December 31, 2018

2018 Year in Review

I wasn't going to do a 'year in review' post this year, but then, I wouldn't be able to use the meme at the end of the post, and that would be a shame.

So - I did it. I took a look back at the top posts from the year, to help me understand what interests you most so that I can make veritable pastiche a more meaningful read. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean I'll pass on certain topics - instead, I think it gives me an opportunity to communicate better, and hopefully write better, too.

Several of the most-visited posts of the year fell under the Wondering on Wednesday theme; here's a sampling:
  • v117, which focused on words, how they're used (and by whom) and the First Amendment;
  • v119, which included comments about USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar;
  • v121, which looked at 'school shootings' and some misleading statistics;
  • v125, primarily about the special election in Pennsylvania and what Dems might learn from it;
  • v146, which talked about patriotism in the age of Trump and Colin Kaepernick, and threw in a great 'pearly gates' question; and
  • v148, which included a NY Congressional race, Mafia references, and the president acting badly (a common theme)
The Sunday School theme also attracted your attention, including this one from the Sunday after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Parkland students were interviewed, as were Rush Limbaugh and Mark Kelly, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' husband. Another Sunday School post that caught your eye was this post touching on immigration.

There were a couple other popular themes, including Thank Goodness it's Friday, or TGIF.  This post from May would have been a TGIF, except we had another school shooting, which sort of shoved my original post ideas to the side. This edition talks about the government shutdown we were facing back in January, and how Republicans were trying to distances themselves from the president and some new nasty comments he had made.

And finally, we had some fun with presidential poetry, under the OrangeVerse theme. Throughout the year, these posts were pretty consistently popular, although I don't know if it's because you're fans of free verse, or if it's for some other reason.  A series of poetic posts (part 1, part 2 and part 3) arose from Trump's Mar-a-Lago interview with NY Times reporter Michael Schmidt as we entered 2018, and set the tone for what was to come.

As we close out the year, I want to thank you for reading, commenting, subscribing, and for sticking with me in the 4th quarter, where posts were a little less frequent, and (to me at least) some were not up to par.

That was a time of change (and distraction) for me, as I prepared for the next chapter in my life.

This week, I leave a great company - where I started as a temp over 29 years ago - to tackle the retirement 'honey-do list' my already retired husband has been working on for me. Assuming I can clear some things from the list, I'm looking forward to more time for writing, reading, volunteering, and visiting places both red and blue across the US.

Best wishes to you and yours for a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!

December 30, 2018

Sunday School 12/30/18

Too many of the usual suspects were on the shows this morning, including Lindsey Graham and Kellyanne Conway, so I only visited on classroom this morning: Face the Nation on CBS, with Margaret Brennan hosting.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT),  members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, were on the show. Tester was a frequent target of president Trump, primarily over the thought that Trump might want to do some vetting on Dr. Ronny Johnson before nominating him to be VA Secretary.

Shelby was up first; the conversation was mostly about the shutdown and who might be to blame; polls say Trump more than the Dems.
...we've got to move away from the blame game, blaming the president, blaming the Democrats, Pelosi and Schumer and others, and get back to doing what we're sent here to do, funding the government.
Shelby indicated he's had conversations with the president and veep, and that some proposals had been shared, but no progress.
Right now, we're at a standoff, and I think that's not good for the Senate, the House, or America. We can do better and we've got to figure out a way, Margaret, do get to yes. If we blame each other, this could last a long, long time. 
Brennan wondered why continuing funding at the current level, $1.3B, was not enough. Shelby said, simply,
Well, the president wants more... 
Shelby repeated his 'we have to stop blaming each other' speaking point, even on the question of whether he agreed with the president's tweet stating that the deaths of two children at the border were "strictly the fault of the Democrats."

Of course, the majority of Republicans studiously avoid saying they do or don't agree with the president when he tweets stuff like this, or when he lies, or attacks innocent people (including our allies, or their own colleagues) which is why the president continues to tweet and lie and attack on a daily basis.

Regarding Chief of Staff General John Kelly's comment that we need to "stop US demand for drugs and expand economic opportunity in Central America" to solve our immigration problem - which looked like a contradiction to Trump suggesting that we cut aid to Central American countries - Brennan asked if Shelby agreed or if Congress would even consider that.
Well, I don't know yet, The president speaks for himself and he does speak for a lot of the nation because he is the president. But my goal is to secure the border... we're one of the great nations of the world that don't secure the borders...
He did agree that things will be different when the Dems take hold of the House, that there will have to be negotiations on things like protections for DREAMers, but Shelby sees his job as securing the borders - not a lot of room for anything else in his comments.

Tester's interview also focused on the shutdown. Brennan started by referencing Shelby's comments that they need to know what the Dems want, and when.
...The problem is that the president has $1.3B from last year for border security, actually $21B for border security, $1.3B for the wall, (and) that he has spent very, very little of that. And he says he needs more...
Bottom line is, Margaret, is that I don't talk to anybody in the Senate that doesn't want secure borders. It's just how the money is going to be spent. 
He also noted that the president moved the goalposts, originally asking for $1.6B (which Shelby and McConnell both voted for) but then upping the demand to $5B. Tester continued to focus on how the money would be spent, including referencing both manpower and technology as being more effective than a wall.

Brennan asked about adding 'sweeteners' such as protection for DREAMers as a way to get Dems to move up from the current figure.
Well...we've been here before. I was in the room when the president said 'if Congress passes that, I'm going to sign it' and then he moved back away from that... ultimately in the end we do need comprehensive immigration reform, there's no doubt about that. But in the end we need to know what the president wants.  And hopefully he'll stick to it... We need some predictability.
NO! They need to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, send it to his desk, and let him veto it. And then, after he tweets his brains out, they can either go back at it or they can override his veto.  Tester, of all people, should know that his job is not sitting around waiting for the president to pull Congressional puppet strings. 
Brennan asked if there was "a cost for Democrats to appear to work with the president?" Tester's answer?
No, I think what Democrats need to do is they need to work for the country, and make sure that not only the southern border, but the northern border is secure, make sure that we have the ability on the borders to be able to screen every vehicle to make sure that drugs don't come into this country. And I think that if we're able to get a plan to be able to do that, which I don't think is hard to do, I think Democrats and Republicans can work together to make sure that we have a secure border and keep this country safe.
They talked a little about tariffs and how the trade war is hurting farmers (Tester is one). The bottom line on this? We need the foreign markets, and we need to find another way to hold China accountable, "other than using the family farmer, the American farmer, as a tool."

We'll close with how Dems can win in the Midwest and West.
I think it's more of a function of listening and going everywhere. I don't believe in models that say you just knock on this door, you just go to this community and you'll get elected. I think you go everywhere and you listen to everybody. Everybody's got ideas. Some of them are great - take those great ideas back to Washington DC and that's how we win.
Brennan asked if he was suggesting that Dems are out of touch with Tester's part of the country.
I think all politicians have gotten out of touch. In fact, they just go to certain places where they think they can get enough votes to win. 
I think that what makes this country great is a Washington DC that works for everybody and works for this country. And in order to do that, you've got to go everywhere and listen to everybody's concerns and needs and go back and try to find solutions.
Spot on - they ARE out of touch, they ARE focused on winning, they are not focused on doing what we send them there to do.

See you around campus.  

December 29, 2018

Who Cares if Nothing is Real?

The more extreme we become, the more people believe it. 
In this enlightening Washington Post article, we meet Christopher Blair, the author of the above statement; he lives in the woods in Maine, running the satirical Facebook page, America's Last Line of Defense. Even though the page makes it clear that it's satire (see the note below, one of the multiple disclaimers used), Blair's outlandish stories are liked and commented on over and over.
In that regard, they're treated in exactly the same manner that the president's tweets are -  liked and shared and commented on, over and over. The difference? The latter doesn't declare himself a satirist.

From the article:
In the last two years on his page, America's Last Line of Defense, Blair has made up stories about California instituting sharia, former president Bill Clinton becoming a serial killer, undocumented immigrants defacing Mount Rushmore, and former President Barack Obama dodging the Vietnam draft when he was 9. "Share if you're outraged!" his posts often read, and thousands of people on Facebook had clicked "like" and then "share,"most of whom did not recognize his posts as satire. Instead, Blair's page had become one of the most popular on Facebook among Trump-supporting conservatives over 55. 
With viewership spread to fake news sites with millions and millions of monthly visitors, according to the article, Blair was led to wonder how long it could go on.
No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back. Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they're being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?
Once, seeing a picture of Trump at a White House ceremony where two women - one black, one white - were behind the president, he circled the women and posted:
President Trump extended an olive branch and invited Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton. They thanked him by giving him the finger during the national anthem. Lock them up for treason! 
The women? Not Michelle and Chelsea - Omarosa and Hope Hicks. White House staffers, not bird-flippers (although, Omarosa did write that book...) 

Meanwhile,the article introduces us to Shirley Chapian, a 76-year-old living in Pahrump, Nevada who scrolls through her Facebook feed, liking and sharing posts she gets from right-leaning pages like Free Speech Patriots, Trump 2020 and Ban Islam, among others.

As I read about Chapian, what struck me is how easy it was to see her get sucked in. Many people believe "liberals were restricting free speech. Immigrants were storming the border and casting illegal votes. Politicians were scheming to take away everyone's guns." These are common themes, we know, from checking in on Fox News, Breitbart, and yes, the president himself, and from pretty consistent polling data, across multiple demographics.

As with Blair, the article gives us quite a big of background on Chapian, including that she wasn't a hard-core conservative until Barack Obama was elected, thinking him arrogant and inexperienced. And possibly a liar, and maybe he wasn't born here. That didn't jive with what she was seeing on the mainstream media, and she started seeking out alternative news sites to find out what she wasn't being told, ultimately following more than 2,500 conservative pages on Facebook. 

When she saw Blair's post about 'Michelle' and 'Chelsea'; it fit her opinion of the characters: Trump, a patriot, surely would invite the other two; Clinton and Obama -"demonrats" - would certainly act badly. She commented on the post, saying
Well, they never did have any class.  
Others commented too: the women were gross, and ill-bred trash; there were calls for putting them in jail (another nod to the power of the president's rhetoric). Blair's posted response to the comments was harsh, as were those of similarly-minded satire fans, who attacked Chapian and other believers. And that, really, was the point.
Beyond the money he earned, this was what Blair had conceived of as the purpose for his website: to engage directly with people who spread false or extremist stories and prove those stories were wrong. Maybe, after people had been publicly embarrassed, they would think more critically about what they shared online. Maybe they would begin to question the root of some of their ideas. 
I don't know if that's going to happen, though.  I know from personal experience that people - friends and family alike- fall for satire or fake news that's easily debunked literally as fast as you can Google the headline.

And, of course, our politicians (of both parties) and their champions - the satirists like Blair, the true believers like Alex Jones and others - share in this kind of nonsense, as if we're in some weird gang war with the goal of having an uninformed society that can be played with - and played - at will.

The article shows us how lies become the truth; the question is, how does the truth become the truth?

December 28, 2018

OrangeVerse XXXIX: We're Gonna Have a Good Time

As you know, the president finally made a trip to visit American servicemen and women in a combat zone, something he had previously said he wanted to do, would do, but after all, he had a very busy schedule, don't you know. Trump and the Great First Lady Melania flew Christmas evening to spend time at the Al Asad Airbase, where he met first with military leaders and then with the troops.

His full comments are here, including the multiple falsehoods on the military pay raise, which has been widely reported. Some of the verse below may not have made it to your news feed. Enjoy.

At Ease
Well, first of all at ease. At ease. 
Let's have a good time.
Let's have a good time. 
And we had an incredible meeting that lasted,
for about an hour, and you have no idea
what we've come up with. 
You're going to be so happy.
You're going to be so happy.

As I was Just Saying
and we have some ideas
that are more than ideas, 
that are going to be just - 
We like to win.
Do we like to win?
We're going to win.

We came in, we were -
we felt very safe coming in.
It was a pretty difficult journey
in certain ways, but we felt
very, very good, very safe. 
And also we knew exactly
where we were going...

You're Always on My Mind
Melania and I are thrilled 
to be here with
...the greatest military and -
especially as we get all of this
billions and billions of dollars
of new equipment that I approved...
You're getting such new equipment
 your eyes are popping, right?
Your eyes are popping.
You're getting the best equipment...

And I just want you to relax. 
Let's have a good time 
for a few minutes, and then
I'll be heading to
another location, and then
I'll be heading back.
But I have you totally
in mind - totally
in mind.

Lots of Six Months
Go ahead
Get them
Go get them
Go get them
Go get them
Nope
Nope
And we're doing it.
And you're doing it.
You're doing it.
Just the remnants.

Defending our Homeland
We want to have strong borders.
The Democrats don't
want to let us have strong borders - 
only for one reason. You know why?
Because I want it.
You know, I think, 
just standing here
looking at all these brilliant young faces
these warriors.
You're warriors.
You know, you're
modern day warriors.
That's what you are.
But you gave me an idea
just looking at this warrior group.
I think I'll say 
I don't want the wall
And then they'll give it to me.
That's another way of doing it.
That's another way of doing it. 
No, we have to have it.

Prevent Defense
We don't play prevent defense anymore
We're not doing that. 
That's why when you see me
doing things, I always have
things on my mind.
I always have lots of things in mind - 
things that you have in mind too,
but a lot of other people don't.
A lot of the media
doesn't want to report it correctly
but we have a lot of
things in mind.

But do you ever see at - like in football
where a team is holding the other team scoreless - 
they can't throw; they can't pass.
They can't do anything... And they say 
"Let's change to prevent defense" 
and that's what happens
And you know what it does?
it prevents them
from wining...
We don't like prevent defense.
We want real offense
and real defense
And that's what we're doing.

We Flew All Night on Christmas Evening
It was worth every minute.
 Our faith and confidence
in you is absolute and total. 

You are the sentinels
who watch over our nation.
You are the warriors
who defend our freedom.
You are the patriots
who ensure the flame of liberty
burns forever bright.

That's who you are.
That's who you are.

December 27, 2018

The Update Desk: Another Look at Albany Pay Raises

We've got another update on the already updated plan to raise the pay for elected executives, legislators, and appointed commissioners in New York.

Some background: NY hase commissions decide on pay raises; in 2016, salaries for judges were increased but not for the governor and legislators.You can follow that process by starting at the end, with this post from December 2016. A new, smaller commission took another look this year. A raise was a forgone conclusion; the only question was how it would work. This post talks addresses some of that.

The Commission recommended getting rid of 'leadership lulus' for all but 15 of the legislators, as well as strict limits on outside income (beginning in 2020). In return, there are  pretty significant increases - $50,500 over three years for the legislators, with the governor, other executives, and appointees also get a significant bump on the same schedule. 

As I noted in that post, we've not heard the last of this. And we haven't, as we saw in the local papers in Syracuse and Buffalo.

First, from the Post-Standard article,
Three state lawmakers from the Syracuse area say they will oppose a plan to make the state Legislature the highest paid in the nation because they don't like the strings attached to the deal.
Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski, first elected in 2002), noted that the "whole thing is a little dubious" and that an unelected commission shouldn't have been the decision-makers. He also noted
I do have a philosophical problem with a full time legislator. We don't need a professional legislature. I do like the diversity we have now; it allows people to have outside experiences. Once you have a full-time legislature, that becomes your job and you have to justify your existence by passing more bills. 
Senator Bob Antonacci (R-Onondaga, just elected in November) and Assemblyman Gary Finch (R-Springport, serving since 1999) were of like minds on the issue.
Antonacci: We want people to come up, do their work, and go back to the private sector. To ask people to give up their private sector interests could be tough to do. You're going to end up with professional legislators. 
 Finch: It prevents a enormous amount of talented people who know what it's like to work in New York, and meet a payroll, from serving in the Legislature... 
Where do other CNY lawmakers stand?  Senators Patty Ritchie (R-Oswegatchie, elected in 2010) and Rachel May (D-Syracuse, just elected) and Assemblywoman Pam Hunter (D-Syracuse, serving since 2015) generally support it.

Out in Buffalo, there were similar concerns.  Here's Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst, in the Legislature since 2009, with prior elected office back to 1989) on the outside-income ban:
It's reflective of an attitude which is elitist and doesn't appreciate the fact that there's a value to individuals with real world experience working in government.
The commission was composed of longtime Democratic Party insiders, and, according to the article,
Some were privately wondering whether this wasn't part of a plan to drive more Republicans out of Albany and put their legislative seats into the hands of Democrats. 
Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R-Jamestown, elected in 2010) believes that only the Legislature and the governor can give lawmakers a pay raise, and that having 'current' real-world experience is necessary:
So, those unemployed other than their legislative position with no business background or private sector employment would be eligible to serve and everyone who's a successful business person and who understands the challenge of operating in the private sector would be banned from serving unless they gave up their business. 
For his part, Buffalo Senator Chris Jacobs (2017) thinks the focus should be on full transparency on outside income.

Here are some thoughts from someone who has real world experience living, working, and voting in NY:
  • No one mentioned the inherent risk with legislators being able to pass laws that can directly influence their outside income. If not limits, what?
  • No one mentioned that that the legislators have long told us that they work full time on our behalf, and we have no idea how busy they are when they're not in Albany. If they're working full time, they wouldn't need outside income; conversely, if' they're not working full time, why do they need a raise?   
  • Assemblyman Finch noted that he wouldn't have been able to support his family on just his legislative salary (some $17,000 higher than NY's median income, not counting lulus and per diems). But that kind of 'real-world experience' - making ends meet when you simply don't have enough money - is not the kind of experience that our leaders should have?
  • As to Sen. Jacobs' suggestion that we focus on 'full transparency' rather than limits, would he support a move to stop reporting income in overly broad, multiple-hundred-thousand-dollar ranges, which in and of themselves are far beyond what many New Yorkers earn?
Barring a miracle, the initial pay increase - and the elimination of lulus - goes into effect on Tuesday.

We'll have to wait to see if any of this is challenged, if anyone actually refuses the raise, and whether they'll pass bills that allow them to work around the outside income limits as recommended by the Commission. 

December 26, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v159)

Lo and behold, it's the last Wednesday of 2018 already - how did that happen?

I have to wonder whether anyone else noticed a certain calm today. You know, the kind of calm we have when the president is not watching Fox and tweeting policy statements, personal attacks, and personnel decisions?  The kind of calm that causes others to tweet more softly into the night? The kind of calm that will almost certainly be shattered within hours?

Today the president fulfilled one of the expectations of the office: he made a visit to US troops overseas, making a surprise visit to Iraq. The only real surprise was the timing; it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that he'd go, and he as much as said so in comments after his disastrous trip to Paris to 'celebrate' the anniversary of the end of World War I and then for his failure to participate in Veterans' Day ceremonies when he got back home. He's a very busy man, he's told us, so we appreciate that he did this, finally - although I wonder whether he could have held out much longer.

And while he had originally intended to spend 16 days or so basking in the Florida sunshine with his dues-paying friends at Mar-a-Lago, those plans got squashed when he brought about partial government shutdown. Oh wait - I wonder, are there people reading who might think the shutdown is the fault of anyone other than the president? The guy who said he'd be proud to shut it down? I hope not; after all, it's been beaten in to our heads since the election that we needed to respect him, and so I'm taking him at his word on this one. At his first word, I mean.

I'm not sure when the president will be able to get to Florida, whether he'll be able to be there for his New Year's Eve party or if he'll still be sitting all alone in the Oval Office waiting for the Dems to call. We do know that ticket prices have gone up again, as they did last year, for the bash - which I'd find disappointing if I were having to pay extra but not getting to be within earshot of the POTUS.

We got two different Christmas messages from the president. The first was simple, and complete and needed nothing, coming from this man so usually full of himself.
Merry Christmas!
And then, hours later, as if he realized that he had sold himself short, and us too, he used Christmas as a weapon against his two favorite foes:
I hope everyone, even the Fake News Media, is having a great Christmas! Our Country is doing very well. We are securing our Borders, making great new Trade Deals, and bringing our Troops Back Home. We are finally putting America First. MERRY CHRISTMAS! #MAGA
In between, we learned that because of the Democrats,
It's a disgrace what's happening in our country. But other than that, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas.
With those season's greetings now enshrined in our history, I can only wonder what he'll wish us in his New Year's Eve message?

December 23, 2018

Sunday School 12/23/18

Again this week we have two discussions with the same representative of the Trump administration.  Last week it was his attorney Rudy Giuliani, and this week we've got Office of Management and Budget Director and Acting Chief of Staff designee Mick Mulvaney visiting the ABC and Fox classrooms.

First, his conversation with John Karl on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He updated us on the status of negotiations with Congress on the funding for the wall, which some Dems have said will not be forthcoming no matter what.

Karl focused on the president's promise (threat?) that Mexico would pay for the wall.
JK: Mark his words. Now, the president has forced a government shutdown because he's insisting that the American taxpayers pay for the wall. What gives?
MM: And if you ask the president, he'll point you immediately to something that didn't get a lot of news in the last couple of weeks, which is this new US-Mexico-Canada agreement, the USMCA which is so much better than the NAFTA deal that America workers are going to do better, the government is going to do better and you could make the argument that Mexico is paying for it in that fashion
JK: but boy, he's asking for billions of dollars from American taxpayers right now. Hasn't he broken one of the central promises of his campaign?
MM:  Let me finish, because another story that I don't think you covered this week, and I don't know why no one did, is that Mexico has now agreed, for the first time in history, to keep asylum seekers, folks who are trying to get into the USA, on the Mexican side of the border...They're actually doing more for border security than many Democrats in Congress. So we really think we're in a good place in terms of getting the wall built and also getting Mexico to participate in our border security.
JK: But one of that is Mexico paying for the wall. Let's just be clear about this --
Yes, let's be clear: to suggest that American workers "doing better" and Mexico holding asylum seekers on their side of the border are in any way equivalent or even remotely related to Mexico paying for the wall is absurd.

Mulvaney also talked about the budget, growing deficits, Syria and the resignation of General Mattis, and about the Chief of Staff position, and how long he expects to stay.
I don't know, I talked to the president about that. And I think, first of all, every position in the administration is temporary. We all serve at the, at the will of the president, he could fire all of us tomorrow and everybody knows that... But I think what we'll just do is take a couple of weeks, a couple months and see if he likes the way I'm handling the job, if I like the job.
In his discussion with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, he offered many similar comments: we've moved away from $5B, we need them to move away from $1.3; he mentioned a $2.3B figure here that he didn't mention in the other interview.

He talked about the shutdown with a little more detail:
It's Sunday right now, and government shuts down mostly on Sundays anyway. Government's shut down tomorrow anyway because it's a federal holiday and Tuesday is Christmas, again, another federal holiday. So, Wednesday is really the first day that this kicks in. The paychecks will importantly go out on the 28th. I want everybody to understand, no one is working without getting paid... The next pay period that is impacted is January 11th. I think that - it's very possible that the shutdown will be on the 28th and into the new Congress. 
And, he talked about the new wall, nothing like the old wall, it's not a wall at all, he said.
MM: The president tweeted out a picture yesterday, the steel fence, steel slatted fence with a pointed top and so forth, that's what we want to build. And in the Democrats' mind, that is not a wall. So they have offered this $1.3B to build the barrier that we want but then they go on TV and say there's no money for a wall. We've already told the Democrats we want to build what the president tweets out. It doesn't have to be 30-foot-high concrete. 
CW: So, you think that they would approve $1.3B to build this picket fence? 
MM: Exactly. Well, the steel barriers that the president tweeted out... 
As to when a deal might be done, Mulvaney was clear.
I think it's  really good question as to whether or not this deal can be cut before the new Congress comes in. I think there is an implication here for Nancy Pelosi's election for the speakership. I think she's in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing where she cannot be seen as agreeing with the president on anything until after she is speaker. If that's the case, again, there's a chance we go into the next Congress. 
Mulvaney tried to explain away Wallace's question about Trump being proud to shut down the government, saying that he was "proud to have the fight' with the Dems, but that the ball was in their court since Mulvaney and Pence made them an offer and they have to decide what to do.

There was more here too, about Mattis and who the people listen to, and what not. At the end, Wallace talked about all the things that are going on.
CW: Does the president understand that there is growing concern in Washington, even among some people in his own party, that his presidency is in crisis?
MM:  No, I don't think there is concern that the presidency is in crisis..This as -- as I said at the outset, this is what having a president who is nontraditional, who's a different kind of president, looks like. He is not going to be an ordinary president and that's not what people wanted when they elected him...
Is it going to be a rocky road with the president who is willing to mix things up to change Washington to benefit folks back home?
Yes.  
See you around campus.

December 19, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v158)

So, what's on our collective minds this week, the last Wonderful Wednesday before Christmas?

Some might be wondering why the president decided to declare victory in Syria and announce - via  a tweet - that he was going to bring the troops home. Among the people wondering about this are folks at the Pentagon, who (again) were uninformed about one of the president's policy statements until it social media, catching them off guard. The very first thing I wondered when I heard this is whether anyone had checked the tapes to see what they've been talking about on any of the Fox shows, since that's where those "many people" the president often references work.  (I honestly don't have the energy to check this myself.)

Don't get me wrong - wiping out ISIS, or 99% of ISIS as some suggest, is a good thing. But is tweeting that we're going to be walking away, without a whole lot of detail for our friends and allies (or our own people) really a smart way to do it? I've wondered about this whole 'announcing our military intentions' thing for a long time, well before the current administration took office - I mean, that would be like Apple announcing their new technology via tweet well before the Chinese even had a chance to try and steal it, or something.

I saw on the news tonight that the stock market is down some 5.8% on the year, and that got me wondering if it wouldn't be more honest and transparent if we reported the market results not relative to the immediate past prior trading day, but to where we started at the beginning of the year. So, for example, instead of saying the Dow was down 351.98 (today's close compared to yesterday's close), we would report it as being down 1,500.35 (today's close compared to the close on January 2, 2018).
I think this would go a long way toward helping people understand that winning thing we're supposed to be getting so tired of by now.  And it would might help people make better judgments of the truthfulness of  presidential pronouncements on the market (which, of course, he only makes when things are going well).

We may be avoiding a government shutdown, a proud moment for a president shutdown, a border security shutdown, after all.  There's activity on a number of fronts here, apparently, which changed the president's mind on the shutdown (he loves that word, shutdown):
  • his own people immediately started walking back the pride aspect of his comments the other day with Chuck and Nancy;
  • the Republicans in the Senate let him know it was an asinine thing to be proud of;
  • he ordered his cabinet of only the best people to find money in their budgets to help come up with the $5B he said was needed to prevent the shutdown;
  • he said he didn't need $5B after all, $1.5B was all he really needed
  • he recalculated his "and Mexico is going to build the wall pay for the wall" statement, again,  instead saying that they will indirectly pay for it because of all the new pesos flooding into the country because of the renegotiated NAFTA deal
We can wonder about which of those things might have been the one to break the camel's back, as it were, but the real wondering about all of this shutdown stuff has to be reserved for Mitch McConnell, who today let us know that
... Republicans will continue to fulfill our duty to govern. That's why we will soon take up a simple measure that will continue government funding into February. So we can continue this vital debate after the new Congress has convened. Because, make no mistake - there will be important unfinished business left in front of us. And we'll owe it to the American people to tackle it.
Yes, the Senate Majority Leader has now officially understood that the Senate has a responsibility to the American people. And I wonder, did he get struck by lightning or something, to come to this revelation? "We'll owe it to the American people?"  You already owe it to us, Senator Obstructionist. You ALREADY owe it to us.

And finally, in the spirit of Christmas, let's talk about music. For it seems lots of people are still wondering why people ever wondered about 'Baby, it's Cold Outside' (a Christmas song having nothing at all to do with Christmas), and those same people are also wondering why people who wondered about 'Baby, it's Cold Outside' aren't instead wondering how cold it must be for a homeless, drug addicted, PTSD-suffering veteran, single mother, domestic violence victim who doesn't have two pennies to rub together and they need to start doing something about it.

Now, this is not about wondering about people who are wondering about a song, it's wondering about people who have so much time on their hands that they can not only tell other people to stop wondering about one thing, but also tell them to start wondering about other specific things.

I have to wonder about all of that...

December 18, 2018

InVerse

The one in which we listen to House Speaker- designate Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer respond to comments made by the president; his part of the conversation can be found in the latest OrangeVerse.

Prelude 
A long time.
Soon. Soon.

I
Well, thank you
Mr. president
for the opportunity to meet
with you so that
we can work together...
I think the American people
recognize that we must
keep government open..
that you should
not have a
Trump shutdown

II
You have the White House -
a Trump shutdown
You have the White House -
You have the Senate.
You have the House of Representatives
You have the votes.
You should pass it
right now.
You could bring it up
right now, today.
Well, the fact it
you could get it started that way.
OK
Then do it.
Then do it.
No that's not the point.
No that's not the point.
that's not the point.
That is exactly right

III
Well, then go do it.
Go do it.
No, don't put it on the Senate
Put it on the negotiation.
You will not win. 
don't blame it on the senate...
you have the White House, 
you have the Senate, you
have the House of Representatives.
But you can't -- you can't -- 
All right, let me say something here. 

IV
Yeah. Here's what I want to say.
We have disagreements here.
The Washington Post
gave you a whole lot of Pinocchios
because they say you constantly misstate
how much of the wall is built 
and how much of it is there.
but that's not the point
here, we have a disagreement
about the wall
whether it's effective
or it isn't.
Not on border security but
on the wall.

V
We do not want to
shut down the government.
You have called 20 times to
shut down the government. 
You say "I want to
shut down the government. 
We don't.
We want to come
to an agreement...
 because you
let me finish
because you
can't get your way.

VI
We urge you to take it.
It is good border security
It is very good border security
It is actually what the border security 
asked for.
it's what the border - 
you just said it was effective
Yeah
you just said it was effective
We want to do this - 
Wait a second.
Let's call a halt to this
Yeah.

VII
Let's call a halt to this.
We've come in here
as the first branch of government.
Article 1, the legislative branch.
We're coming in, 
in good faith, 
to negotiate with you about
how we can keep the government open.
Open.
The American - 
The American - 
I'm with you
I'm with you
We're going to have border security
And it's the same border
Effective border security
You're bragging about
what has been done.
We want to do the same thing
we did last year this year. 
If it's good then it's good
now... Let's debate. 

Coda
We have taken - 
Let's debate in private. 
We have taken 
this conversation -
Okay?
Yeah.
 - to a place that is 
devoid, frankly
of fact. 
And we can dispel that.
Yes we do.
We do.
Yes.

December 16, 2018

Sunday School 12/16/18

He's b-a-a-a-c-k!  Rudy Giuliani made it to a couple of lecture halls this Sunday morning, and boy was he trying to get some attention.

First, let's look at this exchange between Rudy and Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday

Wallace asked about reports that special counsel Robert Mueller was (again) interested in interviewing the president, now that his written responses have been submitted and, I'm sure, reviewed by in detail by the Mueller team.
CW: Has his office reached out to you about sitting own for an in-person interview with the president?
RG: Yes. There are several unpaid parking tickets that night -- back in 1986, 1987 that haven't been explained. You know, we've got to --
CW:Seriously?
RG: Seriously, unpaid parking tickets-- 
CW: No, no no 
RG: it was a movie theater. He didn't pay the proper fee.
CW:  Is the special counsel -- does he want to interview the president?
RG:  Yes, good luck. Good luck. After what they did to Flynn, the way the trapped him into perjury and no sentence for him, 14 days for Papadopoulos. I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.
CW: So, when you say good luck, you're saying no way, no interview?
RG:  They're a joke. Over my dead body, but you know, I could be dead. 
CW: Do they want to speak to the president?
RG: I do have -- I do have other lawyers - I am disgusted with the tactics they have used in this case. What they did to General Flynn should result in discipline. They're the ones who are violating the law. They're looking at non-crime collusion, the other guys are looking at non-crime campaign violations, which are not violations. And they are the ones who are violating the law, the rules, the ethics and nobody wants to look at them. They destroyed Strzok & Page's text, 19,000 texts.
If he had destroyed 19,000 texts, they'd put him in jail
Even though they can't because he's the president. 
Got that? Parking tickets, movie theaters, and talking to Mueller "over my dead body."

Now, let's see what he said in his discussion on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.  It started with George playing video of an interview in which Michael Cohen said he acted at the direction of the president, that the payments to the porn star and Playboy bunny were made to help the campaign, and that Cohen gave loyalty to a man who did not deserve a bit of it.

Giuliani's' approach was to attack Cohen as pathetic, a liar, a many who lied under oath repeatedly, a man who can't be trusted.  Even though the Southern District of NY believes Cohen, and Stephanopoulos pointed out they'd not state what they did without corroborating evidence, Giuliani was not having it.
RG: Yes, but there'd be no way they would know other than taking Cohen's word for it. I mean, the conversations they had, even the tape recorded conversation that we listened to is just the two of them.. they don't have corroborating evidence, I'm sure. They don't have corroborating evidence,. Plus they didn't let Cohen plead guilty to a conspiracy. I ran that office, I know what they do. If I'm going to use a cooperator, I make them plead guilty to a conspiracy...
Stephanopoulos talked about the deal that was cut with David Pecker and AMI (the National Enquirer folks) who helped identify and bury stories and keep them from being published  and who agreed to keep Cohen in the loop. Still, Giuliani was not convinced.
GS: But you just said you ran that office. You know how the Southern District is run. You know exactly how the Southern District is run.
RG: No, I don't know -- actually, I don't know how the Southern District --
GS: They wouldn't have put that in the statement of fact if they didn't believe --
RG: I'm disgusted with the Southern District. I'm going to tell you another things. You see what we're talking about? It's not a crime. It's not a crime...
Which of course is consistent with everything that the Trump team eventually says - by the third of fourth or fifth version of the story, they end up telling us some version of 'even if it did happen, it wasn't a crime.'  The two argued back and forth about whether the payoffs were made to help or protect the campaign (what the filing says), or whether they were made to protect Trump's wife and children (Rudy's answer).

Stephanopoulos asked if there were other payments.
RG: Nobody else asked for -- in the past, I can't speak to. I wasn't his lawyer in the past. But at that point, these were the only two that were asking for money. And the amount of money is consistent with harassment, not truth. I have been involved in cases like this. When it's true and you have the kind of money the president had, it's a $1 million settlement. When it's not true, when it's a harassment settlement and it's not true, you give them $130,000, $150,000. They went away for so little money that it indicates their case was very very weak.
He complained that next it would be parking tickets and jay-walking - those must have been the predetermined speaking points. And then he compared these non-crimes to Obama FEC violations, mischaracterizing the nature of the violation and wildly overstating the fines paid, but you know, what's a lie when you're a liar defending a liar by complaining about a liar? Here's the best line of that segment, about the reporting violations which Obama's campaign admitted to.
No, they were not reporting violations. He has people who donated to him that don't exist. They do not exist. They're not human beings.
On it went, for a while, until Stephanopoulos changed the topic.
GS: CNN and the NY Times reporting this week that you're still in discussion with Robert Mueller about whether the - about an interview with the president, are those discussions still going on?
RG: I'm actually not allowed to -- to say that. But -- but the agreement we had did contemplate that there'd be a period of time after the questions that we would have a discussion about whether there should be any further questions. So I'm not saying we are or we aren't but that's in the agreement.  
I love the distinctly different response to the question about whether the president will have a sit-down with the Mueller team.  I mean, we go from "over my dead body" to "I'm not allowed to say that."

Clearly, Rudy knows which audience he's talking to when he has his little chats, would you agree?

See you around campus.

December 15, 2018

Killing the Affordable Care Act

A federal judge in Texas ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, since the Republicans removed the penalty associated with the 'individual mandate' requiring people to have insurance. Since the penalty is now $0, that means the 'tax' for not having insurance is no longer in effect, and that 'right to tax' was the lynchpin that held the whole thing together in previous court cases.

Clearly, this will go back to the Supreme Court for decision, and for now, nothing will happen to people who are now on the last day to sign up for ACA policies on healthcare.gov.  Nothing, that is, except for mass confusion (will there be a policy for me?) and fear (will I lose my coverage?).  It will be interesting to see what the Justice Department does when it goes to the Supremes, since
The Justice Department's response to the case was highly unusual: thought it disagreed with the plaintiffs that the entire law should be struck down, it declined this year to defend not just the individual mandate, but the law's provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions. 
The thing that's so important about pre-existing conditions, of course, is that over 100 million Americans have one or more of the darn things, and also that, most of the time, it seems that's the only provision anyone in Congress knows is in the ACA. Seriously:
  • when was the last time you heard a elected official talking about annual and lifetime benefit maximums, which can bankrupt their constituents?  
  • when was the last time you heard them talking about maintaining coverage for kids 26 years old on their parents' policy?
  • or, when was the last time they talked to you about fully-covered preventative care, free of deductibles and coinsurance?
  • or may favorite one, the part of the ACA that requires insurance carriers to spend a specific percentage of the premiums they collect on paying benefits, otherwise they have to refund the money to their subscribers? 
See, while those dreaded Republican death panels we heard so much about are NOT in the ACA, the items above, and many others, above ARE in the ACA. Think about that, especially that last one, and think about all of your free-market proponents in Congress and statehouses across the country, and all of their large, for-profit donors, and think about what's not going to make it into a Republican replacement plan.

And while you're at it, think about 'Medicare for all' - that wacky, socialist universal health care, widely derided by Republicans - and remember that, as a candidate, Donald Trump proposed free healthcare for Americans.

What, you didn't remember that?  Back when his cabal was issuing position papers, the two provisions below were among the ones that were included in his plan for fixing healthcare:
  • allowing tax free contributions to a health savings account (HSA); the HSA would become part of the person's estate with no 'death tax' and could be used by anyone in the family, without penalty, and
  • allowing people to fully deduct health insurance premiums from their tax returns
As I noted when I looked at his position back in 2016,
Translated: government-sponsored health care. Free health care. Say it either way, doesn't much matter. I mean, say your income tax responsibility is $5,000, and say you pay $6,000 in health insurance premiums. That means that the $5,000 Uncle Sam is counting on getting from you is now $1,000 that Uncle Sam owes you. Which means that someone else is going to be picking up the costs, right? And if someone else is paying for your insurance, it kind of makes your health insurance free, doesn't it?
Now, we know that the Republicans wasted millions of dollars on attempts to repeal the ACA, and they had the fiasco of failure the first time they attempted to get a replacement plan on the table , and they came close to passing a repeal until that "one guy, in the middle of the night, went like this and killed the whole thing," as the president likes to say.  And that was when they had the majority in both the House and the Senate.

I've said many times that the ACA was not perfect, but that repeal and replace was not the answer, anymore than it would have been the answer to completely throw away the entire tax code in order to pass last year's tax cut bill, or throwing away the entire defense budget and starting over (well, maybe that one would...).

In any event, we will have to see whether incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi will prioritize fixing the ACA, or if she's going to go after other legislative priorities. Of course, that sort of assumes she'll have time for legislative priorities, given the full slate of investigations into Trump that we've been told to expect.  And, we'll have to see what the Trump Justice Department decides is worth fighting for.

Fun times, folks. We've got fun times ahead.

December 13, 2018

OrangeVerse XXXVIII: We'll Have a Shutdown

The president met this week (with a transfixed, mesmerized or catatonic Vice President Pence at his side) with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a free-wheeling, free-speaking, free-versing, free-range conversation.

I think the whole thing bordered on craziness, until it finally hit the wall and the fighting was over. Or maybe that was just my head hitting the desk, not sure.

The Easy One
And then we have the easy one, 
the wall.
That will be the one
that will be the easiest of all.
What do you think, Chuck?
Maybe not?
So we're going to see
but I will tell you
the wall
will get built.
We'll see what happens.
It's not an easy situation.

How Big Is It?
So.
A lot of wall
has been built.
We don't talk about that.
But we might as well start.
Because it's building - 
it's being built right now
big sections
of wall. 
And we will continue
that and one way
or the other it's going to be built. 

Don't Make Me Do it, Chuck
So I'd like not
to see a government closing,
a shutdown.
We will see what happens
over the next short period of time
We're going to keep it open
if we have border
security. If we don't
have border security
Chuck
we're not going
to keep it open.

Border! Border! Border!
We need border security
And I think we all agree that
we need border security
The wall is part of
border security
Yeah.
We need border security
the wall is part of
border security
you can't have very good
border security
without the wall no.
you know what
we need border security
that's what we're going to be 
talking about
border security.
If we don't have
border security
this country needs
border security
the wall is part of
border security
it's a big part of it.
we need to have
effective border security
we have to have
border security
we have to have the wall
as part of 
border security
but we have to have
border security

#shutdown firster and damn proud of it
I - no no no no no
the last time, Chuck
you shut it down
and then you opened it up
very quickly.
You want to know something?
Okay, you want to put that on my --
I'll take it.
You know what
I'll say?
Yes
if we don't get
what we want 
one way or the other
whether it's through you
through a military
through anything 
you want to call
I will 
shut down
the government
Absolutely.
And I am proud --
and I'll tell you what -- 
I am proud
to shut down
the government...
So I will 
take the mantle.
I will be the one
to shut it down.
I'm not going 
to blame you for it.
The last time
you shut it down
it didn't work.
I will take the..
I'm going to shut it down...

December 12, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v157)

I'm thinking maybe we'll do something different tonight, and not talk about anything having anything to do with anyone who's anyone, and instead wonder about completely different things, how does that sound?

I wonder how many people believe in the spirit of all of the holidays people celebrate at this time of year?  I'm not talking about religious beliefs, I'm talking about people who believe in the true spirit of opening hearts and homes (and yes, wallets too) to help others, to entertain them, to encourage and support them?

For example, there's the man in West Virginia who paid off a woman's mortgage so she and he sons wouldn't lose the only house she had ever owned. The anonymous donor is now five years into this tradition of helping someone else out of the goodness of his heart.
It looks like I came and gave a great gift to someone, but in fact the gift is to me because if you never felt the spirit of giving, there's nothing like it. It's the best feeling that you can have. This is the best Christmas present that I will receive this Christmas.
I wonder how much longer he'll be able to keep this up, and I hope that there's another Santa waiting in the wings to take his place when the time comes.

This type of charity is similar to what we've seen around the country in recent years, when people walk into a Walmart and pay off the entire layaway balances - $40,000 or even $50,000 at a time.  It's both an anonymous thing, and a famous person thing now. Tyler Perry and Kid Rock are among the celebrity types who have done this.  I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty cool when no one knows who did it, vs. it being a household name.

Need another example? There's a website run by fans of Syracuse University sports - nunesmagician.com  - which combines a love for the Orange with an irreverent streak with a charitable streak. The last time SU went bowling, the guys at Nunes Magician ran a campaign to get folks who weren't going to the game to put up money for tickets so kids in the bowl town could go tho the game.

They're at it again this year, seeking to raise $14,444 (44 being an important number in these parts) to hopefully send at least 130 underprivileged Orlando-area kids to the Camping World Bowl.  The kids get to sit in the SU section, get SU merch, food while they're at the game, and get to be part of something they'd otherwise have no way to experience. So far, more than half the needed funds have been raised via a gofundme page and a hashtag - #cusetixforkids.  I wonder if folks would be willing to share the hashtag and the fundraising page?  That would help.

Need more examples?
  • There was the woman who set out food for a dog that was waiting for its owners to return home after the Camp Fire in California; she also located the homeowner's other dog almost 90 miles away.
  • Or the man who gave up his first class airline seat to a mom and her sick child. 
  • Or the Cabela's Santa who got down on the floor with a blind, autistic child and allowed the child to feel his clothes, his beard and his 'twinkling eyes'
This type of stuff happens all the time, in my neck of the woods and yours. Just as, we know, all that other stuff we're NOT wondering about tonight does: the palace intrigue, the inside baseball stuff, the sausage making that is politics and government in this day and age. 

Enjoy the interlude - we'll be back to the regular wondering next week, if not sooner.