March 31, 2019

Sunday School 3/31/19

Jonathan Karl was sitting in the host's chair on ABC's This Week withe George Stephanopoulos and he was joined by the insufferable Mick Mulvaney, acting Chief of Staff and OMB Director, and by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a candidate in the 2020 presidential race.

You can read the interview with Mulvaney in the transcript, but I'll share one of his answers before we turn to Senator Klobuchar. Karl asked about Trump's 'revengeful' comments on investigation evil and treasonous people for their role in causing the Russia investigation. Here's part of the response.
...the reason the Mueller report even exists now, there was a small group of people within...specifically the FBI and the DOJ who really did want to overturn the election...The president would only be doing his job if he tries to make sure whether or not that happened and if it did, to make sure the people who committed those particular acts are brought to justice.
So, moving on to the senator, I was hopeing that an interview with a presidential candidate might include some questions about, you know, the race, or about the candidate's policy positions and stuff. So let's take a look.

On the Mueller report:
I think the major reason that we need to see the report right now, in addition to getting all of the details, is to know what we should do to protect our elections and to protect our democracy going into 2020... I want to pass my bill with Senator Lankford, a bipartisan bill to get backup paper ballots... I want to make sure we have audits of our elections. I want to hold those social media companies responsible so that they tell us what these ads are and tell us who is paying for them. 
Silly Amy -- giving a real answer. That wasn't what Karl wanted to know. Nope -- he was only interested in whether (evidence and what not, yeah, whatever) she accepted the conclusion from the AG about the conclusions of the Special Counsel.
Jonathan, I am a former prosecutor and I believe in looking at evidence. I don't have the report....   And while I do get random questions here and there about the Mueller report...honestly what I really hear about is economics and people concerned about their livelihood for their family, how they're going to pay for college,  and most significantly, are they going to lose their health care. 
The door's wide open, Jonathan -- go ahead, ask her about her health care plan!

March 30, 2019

Quick Takes (v34): Kudos for Katko

Quick Takes
A couple of weeks ago John Katko, my congressman, received one of six 2019 Legislative Action Awards from the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC.

Katko was honored with five others -  Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), and fellow representatives Doug Collins (R-GA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) - for "breathing new life into the legislative process" and for their leadership on efforts such as criminal justice reform and the opioid crisis.

All six of the recipients have been in their current positions for six years or less and have
demonstrated skill and courage in the face of political challenges to confront a political problem, provide a positive tenor to the legislative process, and improving the functioning of Congress through their example. 
According to a statement by Jason Grumet, the BPC president,
The Legislative Action Awards recognize members with the unique capacity to identify common interests and get things done. It takes real skill and commitment to govern a divided country. Thankfully, there are still true legislators in the Congress who understand how to build coalitions that deliver sound policy for the American people. It is an honor to recognize six of these leaders today and remind the public that principled collaboration is the essence of effective democracy. 
So. what is the Bipartisan Policy Center?

March 29, 2019

TGIF 3/29/19

Yay! Friday!

We don't have a Mueller Report yet, but we have a promise that we'll have it by mid-April, which is good progress and shows a commitment from AG Bill Barr to do the right thing. And that's what he said he'd do during his confirmation hearing.

The best part? He's not going to give Trump or his lawyers a chance to privilege the executive out of the report. That, too, is a good sign that Barr is doing as best he can to make as much of the report available as possible.

And while I don't agree with Nancy Pelosi's take that his summary memo was "condescending" either in tone or approach, I wholeheartedly agree with reports that she suggested her members all "take a deep breath" when news broke last week that Mueller had completed his investigation.

Taking everything into consideration, I think Barr had a good week.

How did some other folks do?

March 28, 2019

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v30)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo
Most of us are familiar with how what passes for legislating these days gets done in New York, right?We cram all of the key legislative items into the budget, which is negotiated by the three leaders in Albany, of course. Isn't that how everyone does it?

Probably not, but that it totally muddies the budget waters, cuts most of our expensive legislators out of the process, and negates most of the limited opportunities we voters have to interject our voice into the legislative process doesn't seem to matter much.

This year those three people - Democrats Andrew Cuomo, the Sonofa Gov, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Leader Carl Heastie - have moved quickly on many reforms, but they're currently struggling on public campaign financing. Some of the opposition, it seems, is coming from Heastie's Assembly; while they've passed similar laws in the past when there was zero chance of passage by the Republican-controlled Senate, now that it might actually happen it seems there's some foot-dragging going on. According to a report from the State of Politics blog,
...some lawmakers have raised concerns with the effect of independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, and the potential of fines levied under a public campaign financing system. 
And Heastie himself says his chamber is all for matching small contributions, except for paying for the match, I guess.

He added that his members "are not ready to support the NYC model for the entire state" - but did not say what they would support as a statewide program, not did he suggest where the matching funds would come from.

The New York AFL-CIO also has come out against doing it as part of the budget, noting that they supported the package of reforms that was passed earlier (and that didn't have any potential negative impact on union influence, which this change likely would).

Let's look at what the plan would include.

March 26, 2019

The Update Desk: The Affordable Care Act

So, there's this court case, Texas vs. United States, that maintained that the Affordable Care Act would be unconstitutional because, as of 2019, the penalty for the individual mandate was $0 under president Trump's Christmas Tax Cut. The thinking of the Texas AG, and the 19 GOP states that joined the lawsuit, is that since the individual mandate penalty no longer exists, and because the tax key to the constitutionality of the ACA according to the Supreme Court, and since the whole shebang is tied up with an inseverability clause, it should be struck down. The lawsuit was filed about a year ago, and in December a conservative judge agreed.

Yesterday, the Justice Department made it officially known that it agrees with the decision of the lower court.
The DOJ said Monday that it agrees the decision should stand as the case works its way through the appeals process in the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. 
"The Department of Justice has  determined that the district court's judgment should be affirmed," the department said in a short letter to the appeals court. 
So, while Democrats are getting all riled up, and Republicans are getting all excited that a court may do what they were unable to do, with 60 failed votes and $87,000,000 wasted in the process, I thought I'd remind everyone what this could mean to America.

Back in 2017, I talked about what "repeal and replace later" would mean, beyond the elimination of protections for pre-existing conditions, which the DOJ also did not defend in the early days of the Texas suit.  Here are some of the things I thought of pretty quickly, back then:
  1. Immediately shut down and the 28 federally facilitated marketplaces and the five state-based marketplaces using the federal platform. 
  2. Cancel the coverage for individuals and families who were covered under the now-defunct marketplaces.
  3. Return any unused premium to them.
  4. Immediately repeal the voluminous taxes required under the Affordable Care Act, whether charged to a business, a health insurer, any medical facilities, and so on. This will of course require an immediate rewriting of the tax code just to get us back to where we were before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.
  5. Immediately repeal the individual mandate.
  6. Immediately kick over-aged dependents off their parents' policies in any location such coverage is not mandated under any other jurisdiction.
  7. Immediately remove the Medical Loss Ration (MLR) requirements, which dictate the percentage of health care premium dollars insurers must pay for benefits (base around 80%) and requires insurers to rebate premiums to insureds when they don't meet the MLR percentage.
  8. Immediately eliminate the full coverage for pre-existing conditions at no additional premium - let the games begin.
  9. Remove no-cost-sharing coverage for preventative care, including things like lead screening, mammograms and paps, prostate screenings, annual physicals, a whole host of lab tests, and countless other benefits - those can all go back to whatever pricing structure was in place before.
  10. Remove all subsidies which currently help people pay for coverage - all of them.  
  11. Similarly, remove all supports that are paid to insurance companies to help cover the costs of  insuring the people who got coverage under the ACA. 
  12. Eliminate requirements for 'essential benefits' including outpatient services; emergency services; hospitalization; pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse, prescription drugs, and more.
  13. Immediately end all funding for Medicaid expansion.
  14. Immediately reintroduce annual and lifetime limits on benefits.
  15. Immediately increase the population of uninsured by the number of people covered under a marketplace (~10 million or so as of February 2017) and the number covered under Medicaid expansion, ~14 million)
And that's not an exhaustive list -- I forgot mental health parity regs which were enfolded into updates of the ACA along the way, for example. 

Now, some of those numbers have likely changed but the gist of this is that the Affordable Care Act was much, much more than just the individual mandate and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.  Sadly, that's something that politicians from both parties have been unwilling or unable to communicate well, and of course they continue to ignore lots of the other provisions, if for different purposes. 

The formal move by the DOJ this week to not defend the law of the land will embolden progressives on the Medicare-for-All bandwagon; sadly, it won't likely embolden anyone else to work to defend the other key provisions that also protected patients.  

As the president would say, SAD.

March 25, 2019

Noodling Around: Reactions to Barr's Memo

I've got me a bowl of piping hot ramen here, so let's do some noodling around, shall we?

I'm reminded immediately of the quote that's often attributed to Richard Nixon,"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

It comes to mind because it seems that many people are misstating what AG William Barr's letter to Congress said, or didn't say, and what it meant, or didn't mean, either on purpose or because they really don't know what it said because they just read the headlines, not the articles.  It's a hot mess, just like my noodles.

So, what do I know, after 22 months of Mueller's investigation, the hundreds of search warrants and subpoenas and interviews and the 30-some-odd indictments?

The president has egg on his face and poop on his shoes. Donald Trump, who spent two years blasting the FBI, the Justice Department, and just about everyone involved in the investigation as partisan hacks, clueless witch-hunters, angry Democrats and more - now finds himself having to say what a great job they did, whether he wants to say that or not, because those are the very people who found (to the best of our knowledge, anyway) that he did not and his family did not and his administration did not formally collude or conspire with the Russian government.

At the same time as he's now touting his (ahem) total exoneration, he's suggesting that there are many people who have committed treason against our country via their participation in the investigation. He's claimed that no one's mentioning their names, but he's mentioned their names, but he didn't mention their names when he called them out namelessly.  Like I said, poop on his shoes. Treason is a serious allegation, even when it's uttered by a complete charlatan.

Adam Schiff, put up or shut up. Schiff, the California Democrat who is now chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (some might say that's an oxymoron but that's a tale for another day), has said that his Committee has tangible proof, ample evidence, of collusion; he's said that for about a year now. Just like Trump and his treason claims, Schiff has to come clean with his evidence, sooner than later. Like now.

Mitch McConnell is the worst thing to come out of Kentucky ever, except maybe Reba McIntyre as Colonel Sanders.  The latest example? He refused to allow a vote on the non-binding resolution asking for release of the full Mueller Report, which passed the House by a 420 - 0 vote. He can go pound salt with his iron fist, or something. I mean, even Trump, even today, said he would have no problem with the full report being released. Even today, after his attorneys said that his written answers to Mueller's questions shouldn't be released, Trump said that the whole darn thing should be made public. What the heck is wrong with McConnell?

Congress is already investigating, and they want more. After weeks of complaining about how much money the Mueller investigation has cost the taxpayers (and completely ignoring that it might end up making money, after all is said and done) now the R's want to investigate the investigators who, you'll recall, found no collusion. I mean, I can see them investigating if there was a finding of collusion, but since their reality TV star president is now safe from that particular allegation, you'd think they would not want to spend a whole lot more time talking about this stuff.

Lindsey Graham basically promised James Comey a turn in the Senate Intelligence Committee's hot seat (yes, another oxymoron, I know) which won't go well for Graham, if Comey's previous testimony is any indication. Comey doesn't break under pressure, while the senators who will be questioning him will be so busy trying to make a fundraising video that they'll look ridiculous by comparison. And let me just confess that Peter Strzok was my favorite Congressional witness ever, with the exception of Matt Damon doing Brett Kavanaugh on SNL.

And the Dems are no better on this, believe me. I swear they'd investigate their own mama if they could find a reason or make one up. And yes, the fundraising video making is a driver here, as well.

Impeachment must be off the table. It simply must be off the table, I don't care how badly people want it, I don't care how many House members want it, it can't happen. First of all, it won't be successful - the House probably wouldn't go for it and there's not a snowball's chance in Death Valley that there'd be a positive vote in the Senate.  The timing will be horrible -- we're already knee deep in the 2020 race, and trying to impeach him during the election campaign almost guarantees another four years of Trump lying and Pence staring. Please -- don't blow the chance to get him out of the White House, It's going to be hard enough without forcing the Dems to hop around on their self-inflicted foot wounds Don't do it.

Governing. They're supposed to be governing. Enough said? Enough said.

March 24, 2019

Sunday School Extra - The Mueller Report, Concluded

Attorney General Bill Barr sent a short and sweet summary of the Mueller Report to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- WH), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D- NY), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Rep Doug Collins (R-GA) letting them know the principal conclusions in the report.

First, some background: The investigation was exhaustive, involving 19 lawyer (including the 13 or 17 Angry Democrats, I would guess), 40 FBI agents, analysts, accountants, and staffers. In all, there were over 2800 subpoenas, some 500 or so search warrants, interviews with around 500 witnesses, and more.  No further recommendations for indictment were issued, and there are no sealed indictments waiting to be unfurled.

As to Barr's reading of the principle conclusions of the report (we leaned in advance what Rep. Nadler thinks of those):
  1. The report outlines how Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election; documents crimes committed by people "associated with the Russian government" in the influence effort; explains that a "primary consideration" of the investigation was to determine whether any Americans "joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election" and noted that would be a federal crime had it occurred. And, "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
  2. Mueller's investigation found there were two main efforts by the Russians to mess with the election. First, the Internet Research Agency's social media disinformation campaign "designed to so social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election." Even though there was no involvement of Americans in that efforts, there were criminal charges against Russian people and companies. 
  3. Second, there was the hacking stuff, with Russians successfully hacking Clinton campaign and DNC emails and then sharing the info (remember Podesta's recipes?) through "intermediaries, including Wiki Leaks." This led to additional indictments against Russian military guys, but that no one from the Trump campaign fell for multiple overtures of assistance. 
  4. The part of the report that addressed obstruction of justice by the president spoke of a "thorough factual investigation" which did not lead to "a conclusion - one way or the other - as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction." Rather, Mueller and his team maid the case both for prosecution on the obstruction charges, and for not prosecuting on them, "leaving unresolved what the Special Counsel views as 'difficult issues' of law and fact." Importantly, and contrary to what the president and his minions are saying,  the report "does not conclude that the president committed a crime, (and) it also does not exonerate him." 
  5. Barr and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein (another target of the president) determined that Mueller's evidence is "not sufficient to establish" that the president committed a crime, and noted that they didn't take into consideration the constitutional issues around indicting and prosecuting a sitting president. Instead, they relied on Mueller's own information, including that "the evidence does not establish" that Trump was involved in any underlying crime tied to Russian interference, which makes proving obstruction much harder.  So, basically, Barr and Rosenstein did the same thing that James Comey did when he determined that not prosecutor would charge anyone who did what Hillary Clinton did.
Barr had said, in the hearing on his nomination that it was his intention all along to release as much information as he could of Mueller's report, within the confines of the law and Justice Department policies. That's going to take some time, as there's a lot of stuff that needs to be reviewed so as not to violate the confidentiality of grand jury matters, for example, or anything related to the spin-off investigations in New York and Virginia. Mueller is going to assist to make that happen as soon as possible.

In the meantime, we wait, and watch as the House and Senate majorities go their different different ways on all of this. The one thing we know for sure is that there will be investigations, with different targets, unless the leadership in both the House and the Senate can wrangle their respective folks in.

The larger issue, for me at least, is this: at what point do the majority Dems in the House turn their attention to governing, to legislating, to working on the things that have a direct impact on us? You know, taxes and social security and Medicare and voting rights and redistricting and not completely crashing the US and global economies with their Green New Deal, or wiping out the sixth of the economy that is health care and health insurance, and so on.

Those are things that we are just as entitled to as we are the Mueller report. 

Sunday School 3/24/19

Just one classroom this morning - CNN's State of the  Union, with Dana Bash sitting in today for Jake Tapper.  

Guests included former US Attorney Preet Bharara and NY Rep. Jerry Nadler, where we kick things off. 

Focus, of course, was on the delivery of the Mueller Report to AG Bill Barr on Friday, and Barr's promise to get a summary of some kind, the "principal conclusions," to Congress, maybe before the end of the day today.

Nadler and other Dems are very much interested not only in that summary, but also in the full report and its underlying evidence being released to Congress and to the American people. Heck, even most Republicans want the whole report released, confident in its conclusions, I guess. It's against that backdrop that Bash declared the state of our union is "on the edge of our seats."

(As I write this, my phone is blowing up with reports that Congress can expect Barr's summary shortly, so we'll have an update later.)

Anyway -- let's listen to Bash and Nadler for a bit stating with whether Nadler accepts that no additional indictments are coming from Mueller, according to reports, and that no member of Trump's team participated in "that kind of criminal conspiracy" with Russia?. 
Well, I don't know. First of all, we don't know what indictments are forthcoming from other investigations that have been spun out...
Nadler's referring to investigations that were handed off to the Justice Department's Southern District of NY and the Eastern District of Virginia. 
DB: Do you think... he, Mueller, would send that to other parts of the Justice Department?
JN: I don't know. That's one of the things we will have to see when we read the report. And that's one of the reasons that I think it's so crucial that the entire report and the evidence underlying it be released to the public. Transparency is key here. I mean, obviously, we know there -- we know there was some collusion. We know that the president's son and campaign manager were involved in a meeting with the Russians to receive stolen - what they thought was stolen information, stolen by the Russians from the DNC, as part of the Russian government attempt to help Trump in the election...
DB:  But none of what you just said has risen to the level of a criminal indictment by the special counsel.
 JN: No, it hasn't, as far as we know. But we know there was collusion. Why there's been no indictments, we don't know. Let me say further, we know a number of things. We know what I just said. We know that the president pressured the FBI to go easy to stop investigating Flynn and various other people. We know that he fired the FBI director, as he put it - to NBC, to "take care of the Russia thing," in order to stop the investigation of various people associated with him. We know that he concocted the lie about the purpose of that Russian meeting. We know that he - that a lot of his top associates have been indicted and convicted, and we know that he has engaged in a relentless two-year attack against the FBI, various law enforcement agencies. 
DB; So, on that note, Mr. Chairman, what you are describing is evidence to back up what you said before, that the you believe the president has obstructed justice. You still believe that? 
JN: Well, there have been obstructions of justice. Whether they are -- clearly. Whether they are criminal obstruction is another questions. But we have -- the special prosecutor is limited in scope. His job was limited in scope and limited to crimes. What Congress has to do is look at a broader picture. We are in charge -- we have the responsibility of protecting the rule of law, of looking at obstructions of justice, at looking at abuses of power, at corruption, in order to protect the rule of law, so that our democratic institutions are not greatly damaged by this president. And that's what we intend to do.
That led to a  brief discussion about impeachment ("way too early to speculate about that"), but the larger focus was on transparency and letting the American people see the entire document - even, Nadler maintained, if it includes the names of people who were not indicted, which goes against the "don't publicly tarnish someone" thinking that Dems put on the table back during the Clinton investigations. If the FBI wasn't going to indict her, they shouldn't have released all the information they did, according to the Dems. And had all of that not occurred, well... 

But that doesn't matter now, it seems. 
DB: So, why shouldn't allegations that don't reach an indictment threshold - I'm talking not about the president but on everybody else - stay confidential?
 JN: Well, because we need to know what was going on here. And it's not just the question of indictments. It's a question of protecting the rule of law and of obstruction of justice and abuses of power and protecting our government and our whole system.
And that was basically the gist of it. Congress is not the same as the special counsel, different goals, and pretty much no reason for anything to stop. Nadler did say that, if necessary, he'd subpoena to have the report released, and to go all the way to the Supreme Court if he had to, but hoped that they can talk about it and get things squared away. 

On whether he'd "accept at face value" Barr's report of the main conclusions, Nadler wasn't at all convinced. 
Well, we're likely to see what Barr characterizes as the main conclusions of the Mueller report. And we will accept them, but subject to seeing all of the underlying data. We have to make judgments, the American people have to make judgments as to how founded those conclusions are or Barr's summary of the conclusions are. 
He denied saying that he didn't trust Barr's judgment, but that seemed pretty clearly what he was saying, no matter his attempt at spin:
But I am suggesting that people make judgments, and those judgments could be right or wrong, in other words, in making a judgment as to how to characterize an observation.
And on the conclusions drawn by the Mueller team? 
So my expectation is that, yes, I would trust that, but, like any other product of human hands, we have to look at the underlying evidence and make our own judgments as to their judgments.  
I don't know about you, but I honestly can't sit through any more of this. Nadler is giving me a headache, and a stomachache. 

Preet Bharara helped alleviate the nausea a bit. On the lack of any additional indictments from Mueller, here's how he responded to Bash's question about that being a big deal:
It's a big deal politically, I guess. I don't know how big a deal it is otherwise. I mean, the main goal of the Mueller investigation, which people seem to forget, and his mission was not to get someone and not to bring about a particular outcome or result. 
That's not how it works. His job was to be as thorough as possible and as fair as possible and investigate all of the facts, and  if he doesn't come up with something, then so be it...He's made a determination, as prosecutors do, that there's not sufficient evidence to indict someone for that (conspiracy or collusion).
And finally, on the investigations by the SDNY, Bharara's old office, Bash wondered if those were anything the president needs to be concerned about. Remind her that he has no personal knowledge, he noted
I mean look, I think it's very significant and we have to wait. I think that people shouldn't be taking victory laps or jumping off bridges, depending on their political viewpoint, based on the fact that a Mueller report has been concluded and there's no indictments. But Donald Trump is not out of legal jeopardy.
And the Southern District of New York did not have the narrow mission that the special counsel had. And they are aggressive and tough and independent and fair and apolitical. And if there's things that they think are worth pursuing and charging, they will do so. And if that means there's legal jeopardy for people around the president, then we will, I guess have to see. 
And that's where we'll leave it for now.

See you around campus. 

March 22, 2019

TGIF 3/22/19

Ah! The first Friday of spring! 

Let's take a look at the week, starting with the late-breaking news we got today: the Mueller Investigation is over.

Yep - it's true. The confidential (as required by law) report has been turned in to William Barr, the AG, and he's already sent a letter to Congressional leaders letting them know he's get to them quickly with his initial summary of the report, maybe even this weekend.

We won't know for a while, at least until Barr gets back to Congress, how much of the report will be made public. Unless, of course, the Dems stop all of their other investigations and devote 100% of their time to trying to get the report released. Or, they could surprise me, and actually start trying to legislate and stuff.

The end of the investigation should be a good week for someone - just not sure who.  Maybe Mueller, who can go back to being his kind old self.

Moving on to North Korea, Chairman Kim had a good week, as the president tweeted today that he was cancelling sanctions that the US Treasury Department had decided to implement against some Chinese shipping companies. Why would Trump do that? Sarah Sanders gave us the scoop:
President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn't think these sanctions will be necessary.
Sadly the good week for North Korea was a bad week for the Treasury Department; being undercut, apparently without warning, doesn't leave a good taste in anyone's mouth, I'm sure.

Speaking of without warning, Bibi Netanyahu is having a good week, it seems. First, he gets invited to spend a couple of days at hanging at the White House while he's in town to speak to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and then the president decides (again) to tweet about policy, saying that it's time the US recognized Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. 

Honestly -- just, here's a tweet, just here's a tweet, and then he moved on to free speech on campuses and then on from there to celebrating World Down Syndrome Day.  Just a typical day in the life of the 45th president. Never mind that Netanyahu is, again, in the think of a rough election campaign, and of course there are those indictments, but all in all, I think he had a good week.  

With the Mueller report, the sanction reversal, and the policy reversal on the Golan Heights, I'm not sure whether the United States had a good week or a bad one -- I guess we'll have to wait and see. 

What else was out there? Oh, yes -- seems Jared and Ivanka are using personal devices to handle official business, with Jared using an app to copy text messages and forward them to his official government account. 

So I guess that means that Hillary Clinton's having a good week, since there's now nothing wrong with that she did. 

TGIF, everyone. How was your week?

March 20, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v168)

Wednesday again, already?  Well, alrighty then, let's dive right in!

How does one do anything but wonder, I wonder, at why the sitting president of the United States is devoting so much of his time to lambasting a deceased war hero and public servant? I mean, who does that? There's attacking someone when they're down, but attacking someone when they're dead and buried, someone celebrated for both his public service and his patriotism, and a former POW to boot? What is wrong with someone who devotes that much time to something so petty?

And as I write this, a report came across my news feed that Trump spent five full minutes talking about McCain at an official White House event today celebrating manufacturing. There's something really wrong about that, no wondering needed.

In the same vein, how does someone who was the best friend of the deceased war hero, who by his own admission was nothing without his friend - how does Lindsey Graham sleep at night, or look in the mirror, or leave his house, given that he continues to prop up Trump at every turn, leaving his best friend behind on the battlefield? I honestly don't know how he lives with himself.

I wonder if  anyone else remembers when the American president would not meet with Israel's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter's campaign for re-election? Well, here we are again, with Netanyahu again facing a difficult election, and also facing indictment for bribery and other charges, but instead of the American president not interfering, the two men are going to spend a lot of time together.  I'm not sure that's a good thing, even if it is an ally - and I of course don't trust the president's motives - is this about America and Israel, or is it about Trump and his wooing of Jews away from the Democratic Party, I wonder.

What else is wonder-worthy tonight?

March 19, 2019

Quick Takes (v33): Carson and Katko

Quick Takes
There was an article in my local paper today, about the possibility that Ben Carson, president Trump's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, might pay a visit to Syracuse to see what's going on here.

According to Mark Weiner's article, Carson met with Congressman John Katko recently and talked about the Syracuse Surge and, according to Katko, he
expressed interest in visiting Syracuse to see how the city plans to transform its economy with public and private investment centered on a series of projects on the south end of downtown. 
The plan includes a new STEAM  high school that will be open not just to city students but to kids from all of the school districts in Onondaga County. The school would be dedicated to the more common STEM curriculum - science, technology, engineering and math - and also add focus on the arts, too.

Katko suggested that HUD could play a "leading role" in the Syracuse Surge, which ties in to rebuilding the Pioneer Homes project and redeveloping the whole southeast end of downtown, including whatever happens with the I-81 viaduct project, and said that HUD money could "help jump-start" development efforts.

And, Katko said they also talked about the ongoing issue with lead poisoning here; new funding was approved in December to get our lead paint abatement program back up and running, after funding was cut off due to disagreements between the City and HUD back in 2012.

Whether or not you're a Carson or Katko fan, we'd be nuts to not want a Cabinet member with good intentions coming here; after all, NY historically gets a lot less from the federal government than we pay in. And if there's a chance that HUD will come through with some money and other assistance to help us rebuild the south east side of downtown, and continue their commitment to helping us get rid of the lead that's still causing issues for kids in Syracuse,  I'm all for it.

March 18, 2019

Ranting and Raving (v3)

It's been interesting watching the president's minions deflect questions about the president not making a statement against anti-Muslim terrorism, or why white supremacists find Trump to be an ally, and instead turn the conversation to how hard the president is working to protect us from terrorists of all kinds via his emergency declaration at the southern border.

I've addressed the racism and hatred in several recent posts (here, here, and here) as well as multiple times in the past but today I want to talk about immigration - the wall, and immigration beyond the wall. 

First off, show us the detailed map where the proposed new wall is to be built, and what kind of wall it will be, along with the impact statements showing why those areas were chosen. Those impact statements would include information on illegal crossings that will be abated when the wall is built, the impact to local landowners, their crops and their animals; the impact to the environment (such as the kind of flooding that has been experienced in Arizona since parts of the wall was put up) and wildlife and the economic impact, if any, that will come from the wall being built. 

This information has to be available, and it should be shared with any interested party - meaning, any American who wants to read it. If it's not available, say, because no one has done this level of detailed study, shame on them. and shame on us. Cease work on the border wall unless and until the information is available. 

And why don't we spend the money Congress previously allocated that has not yet been spent, and the new money just authorized, and see how things are different after those sections of fencing are built? Show us the results from the actions taken, some of which should be immediate, if there is in fact a national emergency? 

Now, here comes the hard part. With the same level of enthusiasm as that being expressed by the president and his supporters, whether elected or otherwise, for building the wall: 
  • let's actively get to work finding a way to identify, track down and deal with the visa over-stayers, who make up a significant percentage of illegal immigrants in the US. This would include delivering them back to their home countries via a formal transfer, not just a "run along home, now" type of message.
  • let's make sure the immigration courts are fully funded, fully staffed and aggressively resolving the massive backlog of criminal cases first, and then immigration-only cases that has existed for years. 
  • let's solve DACA. That doesn't mean sending teens and twenty-somethings "back" to a country they've never lived in, either.  It means citizenship, plain and simple, barring a criminal record (other than that they were brought here illegally by their parents).
  • let's have a public discussion on 'merit' visas, such that we don't find the need to award special privileges to supermodels. 
  • let's figure out why we are so hungry for foreign parking valets and bartenders and housekeepers to work at golf clubs and wineries and resorts owned by the president- president's sons and other companies. Those jobs should go to Americans. If they need training, the properties can train them - on their own dime, not with taxpayer dollars.
  • let's figure out why we want foreign doctors and foreign engineers and so on, all those foreigners who want to love America (but who don't come from shithole countries, of course), instead of making sure that Americans can get an education and that there are funded positions for them to help solve our doctor shortage or engineer shortage or other highly-skilled position shortage.  
  • let's make sure that all border crossings are fully equipped with all of the tools and staff they need to effectively identify and interdict the drugs and the murders and rapists and all of those duct-taped women that are flooding our border. 
  • let's make sure we've got lots of Americans ready to do apprenticeships with migrant workers so they can learn how to pick crops, so that businesses won't be tempted to hire foreigners to help them put food on our tables. 
  • let's make sure that we're not allowing asylum seekers to become victimized at the holding centers we put them in, and let's make sure we're not 'losing' children who are taken into custody at the border. 
  • let's act like we at least understand what it is that draws people to America, the beacon of hope and justice - and then act with decency towards those who want a part of that. 
  • let's make sure that we are supplying adequate funding to the countries that are the main sources of illegal immigration, rather than threatening to cut it, so that they can build up their own countries and make it less appealing for people to make the journey to potential freedom in America. 
  • let's see the negotiator in chief shame American wall contractors the same way he shames Boeing and Lockheed Martin into giving us a better price. 
  • let's see if we can't come up with something on the border other than a simple wall, something that would, I don't know, produce energy, create permanent jobs (other than law enforcement), empower people on both sides of the border - and maybe let's see if we can partner with Mexico, instead of battling with them? 
None of what's written above says, in any way, that every person who shows up here needs to be allowed to stay. None of it says that we should get rid of ICE or have totally open borders or that walls are immoral or anything like that.

What it does suggest is that we cannot attack a complex problem with only the simplest of solutions, because we have seen time and time again that this does not work. And that's what the wall is - the simplest solution that solves only one part of the 'incoming' problem, it does nothing about any of the other issues that make up "immigration" in the United States.

I'm not pro-crime, pro-gangs, pro-drugs or any of that other happy horse poop we hear from the president all the time.  I am also not anti-immigration.

I'm all for legal immigration, and I am for treating people who are legitimately seeking asylum here with dignity and in accordance with international law.

Both parties, all leaders, all members of Congress - every last one of them, regardless of where they sit in relation to the proverbial aisle, must look beyond their next election, and stop feeding the beast. They need to do what we sent them there to do, and if they are unwilling - or unable - they must go.

It's that simple. It's as simple as building a wall. 

March 17, 2019

Sunday School 3/17/19

Let's dive right in to this morning's lectures, starting with CNN's State of the Union, where Jake Tapper had as his guest today US Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown.

Brown noted that he hadn't spoken directly with the president since the terrorist attack, but was aware of contacts between the two countries on multiple levels, and we know of course already about president Trump's conversation with Prime Minister Ardern. Tapper noted that Trump so far hasn't offered "sympathy and love" to Muslims. He asked (twice) if Brown would like to see him do that; here's part of his response:
...there's been no time in my political or diplomatic life that I have ever questioned our government, whether it's this government or any other prior government's commitment to end racism, to stop bigotry, to really deal with the Islamophobic attitudes... What's happening around the world really seems a little bit irrelevant, to be honest with you, because we're dealing with taking care of those Muslim brothers and sisters and family members and community members and friends that are hurting right now. 
When pressed on a possible rise in white nationalist activity in the US or around the world,  Brown said he wasn't focused on that, but said he hadn't seen anything in New Zealand to indicate that. And he said he doesn't give "any credibility" to the terrorist's manifesto that specifically mentioned Trump.

Let's see what the other folks were talking about.

Trump in Transition (v36)

Listen, I know there's lots of important stuff going on in the world that might require the attention of the (ahem) leader of the free world, but I've got to tell you, I didn't know that I was so totally focused on the wrong stuff.  

I mean, here I am getting prepared for this morning's lectures from the Sunday pundits, and thinking about the budget, and what "the most awe-inspiring military" really even means, and then there's climate change and the weather and trying to learn the difference between them so I can talk intelligently with people on this critical subject, and of course there's terrorism in all its forms with good people on both sides and I'm surely trying to get my arms around that, as a patriotic American, and there's redistricting and voter suppression and border security and dear lord, jobs and the economy and taxes and entitlements and healthcare and prescription drugs and there's even helping women in shithole countries and and and there's just SO MUCH STUFF TO THINK ABOUT, right?

So, being a patriotic American, I decided to see what the president was thinking about; maybe I could follow his lead? 




March 16, 2019

Sidebar: TGIF 3/15/19

Yesterday's post was about hate, particularly white supremacist hate, which we tend to ignore much more than any other kind.

I wanted to point out a couple of things that are directly related both to yesterday's post, and to why this particular type of hate tends to be ignored.

First: I saw a couple of accounts (and you can watch here for yourself) about a request made by New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to president Trump. Her recounting was that Trump asked what offer of support the US could provide, and she asked him for "sympathy and love for all Muslim communities."

Below are three tweets the president sent about the white supremacist terrorist attack in Christchurch:

In between the first and second tweets about the attack, he tweeted about the "Jexodus" - a new term for me. According to Trump that's what you call it when Jews leave the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party. I'm sure he learned that on Fox News.

Other tweets and retweets yesterday, if my count is correct, included one about Google helping China but not the US; one about the Paris Accord; one about the economy; one about the weather in the Midwest: eight about the Mueller probe; and ten about immigration and his veto of the bill opposing the national emergency declaration to re-appropriate money for the border wall.

At no point did he do what Prime Minister Ardern requested. 

But wait - there's more. Or, less, really.

March 15, 2019

TGIF 3/15/19

It's hard to even contemplate a TGIF post today, so I'm going to take a different approach entirely. 

There are so many things about this that turn my stomach, not the least of which is that, if you replaced occurrences of New Zealand with America, it could have been written by any number of people right here in the US.

Any number of national known politicians, their extremist supporters, their minions and surrogates who speak as if for them, if not actually for them, the ones who believe there are good people on both sides, or who lament that white nationalist has become a negative term and who espouse that no matter what, the Judeo-Christian society is the best society ever, all others pale in comparison and only ours is blessed by God, or that anyone who is not white must be biased against them, or that people of color or Muslims or Jews are filthy dogs... 

Others, maybe people known to us, including perhaps even family members, who share horridly offensive comments directed at Muslims, or Jews, or immigrants, who fear an invasion or a takeover by Muslims, by Jews, by Hispanics, by immigrants, by people who are not like us, don't look like us, don't dress like us, don't pray like us, don't 'American' like us... 

The police officer, the fireman, the head of your favorite local charity, who post racist information on social media and then complain that it was meant to be private, not public - while at the same time saying that what they posted doesn't represent what they think...

Because when a person shares something like this, it does represent what they think, unless it is expressly stated that it doesn't, at the time it's posted - not later, when it's discovered by someone outside the original intended audience. 

Unequivocally, the statement by the Australian politician does not represent what I think or believe, and I'm deeply offended by it. 

I'm sharing it because I want to remind people who think that this is all harmless, or all in good fun, or just a joke, or not really what they mean to understand that it is really harmful, is not at all meant in good fun, is not a joke, and, honestly, it is what people who say this really mean.

Don't let them fool you again, And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And don't elect them, whether it's to local or state or national office, or to any other position of leadership or authority. 

Just don't. 

March 14, 2019

The Update Desk: Hire Ground

Late last month, I wrote about a new program here in Syracuse called Hire Ground. Here's some information on the program from the original post:
Syracuse and Onondaga County are collaborating on a program that will help reduce panhandling and help establish an income stream for some of the city's homeless population.

In a few short months, we've moved away from plans to address 'aggressive' panhandlers via a local law, and instead will be looking to give people a leg up towards improving their situation.
The new program will be coordinated by John and Leigh-Ann Tumino founders of In My Father's Kitchen (IMFK), a local non-profit focusing on helping the homeless. Again, from February's post:
The program will have a van with a driver and a caseworker to assist the laborers, who will work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays along side the driver and caseworker - so it's not just a pick-up drop-off program. For each workday, the people will receive a $50 stipend.
So what's new?  Well, the Hire Ground program has some new partners - we learned today that some of merchants as Destiny USA will be helping support the program.

The Eddie Bauer and Carhartt stores are going to provide clothing and shoes for the workers, and Panera has offered to provide one meal a month for a year for participants.

IMFK's Tumino hopes this will be a "catalyst" and inspire other businesses to provide support to the program as well. Maybe someday the program, which got some initial support from the owners of Ziebart and Driver's Village, could become self-sufficient and not need to rely on taxpayer dollars.

The program is slated to get under way on May 1st.

March 13, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v167)

Here we go again!

The president today decided to follow the path taken by many other countries and ground Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 airplanes after a second deadly crash killed everyone aboard, and after Canada declared that none of the planes would be allowed to land in or fly out of Canadian airspace based on new information.

Trump's statement noted
The safety of the American people, all people, is our paramount concern. Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice. Planes that are in the air will be grounded upon landing at their destination, Pilots will be notified. Airlines have been notified and have agreed with us. 
This comes on the heels of a couple of tweets he sent yesterday which suggested that technology was making a mess of things.

Pilots are no longer needed? Who are those people in the cockpit, I wonder, and what are they doing?

"Older and simpler far are better," he said? I wonder if he's thinking about presidents, maybe? Or how that fits in with his big push for STEM and Space Force and all that? And border protection - what about that technology? Older and simpler would have us visually inspecting every truck crossing the border, grinding crossings (and the economy) to a complete halt.

How, I wonder, can he request $750 billion for the military,
...not funding for endless wars, this is for research and development and procurement to fund the most awe-inspiring military the world has ever known.
I just wonder about him, I do.

March 12, 2019

The Update Desk: Aggressive Progressives

A week or so ago, I wrote a Knock Knock post about the aggressive progressives that are making a whole lot of noise in the House and Senate.

The post was about this wing of the Democratic Party suggesting that the only way their agenda will move forward in the Senate is if they retake the majority and then get rid of the filibuster, the tool that requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass.

Here's an excerpt the crux of the issue, we're told by Ezra Levin,  co-founder of the Indivisible Project.
In order to actually pass a big, bold pro-democracy package, or a big, bold climate package, or a health care package, we're going to need to be able to do that with 51 votes. 
 And here's my opinion on this whole mess:
And unless there's some miracle that ends up with a blue tsunami or a red tide in the Senate, we're going to continue to see a small majority for one party or the other -- and all voters deserve to get what they want, including the people in the minority.
The fact that the minority might continue to be blue, or will inevitably turn blue, is reason enough not to make this silly move...
The filibuster is just one issue; the Green New Deal, and calls for socialism (Democratic or otherwise), and the extreme language they use, are others that seem to be getting a lot of attention for the particular representatives, but the attention has not all been positive for them, or for the party as a whole.

Recently, I stumbled on a NY Times article from last month that helps illustrate how the aggressive progressives (let's call them the APs) are having an influence on the party as a whole that is also not necessarily positive.

March 11, 2019

Cheating is Cheating

Some of you may remember that New York State is facing an unexpected budget deficit, to the tune of some $2.3 billion.

The shortfall is tied to lower-than-projected tax collections towards the end of last year, and in the first few weeks of this year, we were told - and that in part stems from the changes to the federal tax code that limited the deductibility of state and local taxes, or SALT, in the vernacular. Both Tom DiNapoli, the comptroller, and Andrew Cuomo, our Sonofa Gov, made that declaration when they told us about the problem.

Cuomo even went off to Washington to talk the president about doing something about the SALT limits, without success; if I remember correctly, each time Cuomo said SALT, Trump said abortion, so it wasn't a resounding success.

And even though things have been getting better, Cuomo told us, wealthy people are leaving New York to go to states where the tax situation is more palatable for them.  You know - states like Florida and others in the south and out west that don't have an income tax, and/or that have significantly lower property taxes.

Now, how many people really did that because of the changes in the tax code, vs. the people who age out of NY (the ones who are tired of dealing with winter and retire to warmer places, either fully or who live as snowbirds, we may never know.  But the state tax department is aggressively pursuing rich people who leave, to make sure they're really not New Yorkers anymore, and to make sure they're not cheating on their taxes. And that, of course, has people all riled up.

March 10, 2019

Sunday School 3/10/19

I wandered around three classrooms this morning. I'm not sure exactly what I was looking for, so I'm not exactly sure if I found it or not.

Let's start with Face the Nation and Ed O'Keefe's interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), one of the declared presidential candidates. He kicked things off with her recently announced plan to break up tech companies, asking her why it needs to be done. Her answer?
Because the giant tech companies right now area eating up little, tiny businesses, startups - and competing unfairly. 
The thing is, Warren says, the platform companies should not be competing with people who use their platforms, putting their items ahead of the competition in the search returns, and so on.
So what I'm saying is we've got to break these guys apart. You want to run a platform? That's fine, You don't get to run a whole bunch of the businesses as well. You want to run a business? That's fine. You don't get to run the platform. Think of it this way, it's like in baseball. You can be the umpire or you can own one of the teams, but you don't get to be the umpire and own the teams.
So Facebook would have to sell off Instagram, Amazon would have to sell off Whole Foods, and "all those little businesses that they're running, competing businesses. Yup."

O'Keefe asked who the federal government was to tell these companies they had to do this; Warren mentioned long-standing anti-trust laws.  But, she's not anti-market, she pointed out, she's pro-markets-that-work:
The way markets work is they have to have rules and they have to have a cop to enforce them. A market without rules is theft and I'm not in favor of theft, I'm in favor of markets that produce real competition. 
She talked about taxing the ultra rich, noting that the top 1/10th of 1% will pay about 3.4% of their total net wealth in taxes while the 99.9% will pay about 7.4% and that's not fair because (paraphrasing here) when all of their inherited wealth was actually being earned by their families way back in the day, they did it on the backs of the rest of us -- along the lines of Obama's "you didn't build that" but in a way that seemed to be less offensive, if not more accepted. We 99-per-centers educated all of those workers back then, and built the roads, bridges, and factories, and so
So what we're really saying is look, just put a little back in the kitty. This is what we're asking for. Pay a fair share, so the next kid has a chance to build something great and the kid after that and the kid after that. 
She also said if anyone labels her as a socialist, "it's just wrong."

March 9, 2019

Poll Watch: What We Want in 2020

I thought it was time to take a look at what Americans are thinking, or at least what a representative sampling of us are thinking, anyway.

There was a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on the 2020 race, taken in the last few days of February.  Here are some excerpts from the article announcing the findings:
A year and a half before the 2020 presidential election, president Donald Trump faces formidable obstacles in his bid for re-election...
But Democrats who want to defeat Trump have hurdles of their own...
Add it up, and 2020 is shaping up to be yet another close presidential race, say the Democratic and Republican pollsters who conducted the NBC/WSJ survey. 
Before we look the results, let's do the small print. The survey was conducted 2/24 - 2/27, with 900 respondents, 405 of whom have only cell phones and 22 who were interviewed on cell phones but  also have land lines. 720 of the respondents were registered voters; 48% were male; 72% were white and 88% were non-Hispanic.  44% were at least 50 years old.

The very first question was on the extent to which respondents approved or disapproved of the president's job performance. 46% overall approve (31% strongly), while 52% disapprove (43% strongly). The last time his approval rating was that high was in November; the last two months, it's been steady at 43% approve/54% disapprove. What with the government shutdown making a mess of things, I'm not surprised it dropped, or that it went up once the shutdown was officially over.

On foreign policy, the approve/disapprove ratio was 43%/52%.

Let's see what else the survey showed.

March 8, 2019

TGIF 3/8/19

It's time again for our weekly look at good weeks and bad, even if we don't have an actual definition of those terms.

It's sort of like pornography, right? We know it when we see it?

Minnesota's Rep. Ilhan Omar had a good week, I think in the end. She made, for the 3rd time, what most people would historically think of as being anti-Semitic remarks - that's right, the 3rd time - and as a result, the House of Representatives decided that the right thing to do was to draft a seven-page resolution that the House thinks that hatred and discrimination of all kinds are wrong.

All of the Democrats voted in favor of the resolution, Rep. Omar included, as did many Republicans - all but 23 of them, in fact.  The fact that the resolution was drafted in such a way as to protect Omar from being singled out for her specific comments gave her a better week than it might have otherwise been. The question for the House leadership, of course, is what happens the next time? Because it seems almost inevitable that there will be a next time.

Meanwhile, NY's Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used this opportunity to raise money. I'm not sure whether or not those efforts were successful, but I bet she thinks she had a good week.

Who else had a week?