August 30, 2018

The Update Desk: Casino Gambling

It's almost hard to imagine that I'm able to write - again - on New York's great experiment with casino gambling.

Most recently, in this post, we learned about the downgrading of del Lago's rating by Moody's, and it's accompanying gloomy outlook that del Lago is not viable without some restructuring, and in this post, we learned that del Lago and at least one of the other new casinos was looking for a better tax deal from the state. (These are just two of several posts I've done on this subject over the past four or five years.)

And then, just a couple of weeks ago, we got news that the newest, the biggest of the four approved casinos (please, don't let them build any more of the darn things!) is also in a bit of a pickle.

It seems that Empire Resorts, which built the new Resorts World Catskills casino, lost over $58 million in the first five months it was open. The company also owns the Monticello Raceway, what we here in NY call a 'racino' as it has both harness racing and slot machines. According to the company's SEC filing from June 30,
We cannot be certain that our business will generate sufficient cash flow from operations, that our anticipated earnings from the Casino will be realized, or that future borrowings will be available under our existing debt arrangements or otherwise to enable us to service our indebtedness or to make anticipate capital expenditures... Our future operating performance and our ability to service our debt will be subject to future economic conditions and to financial, business and other factors, many of which are beyond our control. 
As it did with del Lago, Moody's downgraded Resorts World Catskills' rating.

Now, I know the language used in SEC filings is almost as carefully crafted as a Hollywood script or a politician's concession speech, but you can see that they're struggling with cash flow and debt, the same as del Lago and Rivers. Tioga Downs, in the Southern Tier, may be doing a little better.

The latest article notes that 'informal' requests for help from the state, the ones made by del Lago and Rivers, were rejected.  And it has a link to another article that proves what most of us knew all along, and what the experts have been saying for a couple of years: the upstate market is over-saturated with gambling opportunities.

How so, you say? Well, take a look; in addition to the four new  under performing Vegas-style casinos, we have
  • seven Nation owned casinos
  • six racinos (including Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, which has had its own issues)
  • one thoroughbred track
  • 120 Off-Track Betting locations and
  • three Nation-owned electronic gaming locations
Add in the ready availability of online gambling, and legalized sports betting (likely coming to New York in the near future), and it's hard to imagine anyone would think we're over-saturated, right?  

Time will tell whether all those things that are beyond the control of the casino owners will turn in their favor or turn against them like a bad hand of cards. What remains important is that we taxpayers aren't called upon to bail them out. 

After all, while the local casinos are happy to show us pictures of their lucky winners, we never see any pictures of people the casinos bailed out after a losing streak.

August 29, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v145)

Wondering what happens when you Google 'Trump News'? Here, I took one for the team.  Taking the step to go first to Google News, and then search for Trump News. I get this.

As you know, what you see when you search for Trump News and what I got will almost certainly be different because you and I are different and because we're searching at different times, and so on.

For example, because I follow the president on Twitter (forewarned and all that jazz), his tweets are featured prominently on my search page.  Also featured in the search, in case you're wondering, is this article from PolitiFact:
Trump tweeted that "96 percent of (Google News) results on 'Trump News' are from National Left-Wing Media."
This figure is based on a non-scientific study from a conservative website that categorized any media outlet not expressly conservative as being part of the "left." These outlets include wire services, broadcast networks and most major newspapers and collectively account for a large percentage of original news reports produced in the United States. The methodology essentially preordains that a large percentage of coverage captured by Google will be what the study defines as "left." which is wrong. 
We rate the statement False.
No surprise there, in case you were wondering.

Moving on to more fun wondering, what will it look like when some 100 pink Cadillacs line the street at Aretha Franklin's funeral?  The word was sent out to Mary Kay consultants across the land, and really to anyone else who has a pink Caddy, and they're coming from as far as Texas and Florida. That surely will be a sight to see, don't you think?

In a remarkable effort to help other people, NFL star JJ Watt raised over $41M for Hurricane Harvey relief, via a GoFundMe page.  This week, the first anniversary of Harvey, Watt said that he had distributed all of the money through eight groups; their efforts, according to the Houston Texans,
have been used to clean up and rebuild more than 600 homes and 420 childhood centers, distribute more than 26 million meals and provide health care to more than 6,500 people. 
In a statement, Watt said
As I reflect on the events of Hurricane Harvey one year ago, the memories of destruction and devastation remain, but they are accompanied by memories of hope, selflessness and the beauty of the human spirit. The actions of professional first responders and everyday citizens alike were an inspiration to the world and a shining example of the inherent good that lies within us all...
While a great deal has been accomplished in the past 12 months, there is still much work to be done. Moving forward, there will be more of the same, as we continue to work with our incredible nonprofit partners to provide as much help and support as we possibly can for those affected by Harvey. I cannot thank everyone enough for your support and generosity.
A couple of things come to mind reading about this tremendous effort: first, what an amazing accomplishment, to contribute so much and get others to contribute as well, to help perfect strangers.

At the same time though, it's painful wondering what the folks in Puerto Rico must be feeling, a couple of weeks shy of the anniversary of their nightmare, Hurricane Maria.

The big new number for them is not record millions of dollars of charity being distributed, it's an almost overwhelming adjustment to the official death toll of the storm. The original number, 64, was widely hailed by the president as a success story for the federal effort after the storm; the new number, an estimated 2975 storm-related deaths, came from a study by George Washington University.

The study let to renewed criticism across multiple fronts.

August 28, 2018

Trump in Transition (v32)

Trump's transition from reality TV star and cheap brand merchandise hawker to president has gone completely off the tracks. Again. For the umpteenth time.

Last night, after the president finally succumbed to pressure and issued a proclamation ordering the flag over the White House to be lowered back to half staff to honor the passing of Senator John McCain, I lost it when I read comments from one of McCain's colleagues, Senator James Mountain Inhofe of Oklahoma, who partially blamed McCain for Trump's inability to act as if he were a human being.

Here are a few excerpts from my post on another social media platform:
It is not John McCain's fault, in whole or part, that the president still does not understand that the world does not revolve around him, and that as president he has the opportunity - strike that, he has the responsibility - to rise above the petty nonsense and just do the right thing...
Yes, it is within the rules to take the flag down only for a day - I get that - but it's also within the president's role as Commander in Chief and as alleged leader of the country to do the honorable thing and pay his respects...
I was not alone in my thinking, nor did I think I would be. Anyone with a heart, with even a shred of decency or compassion, intuitively understood the right thing to do, and just as intuitively understood that Trump had no clue, had to be pressured to act at all, and acted about as badly as possible.

Here are a couple of examples from others. First, Ashley Parker  in her piece President non grata
Less than two years into his first term, Trump has often come to occupy the role of pariah - both unwelcome and unwilling to perform the basic rituals and ceremonies of the presidency, from public displays of mourning to cultural ceremonies.
The latest snub comes in the form of the upcoming funeral for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), which, before his death, the senator made clear he did not want the sitting president to attend. That the feeling is mutual - Trump nixed issuing a statement that praised McCain as a "hero" - only underscores the myriad ways Trump has rejected the norms of his office and, increasingly, has been rejected in turn. 
Rejected by artists, athletes, and more, Parker notes "the rejection is mutual."
Trump, who prefers the comforts of his Trump-branded resorts and restaurants - rarely ventures far from his cosseted bubble. He is generally uncomfortable crossing into hostile territory and prefers to frequent places where he is likely to be lauded, rather than rebuked. 
She goes on to note that his "disdain for what he terms political correctness" is something he wears as a "badge of pride." What he doesn't realize is that it's a badge of shame in the eyes of many in the country, both promoters and detractors of McCain, and of Trump. Some things are more important than his ego, but he has yet to figure that out.

Another Parker, Kathleen this time, called out the president for behaving like a vengeful brat in her column.
The world seems already a lesser place with the passing of John McCain.
...Despite traits and qualities that sometimes earned McCain enemies among friends, the past few days have been filled with with a sense that we've lost something more than the man; we've lost one of the few remaining remnants of the American honor code. 
Dropping the 'vengeful brat' reference, she says this about Trump:
Perhaps he is aiming for consistency rather than compassion, or maybe he's simply undone by the inevitable contrasts -a larger-than-life hero vs. the trite bully whom even pulpits find distasteful.  
Parker mentions Trump's comment about avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was (his)' personal Vietnam," a comment that demeaned the service of all who died in the conflict, as well as to those who lived through it. She also rightly notes that the word 'hero' is overused these days; I would add that it's particularly overused by the president himself, who has called virtually every first responder a hero, no matter how large or small their contribution may have been to any given situation.

Noting the real reason why McCain was a here -- for refusing early release once his captors realized who he was - she opines rather harshly
This singular act of self-abnegation is no one's to question, least of all president Trump's whose military title is so misplaced that one marvels at the self-control of military leadership, for many of whom nausea must be a constant companion.
(McCain) was a hawkish, pro-immigration centrist when the GOP base was increasingly becoming a hard-right, isolationist bulwark against civility, dignity, and the reality of globalization. Thus, McCain and Trump were full-throated foes, each standing his ground on opposing shores of American rectitude.
In closing, Parker landed where I did: on Trump's slogan.
It is a tragedy that McCain, the warrior-hero, should exit the stage just when his model of citizenship is so needed. But perhaps by his leaving and the eulogies to follow, more Americans will recognize what it really takes to make America great again -- and who clearly doesn't get it. 

August 26, 2018

Sunday School 8/26/18

Not surprisingly, much of the time in the classrooms today was devoted to remembering Arizona Senator John McCain, who passed away yesterday at the age of 81.  His passing came nine years to the day after his friend and colleague, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy succumbed to the same disease.

Here are a few of the comments from folks across the spectrum, politicians and members of the media alike, and from McCain himself over the years.

From ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
I've had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land. It's not been perfect service to be sure. And there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I tried to deserve the privilege as best I can. And I've been repaid a thousand times over, with adventures, with good company, with the satisfaction of service something more important than myself, of  being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so grateful. ~ John McCain
Yes, listen, I'd say to you that as someone who was in that race at that time when the now president made that comment (that McCain was not a war hero), to me, that was the moment of demarcation when politics changed in this country... We were all preparing like, OK, how's the race going to be different with Trump out of it. And the fact that didn't end the race - that was a real change. ~ Former NJ Governor Chris Christie
But isn't it, isn't it worth taking a moment for the entire country to, to see what it looks like to put our country first? Nobody could ever accuse John McCain of being weak or soft or not tough or not petulant from time to time. But he was also a bipartisan, he was also kind, he governed with great dignity and great strength. Isn't that a good motto for us going forward? And if - and if his life it not going to be in vain, America maybe ought to take a moment and think about what that looks like for all of us that are in office. ~ Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
From Fox News Sunday
I remember John for his courage, his tenacity and his wonderful sense of humor. I mean, he was tough as nails, incredibly bright and also just always cracking a joke, always a smile...believed so strongly in America and really a patriot, but always never took himself too seriously. ~ Former NH Senator Kelly Ayotte
John's entire approach to life was we want to get the most out of the time that we have here, so let's did in and get going. And in his case, it pointed him towards public service, service of his country and of the state of Arizona. And he certainly did get the most out of the time he had here. ~ Former AZ Senator Jon Kyl
One of the most significant things he did was when he worked to make peace with Vietnam, a country where he was tortured, where he fought a war. He banded together with John Kerry, who he disagreed with on many things, including the Vietnam War, and said that our past does not have to dictate our future when it comes to our relationships around the world; he normalized relations with the country (that) tortured him. That is an extraordinary statement. ~ Fox commentator/radio host Marie Harf
And NBC's Meet the Press:
In the end, it matters less that you can fight. It's what you fight for that matters.~ John McCain
It was interesting the way he conducted himself in the Senate. He almost would go out of his way to find the Democrat that you would think is least likely to wok with a Republican and try and forge a bond with them. Before you (Hillary Clinton) it was Ted Kennedy. And it's almost become a - it's legendary the way he would try to reach out. ~ Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press
He really understood in the marrow of his bones what it meant to be an American and how important it was for us to, yes, disagree and differ. But at the end of the day to come together, to work together, to trust each other to get things done. ~ Hillary Clinton
I don't know that we'll ever see anybody who's like John McCain. I think he's one of a kind. I think we can certainly try to follow his example and seeing the good in our opponents and recognizing that people may be on the other side of the aisle or have a different philosophy but they're our friends and they're fellow Americans. I think that that would go a long way if we would follow that example from John. ~ Arizona Senator Jeff Flake
Every time I've done something for what may have been influenced by political reasons, I've regretted it. Every time that I've done something that I think is right, it's turned out okay in the end. I've got to do what I think is right. ~ John McCain
CNN's State of the Union, in mourning today:
We will really be missing such an important voice for national unity. John McCain felt very strongly about virtually every issue he tackled, but it was never based in partisanship. He didn't try to score partisan points as he worked on issues. He would work with anyone who wanted to accomplish the goal that he shared.  But once John McCain made up his mind about something, there was not shaking him..that is a quality that marked his entire life. ~ Maine Senator Susan Collins
Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Senator John McCain, to the people of Arizona and America, whom he served so admirably. We remember him as a champion of the transatlantic alliance, and a friend of Germany. ~ German Embassy statement
 John McCain really wanted to be president. And I think he would have been a terrific president. But he didn't want it so badly that he would do things that would undermine or give people pause about their faith in the goodness of this country and its leaders. And I think we'd all do well to try and hearken back to that example going forward. ~ Steve Duprey, former McCain advisor
I don't care, I can take it, but president Trump, or candidate Trump, he should apologize to all of the other POWs out there, because they deserve better than that. ~ John McCain
And finally, Face the Nation on CBS:
Well, he always had a voice of clarity and vision and courage. But I remember those moments of uncommon decency, which is, unfortunately, in short supply on the American political scene.~ Dick Durbin, Illinois Senator
... this is why when, when people talk about his character and his discipline and his honor, it is a durable kind of, kind of character. In other words, it has scuff marks, it's been out in the real world. It's not encased in some glass case and unreal. He failed a lot. He talked about his failures. He beat himself up about his failures and even when he was off course, he was often trying to get back on course which is why so many people look at his life on the campaign trail and thought this is a model for the way politicians ought to behave, but also the way we should behave. ~ CBS anchor John Dickerson
There was a great deal of love for Senator McCain on display this morning. It feels as if a bar has been raised, and we're awaiting the one who will rise to the challenge.

See you around campus.

August 25, 2018

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v21)

(Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo)
Five years ago today, I did a post on campaign finance reform at the request of a right-leaning Facebook friend (yes, as a left-leaning centrist, I have those -- and I hope you, too, engage with folks on the other side of the ideological line on whatever social media platforms you use).

The post addressed not only taking care of things as the national level, but also at the meanwhile, back in Albany level.

I was reminded of that post and others today when I was going through my writing research pile and found an article from mid-July about the Legislature coming back for a special session to take care of ethics reform.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) called for the special session mentioned in the article, to get the Sonofa Gov, the Democratic-controlled Assembly and the (barely) Republican-controlled Senate together to get something done on a handful-and-a-half of proposals, including:
  • the 'database of deals' that would track all taxpayer subsidies received by a corporation, how many jobs were created, the cost per job and so on -- all about transparency with this one.
  • limiting campaign contributions by the governor's appointees, and from vendors and contractors doing business with the state. Notably missing? Limiting contributions by appointees of the Legislature, such as on commissions and authorities, many of which include members appointed by the Gov, the Assembly and the Senate. 
  • restoring oversight by the state comptroller on spending related to the CUNY, SUNY and other 'centralized' contracts, which was removed several years ago. This bill would also prohibit state contracts from being 'passed through' state agencies or affiliated organizations.
  • budget transparency, via an independent stage budget office, which would make it harder for non-specific lump sum spending to be hidden away somewhere in the budget.
  • getting rid of JCOPE, the ridiculously ineffective Joint Commission on Public Ethics and also the Legislative Ethics Committee and replacing them with an independent watchdog agency. 
  • closing the LLC loophole which allows campaign contribution limits to be bypassed by donating through limited liability companies. This baby's been around since 1996, and has withstood repeated attempts to talk about limitations.
  • limiting outside income for legislators and executive branch employees.
In my opinion from five years ago, and just as strongly today, I do not believe they're going far enough. Several things are missing, including these:
  • term limits, something I think we need at every level
  • limiting fundraisers during the legislative session (here's a great read from 2016 on the same subject)
  • taking campaign donations only from actual human beings, and only then from folks who live within the legislative district.
  • limiting how campaign contributions can be used, including no personal use, no out of district use, and how to handle them when the politician leaves office
  • limiting or legitimizing franked mail, one of my least favorite legislative perks.
Since it's been a full month since the article on the special session was published, I think they're safe -there's no chance the Leg will come back to tackle ethics or anything else. 

Instead, they can spend the next several weeks roaming around their districts, as they do every election year, telling us how they take this stuff seriously. 

Seriously. 

August 24, 2018

TGIF 8/24/18

Raise your hand if you're happy you're not an employee of the Trump Organization, or a friend of the president, or a Trump lawyer, or a former lawyer or campaign official - unless of course, you are one of those, and you got your own immunity deal from the Mueller investigation team or any other prosecutors. You're having a pretty good week, either way.

Raise your hand if you live in Randolph County Georgia and you're happy that the elections board made the right decision today, to keep all of the county's polling places open for the general election this fall. Raise two hands if you're happy it took them less than 60 seconds to do the right thing. You had a pretty good week, too.

Raise your hand if you're a parent and have sent one or more kids off to college in the past few days, or even if you're sending one off in the next few days - kudos to you! I can only imagine the emotions you must be feeling, and I wish you and your kids all the best.  You've had a good week, too!

If you're the person at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who decided that this past Wednesday the Foundation should bump up all non-matched donations made to classrooms around the country through the Donors Choose program, raise your hand. As a result of the Foundation's generosity and the encouragement it provided, over $4M was given in one day; over 20,000 teachers in 13,000 schools had projects receive funding from over 40,000 donors. Teachers, students and yes, the folks at the Foundation, had a great week!

We'll end sort of where we started, with one of Trump's former lawyers, Michael Cohen. He's in the news, of course, because of his guilty plea to eight counts, on the same day that Paul Manafort was convicted of eight counts himself. A GoFundMe page has been established to help support Cohen:
On July 2, 2018, Michael Cohen declared his independence from Donald Trump and (his) commitment to tell the truth.
On August 21, Michael Cohen made the decision to take legal responsibility and to continue his commitment to tell the truth.
Michael decided to put his family and his country first. Now Michael needs your financial help - to pay his legal fees.
The Michael Cohen Truth Fund is a transparent trust account, with all donations going to help Michael Cohen and his family as he goes forward on his journey to tell the truth about Donald Trump. 
In two days, the fund has raised nearly $156K of the $500K goal.

TGIF, everyone.

August 22, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v144)

Is your head still spinning from all of the news this week?

Manafort found guilty on eight counts. Cohen admitted guilt to eight counts. Trump knows what he didn't know before when he didn't know anything until he started knowing things unless it wasn't helpful for him to know them in which case he said even if he knew or did things it doesn't matter because they're not illegal, unless they are but even if they are, he didn't know about them or someone else did it and he only found out later.

Michael Cohen used to be his Fixer, when Trump needed a fix for something but now that things have been fixed for Cohen, and not for Trump, Cohen's just a lying dirty rotten lawyer and oh by the way he's always been a lying liar anyway, just ask Rudy. Who thinks the truth is not the truth unless it is, in which case it doesn't matter because even if they told the truth, whatever they did or said is not illegal and oh by the way show us the witches.

Paul Manafort used to be the guy who worked for Trump's campaign for what, 42 days or something? Except it was longer than than and had he been found unanimously guilty on those other ten charges, you can be sure he'd still be the guy who only worked for Trump for a few weeks not a few months but since the jury couldn't decide, Trump can and he's decided that Manafort, a guy who bought really expensive clothes and probably had a gold plated toilet like Trump does now is a good guy who has been treated badly by Mueller and the 13 17 1,000,000 Angry Democrats. And the fact that Manafort has another trial to face, well pardon me boys, but just pardon me, OK?

How horrible must Omarosa the Fired feel - perhaps unhinged? She was the story until she wasn't the story anymore, and there's nothing like being the person everyone wants to hate because when they care enough to hate you, they're talking about you and like the president taught her on his TV show, no press is bad press unless it's a wrinkle in a Manafortian suit or something. But when they stop talking about you because someone else is more important your choices are to claw your way back into the news or die on the vine.

Trump threatened Comey with tapes; he threatened reporters with tapes, he didn't threaten Putin with tapes. Cohen actually has some. Omarosa actually has some. We have no idea who else has any, or who will threaten someone that they have tapes. How many more shoes, how many more shoeboxes of tapes will fall?

Someone at his rally in West Virginia last night tried to say that any man, certainly a man like Trump, would have paid off their paramours because it would be wrong and hurtful to the manly man's wife to have this come out. Not, mind you, that only a person who has an affair can hurt his spouse if she finds out that an affair occurred. Whether it was Stormy Daniels or Karen MdDougal or one of who knows how many other women there might be, I guess they can be blamed for talking about it or trying to, but the 'it' that they want to talk about is the man who cheated on his wife and tried to shut them up with money.

Wondering, this Wednesday, how much lower we will go before we start going back up again?

#MAGA.

August 21, 2018

Quick Takes (v28): Onondaga Grown

Quick Takes
Those of you in the CNY area have probably seen the television commercials with the guy with the impossibly deep voice singing "it's Onondaga grown" at the end. The commercials celebrate all there is to love about farming and locally grown produce, meat, eggs and other products.

Now, there's a new website from our friends at the Onondaga County Agriculture Council to further support our local farmers.

The site, onondagagrown.com, is the latest effort in this three-year old campaign to help not only the farmers, but also buyers large and small to find local products.

According to this article, there are over 700 working farms in the county, and the website lists over 100 farms, restaurants, agriculture businesses and others selling, growing or cooking with local goods.

Also noted in the article?  The date for this year's ON Farm Fest - Saturday, September 22nd -  when a number of local farms will be open for visitors. Admission is free; products will be available for purchase. A listing of the farms, which include  alpacas, veggies, beef, apples, and more - as well as a map - are on the website.

We've attended Madison County Farm Days in the past and look forward to checking out this year's event in Onondaga County.




August 20, 2018

Grains of Salt (v37): Public Art for Syracuse

Grains of Salt
I visited my Philadelphia cousin a few years back, and remember being struck by the murals on the walls all over the city. Here's a blog devoted to the artworks - check out the photo galleries in the toolbar and you'll see why they caught my eye.

I remember thinking how cool it was, instead of looking at blank walls on buildings and bridges, that there was art everywhere, in all kinds of neighborhoods, and that it was not marred by graffiti.

How cool, I thought, if something like that could happen here in Syracuse someday...

Now, I know we have a handful of murals, including S.ALT CITY, on the side of the M. Lemp building, which is made from hundreds of QR codes and commemorates the city's salt making heritage; the street scene in Columbus Circle; and Clinton Serenade, depicting downtown Syracuse and the Erie Canal on the side of the NBT Bank on Salina Street.

We might never reach Philly heights when it comes to murals; after all, they've been at it for a while, it's a much bigger city, and so on - there are even books about them. But we're taking baby steps here in Syracuse, we are.

Two murals were recently completed under the railroad bridge on South Salina Street near Tallman St.  Syracuse illustrator London Ladd created the murals celebrating visits to our city by Frederick Douglass (1861) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1961).  Here's a video of Ladd talking about his murals.


London Ladd Murals from The Girl Mirage® on Vimeo.

Another project recently announced is aiming high -- 12 murals in 12 weeks. This one's an effort of the public art pilot program 315Alive and will be headed by the Spark Contemporary Art Space on East Fayette Street. One mural, "The Hub of the Bicycle World," has been approved by the city's public arts commission, for the walls of the old Stearns Bicycle building.

In case you're not familiar with Stearns bicycles, this article from the Onondaga Historical Association highlights a race between a six-passenger Stearns bike and a NY Central train back in 1896. Ah, the good old days, right?

While Ladd's murals were funded from money Syracuse University pays the city (in lieu of taxes), the 315 Alive/Spark project is relaying on a GoFundMe page to raise $12,000 which will be supplemented by businesses and local foundations, with some $40,000 needed to help pay for insurance, permits, fees, materials and artist stipends.

Want to learn more, or donate?  Here's the link to the fundraising page. And for more info on public art in Syracuse, check out this link.

How cool it would be...

August 19, 2018

Sunday School 8/19/18

I ducked into two classrooms today, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, to hear from the Bishop of Pittsburgh, and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace to hear from Mick "pay me and I'll listen to you" Mulvaney, Trump's Budget Director and head deregulator of the CFPB.

If you're interested, you can check out Chuck Todd's interviews with former CIA Director John Brennan and with Rudy Giuliani, if you can stand that last one, on Meet the Press.

I'll start with Mulvaney, who was on the show to tell us that things with the economy will continue to be great. For example, when asked to talk about changes from the Congressional Budget Office on the sustainability of Trump's economic growth,he said the people who challenge the numbers have a "vested interest" in seeing Trump fail. And, he explained, what the Trump administration has done - deregulation, and taxes, are not a sugar high. 
It's fundamentally changing the way we create wealth in the country.
No one can disagree with him on that, I don't think. It's true that corporations, their executives, and their shareholders have seen a terrific boom from the changes that have occurred; much less so, from everything I've seen, for the people who work for the companies. Here's just one article talking about wages and inflation, which notes that buying power hasn't really moved in decades.

You can read the rest of what he had to say, about the upcoming budget negotiations, Trump's now cancelled military parade, and more in the link above.

Moving on to the horrific report that some 300 priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused more than 1,000 victims over some seven decades, we hear from Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, who has been the bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese since 2007. He began by offering three key messages:
First of all we need to have a - a deep sense of empathy for all the victims who have suffered so much; as I apologize to them we need to continue with looking for efforts to help their lives become better.
Second of all, I can well understand the rage that people have in reading this report. I feel that rage  as well too. 
And third of all, I want to offer my support to the very faithful priests and deacons who served our people so faithfully.  
He was less charitable, if that's the right word, about allegations of a cover-up. He said there wasn't one in Pittsburgh, that all allegations were turned over to the appropriate authorities and that they have responded to every allegation in the report, and those responses are public.

Stephanopoulos referenced a specific item from the report that suggested a cover-up involving Zubik, including a confidentiality agreement.
It says the testimony of the victim of Monsignor Raymond Schultz who testified that he was abused or raped 10 to 15 times, and he describes a meeting with you (Zubik) where you offered to pay for college tuition for his children, counseling as well.
But the victim says he refused the offer because the Diocese followed up and said this - I want to put it up on the screen - "you're going to have to meet with our lawyer and sign these documents that basically said you are done with, you can't come after us, it's over, no public, your mouth is closed."
Zubik denied the suggestion of a cover-up.
No, I think first of all, George, that was an allegation that was brought forward after the person who was alleged to have committed the abuse was in face deceased. I think that we have taken a position, the Diocese of Pittsburgh since 2002, not to do any confidentiality agreements. But we needed to be able to assert whether or not the alleged behavior did in fact occur.  And that was part of the discussion that took place in that particular case.
Next, Stephanopoulos asked Zubik about comments from the Survivors of the Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), show below, and he asked for Zubik's response.
(SNAP) is calling for tough action against your diocese. It says Catholics should stop donating to Bishop Zubik's diocese until he steps down or takes proven steps to protect kids. Such a boycott may be the best way to cut through the persistent denial of Pittsburgh's church hierarchy. 
Zubik disagrees.
I want to go back to when I became the bishop of the diocese of Pittsburgh in 2007. I can honestly say that we have followed every single step that we needed to follow to be responsible in our response to -- to the victims. First of all, we've listened to them carefully. Second of all, we've removed priests from ministry. Third of all, we have in fact turn it over to the district attorneys of the appropriate counties. Fourth of all, we have engaged the independent review board to assess and take a look at the allegations and whether or not a person would be suitable for ministry again.  
And we have in fact informed the - the people in our parishes about those allegations as well as put our press releases accordingly. So I think that that behavior and the steps that we've consistently taken since 2007 really works against SNAP's calling for my resignation.
Asked what he'd say to the many Catholics who feel betrayed by the church hierarchy,  Zubik focused mostly on the past, with a nod to the future.
We have to be able to to continue to look at the things that -- that we have done to really correct the issue. The church of Pittsburgh today is not the church that's described int he grand jury report. And if I could indicate, you know, starting with - with 1988 when Bishop Wuerl became bishop of Pittsburgh, one of the first acts that he had to confront was an abuse of two brothers by three priests. He was very passionate about addressing... sexual abuse. 
And what happened is that we began to develop stringent policies around sexual abuse. He was very direct with the priests in 1988 to tell them if they knew anything they had to come forward. We established an independent review board to assist the bishop to be able to assess allegations. Fourth of all, we established a diocesan assistance coordinator. It was a position that - that meets specifically with victims. 
And we both first encouraged people who were victims to go forward to report their allegations and then we followed up on that as well, too. Those were some of the things that we've done in the past to try to -- to show people that we had been doing things over the course of the years. And we can't stop there.
We have to look for new ways to be able to eradicate sexual abuse in the church, but to work together with all of society to eradicate from society in general. 
Wuerl, now the Archbishop of Washington DC and a key ally of Pope Francis, is facing calls to resign after the grand jury report said he had shielded abusive priests; a petition to remove his name from a prominent Catholic school the the Pittsburgh Diocese has gotten over 6,000 signatures, aiming for 7,500 as the next threshold.  He has withdrawn as a speaker at a conference in Ireland.

Zubik has admitted "a few priests" named in the report are still in the ministry, because the church was not able to substantiate the allegations against them.

See you around campus.

August 17, 2018

Random Thoughts: Dammit, I'm Mad!

Able was I, ere I saw Elba.

A man, a plan, a canal - Panama!

Was it a rat I saw?

Never odd or even.

Yep - it's palindrome week, that once a year event where the dates are the same frontwards and backwards.

And, of course, there's the palindrome in the title, which seems appropriate this week. Here are just two examples of maddening behavior from this week.

Dammit, I'm mad and horrified and disgusted and whole bunch of other emotions about the latest report of Catholic priest abuse and the associated cover up. This time, it's in Pennsylvania, hundreds of priests (a third of whom are deceased) and over a thousand identifiable victims, with potentially an equal number of others who did not or cannot come forward. And with the fact that Pope Francis hasn't directly addressed it (although a Vatican statement was issued). And we've pretty much stopped talking about that already.

Dammit, I'm mad that the national media is spending so much time talking about the guy in Colorado who killed his family. First, we got to see him on the national news talking about how he raced home from work when his wife wouldn't answer his text messages, and mentioning an 'emotional conversation' he and his wife had at 4 in the morning - at which point I turned to my husband and said "he did it" - and ever since, we've heard from friends and family, and the police and the body language 'experts' ever since he confessed and we know all about their financial troubles and all the rest, and it's only going to continue.

Meanwhile, here are the names of the 349 people murdered in Chicago this year, through August 14th. They are receiving zero attention, less than zero attention.

What the heck is wrong with us?

August 15, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v143)

Why is it, I wonder, that the Chief of Staff decided to use the Situation Room to fire Omarosa? Doesn't he have an office? Or was he expecting a 'situation' to develop?

And why is it, I wonder, that folks seem to think Omarosa had a disregard for national security, because she took her phone into the SitRoom? Was Omarosa ever involved in any discussions regarding national security? If yes, one has to wonder if  the mere idea of that isn't a bigger disregard for and threat to our security than anything she alleges occured.

The president revoked the security clearance of John Brennan, the former CIA director, because he's been mean to the president. Or, as the White House alleges the president said in a statement,
Mr. Brennan's lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries which is to sow division and chaos... More broadly, the issue of Mr. Brennan's security clearance raises questions about the practice of former officials maintaining access to our nation's sensitive secrets long after their time in government has ended. Such access is particularly inappropriate when former officials have transitioned into highly partisan positions and seek to use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate their political attacks.  As head of the executive branch and commander in chief, I have a unique constitutional responsibility to protect the nation's classified information, including by controlling access to it...
I can only wonder how many people are trying to figure out a way to revoke the security clearance of the person who puts this stuff out on social media:
When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn't work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog.
Moving on, related to the most head-scratchingness piece I've seen in a long, long time, I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with New York's Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo. Take a look:
We're not going to make America great again. It was never that great. We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged...
Apparently realizing the error of the Gov's ways, his press office quickly issued a clarification, calling out president Trump for his #MAGA slogan, "which obviously means he doesn't think it is great now" and pointing out where the Gov disagrees:
The Governor believes America is great and that her greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman and child has full equality....The governor believes that when everyone is fully included and everyone is contributing to their maximum potential that is when America will achieve maximum greatness. 
Going out on a limb here and wondering if everyone who's running against Cuomo, regardless of party, already has their ad agencies incorporating this into spots that will be released immediately, if not sooner?

And am I the only one wondering if this will have legs like President Obama's "you didn't build that" comment, still being taken out of its somewhat confusing context, which I just saw in a post this week?

Finally, while I wonder about the value of any conversation about Omarosa and her allegations against the president (unless she comes up with something brand spanking new, like Trump buried Jimmy Hoffa or a similar breaking news alert), I also can't help wondering whether the president is helped or hurt by Sanders not stating fully and forcefully  - dare I say Putinesquely? - that there simply is no tape of the president using the n-word. Trump says it's not in his vocabulary, but neither are a gazillion other words. And his 'proof' of there being no tapes is that The Apprentice producer allegedly called him and said there aren't any.

And yet, the president is apparently taped much more often than he knows, it seems, and he has threatened that he himself tapes conversations. Why are we to believe Mark Burnett?, or why are we to believe Trump? Why are we to believe Omarosa?

And ultimately, I wonder "what difference, at this point, does it make?"

August 14, 2018

OrangeVerse XXXV: Drumming up Support

The president came to New York yesterday, to drum up support for two Republicans seeking to hold on to their seats in Congress.

Trump made an appearance at Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division, to sign an apparently nameless military spending authorization bill and to mispronounce the name of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who made a very brief appearance on stage with Trump. Oh wait, it wasn't a nameless bill, it was the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, according to the White House website. Trump must not have known that, right, because he failed to mention McCain's name?

Vice President Mike Pence flew in to Fort Drum to deliver yet another obsequious introduction for the president. I have no idea how much it cost, but it had to be worth it for a five-minute speech that, pointedly, also did not mention McCain's name, I'm sure.

These two, I swear... Anyway. When the president speaks, poetry leaks. Or something. Excerpts:

Atten-HUT!
So I want to start by saying
At Ease. Just Relax. Do you have seats? 
You can sit down. Come on. Sit.
If you want to stand you can. We'll just get 
one.big.standing.ovation, right?

NDAA
The National Defense Authorization Act
is the most significant investment
in our military and our warfighters in modern history 
and I am proud
to be a big, big, part of it. 
It was not very hard.
You know, I went to Congress
I said let's do it. We got to do it...
And that's what we did.

Not Even Close
Because we know that to survive 
and having that survival of our freedom
it depends on the might of our military.
And no enemy on earth
can match the strength courage and skill
of the American Army and the
American Armed Forces.
Nobody is even close.
They never will be.

Fur Elise
And I have to tell you about Elise. 
She called me so many times. 
I said, I don't
want to take her call.
She wanted me to be here
I said I won't be able to, we'll
have to change a lot of scheduling.
But that didn't suit her.
She didn't stop. And here I am. Here I am.
Elise, come here. Come here, Elise.

Listen Listen Listen
Listen to this now.
So we've been trying to get money.
They never gave us money
for the military for
years and years and it was depleted.
We got $700B. And next year
already approved we have $716B
to give you the finest
planesandshipsandtanksandmissiles
anywhere on Earth. 
Nobody makes them like we do.
And very, very far distant
in this case - jobs are very important in all cases
but in this case, military  might
is more important than even jobs.
But all of this 
equipment is made right here
in the USA and it's the
best equipment on Earth.
Nobody makes it like we do.

Right? Right? Bueller? Anyone?
America is a 
peaceful nation
But if conflict
is forced upon us
we will fight
and we will win
Right General? Right? Right?
Better believe it Generals.
They're the guys.
We're powered by
the unstoppable force
of the United States Army.
Very Special. 

And then he talked about jobs and himself, and jobs, and himself, and himself, and called out by name one of the soldiers and an Army wife who selflessly helps others, and he talked about fake news, and General Patton, and himself, and Space Force! And then he turned his attention back to the soldiers in front of him and thanked them for their service. 

And then he went off to Utica to stump for Claudia Tenney, a name that's much easier to pronounce than Stefanik.

Or John S. McCain. 

August 12, 2018

Sunday School 8/12/18

I visited two classrooms today, CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper in the host's seat, and ABC's This Week without George Stephanopoulos; Jonathan Karl sat in today.

Tapper's guests included former Virginia Governor (and hometown Syracuse guy) Terry McAuliffe, and the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani, which is where we'll start.

Among other things, Tapper asked Giuliani about a comment he made on another network about the president asking James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn. Giuliani denied ever saying that. Except when Tapper rolled the tape of that conversation, he admitted he did say it. Confused yet? If not, this explanation will help  with that.
Yes, I said it. But I also said before it that I'm talking about their version of it.
Look, lawyers argue in the alternative. I know it's complicated, by my goodness, you have been over this long enough that - I mean, why would I say something that - that isn't  true? I mean, that - the president didn't say to him go easy on Flynn or anything about Flynn. He's (Comey) saying that. I am talking about their alternative. I'm saying the conversation never took place, but if it did take place -- and here's the conversation that's alleged - it is not illegal to have said that.  That's what I'm saying. We call it arguing in the alternative. 
Graciously, Tapper didn't laugh out loud. And doesn't that sound like another recent Giuliani comment, that collusion didn't happen, but even if it did, it's not illegal? That's some 'alternative' world he's lawyering in, I dare say.

McAuliffe talked about Charlottesville, and about his record as governor, and about Democrats and the upcoming elections. He noted the Dems should not be talking about 2020 but should be focusing on getting some checks and balances on Trump by winning seats (or control) of the House and Senate, and should also focus on getting more Dems elected as governors (they're down some 18 statehouses to the Republicans). Specifically about 2020, he said he hopes everybody runs - and I do too, frankly. Let's step away from the coronation and have a good ole shootout the way the Rs do.

Moving down the hall, here are two pieces of Jonathan Karl's interview with Kellyanne Conway.  The first is in response to Karl's question about whether she believed Trump's claim that there would be a 'red wave' in November and that the Rs would actually pick up House seats. After suggesting that it's possible and dropping some of her patented lines (Trump makes history, he doesn't repeat it; he makes his own trend, he doesn't follow them; people predicted doom and we've got economic boom, and so on), she raised one very valid point:
Here's what - here's the problem I see for the Democrats.  It's who's in charge of their party? Is it Tom Perez, who they don't respect? Is it, is it the 28 year old socialist? Is it the 70-something-year-old socialist? It is Elizabeth Warren who says that all law enforcement is racist from front to back and forward and backward? Is it - is it Hillary Clinton who still can't get over her loss in 2016? Who is the leader of the party? And what is their message, exactly?
Karl then asked her if Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III would still be Attorney General at the end of the year.
Well, how in the world will I know the answer to that question?
Pressed on what she thought, because, Karl noted, the campaign manager says Session should be fired and Trump says he's MIA...
Excuse me? That's -- I'm not answering questions as to who will be in The White House at the end of the year. That's a crazy question. You just want to roll the tape sometime.
She did, however, point out that Sessions is doing a great job on law enforcement,  but
he has recused himself from this. And the president rightfully wants to -- wants America to see that this Mueller investigation comes to a conclusion in a timely fashion. So far no Russia collusion proven. And you know it. You know I was the campaign manager for the winning part of the campaign. I never talked to anybody in Russia. I talked to people in Macomb County Michigan and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Not Moscow...  You know there's no collusion. Paul Manafort's on trial, has nothing to do with the campaign, Russia, collusion, the judge warned everybody not even to say those words. 
I love her mentioning she ran the 'winning part' of the campaign -- she's used that line before - but who ran the 'losing part' - was that Manafort, or Lewandowski?

Finally - and yes, I absolutely saved the best for last -- here's what table chat guest Ana Navarro had to say when Karl suggested turning to what Omarosa is saying:
Oh God, why??

See you around campus.

The Update Desk: TGIF 8/11/08

In last week's TGIF post, I mentioned Buffalo-area Rep. Chris Collins, who was the first member of Congress to climb aboard the Trump train all those months ago.  And, he was just indicted for insider trading.

When the indictment came out, Collins was adamant that these were false allegations - meritless was the word he used in this press conference in which he outlined his general business acumen, his history of saving jobs for western NY, his political career, and his plans to vigorously fight the allegations while continuing to serve in Congress.

He even brought his wife to the press conference; she waved clumsily, then stood by his side, a fixed expression on her face, looking as if for the life of her she couldn't figure out why she was there. It was strangely reminiscent of the Eliot Spitzer presser after the whole Client #9 stuff broke ten years ago, except that in that case, it was a 'stand by me while I admit to being a cheating cad who doesn't take off his socks' thing, vs. a 'I saved our son a few million bucks' thing. 

Yesterday, however, Collins had a change of heart. He is suspending his campaign for re-election, throwing the race to hold the most Republican district in NY into turmoil. Here's his official statement, done in the usual fashion - toss around a few trigger words, and focusing attention on himself as a savior of the world. They must go to school to learn how to do this.
Democrats are laser focused on taking back the House, electing Nancy Pelosi Speaker and then launching impeachment proceedings against President Trump. They would like nothing more than to elect an 'Impeach Trump' Democrat in this District, which is something that neither our country or my party can afford.
After extensive discussions with my family and my friends over the last few days, I have decided that it's in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican Party, and president Trump's agenda for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress.
I will fill out the remaining few months of my term to assure that our community maintains its vote in Congress to support president Trump's agenda to create jobs, eliminate regulations, reduce the size of government and lower taxes.
I will also continue to fight the meritless charges brought against me and I look forward to having my good name cleared of any wrongdoing.
We'll have to see whether there's time to get his name off the ballot before November.

And maybe we'll hear from the president on this when he makes his trip to New York on Monday.

August 10, 2018

TGIF 8/10/18

How was your week, pretty calm?

I think some folks might have wished that were the case.  Take Omarosa. You remember her, right? The thrice-fired Apprentice, who was also fired by the Trump Administration and was booted from Big Brother, another pseudo-reality TV show, is making the media rounds in advance of her latest book, Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House.

Why is she having a bad week? Well, for starters, her interviews appear to contradict her book - which is a no-no in the business - and do so on her big bombshell, that there are tapes of then Celebrity Blowhard Donald Trump using the n-word.  And she may have heard the tapes, even though she was only told that he used the n-word, she never heard him actually say it. Or, maybe she did or didn't hear anything at all, who knows.

Actually, what might be more damaging than her missteps on the book tour are the authors she's lumped with in the "people who bought this book also bought" list. Omarosa is in fine company (um, yeah, that's what it is) - see for yourself:
  • Jeanine Pirro: Liars, Leakers and Liberals, The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy
  • Gregg Jarrett: The Russia Hoax, The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump
  • Newt Gingrich: Trump's America, The Truth about Our Nation's Greatest Comeback
  • Jerome B. Corsi: Killing the Deep State, The Fight to Save president Trump
Whether she's telling the truth either in the interviews or in the book, and even if she's bunched in with an "interesting" group of authors, she still probably had a better week than this guy, Buffalo-area Republican Congressman Chris Collins. 

Collins, you have likely heard, has been charged with insider trading; the charges stem from him being on the board of an Australian pharma company, and him allegedly using information he learned about the failure of one of the company's drugs, which he then allegedly shared with his son (perhaps as he attended a White House gathering, if the timeline is correct), and his son allegedly shared the information with his soon-to-be father-in-law. Collins son and his FIL sold shares of stock in advance of the public announcement of the bad news, and that is bad news for the Congressman. 

Everyone's pleaded not guilty, and Collins plans on staying on the ballot, at least he does for now. This whole thing would be much less interesting, and we'd be hearing much less about it, if Collins hadn't been the first member of Congress to jump on the Trump bandwagon. And it would be much less interesting if, around the time he allegedly called his son to warn him, there was some way he could have protected his daughter, too - because, according to this report, she allegedly lost over a million bucks on her shares in the pharma company.

And speaking of alleged things, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) went to Russia; he had a letter with him that he passed to Putin's people. According to Paul, the letter was from the Trump Administration and contained stuff about important things; in fact, Paul suggested that Trump send the letter. Except that the White House is saying the letter was meant to introduce Paul to Putin, and that's why the Senator wanted the letter. And the contents? Those were Rand Paul's topics of interest, not the presidents. After all, he's allegedly been talking to Putin regularly since the #HELLinHELSINKI2018 summit last month.

Finally, an update on this week's Wondering on Wednesday post, which included a reference to Kris Kobach, the Trump-loving election fraud conspiracy theorist and Kansas Secretary of State who's locked in a tight gubernatorial primary race with the state's current Governor. Kobach had said that he would not recuse himself, should a recount be requested. Kobach has changed his mind since Wednesday, as his already thin lead was cut in half and concerns about discrepancies and about Kobach's guidance to county election officials has been called into question. He has transferred his oversight activities to his top aide. 

TGIF, everyone. 

August 9, 2018

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v20)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo
Got a vending machine? Get a tax break!  Wouldn't that make a great billboard along the highways leading into all of the cities, towns and villages in upstate New York, instead of those silly signs we have on the Thruway?

I talked about the fake condominium tax break that certain homeowners are able to take advantage of in the last MBIA post; if that wasn't enough, now we've got the 'three vending machines in a room'  plan, which apparently passes for 'commercial space' in converted buildings.

Folks who pay attention to how things are done in Albany, particularly when it comes to the budget, will recognize the 'three (somethings) in a room' concept; that's how our Sonofa Gov Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie get together, hash out the budget, and make a plan to cram a bunch of legislative initiatives into the spending plan. In happier times, the three men in a room were The Three Amigos, according to Cuomo - except that two of them are now convicted felons. But I digress.

According to reporting by Tim Knauss of the Post-Standard and Syracuse.com, here's what vending machines have to do with anything.
Three vending machines at a Syracuse apartment building dispense candy, chips and soda. And they serve another purpose. They have helped the building owner avoid more than $3 million in property taxes. 
The vending machines are the only visible sign of commercial activity at Copper Beech Commons, a sprawling apartment complex for college students.
Here's why that matters: the property owner gets a lavish tax break that is available only to renovated buildings that have both commercial and residential space.  
Wait, wait -- vending machines count as commercial space?
State law created the tax break to help turn old and underused buildings into the kinds of places that filled downtowns in the old days. The idea was to restore the buildings with upper-floor apartments and street-level businesses - restaurants, offices and stores - to bring back the bustle of urban life. 
For Copper Beech Commons, vending machines did the trick. Without the tax break the owner would pay $560,000 a year in property taxes. With the vending machine incentive, the annual bill comes to less than $33,000.  
Nice deal if you can get it, right? And, believe me, they are getting it: there are 39 other buildings in Syracuse that are getting the same examption as Copper Beech Commons. The exemptions are worth millions to the developers.

It's important to note that many of the projects that are receiving it actually have legitimate commercial enterprises in them.The good guys have renovated buildings that are now home to restaurants, offices, community development agencies, and retail establishments. Many of them were the kind of buildings the law was intended to help: older structures that have sat empty, falling into disrepair, that are now great properties filling gaping holes in our neighborhoods.

A few of them, though, are brand new buildings, placed on lots where older structures were bulldozed, which is clearly (to anyone other than a lawyer or developer) not the type of projects the law was intended to help. There are others, in addition to Copper Beech Commons, that are student apartments, including the largest one, Theory Syracuse, which stands to save over $9 million over the 12 year term of the exemption.

As with the condo loophole, there is not enough guidance for assessors to follow, and so each makes their own decisions, including  whether or not to regularly determine if there's any actual commercial activity happening. 

Some say that this is the way things have to be done in order to get development, to increase the value of the properties in the city over all, and that this exemption, which is good for 12 years, is more than made up for by the price of the investments and the related activities that stem from the development. That's always easy to say, and frankly it's probably easy to prove - but it doesn't mean that we have to open our wallets every time someone finds a loophole in a law and takes advantage of it.

This is the kind of bill that needs to have some teeth added, which will hold developers - local ones like the guy who did Copper Beech Commons, as well as those from out of state - who are taking advantage of the poorly-crafted bills.

Options could include things like the ideas below::
  • Adding clarity to what constitutes a qualifying commercial use, such as hours open, number of employees actually working, annual payroll or payroll taxes, and so on.
  • Defining what a qualifying commercial space is, such as minimum square footage required, accessibility, etc.
  • Strengthening the guidance for local assessors to install consistency.
  • Limiting the length of time for which the exemption can be claimed, and reduce the amount of the exemption to a lesser percentage of the development's overall tax bill.
  • Collecting full taxes up front, and rebating the to the developers the amount of the eligible exemption only after ensuring that there's actually a commercial operation in the building on a full time basis.
  • And finally, limiting the sheer number of exemptions that a development can qualify for; surely all of these projects don't need the mortgage tax exemption, the sales tax exemption, the 485-a exemption, payments-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreements, moving expenses, furniture allowances, and the like.
At some point, we need to draw a line in the sand and let these projects sink or swim on their own merits. And if you're building a student housing project where folks rent bedrooms for over a grand a month, maybe you don't need our tax dollars to help you be successful. 

August 8, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v142)

Let's dive right in, shall we?

Kris Kobach, the Trump-loving election fraud conspiracy theorist and Kansas Secretary of State is in a primary with Republican incumbent governor Jeff Colyer for the right to face a challenger in November. Currently, Kobach has about a 190 vote lead over his opponent.  There are still absentee and provisional ballots to be counted but if it remains close and Colyer asks for a recount he'd have to make the request of, and pay a bond to, his opponent, because the Secretary of State is the chief election official. 

When the topic arose about Kobach recusing himself from the recount process, his answer should surprise no one. Check it out:
The recount thing is done on a county level, so the secretary of state does not actually participate in the recount. The secretary of  state's office merely serves as a coordinating entity overseeing it all but not actually counting the votes.
Now, a logical or ethical or reasonable person might wonder why on earth Kobach wouldn't recuse himself, but then one can simply remember that, as noted above, he's a Trump-loving election fraud conspiracy theorist and the best way to prevent any kind of election fraud and to ensure an accurate count is to serve as the coordinating entity overseeing a recount IN YOUR OWN RACE, right? And I wonder if anyone else sees a warning in the statement below?
If the margin it less than 10 votes or something extraordinarily close, I would expect any person to call for a recount. (it) would take a significant amount of time to do a recount statewide. 
As in, don't bother asking for a recount unless it's really close, because you'll make a mess of things for the whole state.  And 10 votes? Is that really what Kobach considers a reasonable recount threshold?

Another noteworthy outcome from yesterday's primaries was the strong showing by "conventional" Democrats in primaries. For example, in Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer (governor) and Elissa Slotkin (House) both defeated more progressive candidates. In the gubernatorial primary, for example, progressive New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders both campaigned for one of Whitmer's opponents, without success. There was a similar outcome in Missouri. 

It makes me wonder whether we'll see another Ocasio-Cortez this election cycle, or if the progressives still have a lot of work to do to find common ground with others in the party.

And finally, a opportunity to comment on the media - who would have thunk that would happen? 

Tonight I happened to capture the first few minutes of Access Hollywood (yes, that Access Hollywood) where one of the hot topics was the ugly and getting uglier legal battles between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Details of the ugliness were given, but I'm not going to repeat them here.

After talking about how people who are going through a breakup or divorce "must love their kids more than they hate their former partner" and focus on keeping things as civil as possible. And they lamented that this whole sorry death of a relationship was bring played out in the media, on purpose it seems, by both camps, and how that was the completely wrong way to do it.

And then, they continued to discuss it, including the possibility that the Jolie camp was trying to slow things down, but that, according to one of the hosts who "had done some reporting on this" and talked to people close to Pitt, she learned that he was supposedly wanting to go straight to divorce without wasting any more time -- and then stated that he has to have a girlfriend and that was what was driving his haste.

I wonder, when they watch the tape of the show, if they'll see how silly their hand-wringing about media coverage sounds, and if they'll learn their own lesson and in the future commit to not mentioning this or similarly sensitive stories. Or whether they'll consider how it would feel if they were to find themselves on the wrong side of such a report. One can only hope.