June 29, 2019

Dear Democrats (v1)

Hi Dems, how's everyone doing?

Listen, just wanted to let you know that, even though I dropped my registration from the party I'm still paying attention. Of course, I'm in New York, my de-Democrating won't officially take place until next year after the presidential election, so we are stuck with each other, at least on paper.

Yeah, I'm still paying attention, even though many people aren't. I mean, I watched both of the televised talk shows this week - debates, I think you called them?  I not only watched, but I live-commented them for people, so I'm more than doing my part, I think.

And I need you to do your part, too. So, let's talk about health insurance, shall we?

Most of the candidates indicated in the debates that they supported Medicare for All. Well, guess what? That's a non-starter for me and for lots of other people - not just Democrats, but also disaffected Trump voters. Do you really want to throw those votes away?

I mean, think about it:
  • You fought tooth and nail to get the Affordable Care Act passed, and now, a mere 10 years later, you're willing to throw the baby out with the bath water, instead of fixing the parts that need fixing? And can any of you articulate what those parts are, or haven't you looked?
  • Employer sponsored insurance is some of the best insurance around, and good companies are happy to be able to provide it as a way to attract good talent in an increasingly competitive employment market. 
  • Union-sponsored insurance, purchased from and administered by private insurance companies, has long been a selling point for the unions that you all take money from, and helps support those union jobs you all think everyone needs to have. How attractive do you think unions will be when you strip away their biggest benefit?
  • Do you realize how low Medicare reimbursement rates are? If doctors were required to rely solely on those payments, many would not be able to stay in practice. So, either those rates have to go up significantly, or we'll see hospitals and clinics and medical practices start to close, or we'll see them demand ever-larger shares of state and local taxpayer dollars in order to maintain financial viability. I say ever larger shares, because many of the country's hospital systems already receive a significant amount of taxpayer support. Oh - and insurance company support, don't forget - you know, fees like the ones paid here in NY that add 10% or so to the cost of claim payments on the insurer's side alone. And since our middle-class tax dollars are not unlimited, and will already be going up to pay for Medicare for All, will you be taxing the rich to get the financial support to keep these services running? 
  • Private insurers are leaders in community health initiatives, charitable giving, and supporting innovators - they are cornerstones of their communities. When you relegate them to performing breast implants and Botox injections, the negative consequences will ripple throughout our communities, large and small. What's your plan for that? Taxing the rich again?
  • What will happen to the 500,000 people in the industry? How are you going to make up those salaries, or find everyone jobs paying comparable salaries and offering comparable benefits? What's the plan for that? I know, raising taxes again, or giving everyone a monthly stipend or something. 
  • How many more people will have to be added to the federal government payroll to support the administration of Medicare for All? How much will those low Medicare admin costs increase to accommodate all of the additional employees, increased tech costs, higher reimbursement rates, and so on? And who will be picking up that cost, middle class tax payers, or the 1%?
  • One of the complaints about the ACA was that it did nothing to address the doctor shortage, particularly in the areas of primary care, geographic access (particularly in rural areas), and mental health. This is an ongoing issue with Medicare today. How does Medicare for All address that, or address other known issues with Medicare programs? Are you just going to throw people from one insurance plan to another and not address the issues first?
  • In 2018, according to the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation, about one in three Medicare beneficiaries was enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, and enrollment in these plans, many of which offer richer benefits at a lower cost that original Medicare, has doubled in the past 10 years. These plans are administered by private insurers, which means you're going to throw those away too, even though they may be more cost effective? So, not only are you taking private insurance away, but you're also taking Medicare away?  Good luck with that!
  • And help me understand this part. Pension and retirement funds are heavily invested in insurance company stock. What happens to all of that? How are those investments, which (again) benefit the middle class, going to be protected? What's the plan for that aspect of eliminating private insurance?
One more thing. Most of the candidates at the debates said they would provide health insurance to undocumented immigrants under their plans. Are you nuts?

Are you that out of touch with what people really think?  And have you forgotten that we've spent 10 years fighting Republican lies about undocumented immigrants being eligible for insurance under the ACA? 

That's a lie that will not die -- and now you're going to make it a truth?  Do not conflate health insurance and immigration. I promise you, that's something that we all will regret.

Please, do not spend this long primary season trying to out-left each other to get the nomination and then spend the general election season tacking right to try and pick up us middle-of-the-roaders.

It won't work. No one will believe you that you didn't mean what you said during the primary, nor will they trust anything you say if you change your stripes for the general. 

Don't blow this. 

Don't. Blow. This. 

June 27, 2019

Grains of Salt (v46): Primarily Apathetic

Tuesday was primary day for local races here in New York.

Polls were open from noon - 9PM here; I voted around 3:15 and I was voter number 96, which seemed to be a higher turnout that usual. I was feeling pretty good about things at that point.

I mean, I've been voter number 120-something or 150-something in general elections, voting after work when polls opened many hours earlier, so being 96 barely three hours in on primary day seemed to be a good sign.

And there was plenty to think about. There were a lot of hotly contested races on the Democratic side, at least. Many of the party's choices faced more than one opponent, which is rare. One race - for my district on the County Legislature - is too close to call still, and will come down to absentee ballots. We won't know until next week whether the returning establishment candidate or the young, passionate newcomer, currently down by 39 votes, will prevail.

My enthusiasm for the turnout was quickly dashed, though. According to estimates done by Dustin Czarny, the Democratic Elections Commissioner for Onondaga County, only 12.8% of all eligible voters county-wide bothered to vote.

And in the City of Syracuse, where I live, it was only slightly better - 13.1% of eligible voters made the effort and gave up a few minutes of their time to do their civic duty.

I'm not sure what the final numbers will be after all of the verification is done and absentee and military ballots are counted, but I have to wonder:

  • Why do people bother to register to vote if they're not going to make the effort?
  • Is it so hard to schedule time to get to the polls, when we have ample advance notice of when the primary will be?
  • Too hard to get an absentee ballot if you know you won't be able to make it on primary day?
  • Too much to educate yourself about the choices, and too afraid to go in blind and pick randomly?
  • Too much to ask that people care about who is going to be leading your community and fighting for your rights?
  • Are people too fed up with the process that they refuse to participate in it?

What the heck's going on here? 

If you were registered in a party that had any primaries, and you didn't vote, I'd honestly love to know why.

June 26, 2019

Quick Takes (v38): What I Don't Want to Hear

It's going to be difficult for the debate moderators - Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow, Savannah Guthrie and Jose Diaz-Balart - to maintain control over the candidates and get anything accomplished tonight and tomorrow, that much I know.

What's also going to be difficult for them is to maintain control over themselves, and keep focused on things that are important.

These things, in my mind, are NOT important, and I'm hoping that we will not hear any questions related to these issues:
  • Elizabeth Warren's DNA
  • Beto O'Rourke's childhood writings
  • Amy Klobuchar's meanness
  • Kamala Harris' father
  • Pete Buttigieg's husband
  • Cory Booker's girlfriend
  • Joe Biden's son
  • Bernie Sanders' wife's money
This is not a big version of Meet the Press, it should be an issues-related 'debate'  or conversation, not a personality-based series of interviews.   

Any questions of that nature will clearly show that the press has learned nothing from 2016 - and they honestly had a lot to learn, according to a study on how the press covered the candidates. For example:
Here's another interesting finding, that goes to what was reported. For Trump, a mere 12% of his coverage was about the issues, with 43% of the coverage being negative (particularly after the Muslim ban comments). For Clinton, more than double the amount of coverage was issues-related (still a meager 28%) but the negative coverage was an overwhelming 84%.
Fingers are crossed for tonight - if they bite on the Warren DNA test or anything related to her long-since-addressed family history of Native American ancestry, which is really the most obvious one of the list above to get a hit, we'll know they have learned nothing.

June 25, 2019

Pre-debate Jitters

The Democrats are kicking off the 2020 election season on Wednesday, with Senators Elizabeth Warren (MA) Cory Booker (NJ) and Amy Klobuchar  (MN); former Obama HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who also served as mayor of San Antonio; Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI) and Tim Ryan (OH); former Reps Beto O'Rourke (TX) and John Delaney (MD; Gov. Jay Inslee (WA); and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio taking the stage in Miami for the first half of the first debate.

Thursday night, we'll be treated to the second half, which will feature former Vice President Joe Biden; Senators Kamala Harris(CA), Michael Bennet (CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Bernie Sanders (VT), who is still not a Democrat; Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA); former Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO); South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg; self-help author Marianne Williamson; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Each of the participants has achieved at least 1% recognition nationally in approved polls, has raised money from at least 65,000 individual donors, including getting at least 200 donors in 21 states, or both (Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Gabbard, Gillibrand, Harris, Inslee, Klobuchar, O'Rourke, the non-Dem, and Warren).

Four other candidates - Rep. Seth Moulton (MA), Governor Steve Bullock (MT), former Rep. Mike Gravel (AK), and Miramar, FL mayor Wayne Messam - failed to make the cut.

There will be no opening statements (yay), but each candidate will have one minute for a closing argument. Answers to questions will be limited to one minute, with 30 seconds  for followup questions, not there'll be much time for them.

Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart are the talking heads. Holt will be the official moderator of the first hour, with Guthrie and Diaz-Balart joining in; for the second hour, Todd and Maddow will share moderating duties, with Holt joining.  I have not seen the rules for how much time the talking heads (particularly Maddow and Todd) will be able to chew up - that might be one of the more interesting things to keep an eye on. 

There's no defined list of questions that will be asked, and of course no guarantee that each candidate will be asked the same questions or be given the opportunity to chime in on all of the issues.  It's expected that there will be questions on health care, climate change, education (free college, wiping out student debt, and so on), and of course the great divide between rich and poor people and rich and poor corporations. 

We should also expect questions on foreign policy, immigration, race, and gender, and on anything critical SCOTUS decides this last week of their session. 

And, there's the e-word: electability, whatever that means. And impeachment. - don't forget impeachment. 

Dear lord, this could be cluster with one moderator and only a handful of folks on the stage answering questions.

20 candidates.
5 moderators.
4 hours.
3 networks.
2 nights.

What could possibly go wrong?  Or maybe the better question is, what could possibly go right?

June 23, 2019

Sunday School 6/23/19

Yep, I'm going there: one of my least favorite talking heads, and my least favorite squawk box: Chuck Todd and president Trump on Meet the Press. The interview was taped Friday morning and aired today.

Here are some highlights.

They talked about Trump's decision not to go ahead with an attack on Iran, it being a disproportionate response to kill 150 or so Iranians in retaliation for the shooting down of an unmanned drone. Trump indicated that he has 'ready-made plans', and said
Oh, I have so many targets, you wouldn't believe. We have targets all over.
Todd asked if Trump thought the Iranians were trying to provoke him into a military response.
No, their economy is shattered. Shattered. Their inflation is through the room. They've never had, the highest in the world right now. Worse than any place. They're not living well. 
On the border, Todd wondered if Trump was frustrated because his border numbers were worse than Obama's.
 No, because the people are coming up because our economy is so good. They're pouring up because the economy is so good. Obama had a lousy economy. It was a dead economy.
Huh.  All this time, I thought it was rapists and murderers and drug dealers and sex traffickers who were coming here, not people looking to take part if our awesome economy.  I seem to have been misled by someone, someone in the White House, I believe it was...

On Obama's jobs record and Trump's jobs record (hint: Obama's is better), here's Trump's explanation.
That's because he started of with a, with such a bad base. I mean, he hit - but Chuck, you have to understand, nobody was working. The whole place was a disaster. And I don't - I'd never take that away. But it's very easy because when that turned around they pumped a tremendous amount of money into the economy. He also had a Federal Reserve person who kept the interest rates low. I don't. I don't have that privilege.
But wait -- didn't we pump trillions or scadzillions of dollars worth of tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people into the economy? And didn't that trickle down to the average Joe, just like they said it would?  Yeah, no.

Trump's biggest mistake, the one thing he'd like a do-over on, if he could have one?
I would say if I had one to do over, it would be, I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. That would be my one.  Yeah, that was my biggest mistake.
On family separation at the border, that was Obama's fault and Trump ended it. Or something. But it was Obama's fault. This part of the interview was mostly Todd telling Trump to "do something" over and over and over. Eventually. coming back to 2019 and his administration, it's still the Democrats' fault that children don't have toothbrushes.

On impeachment, it's a crap shoot.
I think I win the election easier. But, you know, I'm not sure that I like having it. Look, I did nothing wrong. I was spied on. What they did to me was illegal. It was illegal on the other side. I did nothing wrong. So impeachment's a very unfair thing because nothing that I did was wrong. And if you look at the Mueller report, there was no collusion. This was all about collusion. This was about conspiracy.Use the word collusion. Use the word conspiracy. 
I'll be honest with you, nobody even mentions Russia anymore since the Mueller report. They don't mention it, in all fairness. Nobody mentions Russia anymore. And it was about Russia. It was a hoax. 
On losing the popular vote in 2016,
Well, I think it was a -- I mean, I'll say something that, again, is controversial. There were a lot of votes cast that I don't believe. I look at California... Take a look at Judicial Watch, take a look at their settlement where California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.
Todd asked, "a million votes of what?"
Take a look at Judicial-- Judicial Watch made a settlement, there was much, there was much - there was much illegal voting. But let me tell you about the popular vote. Do you have a second?
Oh for Pete's sake, he is SUCH a liar!  The Judicial Watch settlement was about inactive voters being on the rolls, not about illegal votes. Similar settlements have been reached with Ohio (a red state) and Kentucky (another red state). Many states to not aggressively remove people from the rolls if they fail to vote. And even in the case of the California settlement, voters have two more federal elections in which to fail to vote before they'll be removed from the rolls. And nothing in the settlement suggests that any of the inactive voters, including the dead ones, actually voted. This, my friends, it a complete line of crap that Chuck Todd basically let him get away with.

Finally, on Saudi Arabia, Trump says in a nutshell their money's worth it. 
They buy a massive amount, $150B worth of military equipment that, by the way, we use. We use that military equipment. So Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of America product. That means something to me. It's a big producer of jobs.
On having the FBI investigate the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and involvement of the Crown Prince in that.
Well, I think it's  - I think it's been heavily investigated. By everybody. I mean, I've seen so many different reports... Here's where I am, are you ready? 
Iran's killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East, this is a hostile place. This is a vicious, hostile place. If you're going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries, I won't mention names, and take a look at what's happening. And they you go outside of the Middle East and you take a look at what's happening with countries. Okay?
And I only say they spend $400 to $450B over a period of time - all money, all jobs, buying equipment... I'm not a fool that says "we don't want to do business with them" And by the way, if they don't do business with us, you know what they do? They'll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese. They will buy - we make the best equipment in the world, but they will buy great equipment from Russia and China. 
Chuck. Take their money. Take their money, Chuck. 
Take their money. And, don't forget, have them take our money too, since we're having them help build some of our more strategic weapons systems.

See you around campus.

June 20, 2019

The Update Desk: Vending Machine Tax Breaks

On a couple of occasions, I've written about a nefarious tax break referred to as the 485-a. The first time was in this Meanwhile Back in Albany post from August of 2018, in which I noted
According to reporting by Tim Knauss of the Post-Standard and Syracuse.com, here's what vending machines have to do with anything.
Three vending machines at a Syracuse apartment building dispense candy, chips and soda. And they serve another purpose. They have helped the building owner avoid more than $3 million in property taxes. 
The vending machines are the only visible sign of commercial activity at Copper Beech Commons, a sprawling apartment complex for college students.
Here's why that matters: the property owner gets a lavish tax break that is available only to renovated buildings that have both commercial and residential space.  
That's right -  vending machines can be considered 'commercial space' under this really tasty tax break. And not only that, but vacant lots can be considered historic buildings. Honest, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
A few of them, though, are brand new buildings, placed on lots where older structures were bulldozed, which is clearly (to anyone other than a lawyer or developer) not the type of projects the law was intended to help. There are others, in addition to Copper Beech Commons, that are student apartments, including the largest one, Theory Syracuse, which stands to save over $9 million over the 12 year term of the exemption.
The second time I talked about this, it was to report that the assessors in Syracuse were inspecting the properties to ensure that there really is a commercial operation in the building, or to tell the developers to get one.
For Copper Beech Commons, however, it seems the leaves have fallen, or something. In an article last week on Syracuse.com, Tim Knauss followed up on his original story and let us know that  Syracuse city assessors have been out inspecting properties claiming the 485-a tax break "where commercial operations were not readily evident from the street."

A small office at the property has been cleaned up, with new doors added, to try and entice a small business to lease the space and preserve the tax break. Why? Well, as city assessment commissioner David Clifford noted,
Vending machines are not a commercial use, especially when they're owned and operated by the building owner. As far as I'm concerned, that's just like having a washing machine in the basement.
The assessors last warned the developer that the vending machines did not count for the exemption four or five years ago, so there should have been no surprise that there could be problems once the last (and only) tenant of the space moved out in 2015.
I'm happy to do another update on this one: The NY State Assembly has passed a law designed to reign in abuses under section 485-a, as Bill Magnarelli, one of our local Assembly members (but not mine) announced on his Facebook page. Take a look:
Property Tax §485-a Property Tax Exemption Reform
Legislation passed the NYS Assembly today to stop abuses of the §485-a Property Tax Exemption Program. Assemblyman William Magnarelli, 129th District (D- Syracuse, Van Buren, Geddes) sponsored this legislation along with Assemblyman Sean Ryan, 149th District (D-Buffalo). Both Syracuse and Buffalo have seen some of the worst abuses under this program.
§485-a of the Real Property Tax Law allows municipalities to offer a 12-year exemption on property taxes to developers that renovate old buildings that include a mixture of commercial and residential space. However, localities have been granting exemptions to projects that should not receive them under the program. Examples of abuse include: projects with minimal or no commercial or residential uses, buildings that are nearly totally demolished and rebuilt, and projects built on vacant lots. These exemptions are costing participating localities millions of dollars each year and placing a heavier burden on other property taxpayers.
As the assessors have mentioned in the past, the law was so loosely written that they had very little guidance to go on, and at times felt their hands were tied. Going forward (assuming passage in the Senate and a signature by our Sonofa Gov), things will be different, according to Magnarelli.
The abuses under this program are egregious. §485-a exemptions should not be going to projects where the only commercial uses in the building are vending machines or storage units, or where the developer essentially demolishes the underlying structure for new construction. Local governments and assessors say the current law does not give them the authority to deny these applications. This bill gives them that authority. This program was developed to help our downtowns redevelop old buildings into useful mixed use structures. The bill passed today will return the §485-a program to this purpose. I also want to thank Assemblyman Sean Ryan for working with me to get this bill done this session.
Assemblyman Ryan echoed Magnarelli's thoughts.
Unfortunately, too often we've seen large development corporations take advantage of taxpayers by exploiting this program with facilities that clearly violate the intent of the original bill. The changes we've made will be instrumental in ensuring the redevelopment of our cities can continue, while protecting taxpayers from footing the bill for large developers who willingly misuse the program.
So, what's going to be different? Generally,
  • there will be limits on the commercial purposes and uses that can quality, and they must be publicly accessible;
  • at least 50% of an eligible building must be for residential units, and at least 15% of the space must have a commercial use;
  • no 485-a exemptions will be given on land that was vacant prior to construction;
  • at least 75% of the floor area of an eligible building must be a pure-existing structure;
  • requiring the commercial portion of the building to be currently used as commercial, or to be 'in good faith contemplated' which would exclude the three vending machines in a room;
  • annual certification of properties to ensure the developer is in compliance; and
  • revoking the tax benefits of non-compliant properties, as well as penalties if someone makes a material misstatement on their application for the tax break.
These are common-sense changes that are needed to protect property owners in our aging cities, where local government economic development agencies and departments are too quick to offer huge property tax breaks with little regard to how that impacts residents.

Particularly here in Syracuse, where nearly 50% of our property is not taxable because the owners are eds, meds, and non-profits, we need all the help - and restraint - we can get. 

June 19, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v176)

Well, well, well. It's Wednesday again already? I'm so not ready.

But the president's ready, yes he is - ready to Keep America Great, now that he's made it grate.  Oops - made it great, sorry. Great, not grate. I heard someone who was at his rally say his most enthusiastic comments came when he was complaining about everything, rather than when he was talking about his accomplishments.  Hence the whole 'grate' thing (well, that's part of the whole 'grate' thing, anyway.) I guess I don't have to wonder whether he can make it through a rally without mentioning the Fake News - he hit that within seconds of beginning his speech, and so I stopped. I'll watch later, with a jug of wine or something.

Who else is running for president, and complaining about it?  That would be none other than Bernie Sanders, who of course, is still not a Democrat. I replied to a tweet of his that maybe if he joined the party he's trying to represent, he might have something to complain about. And of course, I have no reason to wonder whether the complaining and whining will continue - -that's a given, It could be his new campaign slogan: I'll stop whining when I win!  Think that's gonna have legs?

What else is going on? Well, it seems New York State will not legalize pot this legislative session. Our newly officially declared to be full-time Assembly members and State Senators are winding up their session, and there's really no reason to think they'll come back for a special session just to make weed legal for recreational use. Staten Island's Sen. Diane Savino said
Everyone who was opposed to it had a different reason. The two sponsors did everything possible to appease the concerns of members, and I'm sure they are going to continue to try but with each passing moment it gets harder and harder.
Now, I'm one of those who thinks that acting with such ridiculous urgency on this issue is crazy, so I'm not crying any tears here. But I wonder why we didn't act with as much urgency to, I don't know, add mental health and substance abuse beds across the state, which will address a real need, or adding regional treatment centers for autism, so that New York parents don't have to send their kids out of state for intensive treatment, or here's a fun one - why didn't they cut some spending plan with extreme urgency, one that might benefit a significant number of New Yorkers?

Oh wait, I know the answer to that last one, sorry. There's no progressive merit badge for spending cuts, silly me.

I again call on Republicans across the state to get out of the gate and get some candidates, get a plan, get a platform that includes meaningful reforms (not taking their toys and running) that moderates can get behind. I wonder if they're listening?

And finally, I'm wondering (because I haven't checked lately) if there are any moderate Democrats left in New York?  If yes, I'd love to hear from them, too.

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v32)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times photo
There's so much debate these days around legal immigration, illegal immigration, pro-crime Democrats, racist Republicans, and more. All of it has a few thousand gallons of gas poured on it daily or even more frequently on social media, traditional media, and alternative media.

The debate, such as it is, is also all helped along by the actions of politicians at the state, local and federal level, for sure. Donald Trump announced his campaign for president by saying that Mexico was going to build a wall. He's ready to announce his re-election bid by tweeting a "vague threat"  of nation-wide sweep to find and deport "millions" of illegals, which according to some reports caught even his own administration officials off guard - no surprise there.

And meanwhile, back in Albany, the New York State Legislature has passed a bill, and our Sonofa Gov has signed it, making the Empire State the 12th in the country to allow undocumented immigrants the right to obtain driver's licenses. This, as you might imagine, is inspiring not only celebration on the side of the Yeas, but deep consternation on the part of the Nays - of which I'm one.

The bill includes multiple modifications to NY's Vehicle and Traffic laws that are designed not only to define how illegal immigrants can obtain a learner's permit or non-commercial driver's license, but also to specifically to protect applicants and their information from being shared, to every extent possible, with federal officials. The licenses are not valid for federal identification, and can be  marked somehow (color-coded, for example) to show the holder is an undocumented immigrant.

According to supporters, here's why we need the bill:
  • rural and heavily agricultural areas of the state, where there's a concentration of immigrants, have a lack of options for public transportation. That causes immigrants to just get in a car and drive when they need to -- doctors, grocery stores, and the like - putting the rest of us in danger; 
  • the number of leaving-the-scene accidents will decrease, and everyone's insurance rates across the state will also decrease;
  • the state stands to take in millions of new revenue - dedicated for infrastructure improvements -  from the fees associate with getting the documents; and
  • the law will help the undocumented to go about their business just like other New Yorkers, and keeps them from being pushed into the shadows.
Some people point to the fact that this is a 'restoration of rights' for people who are here illegally. Prior to an executive action by former Governor George Pataki after 9/11, it was not necessary to present a social security number to obtain a driver's license. Former Governor Eliot Client #9 Spitzer tried to fix this back in 2007, but failed in the face of opposition from, among others, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, now our junior senator, and then-Erie County clerk Kathy Hochul, who of course is Cuomo's number two.

Opponents of the bill suggest that
  • legitimizing illegal immigration will promote more of it;
  • it directly violates federal law, which is dumb;
  • it's 'off track' from what our priorities should be;
  • the safety benefits are questionable and ill-defined at best, and, of course
  • it sends the wrong message to the majority of New Yorkers who are hardworking, law-abiding citizens who do things the right way.
And me? I'm a fan of treating people as human beings. I believe the majority of immigrants are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their family. That said, I'm a fan of legal immigration, and of a path to citizenship for folks brought here as children by their parents. I'm not a fan of deporting people we have allowed to stay here for decades, those who have made their regular check-ins with immigration officials.

And I'm not a fan of encouraging people to break the law.

I'm also not a huge fan of sanctuary laws, and isn't that what this really is? Sure, we don't call it that, but that's the premise, and the promise, of this bill: you'll be protected if you have this documentation. The reality is very different. Sanctuary laws only serve to create a patchwork of rules and protections that arbitrarily change at an interstate highway mile marker. Welcome to New York? You're good. Welcome to Ohio, or Pennsylvania? Yeah, not so much.

I'm also not a fan of state laws that jeopardize New York by putting federal dollars at risk because we are in-your-face daring the current administration to withhold funding. 

And, I'm never convinced when a politician promises generic positive benefits from a law.
  • How much money are New Yorkers going to save on auto insurance? When will the reductions begin? Will we see an itemized line on our car insurance bills showing the impact from this bill, so we as taxpayers can truly see the benefit?
  • Outside of New York City, where there are some 30,000 - 40,000 'leaving the scene' accidents annually, how many occur in the rest of the state? What are we really looking at here in terms of our safety on the roads? And what percentage of those is projected to be caused by an illegal immigrant?
  • How many of the illegal immigrants are going to be able to afford car insurance? Notably, in California where subsidized insurance was offered as part of their driver's license for immigrants program, fewer than 1,000 people took advantage of the offer. Over half a million illegal immigrants received driver's licenses in the first couple years of the California program; not all of them would have been eligible for the subsidy, but still...
Nope -- I'm not a fan of this law, and neither are the majority of New Yorkers. 

But in the end, if our esteemed legislators are willing to sell their souls for a few million bucks a year in licensing and permitting fees, and to flash their 'look at how progressive I am' lapel pins - and they are - what the rest of us think doesn't matter. 

June 16, 2019

Sunday School 6/16/19

Two quick classroom visits today: CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper, and CBS' Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan.  Those were two of the three conversations with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who of course is running for president along with some 20-odd others on the Democratic side, including still-not-a-Democrat Bernie Sanders, which, well, you know how I feel about that.

Anyway -- let's see what Mayor Pete had to say. Several topics were addressed on both shows, so I'll incorporate both answers on those.

On the Democrats not having much of a consistent foreign policy over the past many years, he told Brennan
I think it's been difficult, even confusing, to figure out what our foreign policy is because Democrats became so absorbed in opposing whatever the Republicans were doing - now, often, rightly so. What the Republicans were doing often was terrible. But we got so sucked into that. 
...take the Iraq war, which I opposed as a student and continue to think was a terrible idea. We were so horrified by the way that democracy promotion was done at gunpoint then, that it nearly made our party into isolationists when actually we've often been the ones who believed in more international engagement. 
Turning that into what Dems need to do, he offered this to Tapper (and similarly to Brennan)
And so I think now is a moment, given that, in some ways, the politics around foreign policy have been scrambled for my entire adult life, I mean, really, ever since the end of the Cold War, that we establish a new set of foundations for how American values, American interests, and American relationships are going to interact with each other. 
On Trump's comments about accepting dirt on an opponent from a foreign government, listening to it first and maybe turning it over to the FBI, he Told Brennan, in part
We're talking about foreign interference in American politics. And by the way, this isn't hypothetical. This isn't theoretical. We were attacked by a hostile foreign power that decided they could damage America, destabilize America, by intervening in the election to help him win. And they did and he did, and now America's destabilized. 
He told Tapper that Trump's comments were "both unbelievable and all too believable" and that the answer is not hard.
If you get an offer of material help from a foreign government, you call the FBI. This shouldn't be difficult. This shouldn't be complicated. 
Both asked about pursuing prosecution of Trump after he's out of office. The main point Buttigieg made here, similarly in both interviews, is that no one is above the law, but that, as he told Brennan
I also believe that the last place you look for guidance on how to conduct a prosecution is to the Oval Office. The less our law enforcement and prosecution has to do with politics, the better. 
On a related note, Brennan asked about  a presidential pardon (Buttigieg is not a fan of the pardon being used in this circumstance), including whether Gerald Ford should have pardoned Richard Nixon.
You know, I don't know what I would have done in the 70s and that historical counterfactual, other than that I'm bothered by the possibility that public corruption went unpunished and the idea that that could happen in the future is equally problematic. 
On Iran the most interesting conversation was with Tapper. Buttigieg has a unique perspective among all the presidential candidates, and among many in Congress - he's a veteran. Here's what he told Tapper.
As somebody who felt five years ago, when I left Afghanistan, that I was one of the last troops leaving, and five years (later), notes that we're still there... And pretty soon you're going to be old enough to enlist and be sent over and not even been alive on 9/11...
I think we  have learned as a country in my lifetime just how hard it is to end a war. We'd better be working very hard to make sure we don't start one. 
Brennan asked about his position that we should rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, and pointed out that some of the arms provisions coincide with our election and the next president's inauguration. She asked what he would do.
Any negotiation is going to have to meet the needs and the realities of the moment. Unfortunately, the moment we're in is one where the United States' influence in this region has diminished because of the-- the way that we have withdrawn. So what we're going to have to do is re-engage with our partners, re-engage with anybody who has an interest in stability in the region and do whatever we can to once again meet the objective of stopping Iran from developing nuclear capabilities which is exactly what that deal was doing. Even this administration certified that that was the case.
Tapper asked about the border, mentioning this call-out in a NY Times op-ed:
 "In short, it is time for Congress to stop dithering and pass emergency funding to deal with this nightmare. Democrats are standing in the way of this. They don't agree with it."
His question? Was it possible that Democrats were putting politics above what the migrants need, and pressed Buttigieg on what needs to be done right now to deal with the emergency.
I'm not against directing more funds in order to help with the issue at the border. But I think part of the reason why there's such frustration and concern and even resistance among congressional Democrats is that it's not doing anything about the bigger problem.
 We have got a president who got elected on a promise to fix immigration, whatever that meant to him. And what we have seen is that all of the issues that were with us then are with us now, and issues at the border, including a humanitarian crisis, created by this president through cruel policies, like family separation, are only getting worse. 
Meanwhile, the one thing that would really help the issue of increased migration flows from Central America -- the words of one migrant, who said: "I'm not here to seek the American dream. I'm here because I'm fleeing the nightmare in Honduras." We're actually, under this president, seeing a threat to take funds away from stabilizing those Central American countries. We have got this completely upside down.
And measures that are designed to put out fires in the near term would be a lot more convincing if they were set up in the context of an actual immigration reform, which, by the way, if you're talking about Americans, people on both parties want to -- in both parties want to do it. If you're talking about Congress, not so much. 
And I think the real dark fact behind all of this is, if immigration were solved, if we had comprehensive reform, this administration could claim it as an achievement, but it's more useful to them as a crisis unsolved than it would be as an achievement if they actually did something.
 Interesting conversations, both of them.

See you around campus.

June 13, 2019

OrangeVerse XLIV: Opposites Detract

The president gave an amazing amount of access to enemy of the people George Stephanopoulos of ABC News recently.  The first portion of that interview has been released, and it's the part about the Mueller investigation and collusion and foreign interference in US elections.

And, of course, it's all poetry, isn't it?

Fighting Words
Yeah, uh, my life
has always been a fight. 
And I enjoy that I guess.
I don't know if I enjoy it or not, I guess--
sometimes I have false fights
like that Russian witch hunt.
That's a false fight.
that's a made-up hoax.

Rebuffed Again
I don't know anything
about that. What difference
does polling information make?
It doesn't matter... Who knows? 
But they said specifically 
that there was nothing to do
and we, in fact, rebuffed them.

Who You Gonna Call?
...you're a Congressman, somebody 
comes up and says "Hey I have
information on your opponent."
Do you call the FBI?
You don't. I'll tell you what-
I've seen a lot of things
over my life. I don't think
in my whole life I've
ever called the FBI. 
In my whole life.
I don't -- you don't--
call the FBI...
"Oh, let me call the FBI."
Give me a break
life doesn't work that way.

Research, They Call It Research
Maybe today you think differently.
But two or three years ago if 
somebody comes into your office with
oppo research -
they call it oppo research -
with information that
might be good or bad or something
but good for you
bad for your opponent
you don't call the FBI.

Does He or Doesn't He?
Now, that's called the-- 
no, no. No, no. 
It's being investigated 
I assume now.
I don't know.
I stay uninvolved.
I stay totally uninvolved
and don't talk to...
We have a great attorney general 
now. I don't talk to 
my attorney general about that.

"Hullo? Is That You, Thor?"
I think maybe
you do both. I think
you might want to listen,
there's nothing wrong 
with listening.
If somebody called
from a country, Norway,
"we have information
on your opponent."
Oh, I think I'd want to hear it.

Pass: Interference
It's not interference,
they have information.
I think I'd take it. 
If I thought there was 
something wrong, I'd
go maybe to the FBI. 
If I thought there was 
something wrong.
But when somebody comes 
up with oppo research
right, they come 
up with oppo research.
"Oh, let's call the FBI."
But you go and talk honestly to
congressmen, they all do it
they always have.
And that's the way it is.

June 12, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v175)

Right off the bat, I'm wondering where the heck summer colds come from, and I'm wondering why they're so much worse than other colds?
Seriously, I've not been able to string together enough words to make a single sentence in four days.

More importantly, though, I want to do some wondering about the president, and women. Now, I'm not going to go back and relive the 'grab them by the pussy' stuff or the porn stars or the creepy beauty pageant owner stuff, because that's so yesterday's news.

I want to wonder about new news, as it were.  News like this, which I found in a fact sheet issued yesterday on the White House website.
Today, the Trump Administration released a Strategy on Women, Peace and Security, which aims to increase women's meaningful leadership in political and civic life. This Strategy implements the Women, Peace and Security Act signed by President Trump in 2017.
Another thing the fact sheet tells us?
The United States will promote the protection of women and support humanitarian assistance efforts that address women's economic security, safety, and dignity. The United States will work with partner countries to remove barriers, laws and regulations that impede women's access to justice and participation in the peace and security process.
So, I wonder, if we are supporting "humanitarian assistance efforts that address women's economic security, safety and dignity," why have we
  • gutted funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), including not only their core family planning activities, but also specific services UNFPA is providing in humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq and Yemen? And yes, we did that - on International Women's Day in 2018.
  • expanded the Mexico City Policy to include "nearly all bilateral global health assistance" including maternal and child health, the WASH program (household-level water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, HIV under PEPFAR, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, and global health security, and certain types of research activities?
  • dramatically slashed "life-saving financial assistance" in areas of humanitarian crisis around the world?  Trump's 2018 budget, for example, included unprecedented cuts to international humanitarian funding for food, shelter, global health, maternal/child health and international peacekeeping measures, and while funding was restored by Congress, the 2019 budget came back with more cuts for refugees, disaster assistance, food aid, global health programs and more?
How can pretend we are concerned about women's "security, safety and dignity" if we are actively trying to strip away Temporary Protected Status  for folks who were allowed to come to the US from 10 countries, among them El Salvador, Haiti, and Guatemala, to avoid "disease, violence, starvation, the aftermath of natural disasters, and other life-threatening conditions" - including women with American-born children?

And more importantly still, I wonder how it is that we can not just once ($12B), but twice (another $16B), come up with billions of dollars in welfare aid to farmers, in response to a completely manufactured crisis - one caused directly by the president - but we can't figure out a way to finance a fund to take care of 9/11 first responders?

Or, how is it that we can make the United States Postal Service pre-fund decades of benefits - the only agency required to do this, by the way - but we can't figure out a way to finance a fund to take care of 9/11 first responders?

This piece has the long and winding history of getting the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed. Zadroga was a NYPD officer and the first whose death was attributed to his exposure to toxins at Ground Zero. The bill only included a little over $4B, and passed despite the best efforts of Republicans who thought it was "too expensive." Funding had been extended only through the end of next year, which is atrocious.

If you didn't see Jon Stewart's testimony yesterday before a congressional subcommittee, you missed a gut-wrenching 10 minutes. It's worth watching, or watching again if you've already seen it.

And it seems that Stewart and the first responders who also went to Washington to plead their case may have made a difference, according to the NY Post.
The bill that permanently authorizes the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously Wednesday...  At the full committee markup Wednesday, a handful of lawmakers were absent, but (Chairman Jerry) Nadler dismissed calls to make the committee vote a roll call vote. 
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), will likely need to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office before it can get a full vote in the House, but it is expected to pass, as the legislation has 313 bipartisan co-sponsors.
Kudos to Stewart, but boy, it's hard to imagine that this needed a hard sell that generated tons of  negative media coverage for Congress as a whole.

I mean, if we can't get this right, who are we?

June 7, 2019

TGIF 6/7/19

Much of the week was filled with news of the president's state visit to the United Kingdom, where he and his family, including a Georgetown University Law School student and two businessmen who expressly both have no role in our government and who are expressly not allowed to talk about the family business with their father,, as well as the First Daughter and the Big Portfolio son-in-law, who are allowed to talk to the president about everything, I think,given their hard-earned security clearances, got to hobnob with the royal family. 

The president had a chance to have a fabulous week, he really did - until someone forgot to keep him on a short leash. There was his pre-visit bashing of London's mayor, and of the Duchess of Sussex, and of course his comments about Brexit and what a great trade deal we'll do with Britain come Halloween when they will be forced to leave the European Union without a deal, which is what the president wants, because well, that's the kind of guy he is. If there's a union, break it. If there's a treaty, break it. If there's a protocol, ignore it. If there's a right way to do something, do it the wrong way. We are so used to it now, aren't we?

While he was supposed to be on his best behavior, he attacked Bette Midler on Twitter, because hey, what else are you supposed to be doing at 1AM? I would suggest practicing your speech, but what do I know?

He did an interview within sight of a Normandy veteran's cemetery with Laura Ingraham (on the Trump News Network, natch) in which he told a lie so bad that Ingraham had to tell people it was fake news. Here's her comment to that effect:
Some of you may have heard or read that president Trump supposedly held up the entire D-Day ceremony in order to do this interview with me. That is patently false - fake news. 
And here's what Trump said, in the interview with her, that preceded her #fakenews claim, talking about people waiting for the commemoration to get underway:
Listen to those incredible people back there, These people are so amazing, and what they don't realize is that I'm holding them up because of this interview, but that's because it's you. By the way, congratulations on your ratings. I'm very proud.
I'm proud to say #NMPNNNE and MAGAMA and dear lord, #whatthesniff is wrong with this man?

Over 10,000 lies and counting, and as usual, he lies about things that are of absolutely no consequence. I've said it before, and will say it again. He is incapable of speaking without doing something to over-emphasize his own importance, even on  the anniversary of D-Day. And his flunkies at Fox? So quick to call out 'fake news' when the news occurs on their shows in front of our own two eyes.

During the same interview, he went off on Nancy Pelosi, while he was on foreign soil, violating the long-standing protocol that US politics stops at the border and when our leaders are overseas, they don't attack their political rivals. During his visit to Japan, he attacked Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner for 2020 (at least for now), so the seal having been broken and all, you know...

Here's part of what he said about her while he was on foreign soil.
I think she's a disgrace. I actually don't think she's a talented person, I've tried to be nice to her because I would have liked to have gotten some deals done. She's incapable of doing deals, she's a nasty, vindictive, horrible person...
Of course, it could be worse? Remember I said he attacked Bette Midler in the middle of the night? 

The best part of that tweet just might be "your great president" - because the quotation marks make the man.

#MAGA, or something.

TGIF, everyone.

June 5, 2019

Wondering on Wednesday (v174)

Here we go again - it's Wednesday!

Many people are wondering why the president doesn't have a tailor, or at least a 'dresser' to help him get ready for things like appearances at church on 'Pray for Donald Trump' Day, or at a state dinner with that great, great woman, HRH the Queen.  Me? I"m wondering if Melania lets him go places dressed like he does on purpose? You know,  exceptional fashion model and her badly dressed husband?

The visit to the church was a weird thing in and of itself. He was not invited, the pastor tells us. Rather, the pastor was looking forward to a few minutes of quiet contemplation, and then this happened:
But I was immediately called backstage and told that the president of the United States was on his way to the church, would be there in a matter of minutes, and would like us to pray for him.
That seems not quite the same reason for his stop that the White House gave, though:
president Donald J. Trump is visiting McLean Bible Church in Vienna, VA to visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach.
I'm don't think I'm the only one wondering whether there's some #fakenews here? As Trump said nothing - not a thing - during his visit to the stage, and the pastor never mentioned Virginia Beach either, I can only assume the president didn't read his schedule carefully enough, or he was being his usual intrusive self and the White House was forced to cover for him.


June 4, 2019

Quick Takes (v37): Immigration Bill Passes

I've been one of those people calling for the House of Representatives to do something other than investigate the president, and just a short while ago, I found out that the actually did something.

Yep -- they passed an immigration bill.

The bill - H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, focuses on those who were brought here illegally as children, and looks to provide a path to citizenship for some 2 million immigrants - and while there's little chance that it will see the light of day in the obstructionist Senate, should there be some warp or wrinkle in the space-time continuum and it actually does make it through the Senate, it will certainly be vetoed by the president.

Here's what the bill would do:
The House-passed bill would protect from deportation and provide a pathway toward citizenship for young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. 
These are the ones some people suggest should be sent "back home" - but many of them have only ever known the United States as home, and as a result have no home to return to.
Many would be "Dreamers" currently safeguarded by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which only the federal courts have thwarted Trump from dismantling. 
It would also shield others here temporarily because their home countries - chiefly in Central America, Africa and the Middle East - have been ravaged by wars or natural disasters. 
You may recall the president mentioning 'shit-hole countries' in the past -- those are where the folks with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are from.

The Congressional Budget Office said it could cost over $30B over ten years, primarily because many of the folks who would benefit under the bill would be eligible for federal benefits once they receive legal status. Supporters - including the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO - say that these folks will help our economy, not hurt us.

So, how would this work? Here's a quick summary.
  • immigrants who were younger than 18 when they arrived, and who have lived in the US continuously for the past four years would be eligible, and
  • must have either an American high school diploma or a GED, and
  • they must pass a background check (serious felonies are disqualifying).
To get on the path to citizenship, those who meet the eligibility requirements
  • must earn a college degree, complete two years of a degree program (higher education or technical school) or
  • have served honorably in the US military or
  • have been employed for more than three years.
And those here under TPS? They'd be able to gain permanent residency if they've been here for more than three years when the legislation is enacted and if they have a clean record - no felonies and no more than a single misdemeanor. 

So, is it worth it for the Dems to pass this kind of bill, with Republican help, knowing that it's DOA in the Senate?  

Yes - yes it is.  They have to prove that they can actually legislate, instead of just investigating the living daylights out of Trump. 

June 3, 2019

OrangeVerse XLIII: Off to See the Queen

As you know, the president and his family are in the UK enjoying the hospitality of the Queen and her family.  So far, no major fauxs pas, other than his interview where he called the Duchess of Sussex 'nasty' and tried to deny it, and some tweets like the one in which he called the mayor of London a "stone cold loser" but hey, there's still time.

Speaking of time, he had a few minutes before heading off on this trip to chat with the press.  Here's how that worked out.

Verily, It Will Be Very
So we'll be going to the UK.
I think it'll be very
It certainly will be very
There's a lot going on
in the UK.
And I'm sure it's going to
work out very well for them.

Do Trade? Do Tell!
...they want to do trade
with the United States, and I think
there's an opportunity for a
very big trade deal
at some point in the near future.
And we'll see
how that works out. 

Of course, we already 'do trade' with the UK, but Trump of course is talking about trade in the post-Brexit world, one which he thinks should be a no deal Brexit, which would allow him to negotiate with the UK the way he does with China, Japan, Canada and Mexico.

Well, Well, Well
Our country is doing
incredibly well.
Our businesses are doing
We're going to clog up
the border.
We're going to stop
the border. 

Mex-ee-coh is making hundreds of
billions of dollars
for many, many years. 
And they have to do something
about the border.
Everyone is coming through Mex-ee-coh
including drugs, including human trafficking
and we're going to 
stop it
or we're not going to
do business 
and that's going to be it.
It's very simple.

Shortly after that last part, they went to questions. I'll show some of his answers, and you can guess what the question was - sort of like playing Jeopardy!
I don't like them at all.

Well, people ask me questions.
like you. you're asking me a question. 
Don't ask me the question
if you don't want me to 
talk about it.

We have people - 
we want people to come into
our country but they have to 
come in legally. 
We have a list of people
- literally millions of people - 
applying for membership
and citizenship
to our great country.

I gave people a warning
seven months ago.
I stopped it.
I don't like what's happening...
Bad things
are happening over there.

I think I may meet with him.
He's been a friend of mine.
He's been very nice.
I have a very good relationship
with him... with many people
over there. And we'll see
what happens. 
But I may meet with him.
They want to meet.
We'll see
what happens.

We'll see
 what happens. 
I mean look 
we're doing our best...
And he may be right.
I mean, most people
would say that.
I think we have a good chance.
But we'll see 
what happens. 

I don't think
much of him.
I think
that he's a - 
he's the twin of
de Blasio, 
except shorter.