January 31, 2018

Trump in Transition (v27)

Last night, president Trump gave his first State of the Union address.

He let us know that, in his opinion, the state of the union is strong, even as he left unsaid anything about the American carnage he spoke of so ominously just a year ago.

He touched on a lot of stuff in the relatively sniff-free hour and twenty minutes or so, after moving very quickly to the podium, almost as if he couldn't wait to get started so he could get back to the residence to watch the playback on his personal news network.

What did he tell us? The usual suspects: stock market, economy, jobs, unemployment of all kinds - those numbers that he repeatedly declared to be face while on the campaign trail are now truer than true, because he claims them as his own. He spoke of the tax cuts, and tax reform, and the increase in take-home pay we'll be seeing, and of course the corporate tax cuts, sold as a 14% reduction but in reality, barely half that in terms of what most companies actually paid. And of course the bonuses, but not the layoffs and the closings. The American Dream is a dream of dollars, plain and simple, he would have us believe.
In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is "In God we trust."
Some of us are old-school and remember the motto that came from our founding fathers: E Pluribus Unum, the one that includes all of us and binds us to each other in a way that IGWT does not. Like I said - old school.

He told us about the "bonds of trust" between the people and their government, including deregulation, new judges and support for the Second Amendment and "historic actions" to protect religious freedom, even if it steps on the rights of other Americans to participate freely in society, within the confines of our laws and regulations.
All Americans deserve accountability and respect -- and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers - and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.
Yep - that's what he said. Cabinet Secretaries, prepare to mobilize to remove those who fail the people president...

He talked about energy and trade of course - and about lower drug prices and coverage for clinical trials for the terminally ill, but did not talk about how these would be paid for or by whom.
Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need. Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment - to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit. 
There is no question we need to do a ton of work on infrastructure - and there's no question that this will require foreign private sector investment - lots of it; how the administration will handle that remains to be seen. Just as a for instance, are we going to be in the position of having a foreign country control one of our airports?

He called for a massive military buildup - "unmatched power" is how he described it, and we can see

He called for moving from "welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity." We should all agree on that, for everyone - just not sure how Congress is going to make it work. Drug testing, probably. That's the answer to everything, right?

Gangs, gangs, gangs - gangs were all over the speech. Well, MS-13. Not the rest of them. Immigrants committing crimes, or acts of terrorism committed by 'chain' immigrants. He spoke of his four pillars for immigration which include a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegals, border security, ending the visa lottery and chain migration and moving to a merit based system, which will bring in skilled workers only. And fighting opioids, although the administration has been slow to provide any significant funding for this effort.

Guantanamo will remain open, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and we're moving our embassy there, there rest of the world be damned. Trump claimed that the move was "unanimously endorsed by the Senate" just months before, ignoring the other part that was, in the same bill, unanimously endorsed: that the Senate
reaffirms that it is the longstanding, bipartisan policy of the United States Government that the permanent status of Jerusalem remains a matter to be decided between the parties through final status negotiations towards a two-state solution.
And then, this, after talking about the UN resolution which condemned us for our interference in the two-state solution:
That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure America foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America's friends.
Like many people - most, probably - I have no idea exactly what that means - but we are already withholding $65M of aid passed through the UN Relief and Welfare Agency to Palestinians. Who might be next? And how is 'friendship' defined, and by whom?

After a long discussion about the horrors of North Korea, he closed by talking about monuments to our heroes, and to freedom, including the Capital building as a monument to us.
Americans fill the world with art and music. They push the bounds of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never forget: the people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again. 
As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens and trust in our God, we will not fail.  
Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper. And our nation will forever be safe and strong and proud and mighty and free.
The blended poll of Trump's approval today?  39.5% approve, 54.9% disapprove.

January 30, 2018

Twisted Trumpian Logic

So, I know it's only Tuesday and usually I save the head-scratching for Wednesday, but I've gotta tell you, I'm so confused trying to stick with the president's logic.

You know, logic that says when things are going well, we need tens of billions of dollars but when things are going well, we don't need to do anything at all. Or something - like the two scenarios below.

We have seen significant change at our southern border since Trump was elected. In 2017, arrests for illegal crossings were at a 46-year low, and arrests away from the border are up by 25%. Fewer people are trying to come across illegally, we're told, because they fear they'll be apprehended. And arrests of non-criminal aliens - those whose illegal status is the their only crime - have risen 42% and arrests of MS13 gang members are up 82%. Sounds pretty good, right? And the president, fairly, takes credit for this.

And then there's Russia. The president decided yesterday that there was no need to increase sanctions because things were already going OK, and the law authorizing the sanctions was deterrent enough. Never mind that the bill authorizing the sanctions was passed with only five nays combined in the House and Senate; and pay no attention to the purposefully misunderstanding of the purpose of the legislation, which was to punish Russia for interfering in our election. And further never mind CIA head Mike Pompeo counting on additional Russian interference in future elections.
I haven't seen a significant decrease in their activity. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that, but I'm confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election, and that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won't be great.
So, let's recap: the actual deterrent being seen on immigration demands a $25,000,000,000 solution, but actual interference by Russia does not warrant any penalty? One of those things is not like the other. And the president's logic is a load of hooey.

Or, here's another one -- the whole biased/unbiased, conflict/no conflict, ethics/no ethics thing going on with a particular FBI guy.

You know Andrew McCabe, the Deputy Director of the FBI who was pushed out yesterday, after facing the wrath of Trump for months, including, we're told, the president telling McCabe to ask his wife what it felt like to be a loser?  Yeah, seems his wife lost an election in Virginia, even after receiving a boatload of money from a super PAC run by then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Now, you and I might focus on the fact that boatloads of money are available to support a candidate for statewide office, or any office for that matter. But not Trump: he focused on the fact that McAuliffe, in addition to being a former Syracusan, is an FOB - friend of Bill (Clinton) and, of course, an FOH - friend of Hillary, too.

So, you see, it's impossible - IMPOSSIBLE - for McCabe to be impartial in his job, because of  Comey emails Hillary his wife.  It's an automatic disqualifier, don't you see - a bona fide conflict of interest, plain as the orange hair on Trump's head!

As are these many conflicts of interest or ethical challenges, which go unnoticed - or worse, denied - by the Trumpeters, their legal teams, and the current Office of Government Ethics:
  • taxpayers enriching the president's coffers by paying higher than market rate rent in Trump Tower 
  • taxpayers enriching the president's coffers by Trump properties renting golf carts to the Secret Service for when he's very busy working
  • private citizens buying access to and enriching the president's coffers through their membership at Mar-a-Lago, including photo ops with the guy who carries the nuclear football, and pictures of the government in action the public dining room
  • citizens and companies (both foreign and domestic), foreign government representatives, and lobbyists enriching the president's coffers and currying favor by staying at his Washington DC hotel, or playing golf at his properties
  • Kellyanne Conway promoting Ivanka Trump's clothing line on national TV
  • the president promoting "his" winery in Charlottesville VA
  • then candidate Trump paying $25K to Florida's Attorney General, at the same time she was contemplating joining a multi-state legal action against him
  • Trump using his foundation to pay legal bills, use other people's money to make donations for which he took credit, and more
I could go on (and on and on) with these. And yes, it goes without saying that Democrats aren't immune to the influence of money -- you'll never get an argument from me on that. However, this is about specific situations, many of which are unique to the man currently occupying the Oval Office. 

The absurdity of this president pretending that he and his family, Cabinet members, advisers, and the like are pure as the driven snow, while suggesting that a career FBI guy is compromised because his wife ran for office?

That's a way more bigly bigger load of hooey.

January 29, 2018

Preparing for the SOTU

Tomorrow we'll hear from the president for the first time in a State of the Union (SOTU) address.

This will be a new experience for the president and it may be a new experience for some viewers - for example, those folks who wouldn't have been caught dead watching an Obama SOTU. With that in mind, I thought I'd provide some helpful hints for the newbies.
  • There's going to be a lot of yelling and hooting and hollering, but it's nothing to be concerned about. It will sound weird, for sure, but just think of it as a bunch of bad cheerleaders doing separate but equal versions of their college stadium cheers, and you'll be OK. 
  • While some will be yelling, others will be sitting, sullenly, waiting for the noise to fade so the president can get back to the speech. You'll know these people as Democrats by their hissing dark demeanor and dark clothes.
  • The First Lady will be sitting with a bunch of people the president thinks are helpful to his message. You can count on a heart-tugging story about a veteran or veteran's family; there'll almost certainly be some people victimized by gangs; there'll be a hard-working middle-class guy, usually a tradesman of some kind, and/or a small businessman or two. These are standard categories of guests, so don't think it's something new and different this time around. This president is merely following the script.
  • Speaking of the First Lady, she'll be cheered by the people of the president's party; pitied by the people of the opposition party ("how hard it must be for her to be married to him..."), and fawned over by the press. 
  • In the case of this First Lady, she'll likely be accompanied by the children of her husband, but not her own child, because, at least so far, she's been pretty successful in keeping him out of the mix. You should all hope that continues, for his sake - and hers. 
  • At some point, it will look like the Speaker of the House and the Vice President are about to hug, maybe even kiss, they'll be so giddy about what the president is saying. I can assure you, without the slightest hesitation, that there will be no kissing between these two gentleman, and so there's no reason for you to avert your eyes. 
  • I don't recall there ever being a televised playing of the national anthem during a SOTU - frankly, that would leave less time for the clapping and almost kissing - so you do not have to stand, and no one will yell at you if you take a knee. You can even leave your hat on; I won't tell.
  • You can pretty much count on the president using several buzzwords during his speech; again, they all do this. Here are several you might anticipate: carnage, MS-13, crime, America First, drugs, rapists, murderers, infrastructure, obstruction, bipartisanship, tax cuts, ISIS, opioids, Ivanka, Supreme Court, FBI, collusion, Russia, Putin, North Korea, Jerusalem, religious freedom, military, the wall, immigration, racism, jobs, My Generals, DACA, middle class, and so on. Feel free to add others you'd like to hear. 
  • Tradition has it that every time the president says one of the buzzwords, you are supposed to take a drink. That's why media coverage, especially on Fox, seems somewhat disjointed; it may even seem like the reporters were watching a different speech than you were. You can solve this by participating in the drinking game - it helps, it really does. 
  • Kiefer Sutherland will not be attending the SOTU - as the Designated Survivor, he'll be left behind to save the world in the event of a national emergency. 
  • This president has a habit of sniffing when he reads from a teleprompter; I believe it's an allergy or something. If you've only watched his rallies or followed him on the Twittery thing, you may not have experienced this before. Don't worry -- he's still your president, even if he sounds like one of those people who is causing our crime wave. 
  • With any luck at all, he will keep his remarks short. I've never been lucky, but hey - you never know.
  • After the president's remarks, a Democrat will give a speech that no one's expecting you to watch. Most of the networks don't usually cover the other party's response but this year they might, because the speech is going to be given by a Kennedy. It won't be anything you're interested in, but it might be fun to  see how it play out.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions while you're watching the speech, I believe the phone-a-friend lifeline will be turned on for the duration.

January 28, 2018

Sunday School 1/28/18

Just an observation, before we head off down the hall to the classrooms: I thought there were 535 members of Congress - you know, 435 in the House and 100 more in the Senate?

For some reason, it seems like the booking people for our Sunday lectures only know of about 25 or so of them. Maybe we can convince them we'd like to see a little more diversity of opinion on on Sunday mornings?

NBC's Meet the Press had House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, and intelligence guru Robert Gates. Topics included the report that Trump wanted to fire Robert Mueller; the Nunes memo; immigration, DACA and the wall; and sexual harassment.

On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Martha Raddatz hosted Senator Lindsey Graham, Ken Starr and ABC correspondent Dan Abrams, talking about immigration, Trump/Mueller, and Steve Wynn. The more interesting part of the show today was the trip from California to Texas along the border.

Here's a woman who, as a DACA qualifier, went to college and law school:
My mom had heard of the American dream, and she wanted us to experience that. And she knew my dreams wouldn't be fulfilled in the - the place where we were because her dreams weren't fulfilled... My family has been here 30 years paying taxes, contributing with our labor. We have created businesses. We are job creators. I understand that we --we broke the law by being here. And I feel there should be a way for us to become lawful immigrants, to become citizens some day.
Or this one, a Trump supporter who lives a few miles from the border and who thinks Dreamers should be allowed to stay, but also supports the wall:
I think it would stop a lot of them from coming over. I mean, I'm sorry, they need to come over here to take care of their families, I understand that. But most of them come over, and a lot of them earn their money and they're sending it back down there, they're not spending it here. Aren't we supposed to be boosting, or taking care of us first?
And there's this gentleman, a visa overstayer, now married to an American woman.
I think there should be more control of who gets into the country and how they get into the country, because -- we do need low-skill workers to do the jobs that most Americans don't want to do.
Finally, two people who were brought here illegally as kids, one of whom is DACA qualified and studying to be a nurse, talking about the potential for citizenship dangled by the president.
I would love to be able to be a citizen, but I think for me, and for what we see in our own community is that it would be a lot more important to be able to keep our families together.
Raddatz also talked to several border area politicians, too.  All in all, some good stuff in there.

The two best parts of Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace had to be South Carolina's Trey Benghazi Gowdy - and yes, I actually said best part and Trey Gowdy in the same sentence - talking about the Mueller investigation, the Nunes memo, and the damage the Republicans are doing to themselves, and Juan Williams reminding everyone that lovers talk to each other.

First, Gowdy. On Mueller's investigation, he had this to say.
And by the way, he's got two -- there are two components to his jurisdiction. There is a criminal component. But there's also a counterintelligence component that no one ever talks about because it's not sexy and interesting. But he's also going to tell us definitively what Russia tried to do in 2016. So the last time you and I were together, I told my Republican colleagues, leave him the hell alone and that's still my advice. 
And while he's not convinced there's 'no there there' with the Nunes memo (also a topic of conversation), on Republicans hurting their own credibility with their "secret societies and palace coups," Gowdy was clear.
Yes, Republicans are the best I've ever seen at taking good facts and overstating them and therefore changing the narrative... I don't know what they meant by secret society...  Republicans are better served by letting the texts speak for themselves... Republicans would be well served, let the texts speak for themselves...quit engaging in hyperbole, which we seem to do a lot.
Williams was fun during the discussion about the text messages between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the lovebirds who worked on the Clinton and Trump investigations. Strzok was the one removed from the Trump investigation and demoted to Human Resources immediately upon the text messages coming to Mueller's attention, months ago.

Wallace was trying to get things riled up with the group, but Williams wasn't having it.
JW: Come on Chris, they -- people have personal opinions. You and I have personal opinions. I think we come out here and try to do an honest job. 
CW: Wait, wait, you're not at all troubled by those texts?
JW: Well, first of all - no, be -- remember, they're lovers. So this is like pillow talk between two people who  have personal opinions. I don't know that it has impacted their capacity to lead at investigation. What I see here is a repeated effort coming from the right. They throw spitballs at the wall trying to somehow disparage the FBI, discredit Robert Mueller....
 CW: How about then Peter Strzok and Lisa Page are saying, well, let's not go into that Clinton investigation loaded for bear.
JW: Well, wait a second, they're talking. It's like and and me joking and saying, hey Chris, president Trump, we wish, would come on this show and then --
CW: I'm not joking, I'm serious.
JW:  I know. I know. but I'm saying we wish. But I'm saying -- and I say, Chris, well you know what, if you want him to come back, maybe we shouldn't ravage him this time. That's a joke between Juan and Chris. That's not an indication of how you're actually going to conduct the interview.  But this is, again, discredit the FBI because they're worried that Mueller, in fact, is going to find something. That's what going on...
Hear, hear.

Finally, one quick update from the interview with Maine's Susan Collins on CNN's State of the Union. Asked for her reaction to the story about porn star Stormy Daniels and her $130,000 payout from the Trump camp, Collins had this to say.
Well, I don't know the circumstances of it. In some ways, this sounds like an issue that's between president and Mrs. Trump, because it doesn't seem to be a workplace issue, as far as I know.
On that note, see you around campus.

January 27, 2018

Talking Racism with my Congressman

A while ago, when our eloquent president decided to enhance the immigration discussion by referring to various countries with people-of-color-majorities as shitholes and wondered why we wouldn't want to bring more white immigrants to America, I reached out to John Katko, who represents my NY-24th district in the House.

Katko has made a name for himself as a willing, if not eager proponent of bipartisanship, and he's actually had a number of legislative successes, something that the more recent past representatives of the district were unable to do. He's been successful enough that we actually sent him back for a second term - something, again, that his recent predecessors also were unable to do.

He's also managed to keep himself out of the fray, generally, when it comes to Trump's behavior, his rhetoric, his racist attacks, and his generally rude and insulting demeanor.  Knowing that, I still sent him this message back on January 11th:
Congressman Katko, I'm looking forward to your forceful condemnation of the comments made today by the leader of the Republican party, president Donald Trump. 
I'm sure  you are aware of his comments regarding African nations and Haiti - and the defense issued by the White House that he will "always fight for America."
I'm asking YOU to fight for decent people in New York, and across the country, and issue the strongest possible statement calling the president out as a racist and unfit to serve.
If you're not able to do that, I'm equally interested in hearing why. My vote in the upcoming election hangs in the balance.
Thanks in advance for your personal and detailed response.
I actually received a response; it was what I expected him to say, but not what I wanted him to say. Take a look.
Thank you for contacting me regarding (p)resident Trump's recent comments about immigration. It is good to hear from you.
Our nation was founded by immigrants and continues to thrive culturally and economically due to our acceptance of all nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. However, our immigration system has been broken for many years. Having served a a federal prosecutor for over 20 years, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of the rule of law. I believe that we must properly enforce our immigration laws, while working towards common sense immigration reform. I am eager to work with my colleagues to establish effective immigration reform.
You may be aware of recent media reports surrounding president Trump's comments regarding the immigration policies of the United States. While I was not present for the meeting in which the comment was said to have been made, I believe it is imperative that we depart from partisan political rhetoric and I will continue to reach across the aisle to start productive conversations and collaborations. I am committed to working with the president and my colleagues in Congress to pass bipartisan, effective legislation to improve the economy and quality of life of individuals and families in the 24th district.
His letter went on to talk about bills he has cosponsored regarding a pathway to legalized status for those in the DACA program (five year 'conditional status' as long as they're vetted by Homeland Security and either pursuing higher education, serving in the military or authorized to work, after which they can apply for five-year permanent status), and another bill would provide a pathway to legalized status and also deal with border security "using technology, levees and physical barriers", and also add immigration judges and appeals attorneys to reduce the backlog in immigration cases.

I take no issue with Rep. Katko's willingness to participate, to work towards immigration reforms, and to reach across the aisle to do so. Heck, I even agree with him on some of the specifics,  particularly focusing on reducing the backlog in immigration courts - but that was not the question I asked. I also didn't ask him to keep my thoughts in mind if "legislation related to this issue comes before the House for a vote."

Why? Because there is no way that legislation on this issue will come to the floor for a vote unless a member of the House actually puts forth for consideration a statement condemning the president for his vulgar and unnecessary comments.

I also found interesting Katko's reference to "partisan political rhetoric" -- implying that Trump's racist comments are representative of the Republican party's stance on Africa, Haiti and bringing in white people.  That, I have to admit, was an accusation I was not going to make. But, when in Rome...

I'll be responding to his message, clarifying my initial request and suggesting that perhaps a resolution of disgust would be a nice way for him to add another another bipartisan accomplishment to his resume, and an excellent way to keep my thoughts in mind.

Hopefully I'll have more to come on this in the next couple of weeks. 

January 26, 2018

TGIF 1/26/18

Well, we made it through another week -- yay us!  Here's some of what happened while we were busy living our lives.

The president went to Davos, a town somewhere in the Swiss Alps, to talk about #MAGA and #AmericaFirst and other stuff to a bunch of world leaders and an equally interested bunch of billionaires.

Word is he stuck to the script very closely, and managed to keep the off-the-cuff remarks, well, on his cuff, I guess.

After he was done with the official speech, he did manage to get in a few 'fake news' comments when he was questioned about an article in the NY Times saying he wanted to fire Robert Mueller last summer. The story is that he backed off when one of his lawyers threatened to quit. Typical fake news from the NY Times, he said, or something along those lines.

Fake news was in the news for a whole nother reason this week -- that being the arrest of a Michigan man who threatened CNN. Some of his 22 messages are below.
Fake news. I'm coming to gun you all down.
I'm smarter than you. More powerful than you. I have more guns than you. More manpower. Your cast is about to get gunned down in a matter of hours.
I am coming to Georgia right now to go to the CNN headquarters to f---ing gun every single last one of you. 
Proving, once again, that words matter -- including those repeated over and over and over by the president.

Other words mattered, too. Those of the more than 150 survivors, or their representatives, who spoke at the trial of disgraced and incredibly insulting Dr. Larry Nassar. Those of the judge in the case, even the inflammatory ones she used, such as suggesting that a lifetime of what Nassar did to his victims would be OK with her, if not for the Constitution and all. Those of the USOC, which issued an ultimatum to the board of USA Gymnastics: resign, or be decertified. Even the words of USA Gymnastics, when they severed ties with the Karoly Ranch, one of the places where Nassar apparently gave the athletes 'treatments' with impunity. But mostly, the words of the survivors, who spoke with amazing, and sometimes alarming passion, courage, and clarity.

Let's end on a 'better them than us' note, shall we?  It seems New Orleans needed to clean out the city's storm drains. City workers didn't find a 'fatberg' like they find in the UK -- but they did find 93,000  pounds -- 46 and half tons - of Mardi Gras beads in a five-block stretch.

Here in my neck of the woods, the DPW worries about getting the leaves picked up before a major snowfall comes and the leaves end up in our storm drains. Sort of puts us on Easy Street, compared to the Big Easy.

TGIF, everyone.

January 24, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v119)

Another Wednesday upon us - and a ton of wondering going on.

We know there are any number of things wrong with disgraced doctor/serial abuser/child porn aficionado Larry Nassar, but even given everything we've heard about him and what he did, I wonder for the life of me what he thought he would accomplish by suggesting, in his letter to the judge in his current case, that his victims were lying and were 'scorned women' in the process?
I was a good doctor because my treatments worked, and those patients that are now speaking out are the same ones that came back over and over. The media convinced them that everything I did was wrong and bad. They feel I broke their trust. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Or, no fury like over 150 women abused by beastly man who took advantage of his position, and the fear of the athletes, and their trust in authority, when no one - not even their parents, in some cases - would believe them.

Staying with USA gymnastics, are companies doing the right thing by pulling their sponsorship from the organization? Does that serve the program, or hurt it?  I wonder if they couldn't do a whole lot more to have a positive impact by demanding change -- real change-- in the leadership, policies and procedures of the national program , and pulling their dollars only if the changes being sought were not realized? Seems we're hurting future champions because prior ones were failed. 

I heard that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said today that local law enforcement officials can't pick and choose what laws they enforce. Her comments were in relation to so-called 'sanctuary cities' but I found them relevant here in New York, where another provision of the NY SAFE Act is coming into effect. I have to wonder whether anyone in the NY State Police or say, the Cayuga County sheriff's office, has heard about that, since they're not going to be enforcing the latest provision, the one requiring renewal of  pistol permits?

And, speaking of  crime, why did it take the president so long to talk about the shooting in Kentucky? I really don't understand that one at all. He is much quicker to talk about attacks in foreign countries than he is to talk about bad acts here in America, at least, when they're committed by plain old ordinary (white) Americans -- what happened to America first?   If the shooting had been committed by an immigrant - any immigrant, legal or not -- I wouldn't be wondering about how long it took him to comment, I'm sure.

January 23, 2018

Poll Watch: Good and Bad News for Democrats

I saw a couple of poll results cross my news feeds and thought I'd share. One seems to provide a bit of good news for the Democrats, but the second one is less promising.

Let's start with the bad news side of the ledger: according to a new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, the government shutdown was the fault of Democrats and president Trump, with the Dems having a slight lead in the blame category.

First, the small print: the poll was conducted online January 20 - 22, 2018 from a national sample of 3450 adults, who were selected from the 3,000,000 or so people who take SurveyMonkey surveys daily. The error rate is plus or minus 2.2%.

OK, so that's out of the way - who is more to  blame for the government shutdown?
  • 4% don't know
  • 18% said Republicans in Congress
  • 38% of respondents said president Trump, and
  • 39% said Democrats in Congress
That's not a good thing for the Democrats; I've already stated my distaste for it. A huge majority - 81% - said that threatening a shutdown to achieve policy goals is unacceptable, whether it's the president or members of Congress behind the ploy.

Other insights from this poll?
  • 60% of respondents think the country is headed in the wrong direction; the same percentage think that Trump did not show strong leadership during the shutdown.
  • 79% think it's more important to compromise to find solutions
  • 47% strongly disapprove and another 11% somewhat disapprove of the way the president handles his job

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken via land line and cell phones January 15 - 18, 2018 (in English and Spanish) of 1005 adults and 846 registered voters (31% Democrats, 23% Republicans and 40% independents), things seem pretty positive for the Dems when it comes to the upcoming mid-term election.
  • 51% of registered voters would support the Democrat over the Republican in their district
  • 54% of registered voters who are certain to vote support the Democrat 
  • 54% of registered voters who are certain to vote who were old enough to vote in the last midterm - and did so - support the Democrat
That's a 6% swing from the Rs to the Ds among likely voters since November.

What else did we learn here?
  • Non-whites overwhelming favor the Democrat (74% - 15%); up 27% since November
  • Women support the Democrat (64% to 29%); in November, it was 55% - 40%.
  • Men still favor the Republican, 51% to 42%, consistent with November
  • Independents continue to favor the Democrat (51% to 37%), unchanged from the prior poll
Finally, and unsurprisingly, Trump supporters back the Republican in their district 90% - 6%, where Trump detractors favor the Democrat 88% - 6%. 

What does this all mean? I have no idea, really, and I'm not sure the pollsters do either - but there are a couple of milestones on the horizon, and it would be interesting to see how things look then. 

The first is when the promised raises from the tax reform bill go into effect. That's likely to hit everyone by mid-February, we're told.  The second? What happens in the next sixteen days before the short-term continuing resolution to fund the government is set to expire.

January 22, 2018

Taking Notice, and Taking Names

Remember when UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said we'd be taking names at the UN?

That list-making was to make sure we didn't miss any of the countries that voted against us by voting for a resolution condemning the United States for moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; people who voted against the resolution, and for us, were invited to a party!

Tonight, I'm taking names, but the first list is for the opposite reason from Ambassador Haley. This is the good kind of name-taking, the kind we don't get to do all that often, especially when it comes to talking about stuff that happens in Washington DC.

Lamar Alexander (R-TX)
Susan Collins (R- ME)
Chris Coons (D-DE)
Bob Corker  (R-TN)
Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Cory Gardner (R-CO)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Maggie Hassan (D-NH)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Johnny Isakson (R- GA)
Doug Jones (D-AL)
Tim Kaine (D- VA)
Angus King (I-ME)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Joe Manchin III (D-WV)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Gary Peters (D-MI)
Mike Rounds (R-SD)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Mark Warner (D-VA)

This is the bipartisan group of senators who managed to convince their leadership, and some 50 something of their closest honorable friends to vote to end the #stupidshutdown, reopen the government and stop playing chicken with the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of  government employees and members of the military. 

And here are the senators who voted against reopening the government. 

Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Edward Markey (D-MA)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Christopher Murphy (D-CT)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

I don't pretend to know why these folks voted against reopening the government; maybe they're still mad at Mitch McConnell, or at Donald Trump. For all I know, they're made as hell at Hillary Clinton for not winning.  And, to be honest, I also don't know what's in the heart of hearts of the people who worked so hard to get the compromise that this second group of folks had the pleasure of voting against. 

I just know which list I'd use if I were throwing a party for the people whose names I took.

The Real Football is the Military

Everyone knows that there are few things politicians like more than using our military as a giant pawn in every political decision. It doesn't matter whether it's our veterans or active duty or pencil-pushers in the Pentagon - "the military" as a collective entity is top of mind when needed, with little hesitation and even less restraint, by folks from both sides of the aisle.

And, everyone knows that government shutdowns are ridiculous, especially since all of our elected officials know when the budget is due, and know pretty much what they have to do in order to get one passed. I mean, even New York State legislators have been able to pass on-time budget, repeatedly, and that's saying quite a bit. 

The other thing politicians like to do? Blame the other guy. Everyone knows that, too. Here's just one example, from Saturday morning.

And Veep Mike Pence did his part on Sunday too, to make sure the military felt the love. Speaking to soldiers near the Syrian border, Pence had this to say:
Despite bipartisan support for a budget resolution, a minority in the Senate has decided to play politics with military pay. But you deserve better... We're not going to reopen negotiations on illegal immigration until they reopen the government and give you, our soldiers, and your families the benefits and wages you deserve. 
Because, mind you, the Republicans own the military, and only the Republicans should  be playing around with their wages and benefits and don't you forget it! And let's go to a foreign country and slam the American government! That's fun stuff! 

Oh wait -- isn't that what the Rs always said Obama did? We can't have that, can we? I thought this administration was supposed to undo everything the prior administration did?

Juxtapose that Trump-Pence rhetoric against Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) asking for unanimous approval to pay the military during the shutdown, right after Friday night's vote for the Continuing Resolution failed. 
This shouldn't take very long, but I was most disappointed tonight when the President of the United States put out a statement that tried to divide us based on party when it came to support of our military.
There is no such division; everyone in this chamber know it, and so as we have in other instances where we have had a shutdown - and I remember in 2013 we did this right off the bat - I want to make sure that tonight, we send a very clear signal, that we don't want one moment to pass with there being any uncertainty, with any soldier, anywhere in the world, that they will be paid for the valiant work they do on behalf of our national security.
McCaskill then asked, using appropriate parliamentary language, that they get off their collective fannies and approve pay - and death benefits - for the military.  The presiding officer then asked if there were any objections. Enter Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mr. President, I am reserving the right to object. We passed similar legislation during the government shutdown back in 2013. My hope is that we can restore funding for the entire government before this becomes necessary. I'm gonna object for tonight but we'll discuss again tomorrow. Therefore I object. 
In less than two minutes, one politician offered to do the right thing, and another one shut the right thing down.

Remind me again - who's playing football with the military?

January 21, 2018

Sunday School 1/21/18

Did you think maybe they'd be talking about the government shutdown in the classrooms today? You'd be right.

On CNN's State of the Union, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney talked to Jake Tapper about the difference between a government shutdown and a government shutdown. Meaning, the one in 2013 was a good one because then-President Obama owned it, and this one which is a bad one and not something that current president Trump owns.

Tapper showed the old clip of Trump talking about government shutdowns:
Problems start from the top, and they have to get solved from the top. And the president's the leader and he's got to get everybody in a room and he's got to lead. In 25 years and 50 years and 100 years from now, when the government is - you know, when they talk about the government shutdown, they're going to be talking about the president of the United States. Who was the president at that time. They're not going to be talking who the head of the House was, the head of the Senate. 
Mulvaney explained the difference between then and now, focusing on Trump having meetings "in the days leading up to" the shutdown as counting for being actively engaged, compared to Obama in 2013.
President Obama did not engage in that process. I know. I was there... we never heard from the White House. We actually believed they wanted a shutdown. That's the difference here. President Obama wanted a shutdown so that he could weaponize it and make political points out of it, which is exactly what he did.
Never mind that Trump has been reportedly only been talking to Republicans, not Democrats, which would be exactly consistent with 2013.

Mulvaney himself went on the record back then about whether the shutdown was worth it, in another clip Tapper shared.
It was. Any time you fight for something you really believe in, and something you think is important, then the fight is -- the fight is going to be worth it. If you stand up for what you believe in, I think you'll always end up on the right side of things.
Tapper asked if that wasn't what the Dems were doing.
Not really.  And here's the difference... we were voting against a bill we did not like in 2013. 
Alrighty, then. We are on the right side of things, and they are not.

On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd talked with Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, who let us know that the president was all over this shutdown, having talked to several Republican leaders (but no Democrats) yesterday, and to a Secretary or two and one of his Generals as well, to make sure he understood what was going on. And, we were told, he was working in a bipartisan way last week - same as Mulvaney told CNN - to try and avoid a shutdown.

Short suggested that Dem votes had nothing to do with anything other than denying Trump's accomplishments.
...when you look back over the last year and you see record tax relief...Supreme Court justice confirmed...more justices confirmed at the circuit court level that any year in American history, repeal of the individual mandate, you see all the things the administration has done and they're being held captive by a base in their party that is angry. And they're responding to that base. This is not about policy, Chuck. It's purely about politics. 
Short let us know, as did Mulvaney said earlier, we're on the right side of thing, and they're not.

We got a second dose of Mulvaney today; he also dropped in on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Most of what he said was the same, but he did have more to offer on why this happened, including those archaic rules in the Senate that honor the minority by requiring 60 votes (Trump is again calling for Mitch to go nuclear), for example. Wallace pointed out that they couldn't even get all of the Republicans to vote for this. Twice he pointed out that only 46 Rs voted they way they were supposed to. The third time, he hit hard.
CW: The point is, you do not have your house in order. You have only 46 Republicans supporting this
MM: And again, if you had 10 or 15 Democrats and it still failed, I think your point is fair. But right now, until you have at least nine Democrats, we cannot open the government.
CW: Well, you don't have 51 Republicans either.
MM: Right, but again, short of nine, what difference does it make? Without nine Democrats, this government is not opening. 
Which means, in a nutshell, the Rs aren't unified and they don't care, because it doesn't matter because Benghazi the Dems are to blame.

Wrapping things up, Wallace asked him to handicap the chances of getting the government open.
I really do believe that at heart here, there was an interest by some folks in the Democratic Party to deny the president sort of a victory lap on the anniversary of his inauguration, the chance to talk about the success of the tax bill, success of the economy and jobs. And I think if they get over that, there's a chance that this thing gets done before 9:00 on Monday morning and folks would come to work.If that doesn't happen, it could go several days because I think there's other Democrats who want to see the president give the State of the Union during a shutdown.
Again, alrighty then one more time. Not only do they not care about policy, or have any principles, the Dems are a bunch of  crybabies trying to deny the president his just desserts.

Meanwhile, a couple of things about that  "weaponizing" comment Mulvaney made on MTP. First, here's the childish message on the White House switchboard yesterday:
Thank you for calling the White House. Unfortunately we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are withholding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate. Due to this obstruction, our government is shut down.
And second, here's the ad  - complete with the "I'm Donald Trump and I approve this message" statement - which our friend Marc Short tried to convince Chuck Todd was released by an "outside organization." In the ad, Democrats are said to be complicit in any murder committed by an illegal immigrant.
It's pure evil. President Trump is right: build the wall, deport criminals, stop illegal immigration now. Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants. President Trump will fix our borders and keep our families safe.
I think it's clear whose weapons are locked and loaded, don't you?

See you around campus.

January 19, 2018

TGIF 1/19/18


It seems I've been ignoring the call of the TGIF for a bit - sorry about that.  Let's put some perspective on this week, shall we?

Who should we blame for it? That seems to be the big question, at least today. Who will be the blame for shutting down the government, the Rs or the Ds?

And, if a miracle occurs tonight at 10PM Washington Swamp Time (WST) and the shutdown is avoided, who deserves the credit?  We know who will take the credit, of course - but will he deserve it?

What else happened this week, which I'm glad is over? There were arguments about whether or not the president, who insists he is the least racist person ever, or the least racist person ever interviewed by the Washington press corps, pretty darn well seems to be a racist.

And the Republicans, who are practically tripping over themselves to stay in Trump's good graces, are working diligently (one of my favorite Buzzword Bingo squares) to divert the conversation away from what the president said and instead direct it towards their individual interpretations of what the president thought or meant. As in, saying that African nations were shitholes meant we need a wall across our southern border.

Speaking of that wall, there was an interesting disconnect between the president and his Chief of Staff General, who thought saying the president believed in evolution had experienced an 'evolutionary process.'
There's been an evolutionary process that this president has gone through...and I pointed out to all the members that were in the room that they all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed.
In the same interview earlier this week, Kelly shared his thoughts about the possible government shutdown I mentioned at the top of the post.
I spent a fair amount of time on the hill today speaking to members of Congress, both sides of the aisle...and it would seem to have the votes to continue funding the military, take care of the child health care issue, and perhaps some other things. As I understand it, they have the votes and they are fairly confident.
So, there's that. Maybe he'll end up on the right side of this, who knows? I just don't want the Dems on the wrong side of it, that much I do know.

One last thing about the shutdown: sadly, it's of such importance that the poor president couldn't go running off to Mar-a-Lago for some golf rest work. He was scheduled to leave this afternoon, but supposedly is hanging around until he gets to sign a continuing resolution.

What's worse, it seems his inauguration anniversary celebration, scheduled for tomorrow night, may also be in jeopardy if that darn Mitch McConnell can't get his chamber in order. According to this report the shindig is going to be a doozy - $100,000 per couple for dinner and a photo op; for another $150,000, the happy couple could participate in a round table conversation, too.

Sadly I have to rearrange my sock drawer tomorrow - otherwise I'd be there. Honest.


January 18, 2018

Don't Do It, Democrats

So, on Saturday Donald Trump will have been in office for a year, and on Friday there's (currently at least) a good chance that the government will shut down. Heck of a way to celebrate your first year of full control of the government, eh Republicans?

You've got the White House, you've got Senate, and you've got the House, and you might lose the keys to the buildings.  Oh, sure, your majority in the Senate is not enough to get everything done, only the stuff that can be finagled into some kind of reconciliation language. So you need Democrats to do real work, like passing another short-term spending package to give yourselves one more month to start acting like adults. You know -- legislating and all that.

Stinks to be in Mitch McConnell's shoes, don't you think? Yeah, he needs Dems to bring it home for the party, for the president, and for the country.  And, dammit, they better be right there to do it.

I know, I know -- you think I'm crazy suggesting that 'we' do anything to help 'them' get what 'they' want, at 'our' expense, or that 'we' do anything to help Trump accomplish anything. But in my eyes, if 'we' cause the shutdown, 'we' will suffer the consequences even though 'they' hold the reins to all of the horses.

The House passed a short-term bill tonight, fairly easily, that will fund the government for a month.
The House approved the measure 230 to 197, despite conflicting signals by President Trump sent throughout the day and a threatened rebellion from conservatives that failed to materialize.  The bill's chances had appeared in a question until shortly before the vote, provided only a faint glimmer of hope that a crisis could be averted before much of the government exhausts its funds at midnight on Friday.  The bill would fund the government through February 16.
The plan would fund CHIP for six years,which is something that Dems care greatly about. It would also apparently do some more 'repealing' of Obamacare taxes, and that's something about which Dems should care considerably less. And yes, I understand this is the House not the Senate, but look - it's Republicans protecting CHIP, right? This is an opportunity not to be wasted.

Trump has been saying all along that a shutdown is on the Dems; I think he started saying it even before it became a real possibility.

The #schumershutdown is picking up steam on social media, and people are saying that Dems care more about illegals than they do American children, the military,  and all the people who run all of the programs that all the Dems are all in favor of...

Trump and his minions will hammer Dems on this, and what's the answer?

It's worse than that. As with much of the 2016 election cycle, we still don't know what the Dems stand for, even as we know without question what they stand against. The party tries to reinvent itself through the DNC and its dance with Bernie Sanders; it tried (and failed, unfortunately) to get Dems elected to replace Trump administration hires by throwing money into races all across the country,, and now we even see Dems primarying other Dems, which hardly seems like a good idea.

The Democratic Party has to stand for something, and as I see it now, the best thing to do is to stand for keeping the government open, not shutting it down, and to stand for action on other bills in return for the favor, including DACA, including comprehensive immigration and including whatever other priorities there are. 

And when they do stand, they need to do it at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Challenge the president to ignore them. Do it all day, every day -- but do it from a position of strength, not of weakness.

Trump is despicable - no argument there - but being the people that Trump can't govern without is much better than the alternative.

Don't do it. Be the better party. Be the party of yes, and don't let the government shut down tomorrow.

January 17, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v118)

Here we go again, everyone - it's Wednesday!

Buffalo Congressman Chris Collins was one of the earliest supporters of Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and he has continued to be a staunch defender of Trump as president. On Tuesday, Collins was on CNN's 'Cuomo Prime Time' broadcast, talking about the warm fuzzy president that we're supposed to recognize when we see him (full disclosure: I'm really bad at picking him out of a crowd even a crowd of one).

Here's the Congressman's take on what happened at the meeting where Trump's um, colorful comment drew so much attention:
It's disappointing that anyone would leave a private meeting and politicize that, and certainly a lot of that language was denied. All I know is this is a president who is not a racist, who cares about the young people who are here now, who have lived here most of their lives. He will be generous and compassionate with them, but he needs what he needs on the border wall, on border security. That's a reasonable compromise.
So, now that it's officially the day of Wondering, I can't help wondering why it is that every Republican who has commented on this whole debacle, Collins included, has managed to completely conflate DACA with shitholian nations such as Haiti and the African continent? And I wonder how on earth can we rely on our elected officials if they don't even know that our southern border separates us from Mexico, not Africa? And, staying with the Republicans, shouldn't they be worried about the potential for a Bernie Sanders victory in 2020 if we let in all these Norwegians we should be coveting? What are they thinking, I wonder?

We've learned, with this president, that the most important thing on his mind, or the position that's the most important one he has is whatever was said by the last person he talked to, Hence, Norway was the anti-shitholian comparison.  Given how many world leaders Trump has talked to - you know, all those ones he 'respects' -  in his first year in office, it's hard not to wonder how much worse this could have been.

The president tweeted on the stroke of 8 PM the winners of the Fake News Awards. Here's the celebratory tweet, in case you missed it. 

Note that to get to the list of winners, you don't get them from the White House website, you get them from the GOP website. I wonder about that right off the bat. Are these the president's awards, or the Republican party's awards?  Whose fake news is this, anyway?

I should tell you I certainly tried to see if there were any red carpet pictures -- what's an award show without those, right? -- and I certainly tried to see who the winners were, but that's all on hold until the website gets up and running,it seems (cue the ketchup commercial), although I did see an unconfirmed tweet about CNN winning some...

One more wondering before I go.  Facebook is in hot water these days, as some tech folks called them out for not doing enough to keep us safe from those pesky Russians pushing their fake news false narratives pro-Trump and/or anti-Clinton news stories. Seems these folks thought that more could have been done, especially since the 'screeners' who reviewed reported accounts and posts were not instructed to look for stuff that was fake and pull it down.

Speaking from experience, I know that it can be hard to convince the reviewers to take stuff down (in my case, it was a porn thing not a political thing), so I get there could be some frustration. 

But here's the thing that has me wondering: what difference does it make, at this point, if the fake stuff that was posted to try and influence our election came from a Russian bot or from an American in the Russian River Valley wine region in California, or having dinner in the Russian Tea Room, or from an American sitting in a corner dive having a white Russian?

Is a Russian bot more of a threat to us than we are to ourselves?  Just wondering...

January 15, 2018

Grains of Salt (v28): Two (More) Scoops, Please

I happened to be reading last week's local papers  over the weekend and stumbled upon on of my least favorite articles - a double-dipping politician.

I've talked about my distaste for this in the past, because, sadly, we've had a number of folks who have done this. State Senator John DeFrancisco said he wouldn't take both his pension and his salary, but he did it anyway. Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway said he wouldn't, and did it anyway. His predecessor, Sheriff Kevin Walsh, did it and blamed us for not asking him if he was going to do it. And now, our District Attorney for Life William Fitzpatrick, has let it be known that he's going to do it too.

It seems Fitz officially retired at the end of December but he never left his job and may have no intention of doing so any time soon. He's working on a trial right now. He's in his seventh term, having first been sworn in way back in 1992, but he's been in the DA's office for much longer.  As a result, he doesn't have to get a waiver to take his full pension - there's a special rule for elected officials who've been in office since before July of 1995.

His salary as DA is over $180,000 a year; his pension could also be in the six figures, depending on which tier he falls on in the NYS pension system.

All of this is perfectly legal, and like other locals mentioned above, he takes the pension for the best of reasons.
The term double-dipping is inciteful, but I"m actually protecting my family. If I died today my wife wouldn't get my pension. 
There are a few problems here. First, the law provides special protection to elected officials who have been around since Methuselah was a child; second, the lack of term limits for elected officials, which allows them Methuselah-like years in office, building up the power of incumbency to the point that many run woefully under-opposed, if not totally unopposed, term after term.

And, of course, there's the part that makes the elected officials believe that we need them  - not that they need us, mind you.  Not that they need us, but that we need them. So much so, that we'll accept them getting paid for working at a job while getting paid their pension for the same job. I'm not sure we need them that much or for that long. 

To be honest, I'd rather they really retired, took their pension, and rode off into the private sector sunset. Or the RV retirement sunset. Or any other kind of retirement sunset, for that matter. Because one scoop really is plenty.

January 14, 2018

Sunday School 1/14/18

Today, I listened in on the conversation on NBC's Meet The Press, where Kentucky's Senator Rand Paul was one of Chuck Todd's guests; from the other side of the aisle, Colorado's Senator Michael Bennett joined. Immigration and racism and salty language were on tap for the conversations - no surprise there. Similar conversations were held on the other shows as well.

Rand Paul was up first, and he told a story of when he went to Haiti and Central America to perform eye surgeries, using that to frame Trump's most recent incredible comments in a different context for us.
You know, I don't think the comments were constructive at all. But I also think that to be fair, we shouldn't draw conclusions that he didn't intend. I know personally about his feelings towards Haiti and towards Central America... I did about 200 cataract surgeries with a group of surgeons in Haiti and the same in Central America. And when we asked Donald J. Trump as a private citizen to support those trips, he was a large financial backer of both medical mission trips. So I think it's a unfair to sort of draw conclusions from a remark that I think wasn't constructive, is the least we can say. 
And I think it's unfair then to sort of all the sudden paint him, "Oh well, he's a racist," when I know for a fact that he cares very deeply about the people in Haiti because he helped finance a trip where we were able to get vision back for 200 people in Haiti. 
Um -- "sort of all the sudden" talk about Trump being a racist? Where has Rand Paul been hiding? There have been more than ample opportunities, some of which were mentioned on the show.

For some reason, the comments that get skipped are the ones about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the American judge with the funny sounding name and who, according to Trump
happens to be, we believe, Mexican... I have a Mexican judge. He is of Mexican heritage and should have recused himself...
So, no, Senator Paul -- there's NOTHING sudden about calling Trump a racist.

And, if you change the word 'shithole' to 'economically-deprived' and actually used the term in a nuanced sentence such as the two you suggest, we would be having a completely different conversation than the one Trump decided to have.
Let's take the whole scenario and put different words in there and let's say, "We'd rather have people from economically-prosperous countries than economically-deprived countries." Or, "We realize there are more problems in economically-deprived countries, therefore there's a bigger impetus for them to want to come." Then it wouldn't have been so controversial. 
We do need a "valid, legitimate debate over immigration" and we need it to be bipartisan and we need it to address a number of issues, not the least of which is the DACA issue, and also not the least of it is the crush of illegal immigration.
And you can't have an immigration compromise if everybody's out there calling the president a racist. They're actually destroying the setting. And he's a little bit of it, but both sides now are destroying the setting in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration.
Sounds sort of like the president talking about Charlottesville, doesn't it? "Good people on both sides"? I also think I'd say that the president is more than "a little bit of it."

Senator Bennett, when Todd asked him about whether concluding that Trump is a racist was fair, did his best to provide context as well.
I was raised not to call people racist on the theory that it was hard for them to be rehabilitated once you said that. But there's no question what he said was racist. There's no question  what he said was un-American and completely unmoored from the facts.
He seems to have this impression that immigrants to the United States, like my mom and her parents who were Polish Jews who came here after the Holocaust, somehow, you know, come to the United States and are just lazy and, and the truth is exactly the opposite. You spend any time in neighborhoods across Colorado, what you find is immigrants here striving to make this country better and provide for their families and for the next generation. So I think he has no idea what he's talking about.
And - and on the question of what's in his heart, do you have any idea - thought, Chuck, that he would've called into question Barack Obama's birth certificate if Barack Obama were white?
That's a pretty basic question that no one -- Trump nor any of his minions, have answered. And, as far as I'm concerned, don't need to actually speak to - we know the answer is no.

See you around campus.

The Update Desk: Casino Gambling

Last November, I shared the news ( in this Meanwhile Back in Albany post) that New York's gamble on allowing private, non-Native American casino gambling was not doing as well as expected.

The majority of voting New Yorkers who remembered to turn over their ballots back in 2013 decided we would amend our constitution back in 2013 to allow for up to seven new casinos "for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated."

As I noted in that post in November, the first three casinos - del Lago Resort and Casino (Waterloo) Tioga Downs in the Southern tier (which has its own crazy story) and Rivers Resort and Casino (Schenectady) are all under performing, by some $200 million or so, according to projections.

Competition is increasing - the fourth of the 'up to seven' casinos will open in the Catskills later this spring. The new place, Resorts World Catskills, will have a 100,000 square foot casino, 2150 slot machines, and 134 table games, along with a hotel, spa, golf course, and multiple dining options.

Also opening soon is Point Place, the latest offering from the Oneida Nation, which owns Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona (east of Syracuse) and another mini-casino in Chittenango. Point Place, in Bridgeport, is supposed to cater to folks in Onondaga County, where the Legislature doesn't want to be in the gambling business and repeatedly turns down even putting up an OTB parlor, as well as from the communities around Oneida Lake and points north.

As noted in this recent article on Casino.org,
When Point Place Casino near Syracuse opens on March 1, the boutique $40M, 65,000 square foot casino will feature 500 slot machines and 20 table games. And while that might be great news for area gamblers, it's not quite as welcomed by the competition.
New York gambling venues have been sprouting up across the state since legislators opted to legalize four commercial casinos in 2013. The result has been a increasingly crowded upstate market, with private and Native American gaming operators fighting for the same customer base. 
NY legislators and Governor Cuomo don't seem to be too worried. For example, here's a fabulously irresponsible comment from Senator John Bonacic, the Mount Hope Republican who happens to be chair of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee in the state senate, who noted in effect that developers always lie to get approval for their projects.
It was a very competitive process for four casino licenses, and of course their consultants were going to put rosy projections in order to get the Gaming Commission to hopefully give them a license. 
Gee, thanks for the oversight, Senator -- you do know that means oversee, not overlook, right?

For his part, our ever optimistic Sonofa Gov noted about the new casinos
They've all been wildly successful in creating jobs and building beautiful complexes.
Which, as we know, counts for everything with him. The state is littered with beautiful buildings created as part of these economic development, money-for-schools or tax revenue generators (but that's a whole nother post.)

So as we look to March, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of new gaming space, we have this dreary outlook on Wilmorite's del Lago from Moody's, which landed on January 10th.
Moody's Investor Services downgraded Lago Resort and Casino, LLC's Corporate Family Rating today to Caa2 from B3 even while the company's Probability of Default Rating was lowered to Caa2-PD from B3-PD. At the same time, Lago's 1st lien revolver and term loan were downgraded to Caa1 from B2 and its 2nd lien term loan was downgraded to Caa3 from Caa2. The rating outlook is negative. 
In English, what does that mean (emphasis added)?
Key credit challenges include Lago's slower than expected ramp up, single asset profile, and the highly competitive nature of the market which it operates that may impede the company's ability to support its capital structure. There are five gambling facilities, including four racinos and one Native American full scale casino within 100 miles of del Lago's location...
The negative rating outlook considers Moody's expectation that, despite the likelihood that Lago will cover its cash interest obligations and remain in compliance with its financial covenants during the next 12 months, albeit marginally, without a substantial improvement in the rate and degree of ramp-up or an additional equity investment by the owners, Lago will not be able to achieve a level of performance that can support its existing debt capital structure. 
 Lago's rating could be lowered if it appears there will be debt restructuring that involves impairment to existing lenders..
Now, it would be unfair if I failed to mention spin-off economic benefits stemming from del Lago and the other new casinos. For example, the State of New York might be making some extra money.
Data obtained from the State Thruway Authority shows Exit 41 (del Lago is just across the Thruway from the toll booths) had a monthly average of 266,306 vehicles the year before del Lago opened, the casino says. Since the casino opened, average monthly traffic at Exit 41 has increased to 381,477 vehicles...
Another real success story is the Magee Diner, just down the road from del Lago. It's one of several local businesses where gamblers can use their rewards points. The diner's owner, Gary Schlegel, has seen sales increase 15% since the casino opened.
We see more and more new faces in our restaurant every day, and 80 percent of the time my customers tell me they are on the way to or from del Lago.
Schlegel plans on adding outdoor dining and said he's going to see about getting a liquor license, too. This is great news, but as with any other downstream economic effect, this will last only as long as del Lago lasts. Like those shiny under-leased or empty new buildings I mentioned above, hopes and dreams of small business owners are also scattered across the landscape.

I don't want the casinos to fail -- we're already over-invested in them. And I certainly don't want the small business owners who are seeing a bump in business go back to where they were, or worse - fail completely - should the casino 'trickle-down' revenue streams dry up. 

What I do want, though, is responsible stewardship and leadership from our elected officials. That, my friends, shouldn't have to depend on a roll of the dice or the luck of the draw. 

January 11, 2018

Poll Watch: It's Not the Economy, Stupid

If it hadn't have been for that Sarah Sanders comment on Twitter, I would likely have missed the Quinnipiac poll for a couple of days. Here's the tweet that caught my eye:

Sounds pretty good for the Trump administration, right? 66% of voters having a positive opinion of anything that's related to the president would be worth tweeting, I agree. But the problem is, this seems to be a cherry-picked outcome from the poll that is otherwise mostly unfavorable in a variety of ways about Sanders' boss. Let's take a look at the headline of the press release for the poll.
Wow - genius, maybe - but it sure doesn't sound like stable genius, does it?

Before we dive in, let's do the fine print: the survey was taken the 5th - 9th, with 1,106 voters surveyed via land lines and cell phone. The margin of error is +/- 3.6 percentage points. Good?

Some highlights:
  • Trump's approval rating is only 36%, down a point from the last poll; across all demographics except Republicans - political affiliation, age, gender, race - more disapprove than approve.
  • The same is true with the level of disapproval; 'strongly disapprove' leads in every demographic except Republicans, where strongly approve, naturally, is the winner.
  • Again across all demographics except the Republicans, people say Trump did about as was expected in his first year. And, with the exception of white men, "worse than expected" had a higher percentage than "better than expected." Republicans think he did better than and white men think he did better than expected.
  • And, when it comes to optimism or the lack thereof for the next few years of  Trump presidency, Republicans (87%), whites without college degrees (58%) and white men (51%) were the only optimistic groups. Folks 65 and older, and whites each were 49% optimistic and 49% pessimistic. All other groups? Pessimistic.
While Sanders grabbed hold of the positive vote for the economy, there's not a lot in the poll that credits Trump for what's going on.
  • Most voters (except Republicans), think Trump's policies aren't making a difference in their personal finances; this is consistent regardless of race, age, income level, and class (working, middle, upper middle+).
  • Results are fairly mixed on whether Trump's policies are helping the economy. In total, 37% say helping, 29% say hurting, and 30% say no difference. Women (34%) 18-34 year olds (35%), blacks (44%) and Hispanics (43%) and folks with household income of $30K -$50K (35%) say his policies are hurting the economy.
  • Most demographic populations credit President Obama not president Trump for the economy; Republicans (70%), those 65 and older (47%), and whites without college degrees (46%) credit Trump. 
Moving on to the questions touching on what people think about Trump.
  • Only Republicans think Trump shares their values (76% yes, 22% no). The only demographic that's even close? You guessed it - whites without college degrees (46% yes, 51% no). Overall, 65% say no.
  • Everyone, other than Democrats, (32%)  think Trump is a strong person; 59%  of all respondents say he is. On the flip side, 69% of votes say he's not level headed, with only the Republicans (a remarkable 65%) say he is.
  • More folks say he's intelligent than not (53% - 44%). Non college educated whites (67%),  men generally (56%) and white men specifically (61%) agree by the largest percentage.
  • Most think he doesn't care about average Americans (59% no, 38% yes), with Dems and blacks disagreeing the most (93% and 88%, respectively); that he doesn't have good leadership skills (59% yes, 39% no); and that he's not honest (63% no, 34% yes).
What grade did he earn for his first year?
  • A - 16%
  • B - 16%
  • C - 11%
  • D - 17%
  • F - 39%
Across all demographics, he earned an F more frequently than any other grade, other than GOP voters, 91% of whom gave him a C or better. I want what they're smoking.

And, on "what one word would you use to describe the president's first year in office?" - a question where people could say whatever they wanted, over 40 terms were mentioned at least five times.
  • Positive terms and the number of times mentioned included: successful (42); great (27); good (26); awesome (21), excellent (20), and outstanding (15). 
  • Neutral terms? Interesting (23 mentions), different (10) and surprising (10). 
  • Negative words included disaster (69), chaotic (62), horrible (28), embarrassing (24), terrible (24), and disappointing (19).
Finally, speaking of embarrassing, by a difference of 40 percentage points (66% to 26%), voters think Trump has damaged our reputation around the world, rather than helped repair it. Only -- yes, Republicans - think that he's helping (64%) more than he's hurting (25%).

So -- while Trump, House Republicans in particular but Senate Republicans, too seem to think that the stock market doing well is what "America" means, the rest of the population thinks there's more to it than that. 

Yay, us!