November 30, 2018

TGIF 11/30/18

What kind of week did you have? 

Was it better than, say, Paul Manafort? I'd say probably. Manafort got himself in to a little hot water with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, will lose his plea deal, and may face new charges and another trial. And, at the same time he was lying and violating his deal with Mueller's team, Manafort's lawyer was sharing information with the president's legal team - pretty ballsy, for sure.  For more information on the trials and tribulations and twists and turns of the Manafort saga, check out this link to stories he's mentioned in from The Guardian.

Was your week better than, say, Michael Cohen's? We now know that he's admitted lying to Congress, which is a bad thing, but he's definitely living up to his 'putting family and country first' mantra much more so now than his old "I'd take a bullet for Donald Trump' mantra of the past - and for that, I like the new Cohen more than the old one. And shame on the GOP for coming to a quick conclusion that there was no 'there' there in their House investigation. You know, the "we love you, man!" probe that was full of nonsense and Nunes... 

The president himself, well, he's not had the best week ever, with these new issues coming out of Mueller's camp. And while 'he' did 'win' the Mississippi Senate runoff between the 'front row seat the the hanging' Republican and 'the guy with the same name as those TV awards' Democrat, Trump and his family (Eric, Donny Jr, and Ivanka) and even Mike Pence all 'lost' the race for the NY House seat, as Claudia Tenney finally conceded to Dem Anthony Brindisi. But, silly me, those House races don't matter, the president doesn't care about them, I forgot.

But there were folks who had really good weeks. Like Riley Morrison, the 9-year-old girl - or should I say, the 9-year-old basketball player - who was disappointed in NBA star Steph Curry, and let him know about it. She wrote him to complain that his signature shoes were only sold under the Boys section of the Under Armour website. Here's an excerpt from Riley's letter to Curry:
I know you support girl athletes because you have two daughters and you host an all-girls basketball camp. I hope you can work with Under Armour to change this, because girls want to rock the Curry 5s, too.
That oversight was quickly corrected - you'll find the Curry 5s under both the Boys and Girls sections of the UA website now. And there's more, as you can see from Curry's response to Morrison. After letting her know the website issue was being corrected, he added:
I want to make sure you can wear my kicks proudly -so I am going to send you a pair of Curry 5s now and you'll be one of the first kids to get the Curry 6. Lastly, we have something special in the works for International Women's Day on March 8, and I want you to celebrate with me! More to come on that, but plan to be in Oakland that night!
And finally, there's a group of people who had also had a really good week. Over 100 NICU nurses at Mercy Children's Hospital in St Louis won $10,000 on the Mega Millions, and promptly donated the money to two coworkers. One had lost her son to suicide, the other's husband is battling cancer. They needed the money more than the winners, and the winners needed to help others more than they needed their post-tax $50 each.

These last two stories made my week a little better; I hope they do the same for you.

November 29, 2018

Grains of Salt (v39): Innovation Station

Grains of  Salt
What's a city to do when there are more services needed than it can possibly provide?

Try something completely different, that's what.  And that's what Syracuse is looking to do, by joining the Startup in Residence  (STiR) program.

STiR works with city and state government partners to formalize 'challenges' that startups from around the world can apply - think of kind of a matching program. A scope of work is developed and then over a sixteen week residency, the government and startup collaborate on researching, designing, building and testing solutions. If, at the end of the residency, the agreed-upon scope of work and requirements are met and a good relationship has been developed, the government secures the services of the startup to implement the solution. Sounds like a really cool program and one of those 'win-win' situations we hear about so often:
  • governments get innovative solutions to problems, as well as a partner to implement them;
  • startups get access to customers that are looking for what they have to offer, vs. having to generically pitch their ideas
  • and citizens get proven solutions to problems that may otherwise go unsolved.
Syracuse put five challenges out for consideration:
  • Autonomous snow clearing technology for sidewalks. We have miles of them, and many of them are not the perfectly smooth concrete that we see around office buildings or shopping mall. Instead, they're busted concrete, or asphalt on top of concrete, or full of roots and dirt and what not.  Bottom line? We need something that's going take a beating and keep clearing the snow. This one's important, not only because we get a lot of snow, but because uncleared sidewalks put residents on the street - school kids, the disabled, and the elderly among them.
  • Crowdsourcing platform for low-income renters to obtain loans for their security deposits. This one's interesting - come up with a way to connect people who are willing to do short-term small dollar loans for folks who need help pulling together the deposits for apartments. This can be overwhelming for people, particularly those who are forced to move for reasons outside their control (landlord issues, code violations, 'included' utilities not being paid, and so on).  Sadly, Syracuse has a high percentage of residents who are 'housing unstable' who could be helped by this type of program. The solution being looked for would be similar to Kiva.org, a global platform that connects lenders and small business owners.( Here's a glimpse into US lending opportunities, in case you're unfamiliar with this program - I was.).
  • Data analytics platform for waste management. While there are some rules and regulations governing how much and what kinds of trash can be put put for pickup by the Syracuse DPW, we're data-challenged and can't track who might be violating the rules. In addition, without good data, it's hard to optimize the routes and pickup schedules, increase productivity, help us with sustainability, and, frankly, help generate revenue by being able to provide who's violating the rules and collecting fines when they do. It's also a good thing for neighborhoods as a whole, and particularly for folks who live near the ones who break the rules. 
  • A permit-management platform. This challenge seeks a way to centralize and track all transactions related to the permitting process for the city. The current process is outdated and cannot accommodate the reality: multiple departments being involved in the review and approval process, frequently working concurrently on the same application. It's a cumbersome process for the city, and an annoying one for applicants, who may be asked to provide the same information multiple times. The ideal solution would provide transparency for the city and for applicants, establish a solid workflow for applications, and track and archive all of the comments, decisions, questions and so on. And, of course, there's money to be saved if this one comes to fruition - increased productivity and better instructions for applicants are just a couple of opportunities on that front. Customer satisfaction is also an almost guaranteed outcome.
  • Citizen engagement tool for the Trauma Response Team (TRT). I have to confess I was no aware we had a TRT in Syracuse. The TRT is currently dispatched, along with police and EMS, when a trauma occurs in the community, and members act as moderators between citizens and law enforcement. Without an effective messaging and engagement platform, they're left relying on word of mouth and social media to reach out with ongoing communications, which is hardly ideal. Engaging stakeholders and increasing trust may help lead to a reduction in violence, too. 
I'm intrigued by the whole STiR program, by the challenges Syracuse has put on the table, and by the continued outreach to any willing partner to help find solutions to problems. I'm looking forward to following these projects as they progress. 

November 28, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v155)

Welcome, friends, to our regular wondering and wandering through the news. Here's a snipped of what's on my wondering mind.

Facebook is under fire again, this time facing grilling from an international panel that's frustrated with the social media behemoth for a host of reasons, including privacy issues, not being able to control misinformation and propaganda, and worse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not attend, which did not endear his company to the inquisitors - no wondering there.

But what I do wonder about is this: if you think Facebook has an obligation to protect us from ourselves and our inability to discern what's real from what's fake, what's intentional misinformation from what's an accidental share of something outdated, or from the general threat of interference in elections, who else should ace the same solution, whatever that might be? Would be be everyone below or to the left or right of the green box on the Media Bias Chart 4.0? Or would the yellow box get to stay  too, as long as it was heavily disclaimed?

And, as I've wondered before, who's more dangerous, a 400-pound guy in a basement, the Russian intelligence machine,  the Chinese government  picking pro-Trump industries for tariffs, or the president himself?  For example, here's just one of the president's many actions on Twitter today:


That's right - the president of the United States retweeted this picture today.  #MAGAMA, if you know what I mean.

Also today, NPR reported that enrollment in Affordable Care Act plans is down some 400,000 people in the first 17 days this year compared to last year. Also down this year? Spending by the feds on support for enrollees in the plans.  In 2016, $63 million was spent on funding for navigators, the people who help others, in person, find a plan and get enrolled. Last year, it was $36M, and this year? $10M.

Now, we can somewhat logically guess that some of the decrease in enrollment is because of the lower unemployment rate; after all, most of us get our insurance through our employers not through healthcare.gov, the federal exchange. But it's hard not wondering how much further the Trump administration will go to 'repeal' the ACA by continually drying up the funding. You know, like they  might do with the Mueller investigation...

Finally today, I can't help wondering whether the speech by Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was driven at least in part by the president's treatment of Powell and not only by the collective thinking of the central bankers. From this article on The Street,
Prior to Powell's appearance, Donald Trump criticized him and the Fed in an interview with the Washington Post in which he accused the central bank of pushing US stocks lower and triggering a decision by General Motors Co. to shutter five plants in North America and two additional plants outside North America, and cut 15% of its salaried workforce. 
Trump  told the Post in an interview that he wasn't "even a little bit happy with my selection" of Powell to head the Federal Reserve, adding that the Fed's current stance on interest rates was "way off base." Trump's remarks followed a similar interview with The Wall Street Journal in which he accused the central bank of being a "bigger problem than China."
Now, maybe Powell is another Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a guy who will continue to do his thing in spite of the obvious attempts at interference from his boss. But at the end of September, Powell suggested our low interest rates was no longer necessary, suggesting that rates would continue to rise in the near future. I don't pretend to understand this stuff, but the timing of this change, which delighted the market today, is interesting. 

And one thing we won't have to wonder about much is how soon the president will being tweeting about the stock market again.

There's more out there we could focus on -- what's on your list, I wonder?

November 26, 2018

OrangeVerse XXXVII: Giving Thanks

As he did last year, the president spent some quality time on the phone with members of the various branches of the military for Thanksgiving. 

And as I did last year, I found poetry in his words, although in the spirit of the season, I'm offering only one excerpt this time around.

Perhaps the rest of it will pop up in a different poetry reading; we'll see.


What are you most thankful, Mr. president?
For having a great family
and for having made 
a tremendous difference in this country.

I've made a tremendous difference
in the country.

This country is so much stronger now
than it was when I took office,
that you 
wouldn't
believe it.

And - I mean,
you see it,
but so much stronger
that people can't
even believe it.

When I see foreign leaders
they say,
"we cannot believe
the difference in strength
between the United States
now and the
United States
two years ago.

Made
a lot
of progress.

Thank you very much.

November 25, 2018

Sunday School 11/25/18

I spent some time with the gang on Face the Nation this morning.

Joining Margaret Brennan were lame duck House Benghazi Hunter Troy Gowdy (R-SC), Maine's Independent Senator Angus King, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-D-DS-S-OS). Here's what was on their minds.

Gowdy spoke about the subpoena issued to former FBI Director James Comey inviting him to a closed-door session and Comey's objection to that, due to the selective leaking that occurs. Gowdy himself had previously noted that Congressional investigations "leak like the Gossip Girls" and Brennan wanted to know whether Comey was right to object to the closed-door hearing.
You know, Margaret, I don't get a chance to say this very often, but I do think Jim Comey is right. Leaks are counter productive whether Jim Comey is doing it, the FBI is doing it or Congress is doing it... 
But the remedy is not a public hearing, Gowdy said; it's videotaping closed door hearings and releasing the video and transcript to the public after removing anything classified. He also noted that
...people act differently where there aren't cameras in the room. Trust me when I say that. 
To which I say, by all means, trust him when he says that.  I mean, really - trust him when he says that.

He also talked about Ivanka's emails (we need to ensure the Presidential Records Act is being followed) and about the politicization of the judiciary. I do have to agree with him that politicians, pundits and the media in general label the SCOTUS justices, either on ideology or on who appointed them and that
I wish everyone would stop, including the media, referring to judges based on who put them in office.
King was there to talk about the military being on the border, what they can and can't do because of posse comitatus restrictions on soldiers acting in a law enforcement role, and that the Armed Services Committee would like to get some questions answered. And, he talked about the administration's response to the CIA's report on murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Well, my first response to that is the CIA doesn't do 'feelings.' They do assessments and they do assessments based on intelligence from all sources... I cannot talk about what happened in (the CIA) briefing... And you know we're not going to find an email that says "don't forget the bone saw" but it was pretty clear...
To everyone but the president, I guess.

Sanders was there, ostensibly to talk about his book, but Brennan asked about other things, including the post-Thanksgiving Friday afternoon drop of the administration's dire climate change report. Sanders noted how Americans need to come together and move away from fossil fuels towards sustainable and renewable energy sources That would drive jobs, he says, and show leadership to the world, as well as leaving a healthier planet for future generations.

Brennan also questioned him about his call for Dems "to launch a kind of new contract with America" but with left-leaning provisions. She wondered whether it was a legislative agenda or a platform for his presidential run in 2020.
It's a legislative agenda, Margaret...back in 1994 Newt Gingrich, who I disagree with on everything, really had a bold right wing agenda, and I think we should learn from that. This is what the American people want. And we should do it. 
What we want, he said, is a living wage (he thinks fifteen bucks an hour), pay equity for women; Medicare for all; tuition free public colleges and universities; and dealing with climate change, our broken criminal justice system and immigration reform.
And the question is whether Congress has the guts to stand up to the big money interests who want more tax breaks for the rich, who want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Or we stand up for the shrinking middle class and we demand a government that represents all of us and legislation which represents the working families of this country.
Brennan's pundit panel was unanimous that while Sanders says this is a legislative agenda, he's definitely running in 2020. They also agreed that his path to victory will be difficult, even if they didn't fully agree on the reasons why.

See you around campus.

What's a Charitable Heart to Do?

I have found that, among its other benefits, 
giving liberates the soul of the giver. 
~Maya Angelou

Lots of folks give generously of their time or money throughout the year, but this is the particular 'season of giving' that inspires many folks to dig even more deeply and help others.

Truth be told, it's almost impossible not to hear opportunity knocking, whether it's something you get in the mail, a personal appeal such as the Salvation Army bell ringers, or an 'add this coupon' solicitations as the grocery store checkout. And don't forget television commercials, and newspaper ads (yes, I still read the newspaper).But the hardest to avoid are the multitude of opportunities that present themselves on social media. 

You know the ones: fundraising for national events such as hurricanes and wildfires, which are sadly all too frequent lately; or medical charities like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, dozens of cancer-related organizations, Planned Parenthood, and the like; animal rescue groups; and of course, many groups that devote their time and resources to active duty military and veterans. There is literally a charity for every cause imaginable, and for some that are unimaginable. 

And what could be wrong with these? A couple of things come to mind, first and foremost being the possibility that what we're seeing may be a scam. We've seen the headlines, right? Below are just a couple, one national, one from my neck of the woods:
Some people will do anything to help themselves; other people will do anything to help others, including accidentally sharing old and outdated information on social media, with the best of intentions.  One share becomes five, becomes twenty, becomes fifty - and that's just the start of it. The outcome can be that people possessing a charitable heart end up doing something that won't fulfill their intentions - and that stinks.

So what's a person to do? How do you know if your desire to do good will result in good being done? Here are some quick options that might cost a bit of time, but will save in the end:
  • Fact-check the information. Snopes.com and similar sites are not perfect, but if you enter a few keywords, you're apt to get a sense as to whether something is on the up and up, or if it's outdated information, which is more often the case.
  • Look up the sponsoring charity on Facebook; often they'll have information about fundraising or other campaigns they are doing, as well as explanations for why they're not doing something you might see on social media. Check their other social media sites as well.
  • Use one of the charity rating sites (CharityWatch, Charity Navigator and similar) to learn more about the charity; be sure to check for any donor alerts or articles about the charity.

It's hard to escape Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with all of the fanfare, news stories, projections and all of that. And of course there's Small Business Saturday, too, designed to get people into the web and bricks-and-mortar doors of small companies.

Maybe a little less popular is Giving Tuesday, but it's a great opportunity to make a difference.

On the website, you can for local or national charities, pick a favorite, and make your donation.

In some cases, donations might be matched, so keep your eyes peeled.

A few years back, I made the decision to support local charities instead of national organizations; keeping my charitable dollars local just makes more sense to me, especially when the national charities have so much already, have celebrity support, telethons and infomercials, etc. Meanwhile, local nonprofits sometimes struggle to keep critical programs alive - not just now, but throughout the year. 

If you want to optimize your giving to your desired charity, whether it's local or national, here's some additional things you might consider:

  • If you're a PayPal user, consider the PayPal Giving Fund, which allows you to donate from your PayPal account directly to your favorite charity's PayPal account, without any fees occurring. This is available year-round. On Giving Tuesday, PayPal is matching donations up to $500,000.
  • If you're an Amazon shopper, go through Amazon Smile and every time you make a purchase, you'll be helping a charity of your choice. Amazon Prime benefits apply here just as they do on regular Amazon. 
  • Reach out to charities in your own backyard to find out what they need, if they're running any campaigns, and so on. If you're not familiar with local organizations, try your United Way website, or go to Great Nonprofits to find some; you can filter by location, issue/cause, and rating. 
  • Consider adding 3% to donations you make online to charities (some will ask you if you want to do this), which allows you to pay the fees and your charity to get the full value of your donation.
  • If your charity offers a thank you gift in return for your donation, look for the option to refuse it. This may seem like a small thing, but if everyone did that, the charity might be able to reduce their fundraising costs and use more of your money for the programs you want to support.

So, back to our central question, what's a charitable heart to do? Liberate your soul.

Give freely to organizations and causes that matter to you, using trusted donation mechanisms. Be wary of people who are up to no good. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan used to say.

Do as much good as you can, because all donations matter - large or small, ongoing or one-time, local or national - they all matter. 

November 21, 2018

Sunday School 11/18/18 (pt 4)

In the final part of the president's interview with Chris Wallace, we learn about his toughest decision, his relationship with the military, and how he ranks his own performance, which I'm saving for last.    The first three parts of the interview are available here, here and here.

Wallace asked Trump about term limits. The question is a piece of work:
Can you envision a situation - you talk about six more years. Can you envision a situation well into your second term where you think you're so good for the country and so essential to the progress of the country that you would try and amend the Constitution so you could serve a third time?
Fortunately, Trump didn't take the bait.
No, no. .. Just won't happen, it's not -- I think the eight-year limit is a good thing, not a bad thing.
On the Veterans Day weekend debacles, including Trump's insistence that it was the Secret Service that prevented him from going to the first cemetery, not the weather, which came up previously in the interview as well.

Wallace did not ask why Trump did not join his fellow world leaders for the trip to the Arc de Triomphe; he and Putin both arrived separately. It reminded me of the time Trump rode behind as the other leaders walked, together, at the G7 summit in Italy. He did ask why Trump failed to go to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day.
I should have done that, I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling as you know...I probably - you know, in retrospect, I should have and I did last year and I will virtually every year.
He did not do it last year either - he was out of the country, but what's another lie?
But we had come in very late at night and I had just left, literally, the American Cemetery in Paris and I probably assumed that was fine and I was extremely busy because of affairs of state - doing other things. But I would have - I would have done it. 
OK, sure. Calls and affairs of state and other things.  Notably, there are no readouts of any Veterans Day calls on the White House website, for what it's worth.

On why he hasn't visited our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Well, I think you will see that happen. There are things that are being planned. We don't want to talk about it because of - obviously because of security reasons and everything else. But there are things that are being planned. As you know I was very much opposed to the war in Iraq. I think it was a tremendous mistake, should have never happened. 
I don't think anybody's been more with the military than I have, as a president. In terms of funding, in terms of all of the things I've been able to get them, including the vets. I don't think anybody's done more than me. 
I've had an unbelievably busy schedule and I will be doing it. On top of which you have these phony witch hunts. On top of which - I mean, we've just been very busy. But I will be doing that. '
What an incredibly insensitive thing for the Commander-in-Chief to say, don't you think? Especially when one looks at his unbelievably busy schedule aligned with his own words to us before he was elected.
Why I would have loved for a follow up question - you know a, "what, do you think I'm stupid?" or something, but instead Wallace switched gears, telling Trump that Republicans who like what he's doing but dislike that he's so divisive.
I think if I was a, you know, more modified, more moderate in that sense, I don't think I would have done half of the things that I was able to get completed. With that being said, other than you have to have a certain ability to fight back and as you know, people have - you know, they take strong stance on me both ways, you know, love and hate. I'd like to see it a little bit, maybe, right down the middle.
But tone is something that is important to me. But a lot of times you can't practice tone because you have people coming at you so hard that if you don't fight back in a somewhat vigorous way, you're not going to win. And we have to win. This country has to win.
We have a lot of victories coming and I think if I - if I go too low-key, we're not going to have those victories.
Now, mind you, Wallace posed his question after talking about Trump's negative comments about Mia Love, April Ryan, Yamiche Alcindor and Abby Phillip. I wasn't sure that being victorious over a Republican Senator and three reporters, all women of color, was so important to our country, were you?

Wallace also asked Trump about his toughest decision as president; Trump said North Korea, and that he's got a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un, even though, Wallace asked, that they might still be working on nukes?
Yes, Maybe they are. Maybe they're not. I don't believe that, I don't. And you know, could. And which is - if it  - if that's the way it goes, that's the way it goes. You know, I go with the way we have to go. But so far, it's been good. We have a good relationship. We made, I think, some great decisions for the - for the people of this country.
And I do, you know, I put America first and other countries should put themselves first. It's not like we're  - we should put - and everybody else should be second to us. No, other countries are proud of their countries and their leaders should put their countries first. But we were putting our country in many cases last. We were more worried about the world that we were worried about the United States. That's not going to happen with me. 
Note again his disregard for the United States intelligence community: maybe it was Russia, maybe it was somebody else. Maybe they are testing nukes, maybe they aren't. Maybe it was the Crown Prince, maybe it wasn't.

Maybe he believes the experts, maybe he doesn't.

Maybe he understands that disagreeing with the sum total of our best and brightest intelligence folks shows us as untrustworthy to our allies, maybe he doesn't.

The final exchange we'll look at between the two of them is this one:
CW: Where do you rank yourself in the pantheon of great Presidents? There is Lincoln and Washington, there's FDR and Reagan. Do you make the top 10? 
Trump: I think I'm doing a great job. We have the best economy we've ever had.
CW: So, where do you rank yourself?
Trump: ... I would give myself, I would - look I hate to do it but I will do it. I would give myself an A+ - is that enough? Can I go higher than that? 
See you around campus, where we grade on a more realistic curve. 

November 20, 2018

Sunday School 11/18/18 (pt 3)

More of the president's interview with Chris Wallace; here are links to part one, with updates on the current state of the White House and the Russia investigation, and part two, discussing the midterms and the murder of WaPo journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In this session, Trump shares his thoughts on the media. Oh, yeah - and attacks a Navy Seal, but we'll hit that separately.

The medial first. Wallace asked about CNN's Jim Acosta, who had his pass temporarily restored, and what Trump thought about that.
But I will say this, look, nobody believes in the First Amendment more than I do and if I think somebody's acting out of sorts, I will  leave, I will say thank you very much, everybody, I appreciate you coming and I'll leave. And those reporters will not be too friendly to whoever it is that's acting up.
Of course, that belief in the First Amendment doesn't extend to protesters, or authors.

On why he bothers to call on Acosta:
Actually I like to do it but in many cases I don't. He'll stand up. He's unbelievably rude to Sarah Huckabee who's a wonderful woman, unbelievably rude. And I see that and I actually ask here the same. Why do you call on these people who are so nasty?
Because he likes to fuel the fire, of course. He also offered a solution:
I think one of the things we'll do is maybe turn the camera off that faces them because then they don't have any air time, although I'll probably be sued for that and maybe win or lose it, who knows? I mean, with this stuff, you never know what's going to happen. 
In general, Wallace did his best to get Trump to understand that no presidents 'like' the media, but none have had the visceral reaction to them that Trump exhibits. Let's start with the fake news being the enemy of the people. Here are his answers strung together.
That's true. 100 percent. Not the media, I'm glad you're finally calling it correctly because they like to leave the 'fake news' -
So, the people that are supporting me in particular, they're very smart people. They're hard working, brilliant, great people. They know when the news is fake and they get angry when they see all of the fakeness that I  - frankly -  Chris, I'm calling the fake news is the enemy - it's fake, it's phony. 
On being "seen around the world as a beacon for repression" by authoritarian leaders (many of whom Trump admires),
I can't talk for other people, I can only talk for me. I will tell you - Chris I'm not talking about you - but you sometimes maybe. But I'm not talking about you. The news about me is largely phony. It's false. Even sometimes they'll say, "Sources say." There is no source, in many cases - in cases there is. But (the news about me) ninety-four percent negative.
The last word from him on this:
I am calling fake news, fake reporting, is what's tearing this country apart because people know, people like things that are happening and they're not hearing about it. 
See you around campus.

November 19, 2018

Sunday School 11/18/18 (pt 2)

In part one of the president's guest lecture facilitated by Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, the president was just getting warmed up, talking about how fabulous things are at the White House, and about the Mueller investigation, among other things.

Let's pick up after that, when the president talked about the horrific murder of WaPo journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi killers. Trump said he has not listened to the tape that we received from the Turkish government. There's no reason, he said, because it's a 'suffering' tape and he's been fully briefed.

Asked about his conversations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and whether MBS lied to him Trump's answer was, well, honestly, coming from a deal maker and an incredibly proficient liar himself, seemed pretty weak.
I don't -- I don't know. You know, who can really know? But I can say this, he's got many people now that say he had no knowledge..
Yes, he told me that he had nothing to do with it, he told me that -- I would say maybe five times at different points... as recently as a few days ago.
Wallace asked if Trump just lives with it because he needs MBS.
Well, will anybody really know? All right, will anybody really know? But he did have certainly people that were reasonable close to him and close to him that were probably involved. You saw me put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. But at the same time we do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.
Not, apparently, allies like the ones we have in Europe or North America, because those, we've been told, have been very bad, and Trump insults them and threatens them almost daily.

On the loss of 35-40 seats in the house, and Trump's reaction the day after the election that it was "almost a complete victory," Wallace was trying to get his questions answered and Trump wasn't having it.
I won the Senate, you don't mention that...
Excuse me - I won the Senate - I think they said 88 years...
Are you ready? I won the Senate and that's historic too because if you look at presidents in the White House, it's almost never happened where you wont a seat. We won -- we now have 53 as opposed to 51 and we have 53 great Senators in the US Senate. We won. That's a tremendous victory. Nobody talks about that. That's a far greater victory that it is for the other side. Number two, I wasn't on the ballot. I wasn't  - No, I said, look at me --
But I had people and you see the polls how good they are, I had people that won't vote unless I'm on the ballot, OK?  And I wasn't on the ballot. And almost everybody that I won --I think they said it was 10 out of 11. And I won against President Obama and Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama in a great state called Georgia for the governor. And it was all stacked against Brian and I was the one that went for Brian and Brian won.
Look at Florida. I went down to Florida. Rick Scott won and he won by a lot. I don't know what happened to all those votes that disappeared at the very end. And if I didn't put a spotlight on that election before it got down to 12,500 votes, he would have lost that election, OK? In my opinion he would have lost. They would have taken that election away from him. Rick Scott won Florida... 
He continued, mentioning Ron DeSantis (Florida Governor), "a wonderful man named DeWine" (Ohio governor). And then
I didn't run. I wasn't running. My name wasn't on the ballot. There are many people that think I don't like Congress, that like me a lot. I get it all the time, "Sir, I will never vote unless you were on the ballot". I get it all the time. People are saying "Sir, I will never vote unless you're on the ballot." I say "No, no, go and vote". "Well, what do you mean?" as much as I try and convince people to go vote, I'm not on the ballot.
Except we all saw the clips a vote for (her) is a vote for me, a vote for (him) is a vote for me, a vote for (everyone) is a vote for me, lather rinse repeat.

But what's especially important? Beating Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and Oprah in those Senate and gubernatorial races, and of course, pretending that losing the House was meaningless. Had he won the house and lost the Senate, you can be sure he would have been doing the same thing.

And all of those people who turned on him, the ones Wallace mentioned?
You lost in traditionally Republican suburbs, not only around liberal cities like Philadelphia and DC but also red-state big cities like Houston and Oklahoma City. You lost among suburban women. You lost among independents, and in three key states that I think you remember pretty well - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan - you lost both governor seats and the Senate seats.
They don't matter either, I guess, because he beat Obama.

See you around campus.

November 18, 2018

Sunday School 11/18/18 (pt 1)

Today our focus is on the guest lecturer in chief, the president of the United States and his interview with Chris Wallace, which aired this morning on Fox News Sunday.

There was SO much going on in this one, it's hard to do it justice but I'll give it my darnedest.

On the state of the White House:
And I will tell you I'm extremely upbeat, the White House is running like a well-oiled machine, it's doing really well, I have great people. I will make some changes but not very many.  I'm very happy with my cabinet, other than, you know, a couple of exceptions and even then I'm not unhappy. And I will tell you that it's so wrong, the reporting about me is so wrong. I'm loving what I'm doing. I did well in France, I did have a problem where I wasn't able to go to a cemetery because the Secret Service would not let me do it... 
About the appearance that the First Lady fired one of his advisers:
Well, I didn't know the adviser well, really, and I know they had a lot of problems. My wife did a great job in Africa an she was not treated properly by the press. She really worked so hard. They came to me. They wanted to go a little bit public because that's the way they felt and I thought it was fine.
The advisor, the Deputy National Security Advisor Mira Ricardel, will move to another position in the Administration and Trump noted, without irony, that she was not very diplomatic.
But, frankly, she is not -- she'll never be put in the United Nations, let me put it that way. 
On General John Kelly remaining as Chief of Staff through 2020:
We -- I wouldn't -- look, we get along well. There are certain things I love what he does. And there are certain things that I don't like that he does - that aren't his strength. It's not that he doesn't do -- you know, he works so hard. He's doing an excellent job in so many ways. There are a couple of things where it's just not his strength. It's not his fault it's not his strength. 
Like being hungry at a meetings, I'm sure.
But I haven't even thought about John in terms of this. But John, at some point, it going to want to move on. John will move on. 
Perhaps as Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III did.

About Robert Mueller and his gang of Democratic thugs, there was much discussion, including the written questions he's answering, without his team's help.
No, no no not my team. I'm preparing written answers. My - I -- I'm the one that does the answering.
I've completed them. And it wasn't a big deal - by the way it wasn't a big deal. The answers -- the questions were asked and answered. It wasn't a big deal. You know, they make it like I had meetings for many, many hours - -I got the questions, I responded, we read them out, I read them once, I read them a second time, we made some changes. That's it. They were very simple.
On whether it was his final position, that there won't be a sit-down interview with Mueller or anything on obstruction of justice:
I would say probably. Probably. I mean, I can change my mind, but probably. I think we've -- I think we've wasted enough time on this witch hunt and the answer is probably, we're finished.
Asked about the odds of that:
I don't do odds. We would -- I gave very -- (Wallace commented that Trump ran a casino - ed. note) You're right, and very successfully actually. We gave very, very complete answers to a lot of questions that I shouldn't have even been asked and I think that should solve the problem. I hope it solves the problem. If it doesn't, you know, I'll be told and we'll make a decision at that time. But probably this is the end.
Hmm... "very successfully actually" is likely in the mind of the beholder, as is pretty much everything else the president says.

We'll pick this up in a bit; see you around campus.

(Probably. I mean, I can change my mind, but probably I'll see you around campus.)

November 17, 2018

Knock Knock. Who's There? Sore Winners

Sore winners who?

Sore winners who apparently take offense to people who don't toe the line.

For most of us here in NY, the election season is over. The ads are gone (and good riddance to them); the debates are over; even most of the campaign signs have been picked up and set aside perhaps for another campaign, or maybe for a bonfire.

Many folks are probably celebrating the victory of New York's Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, who won re-election by a comfortable margin over his Republican challenger, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

But Cuomo's victory was not enough for some, including Dani Lever, his campaign's Communications Director. She apparently is not happy with media outlets like my local paper, The Post-Standard and its web outlet, Syracuse.com, which failed to hop on board the Third Term Express.

The Editorial Board did not to endorse Cuomo this time, for a number of reasons. Take a look:
Cuomo is polished and forceful, a builder and a doer. He's in the conversation as a presidential contender. But under his leadership, New York's progress has been uneven.

A million New Yorkers have left the state since 2010. Upstate's economic recovery from the 2009 recession has lagged behind the nation's, and Central New York's recovery has lagged behind even more. Some of those billions the state spent on economic development went to poorly planned, corrupt or underperforming projects. While property taxes haven't gone up dramatically from year to year, they certainly haven't gone down, and New York's taxation ranking against other states has barely budged. Cuomo's fight for ethics reform has been half-hearted, at best, obstructionist, at worst. He's blind to corruption right under his nose.
If Cuomo really wanted it, New York already would have comprehensive ethics reform and real property tax relief. He won't take that on. So elect someone who will. 
And (emphasis added), 
We endorsed Cuomo in 2010 to clean up Albany, and again in 2014 despite his failure to do so. Not again. Not this time. Change in Albany starts at the top.
While Cuomo has been good for New York, many New Yorkers in Upstate aren't feeling it. New York can do better. Molinaro deserves a chance to try.
You're reading that correctly: the paper endorsed the Republican gubernatorial candidate, noting among other things.
Voters have four alternatives: Republican Marc Molinaro, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, independent candidate Stephanie Miner and Libertarian Larry Sharpe. We endorse Molinaro to refocus state government's attention from the national stage - the Trump resistance, Puerto Rico hurricane relief -- to the places we live, work and go to school.  
Enter the response from one of the sore loses affiliated with Cuomo's campaign:
To the Editor: 
Your Editorial Board was a steadfast supporter of Mayor Stephanie Miner throughout her term and supported Marc Molinaro against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The election results for the city of Syracuse, the heart of your circulation area, had Cuomo winning with close to 67 percent, Marc Molinaro at 21.9 percent, Howie Hawkins at 5.3 percent and Stephanie Miner at 3.8 percent. There is clearly a significant disconnect between the positions of the editorial board and those of your readers, and considering these different realities, perhaps the Board needs to gain a better perspective. We believe performance matters in government and citizens value results and progress.
Dani Lever, Former Communications Director, Cuomo 2018
I'm not sure how much time Lever has spent here in my neck of the woods, but I wonder if she's aware of how things work around here?  
  • There are over 287,261 registered voters in Onondaga County, but only 108,079, or around 37%, are Democrats.
  • Syracuse residents opted for an Independent mayor last year, rejecting both the major parties and going our own way.
  • Onondaga County has always had a Republican County Executive, and the Legislature has always had a Republican majority. 
Cuomo may have won 67% of the vote within the city limits, but he only won Onondaga County by about 8,500 votes, and he lost all of the surrounding counties save one, Tompkins County - demonstrating that the endorsement of Molinaro was pretty much in line with what the voters in the paper's subscription area felt.

Perhaps Lever (and her boss) are the ones in need of a better perspective?

November 16, 2018

TGIF 11/16/18

How was your week?

Better than the president's maybe?  He failed to go to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day, with no explanation offered. Until today, that is, when an explanation materialized: he was busy doing the country's work, making lots of phone calls and other stuff, and besides, he just visited a cemetery in another country (after not visiting one as scheduled), and doesn't that count?

And then there was the Mueller tweet storm, and how Trump's "easily" finished his written questions, without the help of his lawyers, we're told, even as Rudy Giuliani,one of those lawyers, is expressing concern that there could be 'traps' in the questions. With no timetable from Mueller, it's hard to know when we'll find out if in fact traps were laid and bait taken, or whatever the appropriate metaphor would be.

And finally, there was the order by one of his own judges that people's enemy #1, CNN's Jim Acosta, must have his White House access restored temporarily pending further discussions (or dismissal of the whole thing).  Trump said it was no big deal, while at the same time suggesting that he'll implement rules and regulations for press conferences. Oh, the irony of the anti-regulation president needing to have protective regulations to talk with the press..

You probably had a better week than Britain's PM Theresa May, too. Her Brexit deal gives everyone something to hate, caused bombshell resignations and was reported as chaotic uncertainty. Not bad for someone trying to do something that's almost impossible.

Who actually had a good week?  Brian Kemp, the vote-suppressing former Georgia Secretary of State who will be the state's next governor, now that Stacy Abrams has determined she cannot win.
But to watch an elected official who claims to represent the people in the state baldly pin his hopes for election on suppression of the people's democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.
This is not a speech of concession. Because concessions means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that.
So did the First Lady; she who rules the East Wing got a key West Wing person fired.

And so did Elvis Presley, who along with Babe Ruth, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, Minnesota Vikings star Alan Page and others, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by president Trump.  The president noted Presley's military service, movie career, award nominations and wins, and "record breaking" crowds.

TGIF, everyone.

November 15, 2018

Lies, Damn Lies, and Facebook

Back in July, when we were talking about Facebook and fake accounts and deleting pages and all that jazz, I asked this question:
Is it worse that we have fake accounts on social media promoting 'malign' influence' and divisiveness or that the American president does exactly the same thing on a daily basis?
In my mind, it's still valid. And we have some additional data to back it up. Check out this headline:


That's right: the folks at the Toronto Star have laboriously studied the words the president has tweeted, uttered and muttered, and has determined that, as of July,  5.1% of the time he talks, he lies. Seriously.

Here are some of the key points the study found:
That's a lot of dishonesty: Of all the words Trump said and tweeted as president as of July 1, 5.1% were part of a false claim. Expressed differently: Trump uttered a false word every 19.4 words.
Trump's dishonesty density is increasing: The issue isn't just that he's talking more these days. It's that what he's saying is less truthful.
Word count aside, his raw number of false claims has spiked: Trump made 2.9 false claims per day in 2017. He's made 5.1 false claims per day in 2018.
He is talking 20% more than he used to: Thought it's not the whole issue, some of the 2018 increase in false claims is indeed happening because Trump is speaking more.
It's a fun read, for sure; they include their methodology, sources and cool charts that show Trump ramping up the lying as time goes by.

Still, the Star's lie count is lower than some others. For example, the Washington Post's Fact Checker count is over 6,000 - through October 30, 2018.


I have no idea what the number would be now, given that we have the whole explosion of lies surrounding the mid-terms.

And Veterans Day, and the weather in Paris.

And his attacks on French President Macron. 

And his attacks on Robert Mueller.  

And of course his ridiculous lies about not knowing Mark Whitaker, the man he just appointed as the acting AG after Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was forced to resign. 

And his attack on California as an entire town was destroyed by fire. 

And -- well, you get the drift, right?

So, I ask again, what's worse? Facebook not protecting people from themselves, and folks at the company acting badly towards each other as the news about fake news broke, or the lying, rude, belligerent, childish person who was elected president of the US?  

If we are going to demand that tech companies do everything in their power to keep us from being exposed to fake news and influence and lies, we simply cannot allow the president to continue having unfettered access to the airwaves. 

Can we?

November 14, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v154)

Mandel Ngan / AFP- Getty Images
Let's dive right in to the wonderful, shall we?

For starters, here's the picture of the members-elect of the House, none of whom were giving a Nazi salute, and it made me wonder what their photographer said to them that the photographer at Baraboo High School didn't say to the guys attending the prom, who do in fact appear to be giving said salute? 

It was reported the yesterday that the First Lady was unhappy with a particular employee of the West Wing. Actually, what was reported was a statement from the First Lady's office stating that the employee in question "no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House" and after a mistaken report that the employee, Deputy National Security Advisor Mira Ricardel, had been walked out of the White House, today the official statement came that Ricardel would in fact be leaving to take another position in the administration.

I wondered about a couple of things here -- first of all, whoa! That's a pretty bold thing for the FLOTUS to do. And then, I thought about her interview with Tom Llamas on ABC,the part about having told POTUS that there were people working for him she didn't trust, and they there were still people working there that he shouldn't trust. So I wonder, can we expect more personnel statements from her as we move into the traditional post-midterm period of churn? Shall we we have an office pool on who's going to be next to go? And finally, is this Melania doing her best to #BeBest?

Votes are still being counted around the country, trying to determine who will go to Washington to represent their constituents in January.  We're familiar with the shenanigans going on in Florida and Georgia and even here in the NY-22, but one race I hadn't been paying that much attention to was for the Utah seat currently held by Mia Love. Love is behind her opponent, Ben McAdams, by around 900 votes or so after the latest count.  In addition to her fame as the first female black Republican ever elected to Congress, she's also known for the special recognition she got from the president the day after the midterms.

Speaking about Republicans who failed to properly embrace him, Trump said
On the other hand, yo had some that decided to "let's stay away." "Let's stay away." They did very poorly, I'm not sure that I should be happy  or sad, but I feel just fine about it.
Carlos Curbelo; Mike Coffman -- too bad, Mike: Mia Love. I saw Mia Love. She'd call me all the time to help her with a hostage situation. Being held hostage in Venezuela. But Mia Love gave me no long, and she lost. Too bad. Mia. 
If the ballot counting ends up going in her favor, I wonder what Trump will say then?  Anyone else willing to bet he'll take the credit?

Finally, there's a whole lot of wondering going on about the Amazon 2HQ2 announcement, not the least of which is why a trillion dollar company needs to get a couple of billion bucks in economic development deals and job credits and incentives from NY and Virginia taxpayers for the privilege of having them locate their new digs in Long Island City and Crystal City, respectively.

I think, from the outside looking in, one could be forgiven for wondering if we've lost our ever-loving minds.

November 13, 2018

Grains of Salt (v38): A Personal Touch

Question: If you received a letter from your local government, and the envelope included a personal note, would it inspire you to open the letter?

And if, instead of the garden-variety form letter, you had a personal note from the mayor, would you maybe pay your past-due taxes?

Seems that's exactly what happened right here in Syracuse when Mayor Ben Walsh and others staffers sent handwritten notes to folks with outstanding taxes -- which brought in $1.47M over a four month period, according to this article.

The idea to send the notes came from the folks at the X Lab, a think tank at SU's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. The guys from the X Lab worked with the city on how to reduce foreclosures and increase tax collections, and came up with the idea trying a personal note after doing some research into how people respond to different types of communication.

Here's how it worked: around 1900 people got the standard government issue form letter, but another 3800 or so got a handwritten letter, some of which also included a note on the envelope. The purpose of the letters was the same: notify the property owner of the delinquency and try to get them to pay up.  The personal letters went further, explaining that if they didn't pay up they'd lose their homes, but the city didn't want that to happen. The letters also explained some of the city services that the taxes support.

The results were pretty impressive: people who received the note on the envelope paid 88% more than the control group, the ones who just got the form letter. Even the folks who got the letter without the note on the envelope paid 50% more than the control group.

Walsh, a Maxwell grad himself, noted
This partnership with X Lab helps both the City and our residents. It's the kind of positive outcomes that occur when you aren't afraid to innovate and try something new. By using evidence and data to improve government services, processes and initiatives, we are helping to balance the budget while at the same time improving the health and well being of our citizens. 
Delinquent taxes are a long-standing problem in the city, with some $30M outstanding on over 2700 seizable properties,where the owners are more than two years behind - before this project started. And, there's another $9.6M outstanding on this year's taxes.

Also long-standing problems? Housing instability and poverty. Which is why it's great that we're seeing innovative approaches to these problems, and that we're seeing collaboration between local governments, SU and other educational institutions, and organizations like the Allyn Foundation, which provided grants for X Lab collaborations.

And honestly, this is exactly why Ben Walsh was elected mayor - to find innovative ways to improve life in the city, to find and work with any willing partners to try and solve these long-standing problems, and to get us back on track financially. 

Kudos to everyone involved.

November 12, 2018

My Middle-aged White Lady Perspective: The NY Midterms

Lots of people are feeling emotional about the outcome of the midterms; where races have been decided, the emotions run the gamut from active joy to abject disgust, and pretty much a little of everything in between.

That's true here in New York, where we're sending our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, back to Albany for another term. And while polls shows the gap was only 13% right before Election Day, in the end it wasn't even close - Cuomo won by 1.26M votes, taking 59% of the 5.4M votes cast, to challenger Marc Molinaro's under 37%.

Lots of folks are suggesting that the reason why Cuomo won was "because of New York City." If you just looked at the election map, you can make that case. Cuomo won all of the NYC counties, plus some of the cities elsewhere in the state.

But here's the thing: there are 26 counties (out of 62) in New York where November's active voter registration favors the Dems - yet Cuomo won only 15 of them, The other 11 blue counties ended up in Molinaro's column on the ledger. 

Now, I know - as everyone running for office in NY knows - that voter registration is heavily skewed towards the Dems. Just in the NYC counties, registered Dems outnumber registered Republicans by some 2.6M; statewide, the margin is over 3.1M. Winning a statewide race as a Republican is certainly an ant/rubber tree kind of thing. 

But it has been done before. George Pataki, who had been in the State Assembly and the State Senate, beat three-term governor Mario Cuomo by about 173,000 votes. Cuomo won only one county outside NYC in that race. 

Which suggests to this middle-aged white lady that the issue is not only the geography and the registration numbers: it's the Republicans themselves. Remember, these are the Republicans who had to have help from a group of independent Dems to keep control of the State Senate the past few years. And this year, mind you, they lost the Senate, so now all of NY is in the hands of the Dems, with no checks and balances. (Thanks for that, by the way). 

What was wrong with their message that the Rs couldn't put up a respectable fight against our ethically-challenged governor? Why were they not able to get people's attention on New York State, while the Sonofa Gov was busy running for President? Why were they not able to capitalize on spending fatigue, unfunded mandate fatigue, unbudgeted Authority fatigue? Unfair school funding fatigue? Economic development gimmick fatigue? People leaving the state fatigue?

Why doesn't a Republican ever knock on my door? I know, I'm in the city of Syracuse, and the city skews blue - so there's no need to even bother asking for my vote?  Why not try some concerted outreach to moderate Dems?  Cuomo won Onondaga County by less than 8,500 votes - barely 5%, whereas registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by over 25,000.

There's room here, red people -- there's room.  I vote for the candidate I think can do the job, without regard to party label. I've voted for Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Independents, Working Families, Conservatives -- so don't write me off without even trying.

I'm not an expert on the Dems - and I've been a registered one my entire adult life. I'm certainly not an expert on the Republicans.  But I did want to share this opinion from some folks who pretend to be experts - the NY Post editorial board.  Take a look at these excerpts:
Tuesday brought the state Republican Party to a new low, and the city GOP to the edge of extinction.
The biggest change has been a long time coming: Republican control of the state Senate has been at risk for decades now, preserved by extreme gerrymandering and the votes of renegade Democrats.
And while the chamber's GOP members fought off the occasional tax hike and other progressive priorities, its members have mainly focused on what bacon they could deliver for their districts or favors for special interests.
And these guys like the Republicans...
Above all, they failed to fundamentally alter New York's high-tax, high-regulation approach to... everything, which has gradually eroded the upstate economy to dust - leading to the depopulation of the state's most rock-rib-Republican areas.
They go on to note, after bashing Long Island GOP efforts, that this will be the first year since 1854 that there won't be a Republican Congressman from NYC. And they're not kind to the state GOP, either - it's pretty much across the board disgust with the entire red empire.

So where do the Rs go from here? Well, it's not all bad.
The only good news is that there's nowhere to go but up: to learn and grow enough that Republicans just might possibly be ready to lead when Democrats, now in total control, fail badly enough that voters have to turn somewhere. 
If the GOP remnants look to the future, they just might be able to have one.
Maybe - although the editorial makes it sound like these guys couldn't find the future if it was right in front of them...

Look, it's undeniable that there are way more registered Democrats in NY than there are Republicans. On the other hand, there are way more major-party registrations outside NYC (4.79M) than there are in NYC (3.6M).

The Republicans need to get their boots on the ground; light a fire under the county party operatives or get rid of them (they're horrible,by the way) and spend the next two years honing a message that's meaningful to voters.

The map is the map - the message is up to them.