May 29, 2019

Robert Mueller Speaks

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here. 

Two years ago, the acting attorney general asked me to serve as special counsel and he created the special counsel’s office. The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Now, I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete. The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the special counsel’s office, and as well, I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life. I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work. 

But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office’s 
written work speak for itself. 

Let me begin where the appointment order begins, and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election. As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military, launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.

The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate

And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election. These indictments contain allegations, and we are not commenting on the guilt or the innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The indictments allege, and the other activities in our report describe, efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understood. And that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office. That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. 

When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts, addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate. The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. 

This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy. 

And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president. The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. We conducted that investigation, and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work. 

And as set forth in the report, after that investigationif we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. 

We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. The introduction to the Volume II of our report explains that decision. It explains that under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited. 

A special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. 

Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider. 

The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report, and I will describe two of them for you. First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now. And second, 

the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. 

And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially — it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge. So that was Justice Department policy. 

Those were the principles under which we operated. 
And from them, we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime.

We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the attorney general, as required by department regulations. The attorney general then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people. At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released and the attorney general preferred to make — preferred to make the entire report public all at once and we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. 

And I certainly do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.

Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. 

Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made.  We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself.  And the report is my testimony. 

I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress. In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.

So beyond what I’ve said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress. And it’s for that reason I will not be taking questions today, as well.

Now, before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the F.B.I. agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. 

These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel’s office were of the highest integrity

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systemic efforts to interfere in our election. 

And that allegation deserves the attention of every American

Thank you. Thank you for being here today.

May 28, 2019

Meanwhile Back in Albany (v31)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo
With the Legislature still home for the Memorial Day weekend, you can be sure our legislators' thoughts are focused on things like getting through the last couple of weeks of the session, and figuring out how to make it look like they're putting in full work weeks even though there's no legislating going on for the rest of the year.

And now that they've gotten their big raise, some of them need to figure out how to get their outside income at or below the 15% of base salary cap that came with the raise.

Meanwhile, back in Albany, as we say, our Sonofa Gov is making headlines on a radio interview. Take a look:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to seek a fourth term as governor of New York state, he disclosed Tuesday. During an interview on WAMC radio, Cuomo said he believes he is making a difference in New York and plans to run again in 2022. 
Yep, he wants to stick around and is not planning on a 2024 run for president, if we read between the lines here.
I have been in the federal government. I was a cabinet secretary... I was in Washington for eight years. I believe I'm making a difference in the state of New York. I believe that in my heart. 
I think I'm doing good things... I believe I know how to do this (note: being governor). I would like to do it for as long as the people of the state of New York believe I am a positive.
Only Nelson Rockefeller won a fourth 4-year term; Cuomo's father and George Pataki each also served three terms. I did not know that at one point the term was only three years -- and George Clinton served seven of those.

May 26, 2019

Sunday School 5/26/19

Let's see how far we can make it, hoping for three classrooms today: two discussions with people of whom I'm not fond, and one with a person with whom I'm relatively unfamiliar.

So let's start there, with Face the Nation where Margaret Brennan  and Beto O'Rourke had a sit-down.  First up was immigration.

O'Rourke was asked if he favors 'catch and release' - no, this is not about fishing, it's about detaining and then releasing immigrants, giving them a court date and trusting them to appear as scheduled. He pointed out that, historically, when we assign them case managers, 99% of them come back for their hearing. He doesn't like the 'catch and release' term any more than I do.
I wouldn't call it catch and release. I'd call it helping those who are seeking asylum in this country to follow our laws. 
Brennan asked if, under his administration, the folks who cross illegally at non-points of entry would be detained
... Those families, if they pose no threat to this country or the communities in which they are apprehended should be released with a case manager who ensures they follow our laws, that they attend their court hearings, that they meet their appointments 
They talked about his campaign, and then Brennan asked if the Democratic Party needs some kind of "generational change." He pointed to the sense of urgency on the part of voters, saying in part.
All I know is that we need to match that with a relentless energy that brings people in who may have been left out before.... We need to be able to bring in new energy. We need to be able to bring in new voters. We need to make sure that this democracy, so badly damaged, works for everyone...
He said that Russia is our greatest adversary, noting that after the Mueller Report came out, Trump called Vladimir Putin for a private chat, noting
We've got the most dangerous person who's ever held office in the White House right now who's inviting the involvement of our greatest adversaries. And we've got to be able to stand up not as Democrats but as Americans to this challenge. 
He's right on that, I think.

May 25, 2019

Poll Watch: Dump Trump

Who would have thunk that, at this stage of the most successful presidency since sliced bread, a pretty decent majority of voters believe it's time we had a different person sitting in the Oval Office.

Strange as that must seem from the president's perspective, that's the case, at least in a recent poll by Monmouth University, which was discussed in this article.
A new poll finds that a strong majority of voters believes that president Trump does not deserve a second term in office. A Monmouth University survey released Wednesday found that only 37% of voters believe Trump should be reelected, while 60% said they think it's time to have someone new in the White House. 
Monmouth has been asking this question since November, and this is the highest percentage of voters saying enough, already.

The survey also shows that Trump's approval rating is 40% positive, which is on the low end of the scale (40 - 44%) for this poll over the past year, while his 52% negative rating is on the upper end of the 46 - 54% range during the same time period.

As expected, Republicans still are holding him in high esteem (86% approval rating), but only 37% of Independents view him favorably, with 50% having an unfavorable opinion of him.

So, what else did this poll show us?

May 24, 2019

TGIF 5/24/19

So, right off the bat, I'm thinking that mental health professionals have had a good week - because there's no one else who can help us understand what the heck we're seeing with the president and the Speaker of the House.

She - Madam Speaker - has announced her intention to pray for the president and has called for someone, whether it's his family or his people in his administration, to have an intervention with him, "for the good of the country."

The president, who tweeted portions of an edited video that made Pelosi seem like she was drunk while talking with the press, said Pelosi was "a mess" while declaring himself to be an extremely stable genius - even more stabler and geniuser than before when he was just a plain old stable genius, or even a very stable genius. And, to support his stability or genius or extremism (you pick) he asked others to comment on his temperament.

So the mental health folks? They're the ones who can provide us some information on whether there are mental health concerns with either of these two folks, and whether we can sleep easy at night or if we need to be afraid, very afraid, of what's happening at the highest levels of our government.

Who else had a note-worthy week?

May 22, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v173)

Right off the bat, I wonder if anyone thinks that the president's snitty little hissy fit today was in any way spontaneous, or in any way based on comments made earlier in the day by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? 

In case you missed the key part, here's what he said after storming out of his meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that have just said that I was doing a cover-up. I don't do cover-ups.
I wonder if he heard me laugh out loud there?  I mean, just ask Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal  about Trump doing cover-ups.  And hey, just ask Don McGahn, if he ever gets his fanny over to the hill to talk with Congress about those obstruction allegations he made to the Mueller team...

If there IS anyone who believes this was spontaneous anything, other than combustion, I'll await your explanation as to why there magically was a No Collusion No Obstruction sign on the presidential podium, which just happened to be in the Rose Garden at a time His Childishness was supposed to be in his infrastructure meeting?

And if there IS anyone who honestly believes that this wasn't planned, I'll need your explanation as to why the president sent a letter over to the Dems on Tuesday night - hours in advance of this infrastructure meeting -  suggesting that Congress should pass his NAFTA replacement trade deal before they talk about infrastructure? When, exactly, did he think they were going to vote on that, between darkness and dawn?

And I wonder if anyone believes that Nancy Pelosi didn't know exactly what she was doing when she said both that the president was engaged in a cover-up and that
In any event, I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America.
I wonder if that line made Trump supporting heads explode?

And finally, I wonder when, where, and how this kabuki dance is going to end.

Quick Takes (v36): Felons on Juries

Quick Takes
As we've discussed, since the 2018 midterms when the Republicans lost their razor-thin majority in the Senate, the majority progressives have been moving ahead on a number of items, including criminal justice reform.

There have been changes limiting the publishing of mug shots (much to the dismay of folks who live to comment on them on social media), the use of cash bail, and the potential for legalized recreational marijuana.

Heck, District Attorneys across the state have said they'd no longer prosecute minor marijuana offenses, with some going so far as to expunge charges from people's records, even without the proposal moving forward yet.

But the latest proposal - allowing convicted felons to serve on juries - is causing apoplexy among the 'tough on crime' Republicans. Here's the deal:
The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow convicted felons to serve on juries. 
Felons who have completed their full sentencing, parole or supervision periods will be welcomed onto the juror's bench. There's currently a lifetime ban on felons serving as jurors. 
The bill passed, 36 -25. And that's when John Flanagan, the senate's minority leader, blew a gasket, calling this bill "an addition to the Democrats' "Criminal Bill of Rights."
How could Democrats believe that Judith Clark, a terrorist who killed two police officers and a security guard, would be an impartial juror? Where is the common sense and the respect for those who lost their lives and the families who still grieve? 
Who is Judith Clark, you might ask?

Well, she was a member of the Weather Underground, a violent radical group back in the day. Clark drove a getaway car after a truck fleeing a robbery back in 1981 was stopped by police and a shootout occurred, leaving two police officers dead. The robbery itself resulted in the death of a security guard.

She was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison, but was granted clemency by our Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo, who shortened her sentence to 35 years, making her eligible for parole. Cuomo noted that others involved in the crime served less time than Clark, and that she was a model prisoner. She was denied parole in 2017 but was freed last month, after serving more than 37 years.

There were four Long Island Democrats who voted against the bill, including Jim Gaughran, who noted
I voted no because I have concerns over certain serious violent felonies such as murder or rape. Or someone like Bernie Madoff as well. I don't think there's a place for these people to be serving on juries, but I think across the board there could be opportunities that we could explore. 
Gaughran raises an interesting point: do we want white collar criminals serving on juries, any more than we want murderers or rapists? I wonder what Flanagan thinks about that?

If we disallow rehabilitated criminals, those who are paroled or pardoned based on their exemplary acts while in prison, aren't we punishing them beyond the point at which we have decided that they've done their time?

And wouldn't the same be true for someone who accepts their punishment, keeps their head down and serves their time without incident or distinction?

I think the case could be made that these folks are perhaps more qualified to serve as jurors, given their experience on both the crime and punishment sides of the equation, than someone like me - or John Flanagan.

We're a civilized society, or at least we pretend to be one.  There should be a way to allow those who have served their time to fully integrate into society, including getting a job, restoring their right to vote, and yes, allowing them the singular pleasure that is jury service.

May 19, 2019

Sunday School 5/19/19

I spent some time with a couple of Democratic presidential candidates today - got two in one classroom (and I could have spent time with a third one had I wanted) - so it was one of those win-win things.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard chatted with George Stephanopoulus on This Week. Let's take a look, with Hickenlooper up first.

The governor and former veep Joe Biden are sort of in the same lane, George suggested: both are about bringing folks together, ratcheting things down, working across the aisle, and so on -- so why Hickenlooper? He said he was running
...because Donald Trump has been fueling this national crisis of division and it's taking our country backwards. And the answer is not socialism. In Colorado, we were able to bring business and nonprofits together, Democrats and Republicans, to get you almost universal healthcare coverage, to become the number one economy in America, and to beat the NRA with tough gun laws. 
I've been an entrepreneur and a governor. And most of my adult life I've been able to bring adult people together again and again and get tough, progressive things done that people said we couldn't do. And I think it's time to replace the nonsense in Washington with some common sense.  
George pressed him on the 'not socialism' comment, noting it appeared to be a Bernie slam; he also wondered if Hickenlooper was "confident" that consensus-building was what Dems were looking for.
...I spend my whole life, as I said, bringing people together and getting big, progressive things done... I think the real challenge here is how do we get that nonsense that's taking over Washington and replace it with common sense. 
They moved to foreign policy; apparently there's going to be a speech this week, parts of which had been released. George wondered what the part noting might be "looking to withdraw from our global leadership role" due to past "foreign policy mistakes" was all about. Hickenlooper started talking about Trump and his "isolationist and reckless foreign policy" but George wondered who the Dems were that were mentioned in the video.
Well, I don't want to name names, but they're - but they have withdrawn from - you know, they would have the United States withdraw from global engagement and that makes us less safe...
George was not satisfied, asking if any of the 22 other Democrats in the race "call for the retreat" Hickenlooper mentioned.
Almost all the other Democrats - not all, but many of the other Democrats feel that we should back away from fair and open trade. And I believe that, only through, you know, constant engagement and building up that trade are we going to get full security. And I think as we revive US leadership, we're able to not only make our country safer, but as I said we're going to be able to be more prosperous at the same time.
Next, what does he think qualifies him to be commander in chief, given he has no military service or years of experience governing at the federal level.He mentioned a cyber security center in Colorado Springs, deploying the National Guard, and working with military leaders on NORAD. And,
I've, you know, gone out on over a dozen economic development trips, built relationships with leaders around the world. In places like Israel we've had a partnership that addressed terrorism, water conservation, cyber security. I mean, there's a long portfolio there of places where I've been engaged in active foreign affairs.
Noting that Hickenlooper is, at best, polling at 2% (some polls it's only 1%), George wondered if he wouldn't have to start hitting harder at his opponents.
I think little by little, but again, the focus - I'm running because this country is in a national crisis of division and I  -- look, my whole life I've been able to bring people together and get stuff done. I'm the one candidate when you look at the long record of what they've gotten done I can bring -- I really believe I can bring some common sense where right not in Washington you see nothing but nonsense.
Final question: how about running for Senate, instead, like Chuck Schumer has suggested - any chance?
Well, I think I'd be a difficult candidate as a Senator.
And then he repeated, again, his bringing people together and trying to bring common sense to Washington.

Next up - Gabbard. George wondered if she was one of those Dems Hickenlooper mentioned. After explaining her record as an enlistee in the Army National Guard after 9/11, two deployments in the Middle East, and her service in Congress on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee, she said
(I) bring that experience to the forefront where as president I will end these counterproductive and wasteful regime change wars, work to end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race, recognizing how wasteful and costly they are. 
And take the trillions of dollars that we've been spending, would continue to spend and invest those resources on serving the needs of the American people, things like healthcare, education, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, protecting our environment. There are many urgent needs here that we need to address and we've got to get our priorities straight. 
Noting that Gabbard resigned a DNC position because of Hillary Clinton's "hawkish interventionist foreign policy" and wondered if that applied to Joe Biden.
...The problem I have seen is that across both Democrat and Republican administrations, and especially in this Trump administration where, right now, he is leading us down this dangerous path towards a war with Iran... 
George clarified that Trump says he doesn't want a war with Iran, but Gabbard said John Bolton and Mike Pompeo tell a different story.
...I think what we're seeing, unfortunately, is what looks like a lot of people in the Trump administration trying to create a pretext or excuse for us to go to war against Iran, a war that would actually undermine our national security, cost us countless American lives, cost civilian lives across the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis in Europe and it would actually make us less safe by strengthening terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. 
George hit her on previous comments she's made - that we have to "end the new Cold War,"  that she's softer than some of the other Dems on Putin and Russia, that she's met with Assad, opposed the arrest of Assange, and has "suggested that Russian election meddling is no worse than America's historically." And he asked if she thought Putin was a national security threat. She said her focus is on keeping us safe.
And what I've pointed out consistently, time and time again, is that our continued wasteful regime change wars have been counterproductive to the interests of the American people and the approach that this administration has taken in essentially choosing conflict rather than seeing how we can cooperate and work out our differences with other countries in the world has been counterproductive to our national security.
George wondered if Dems are taking "too hard a line" on Russia.
I think that the escalation of tensions that we've seen between the US and nuclear-armed countries like Russia and China, and you're right, it has come from this administration, it's also come from some Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It has brought us to this very dangerous point where nuclear strategists point out that we are at a greater risk of nuclear war now than ever before in history and we've got to understand what the consequences of that are.  
She mentioned the fake missile warning in her state, telling folks to seek shelter immediately, and how terrifying it was - and that it pointed to the "very real threat we face" if we continue down the Cold War path.
And this is what I seek to change; to build relationships that are build on cooperation rather than conflict, de-escalate these tensions, work out the differences that we have, the problems that we have with other countries... We've got to be able to work with countries like Russia and China to be able to accomplish that objective to keep the American people safe. 
And that's where they left it.

Have fun digesting these two interviews.  See you around campus.

May 18, 2019

Quick Takes (v35): No, It's Our Money

Quick Takes
A while back, California received federal funding to build a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and LA.

Some work has been done on the project, however it seem clear, based on statements by Governor Gavin Newsom, that it may never be built. Here's a report about his State of the State address back in February,
In a change to a project voters first approved with a $10 billion bond during the Schwarzenegger administration, Newsom said there "simply isn't a path" to build highs peed rail to connect the northern and southern parts of the state wihtout more funding. The project as originally designed now is estimated to cost at least $77 billion.
Instead, he called for focus on a section linking the Central Valley cities of Merced and Bakersfield, which have long been neglected by lawmakers. "The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told: a story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians who deserve a fair share of our state's prosperity," he said. The high speed rail project can be part of that.  
He also said at that time that the larger project "isn't dead" and that they'd complete an environmental review for it - and he also said he
does not want to return the $3.5 billion the state has received in federal funding.
Well, here's the thing: the federal government gives tons of money to infrastructure projects across the country, some of them worthy and some not, depending on who you ask. But the money that's given needs to be spent on the things for which it was appropriated.

Why, you ask?

Well, if it's wrong to take money from the military and other federal agencies and use it to build a wall on the southern border (and that is wrong), then it must also be wrong to take money designated to building a high-speed rail system connecting southern and northern California and using that instead to only connect two cities in the middle of the state. Sure, it's all railroads - but this is apples and oranges, it really is.

And the Federal Railroad Administration understands that. Here's their jargon-filled statement withdrawing nearly a billion dollars in funding from the project (I've emphasized the operative part):
After careful consideration, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has terminated Cooperative Agreement No. FR-HSR-0118-12-01-01 (the FY10 Agreement) with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), and will deobligate the $928,620,000 in funding under that agreement.  The decision follows FRA’s Notice of Intent to Terminate and consideration of the information provided by CHSRA on March 4, 2019. FRA finds that CHSRA has repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of the FY10 Agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the Project.  Additionally, California has abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding. FRA continues to consider all options regarding the return of $2.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds awarded to CHSRA.
In a statement, Newsom promised to defend "California's money," noting in part
The Trump administration's action is illegal and direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project...
Just as we have seen from the Trump Administration's attacks on our clean air standards, our immigrant communities and in countless other areas, the Trump Administration is trying to exact political retribution on our state...
Well, there's some of that, sure.  Just as there's no secret that I'm no fan of the Trump administration, it's also no secret that the Trump administration is not a fan of California, New York, and other blue states. (I don' think I've hit the administration's radar yet, but you never know.)

But the fact is, the state of California thinks that our money is their money, even if they're going to use it for a different purpose than it was appropriated - and even if they don't need it. The state's own High-Speed Rail Authority, which Newsom created, said that even without the billion or so that's being deobligated, it
believes it will still have enough money to complete the expanded Central Valley segment - as long as revenues from California's cap-and-trade auctions perform strongly.
For California, everything is personal when it comes to the Trump administration. It's all about 'him' and 'us' and never the twain shall meet.

But in this case, the Golden State is wrong -- it's not their money, it's our money. And it should be re-obligated to another project if they can't spend it the way they said it would be.

And frankly, everyone needs to get used to this idea, whether you like Trump or not. If you're blessed with our tax dollars, we have a right to hold you accountable for spending them the way you said you would.

May 16, 2019

Sidebar: Splitting The Empire

In three recent posts (here, here and here) I've talked about plans that are out there to address the great divide that exists, in many people's minds, between upstate and downstate New York.

Upstate counties are red, upstate cities are blue. Downstate - the vast mess that is New York City and her neighboring counties -  might as well be completely blue. And, "they don't care one bit about upstate," the thinking goes. That sentiment has been compounded now that the Dems control all of the state government.

So, is all of this talk of splitting the state to gain more representation for upstate new?  Hardly. According to this article that appeared on the New York State Senate's official website in December 2009, they've been talking about this for a long, long, time.
Legally, it would be years in the making. Financially, it might not make sense. But the gut reaction to what's going on in Albany, at least for some Republican lawmakers, is to take upstate and run away. 
"We're completely the policies of New York City," said state Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece. Robach is sponsor of a bill that would allow counties to put this question to voters: "Do you support the division of New York into two separate states?"
Ah, 2009. That was an interesting time for the Senate. I would have thought Robach would have been overwhelmed with the stench of bad government unfolding before his very eyes, at the hands of his own party, no less, than by the policies of New York City.

That was the 'coup' year, you see, when the Republicans sold their souls to gain back control of the Senate, helped by a handful of ethically challenged Democrats. I covered some of that mess back in the day, and reviewing those old posts today makes me feel just as embarrassed and angry as I was ten years ago when all of this was going on.

Back to the article, though - because this 'us vs. them' stuff has been around even longer (emphasis added).
The idea has been around the state Legislature at least since 1991 but has never left committee and is opposed by the current Legislature leadership, making it unlikely to reach the floor for a vote. "Senate Democrats do not believe in dividing the people of this state and recognize our efforts are best spend growing our economy by lowering the tax burden on homeowners and businesses and investing in a 21st-century infrastructure that includes high-speed rail," said Travis Proulx, spokesman for the Senate majority, in a statement.
 "New Yorkers don't want gimmicks," he said, "they want ideas and progress that will help every region thrive."
Robach said he "couldn't disagree more" that this was a long shot back then, apparently ignoring that if it got on the ballot in all 62 counties, it was a non-binding referendum anyway. And he also apparently felt that an act of Congress to create a new state would be an easy thing to achieve, at a time when the President was Democrat and the Dems also had a majority in the Senate.

The argument could have been made back then in 2009, and even back in 1991, for that matter, that all New Yorkers need adequate and equal representation, and that strictly using a population based district map doesn't give everyone either an adequate or equal voice.

It's an argument that can be till be made today, because we still don't want gimmicks, we still want ideas, and we desperately want progress and a thriving upstate. But the way to do it is not what Robach and other 'splitters' suggest.

It's not about separating us - it's bringing us together.

It's one Senator per county.

May 15, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v172)

It's almost too easy this week to wonder about stuff.

For example:

I wonder (but only for the briefest of seconds, because I know the answer already) whether we'd be having any conversation at all about fetal heartbeats and 'personhood' if men were the ones who got pregnant? Or about limiting access to any kind of medical care, including contraception?

Seriously: if men had periods, free tampon dispensers would be on every corner in America, bar none. Probably two or three on every corner in Alabama and Georgia. And birth control? They'd write a law that the costs are 200% reimbursable, without needing a single receipt.

And I wonder what will happen when the first person claims a pre-born person as a dependent on their taxes?  Will 'personhood' still be the rule, or will only post-birth personhood matter then?

Or, what about this: If Joe Biden was not leading in the meaningless early 2020 polls, I wonder if Donald Trump would be worrying about what did or didn't happen in Ukraine back in the day?  And what happens to the next person who takes the lead in the polls? Will we see another mysterious Rudy Giuliani travel itinerary and related interviews?

And, I wonder, why hasn't Giuliani been required to register as a foreign lobbyist?

And isn't it funny that this president, having just come from a two-year HOAX! Witch Hunt! investigation about Russia interfering in our elections (which did happen - everyone knows that, including Snitty Snitty Bill Barr, Robert Mueller, the entire US Congress, the entire United States intelligence and justice communities and even the 400-pound guy in the basement) would immediately consider asking a foreign government to interfere in our next election?

How can we do anything but wonder what the hell is wrong with him and with every single person in his administration who either didn't try to stop him, or tried, failed, and continues to work for him?

And what the heck is up with Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, actively telling an American citizen to ignore a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee? Has he lost his mind?  Can we sink any lower, I wonder? (Don't answer that...)

Here's one I got in my inbox today: three Florida radio stations will be broadcasting clips of Trump speeches. At least once. Maybe twice. Every hour. Every day. Until the 2020 election.

Now, the article I linked above says the stations will meet all FCC requirements and offer the same opportunity to any Democratic candidates who ask for equal time, so I'm not going to wonder about that.

But what I am wondering is, how long will it take for every single Democratic candidate - all 22 of them - to request free air time?  It shouldn't take longer than a NY minute if you ask me.

It wouldn't even matter if they all ran exactly the same ad, or better yet, if they all played other clips,  from Trump's speeches and tweets - you know, the ones about Judge Curiel, or the shit hole countries, the attacks on John McCain, his slamming of the Khan family --  and who could forget the Access Hollywood tape? Or maybe talking about all of the lawsuits, all of the failed businesses, about Mexico paying for the wall -- I mean, this stuff is a gold mine!

That would make for great political theater - and it would all be free! And remember: At least once. Maybe twice. Every hour. Every day. Until the 2020 election.

And even that Sanders fella, who is still not a Democrat, should ask for free air time, too.

Splitting the Empire (Part 3)

The two previous posts in the 'Splitting the Empire' series offered very different solutions to address the lack of representation experienced by folks in 'upstate' New York in state government, particularly the state Senate. The first was to split New York into two states; the second was to formally keep us a unified state, but would create three completely autonomous regional governments, each with its own executive, legislative, and judicial branch,. There would still be a state government structure, with severely limited authority and responsibility. Neither of those plans seem to me to make much sense.

Today, let's look at the simplest - and in my mind, anyway - the most logical approach: modifying the State Senate. First, some background.

The State Senate currently has 63 seats; 40 senators are registered Democrats, 22 are registered Republicans, and one seat is vacant. Each senator represents a district drawn to meet balanced population goals. Given the population density in New York City, this type of districting means that there are more representatives downstate than upstate.

As a result, many upstate senators represent wildly disparate districts encompassing multiple counties. The 51st district's James Seward, for example, represents all or part of nine counties. On the map below, his is the meandering, crazy cloud-animal district just below the 'New York' in the center of the state. Compare Seward's district to Brooklyn, for example - that's one county with nine senators.

The mess of green string that outlines the different districts in NYC helps illustrate the imbalance between upstate and downstate representation.

So -- the simple plan, proposed by Senator Joe Griffo of Rome and Assemblyman Mark Walczyk of Watertown, is to change the Constitution to allow each of NY's 62 counties to have one State Senator, no matter the county's population.

Crazy, right?

May 14, 2019

Splitting the Empire (Part 2)

In Monday's post, I reviewed one of the options for splitting New York to allow for better representation for folks in the vast upstate area. This is necessary, the thinking goes, because those pesky downstate liberal Democrats who own the Assembly, the Senate and the Governorship are not paying any attention to us, now that the Republicans have lost control of the State Senate.

Yesterday's option was to make a completely new state encompassing what's generally referred to as upstate New York.

Today, we'll look at the plan put forth by Assemblyman David DiPietro, from Erie County. Instead of making a separate state out of Red New York, DiPietro's plan would keep NY a state, but one with three autonomous regions: New York, which includes Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens and Richmond counties (the five boroughs); Montauk, consisting of Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland and Westchester counties, and New Amsterdam, which would include the other 53 counties of the state. For federal purposes, though, "New York" would still mean the entire state.

This is necessary, we're told on the SplitTheState website, where DiPietro has a petition supporting this idea, because
New York City has taxed us out of our homes and our businesses. Our values are ignored and our resources are shipped downstate where we never see the benefits. 
Under the plan, outlined in this bill, each region would have its own governor, legislature, and judiciary, and most state responsibilities would be eliminated.  Under DiPietro's bill, we'd need to do some significant remodeling on the state Constitution to accommodate the split plan.

May 13, 2019

Splitting The Empire (Part 1)

As the New York State legislative session moves towards its June conclusion, conversations about the disparity between how upstate and downstate interests are represented in Albany will likely continue long after our representatives go home for the rest of the year.

You'll recall that in the 2018 election, the Republicans lost their majority in State Senate, which they had held only with support from the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The loss made New York a 'trifecta state' - one of 14 states fully controlled by Democrats, to go along with 22 fully controlled by Republicans. In New York, cities are blue across the state, but most upstate counties are solidly red.

Since the election, there has been renewed discussion on what can be done to allow folks north of Westchester County - that broad area that everyone buckets into a hot mess called "upstate" - so that we can regain some semblance of representation of our interests in state government, and to make it harder for the folks who represent NYC to ignore all of us up here.

The idea getting the most attention is the wrong one, I think -- splitting up the Empire State. And, to muddy the waters, there are two distinct ideas on how best to make the worst decision.

Let's take a look at one of them.

May 12, 2019

Sunday School 5/12/19

It was a family day, but I did take the time to check out one classroom - Jake Tapper's interview with California's Senator Kamala Harris, on CNN's State of the Union.

Here are some highlights of the interview, which was pre-taped.

On whether we're in a constitutional crisis, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Jerry Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee have said:
I think we probably are... I think that we are seeing a breakdown of the Senate, I am seeing up close here the - there is a failure to respect the significance of Congress' duty to perform a role of oversight over the administration, over the agencies. I'm seeing a failure to appreciate the importance of testifying before Congress in a way that is straightforward and truthful. So I think yes, I think is fair to say that we are looking at a crisis, not only of confidence but potentially a constitutional crisis, yes. 
On whether she disagrees with president Trump's premise that trade deals have been "too tilted" towards corporations and Wall Street and not tilted enough to helping the middle class:
...over many decades, the rules have been written in a way that have been to the exclusion of lifting up the middle class and working people in America and working families in America....that's why I'm proposing that...we reform the tax code in a way that we'll give middle-class working families making less than $100,000 a year a $6,000 tax credit they can receive it up to $500 a month.  
On whether she would have voted for NAFTA:
I would not have voted for NAFTA, because I believe that we can do a better job to protect American workers...
On whether she's support a federal gun license, an idea of Senator Cory Booker's:
I like the idea. But you know, Jake...on this issue of the need for gun safety laws, we're not at any loss for good ideas. People have been having good ideas for decades on this issue. What we're at a loss for is people in Congress to have the courage to do something.
On Medicare for All and getting rid of private insurance:
I support Medicare for All, it is my preferred policy... It doesn't get rid of supplemental insurance, it doesn't get rid of all insurance...Medicare for All and the vision of what it will be includes an expansion of coverage. So Medicare for All will include vision. It will include dental. It will include hearing aids.
I completely agree with those members of organized labor who have negotiated for plans and have, in those negotiation processes - often given what could have been higher wages in exchange for a higher coverage for health care....It's a legitimate concern which must be addressed.  
On whether she supports giving universal health care and Medicare for All to people who are in this country illegally:
Let me just be very clear about this. I'm opposed to any policy that would deny in our country any human being from access to public safety, public education, or public health, period.
On whether Facebook should be broken up:
Yes, I think we have to seriously take a look at that, yes. When you look at the issue, they're essentially a utility...there are very few people that can actually get by and be involved in their communities or society or in whatever their profession without somehow, somewhere using Facebook...It is essentially a utility that has gone unregulated. And as far as I'm concerned, that's got to stop.
And finally, on the issue of electability:
...I will tell you that the voters, in my experience, are smarter than a lot of folks give them credit for... And as far as I'm concerned, my track record on this issue tells me the voters are smarter than hearing and listening to all that noise. What they want is, they want somebody who has a genuine interest in representing them, as opposed to self-interest. 
See you around campus.

May 10, 2019

TGIF 5/11/19

Friday again, already? Let's dive in to our good week/bad week review.

On the bad week side of the ledger, let's took at Rand Paul, the irony-blind junior senator from Kentucky, who's been known to have a battle or two with the Senate leadership, including the other senator from Kentucky, what's his name, the guy who's married to Trump's Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao? Oh, Mitch McConnell, that's the guy.

The other day, Paul tweeted that his colleague, North Carolina's Richard Burr, must not have gotten the memo that the case is closed on the Mueller investigation per an edict from Mitch McConnell.  Does Paul wish that his colleagues would have sent him a reminder about what McConnell thinks is right? I suspect not, but you never know.

Burr, you see, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to come chat with the Committee. Lots of people are confident that Trump Jr. lied during his testimony to Congress, but you know how things go -- you don't question anything that a Trump does if you value your political future.

And while the Senate Majority Leader had not responded to requests for comment, that's not a problem because if you can't get the Majority Leader himself, you get the next best thing - no, not the Transportation Secretary, you get one of his donors. I kid you not.
But a top McConnell donor, who is also close with the Trump White House, told Breitbart News that McConnell must intervene to end Burr's decision to go rogue. 
"What Burr's doing isn't just a slap in the face to the President and his family, it's a slap in the face to Americans across the country," the top McConnell donor said. "It's incumbent that Leader McConnell steps up to the plate and strips Senator Burr's Chairmanship of the IntelCommittee. If he refuses to do that, then he shoulders just as much blame for this travesty of justice as the Senator from North Carolina. 
To which I say, as an American across the country, "hit me with your best shot" and "thank you sir, may I have another?" And I'll also add that, as McConnell is the least popular senator according to his constituents (34% positive/50% negative), he darn well better listen to whoever this top donor is if he wants to get re-elected, by golly.

May 9, 2019

Trump in Transition (v40)

Oh, this is just SO rich.

The president, who has been on the record as an enemy of a free press for his entire term, going back at least as far as when lied about the size of his manhood inauguration crowd and threw a fit when the press disproved his blatant false statement.

It has not slowed down, at all.

He loved the press when he was making a name for himself and his gold plated toilets and all that back in the day, but now that the press (other than the Trump News Network, of course) is no longer lapping up what he's dribbling, it's a different story.

The Trump administration equates boisterous, lie-filled, race-baiting political rallies and machine-gun-esque tweet storms and pre-flight gaggles as official communications and transparent dealings with the press, but doesn't like to hold actual press conferences where the people - that's you and me - are allowed, through the press corps, to get answers to some of our questions.

Why? Because administration officials either
  • don't like lying on behalf of the president any more, especially since we now know conclusively that they do that, or
  • they don't like being called out on their lies, or
  • they don't like having to answer questions,or even worse, having to answer followup questions, which you don't have to do on Twitter or Instagram, or
  • perhaps they're waiting for their emoji flash cards to come in, not sure. (They probably should have gotten a Prime membership.)
There have been two formal press briefings this year -- two official opportunities for the White House press corps to gather en masse and ask questions, all the while Press Secretary Sarah (Transparent and Honest) Sanders proclaims that this president is the most transparent and accessible ever in his dealings with the media. 

And so we come to this: the administration is revoking the 'hard pass' credentials of many reporters who cover the White House. The hard pass allows them access without additional scrutiny or delay for a two-year period; without it, they have to apply for entry, either for the day, the week, or for six months.  Hard passes are lost if a person hasn't been working at the White House "at least 50% of the time over the previous 180 days." Random exceptions are being granted, although there apparently aren't clear guidelines on what's worthy of one.

Access is not being limited to the Hannitys and Carlsons and Pirros and the Fox-and-Friendsers, of course -- because they are not reporters, and they don't participate as such.

They are the propaganda ministers of this administration, with unfettered, 24-7-365 access to the president, helping drive his #MakingAmericaHateAgain message and helping him swat away the information that's being reported by actual journalists.

The reason for this? It's about security, they say. It seems there is an unknown number of hard passes in circulation, which poses a security risk, according to Sanders.

Which is kind of comical, actually.
  • The Trump administration allowed people access to national security information without full and appropriate security clearances. 
  • They issued security clearances against the judgment of the people who make decisions on clearances for a living. 
  • They dealt with a foreign policy emergency in the public dining room of the president's money-making club, in full view of diners, who were seen taking photos of the goings-on. 
  • The president regularly charges the press as being the enemy of the people, which has inspired his followers to send bombs to media outlets, and more.

I don't pretend that all journalists are good ones, or that there isn't a bias in the media -- after all, "there are good people on both sides -- on both sides." Media outlets on the right of center tend to report one way, and those on the left of center tend to report a different way. But that doesn't make them our enemies - it challenges us to read with intention, to discern the unconscious or conscious bias, and to act accordingly.

We have the right and responsibility to determine what to believe.  And we have the right to have elected officials, most importantly the president, answer our questions. That's not a privilege, as this administration seems to think.

And nothing that this White House does in its dealings with the media - and by extension, with you and me - earn it the "transparent" or "honest" label, including this latest action.

May 7, 2019

ICYMI: If Not for the OLC Memo...

There are now more than 700 former federal prosecutors who have signed on to the statement saying that, absent the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel's determination that a sitting president can't be indicted, president Trump surely have been indicted on multiple counts of obstruction of justice.

Their statement is excerpted below:
We are former federal prosecutors. We have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations at different levels of the federal system: as line attorneys, supervisors, special prosecutors, United States Attorneys, and senior officials at the Department of Justice.  The offices in which we served were small, medium, and large; urban, suburban, and rural; and located in all parts of our country.
Each of us believes that the conduct of president Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice. 
The folks who signed onto the statement include some who have served as far back as the Nixon, Ford and Carter presidencies; they have a total of over 8929 years of service, and average of over 12 years of service each.

These are not inexperienced people and they're a whole lot more qualified the vast majority of the armchair quarterbacks  - including the president himself, a boatload or three of elected officials, and countless talking heads, Trump voters and Clinton haters who have (or maybe haven't even) read the Mueller report and reached the conclusion that the president was 'totally exonerated.'

So what did these experts find when they read the report?
The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming.  
The "overwhelming" evidence of corrupt intent? Yeah, that includes:
  • the president's efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort;
  • the president's efforts to limit the scope of Mueller's investigation to exclude his conduct; and
  •  the president's efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign. 
And, they provide details on each of those bullet points to make their case, going so far as to point out that
All of this conduct - trying to control and impede the investigation against the president by leveraging his authority over others - is similar to conduct we have seen charged against other public officials and people in powerful positions. 
There was more in the report that added to the obstruction case, they noted; they called out facts on the three bullet points only. And while they note that there are defenses or arguments that could be made, and that under our system the accused are presumed innocent, not guilty, they are clear that look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice - the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution - runs counter to logic and our experience. 
As former federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical because unchecked obstruction - which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished - puts our whole system of justice at risk.  We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report.  
 Another 15 people have signed on during the time it took me to complete this post.

May 5, 2019

Sunday School 5/5/19

There was a triple dose of Mike Pompeo this morning, and I'm not sure I can take it. Although, truth be told, I'm not sure I can take a triple dose of any single guest - it's not just him.

The conversations were very much the same in each classroom, so I broke them up a bit, touching on separate topics for each.

First up, his conversation with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday where they talked about Venezuela and Russian election meddling, among other topics.

On Juan Guaido, the democratically elected leader who's not in charge:
...we've made very clear that not only the United States but 50-plus nations support Juan Guaido and his national assembly in their efforts to beat back the - the horrific conditions... I watched women carrying babies across the border... They were having to make decisions about whether they could feed their baby on the second day or the third day, their sick children didn't have medicine, all of which was sitting in Columbia and Maduro has denied them.
On why Maduro is still in power, and it that will come to an end:
These thing sometimes take time...we know it's going to happen... The United States wants all other countries out of this nation and allow the Venezuelan people to restore their own democracy. We're confident that we're going to achieve that and I couldn't tell you what day, but it will happen.  
On why Trump did not get tough with Putin on election meddling:
I don't get your point. I'm confused - I'm confused. The administration that has been tougher on Russia than any of its predecessors  and yet you continue to be fixated on something that Robert Mueller wrote down. I'm - I struggle with that... Your viewers should not be misled. This administration has taken seriously the threat of election interference and we'll continue to do so.
Let's see how he addressed some other hot topics on the other shows.

May 4, 2019

The Update Desk: Rep. Chris Collins

It's been a while since we've heard much about Rep. Chris Collins (R- Ethically Challenged Erie County). You remember him, right? Insider trading allegations, making a call to his son (but not his daughter!) from the Rose Garden advising him to sell some stock, trying to not run for re-election but not being able to find a way off the ballot, and he ends up winning? Yeah, that guy.

Collins is in the news again, for a couple of reasons. First, the House is going to reopen their ethics investigation into his case, which was suspended back when he was indicted on federal charges. But not to worry -- the House has promised the Department of Justice that they'll not interfere with the criminal case against him.

But the more interesting news about Collins has to do with infrastructure, and taxes. That's right, two things Republicans like to talk about, for different reasons. Infrastructure is good, particularly if it's public/private partnership, which helps their donors, or if it's block grants to states, which the Rs love. And taxes? That's another good topic to talk about too, of course, particularly when they're going down, not up - or not being introduced at all. You know what happens to Rs who get that part wrong. I mean, who can forget "Read my lips - no new taxes!"

Collins, though -- who was the first Congressman to publicly throw his support to Trump, you remember - has different ideas on taxes than most folks in his party. This article, published on, explains his idea on how to fund our much-needed infrastructure updates.
Rep. Chris Collins is urging Congress to double the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, which has not been raised in more than a quarter century. He also wants to double the existing fee that the airline passengers pay per flight. 
Is your head spinning yet?  Doubling the gas tax and the per-flight fee?  A Republican? Here's what Collins said in an interview with The Hill, according to the article.
I not only support increasing the gas tax; I support doubling it. I support doubling the airline passenger fee from $4.50 to $8 or $9. Those are user fees. I won't even call it a tax.
I love when these folks call taxes user fees, don't you? The Democrats do it really well, and the Republicans aren't immune to the name change, either.  They're all so cute.

May 3, 2019

TGIF 5/3/19

Yay -- it's Friday!  Time to see who had a good week and who had one that was, well, less than stellar.

On the latter, can you say Bill Barr? The poor guy - he goes to the Senate, tries to tell his story, gets hammered by a bunch of Angry Democrats, refers to a letter from Robert Mueller as a bit snitty, and then, being more than a bit snitty himself, refuses to sit before a House committee because they wanted to have staff attorneys question him, and not only that - they called him chicken! And one of them brought a plastic chicken to the hearing. And ate Kentucky Fried Chicken...

Now, there's no doubt that was childish and ridiculous, but so is pretty much everything the president has been saying about the investigation since he announced his total exoneration, even though the Mueller report did not exonerate him.

In fact today the president tried to ruin what should have been a good day - another good jobs report, and another drop in the unemployment rate - but then he had a conversation with Papa Vlad and even he agreed with Trump there was no collusion... and so, back down the hill he slides. I swear, he's incapable of not making a mess of things.