. And he's still #notmypresident.

December 11, 2017

OrangeVerse XXIII: Congratulations

Last Friday, the president spoke at the swearing in ceremony for his new Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. She was previously chief of staff at DHS under then Secretary General John Kelly, who left that department to become Trump's chief of staff. Here's how the verse went down.
Well, this
is an honor. 
You've been with us
so long now. 
Anyway, I have no doubt.
And it's going to be incredible
what takes place.

I want to start
by thanking Elaine.
You've done so well
and we really appreciate it.
And I know 
you'll e here
for a long while and
working together
but this
is a very special occasion
because this
is an issue I ran on -- 
it's borders, it's 
homeland security.
And it's one of the
certainly important things.
I can't ever say
anything is the most important
because our military
is the most important
and lots of
other things.
But this is right here.
This is one of the
real big issues.

And I just want to
congratulate you on
such an important
day for our country.
The numbers have been
so incredible,
they're up to 78 percent.
if they used to have
a 1 percent or 2 percent number
they used to celebrate.
we're at 78 percent.
And it went down
a little bit because
a lot of people
aren't trying 
to come in so much
because they know
it's not easy.

But you're going to
take it to new levels.
We're going to 
get the wall.
I know you want
the wall.
We're going to 
get the wall.
If we don't
get the wall, 
then I got a lot
 of very unhappy people
starting with me.
We're going
to get the wall.
And we need it.
We need it 
for the drug flow,
we need it
for the people
coming into our country. 
And we want
to have great people 
coming into our country.
We want to have
a merit-based system.
We have to get
rid of chain
migration --
all of these things
we've been talking about.

And in addition
to the wall, we
 have to toughen
up the borders
even more. And we
have to toughen
up air travel too.
It's not 
just walls; 
it's lots of people
fly in and
they come in through
other means.

But I have
absolutely no doubt
you're going to be
so outstanding
And I'd like to
congratulate you
and I wanted to
be here
for the big moment.